Helping children heal from loss: New Bereavement Center opens in Harlingen

HARLINGEN — Close brothers often can be inseparable at a young age.

But what happens when one brother dies?

The parents are enduring their own sorrow. He’s left to figure it out on his own. Such a dismal outlook.

That’s why the Children’s Bereavement Center of the Rio Grande Valley opened in February. The center at 2302 S. 77 Sunshine Strip seeks to help children and their families grieving the loss of a sibling or a parent.

Since the center first opened its doors Feb. 22, grieving families have flooded the rooms in search of help. The services are free to the public, said Corie Olivares, Regional Director for the new RGV Center.

“We know statistically across the United States a high percentage of people who have had problems with addiction or even being incarcerated have had a death loss as young children,” Olivares said.

“Sometimes when they’re not able to grieve correctly it can lead to behaviors that are just unhealthy.”

Those unhealthy behaviors may include acting out in class, inability to concentrate, headaches and stomach aches. In later years it has the possibility to escalate into poor relationships and other problems.

No other facility of this kind exists in the Valley, Olivares said. The response illustrates quite clearly the need. The work began with one night of group counseling. Since then, families from throughout the Valley — Progreso, Edinburg and Brownsville as well as Harlingen — have come seeking help. Now the center holds three nights of counseling.

“We started with two families and very quickly have grown exponentially in just a month,” Olivares said. “The bulk of what we do is group counseling. Families come to us, and they do an intake with our counselors and they have an assessment.”

The assessment determines whether the family is ready to begin group counseling or needs individual therapy first. Families are divided according to different types of “death loss.”

One group is made up of families who have endured the death of a child. Another night works with children who have lost a parent through illness or sudden death. The third night also focuses on the trauma of children who have lost a parent, but in this case the parent is the victim of homicide or suicide.

Different types of trauma require different approaches for the child. All deaths are traumatic, but when a parent is the victim of homicide in that child’s presence, it can deal a powerful blow. A child who views a suicide will likewise need individual attention.

“How would he be with other 5-year-olds?” Olivares said. “The child obsesses about that. He would do individual counseling before moving him into the group.”

Families attending an evening session are first greeted with dinner. They sit down with other families plus counselors and facilitators and ease into conversations. Children enjoy art therapy as a way to learn through doing, in this case working through the maze of their sorrows.


WHAT: Children’s Bereavement Center Rio Grande Valley

WHERE: 2302 S. 77 Sunshine Strip

Ste. 202

Harlingen 78550

PHONE: 956-368-4064




To foster healing for grieving youths, their families and the community through peer support programs, counseling, training, education and outreach.