After Cloud of Grief, Hope Emerges

After Cloud of Grief, Hope Emerges

Leila still remembers every detail of her grandmother’s funeral.

The overwhelming scent of flowers, the sympathetic murmurs of friends and family members who filled the church. the shine of the wood on the casket and the way it felt smooth under her fingertips when she said her final goodbye: it felt like it happened just yesterday. They are memories she desperately wished she could forget. Instead, for months after the funeral, she dreamed of coffins and cemeteries.

Amari, Leila’s younger brother, doesn’t remember much from the funeral at all. At the time, he was still engulfed in the grief of losing their grandfather only months before. From the second he woke up to the news of his death, Amari felt like he was trapped underwater. Everything was a blur and it felt like he could never get a full breath.

When their grandmother passed, everyone tried to comfort them by saying that their grandparents were together again. What they never seemed to consider was that two children lost the only parents they ever knew.

With the death of their grandparents, both Leila and Amari felt lost, adrift on a sea of grief.

Leila and Amari’s parents both struggled with addiction and were never able to properly care for their children. Eventually, their mother died of an overdose. Their father was sent to prison not long after, and his kids don’t have any contact with him. With the death of their grandparents, both Leila and Amari felt lost, adrift on a sea of grief.

After their grandmother’s funeral, Amari and Leila were sent to live with their aunt in Chicago. This meant another kind of grief, as they left their home in Missouri to live with someone who felt like a stranger. Saying goodbye to their friends and home was just another loss.

From the moment they moved into their aunt’s house, Leila and Amari felt uncomfortable.

“It was like moving in with a stranger,” Amari said. “Plus, the house was already very crowded. There was no room for us.”

With the house full, Leila had to share a room with two of her toddler cousins. They often woke up crying in the night and Leila found it difficult to sleep. Amari slept in the attic, which was drafty in the cold Chicago winters. They both longed for the comfort of their grandparents’ home, which was always warm and welcoming. But they had a unspoken pact not to talk about the old days. It was too hard.

“I didn’t even want to think about what it was like when my grandparents were alive, because I would start crying,” Leila said. “And I never mentioned them to Amari, either. I didn’t know how it would make him react. I couldn’t handle his emotions on top of my own.”

In the past, Amari and Leila would have relied on each other for support during difficult times like these. But grief had transformed both of them into different people. Amari still felt like he was in a daze all the time. He couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t sleep. Meanwhile, Leila was extremely angry about the situation. She refused to talk to Amari about their grandparents and lashed out at anyone who tried to comfort her.

“In the past, I could always count on Amari when things were tough,” Leila said. “But after we moved to Chicago, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I tried to push everyone away.”

Leila and Amari’s aunt did her best to make them feel comfortable, but she already had four young children and was overwhelmed even without the addition of two grieving teenagers.

Leila often fought with her aunt, needing somewhere to direct her anger.

“The only thing she did wrong was not being my grandparents,” Leila said. “But the anger would just explode out of me before I could even think about why.”

Meanwhile, Amari rarely left his attic bedroom and even began skipping school.

“Life just seemed pointless,” he remembered. “I didn’t see the point of trying at school. I didn’t see the point of anything, really.”

The strain in the household was affecting everybody. Amari was becoming more depressed and withdrawn, Leila was getting into trouble at school, and their aunt was at her breaking point.

It soon became clear that both Leila and Amari needed more support than their aunt was able to give. She wasn’t emotionally or financially able to help, even though she truly did want the best for them.

Their aunt began to research the internet for resources that might help Leila and Amari. During her search, she came across an ad for Mercy Home. Interested to find out more, she contacted our Admissions department, and she liked what she heard. Our coworker in Admissions explained that both Amari and Leila could get the support they needed to cope with their grief and get back on track.

When their aunt brought the idea to Leila and Amari, they were willing to give it a try. Part of it was eagerness to escape the chaos of their aunt’s home. But another part, however small, was the seed of hope Mercy Home planted that things just might be able to get better.

“Things were pretty dark when we both moved into Mercy Home,” Amari said. “Leila and I weren’t even speaking. We grew up so close, but our relationship totally fell apart after the move to Chicago.”

There were a lot of adjustments once Amari and Leila moved into Mercy Home. It was very different than their aunt’s house. But that difference brought some comfort.

“Mercy is very structured, and my grandparents’ house was, too,” Leila said. “It reminded me a lot of what life was like before my grandma and grandpa died.”

Amari and Leila immediately began working with their therapists to deal with the grief they had been struggling with for months. And they quickly learned that, at Mercy Home, there were lots of ways to heal.

Grief tore us apart, but Mercy Home brought us back together.

“I thought I was going to have to talk about my grandparents all day, and it just seemed like it would be too sad,” Leila said. “But my therapist taught me all kinds of ways to work through it. Art therapy was my favorite way. It’s a different way to express my emotions.”

Amari felt isolated and alone ever since he left Missouri. It felt like nobody could ever understand what he was going through. But he discovered that there were a lot of other boys at our Home who experienced loss. Knowing he wasn’t the only one dealing with hard emotions brought him comfort.

“For whatever reason, it was too hard to talk to Leila about what I was feeling,” he said. “But talking to the other guys who have lost somebody helped me realize I wasn’t alone.”

Amari and Leila also began participating in family therapy together to heal their fractured relationship. There were a lot of emotions to work through and the two of them needed to learn how to communicate again. But over time, they began to see some of their closeness return.

“I realized that Leila was really the only person who could 100 percent understand what I had gone through,” Amari said.

“Grief tore us apart,” Leila added. “But Mercy Home brought us back together.”

Mercy Home also helped Leila and Amari get a good start on successful futures. With tutors to help them catch up in school and access to internships and career advice, they both feel that they have the tools they need to become successful adults. Leila is hoping to go to college, and Amari was accepted into an after-school sports program in Chicago.

Please note: Because we care deeply about protecting our children’s privacy, the names and certain identifying details in this story have been changed. 

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