Hello, My Name Is Helena, My Father Died, and This is My First Night

A post from guest blogger Helena Schutt, former SandCastles participant and current SandCastles volunteer. Helena “graduated” from SandCastles not long ago and chose to volunteer as a Teen Buddy at Camp Erin – Detroit and then as a Group Facilitator at our Rochester site. Thank you, Helena, for sharing your time, talents, and perspective with all of us!


IN THE BEGINNING, it was a struggle to do something as simple as walk out to the mailbox. A song on the radio, or driving past their work, or even the changing of the seasons can bring you back to memories that you won’t ever be able to relive. It’s been 6 years since my father passed and every day his presence fades a little more from my life. I know that’s a hard thing to read, but the truth of the matter is that grief isn’t transparent, it’s unclear, chaotic, and frightening.

Being a teenager alone is tough enough, add on the fact that I had to drive an hour to the hospital after class. I watched my father fade away and my mother juggle her own grief as well as inform whoever called, constantly sounding like a broken record. Even now it’s hard to go into hospitals. With a combination of the lighting and the smells, I get nauseous. It’s difficult to describe the feelings I had running through my own head. It was a crazy mix of denial and blocking out as much as I could. I knew that I never wanted to feel like that again.

I remember the anxiety building up when my mom wouldn’t answer her phone. My friends thought I was overreacting, but it was possible and it had happened before. Little things like this still affect me today; as an only child, I have the little voice in the back of my head that says, “what if…”

With each week came new challenges. Like things as simple as, how do we start the lawnmower? Or more complex things like, who’s going to stand next to me when all the girls take prom pictures with their dads? It can so difficult to let someone in after you have been exposed to so much disappointment and misdirected anger. Sometimes you have to be the parent when it’s just the two of you. It was issues like these that I could take to my small group. Even though we were all in different situations, we could all relate to one thing for certain.

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There is no typical family model for our program; each family that comes into SandCastles is different. Some have lost children, some have lost a parent, some have lost grandparents, some have remarried, some an ex-spouse has died, and the list goes on and on. People don’t realize the amount of change that a family experiences after losing someone important in their lives. It is such a blessing that these families let us be a part of their grief journeys; I know how difficult it can be.

All of this can be so hard to maneuver alone, and thanks to Henry Ford SandCastles, I didn’t have to. I have been a part of SandCastles Grief Support since I was 16 years old. It was a few months after my dad passed away when we joined the Rochester site. After I closed out of the program, I decided to give back, first as a Teen Buddy at camp, then as a site volunteer. I am coming close to completing my first year as a site volunteer and having both perspectives of SandCastles helps me to connect on a whole other level, to the kids that I get to work with through their grief.

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SandCastles is so grateful for dedicated volunteers like Helena who give back to grieving children and teens. If you’d like to become a SandCastles volunteer, please check out our volunteer opportunities here.