As a relatively new professional in the insurance industry and until recently a lifelong New Yorker, moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, from Long Island has been an adjustment. I knew my first order of business would be to begin to establish myself in my new community. What I didn’t know was that I’d find my true point of connection in an unexpected place.
Part of my job as an insurance agent is to offer compassion and peace of mind to grieving families. Receiving a loved one’s final gift can be a bright spot in otherwise difficult circumstances. It helps ease the burden of financial worry, that day and for the days to come. But it doesn’t heal grief — especially for the youngest ones who often don’t receive enough or the right kind of support.
In fact, grief among children is endemic. Research shows that one in 14 children will lose a parent or sibling before age 18; nearly all American youths will experience a close personal loss before completing high school.
Children are resilient, but grief can powerfully affect their psychological, emotional and social wellbeing — at home, but at school too, where children spend a significant portion of their waking hours. Although classrooms are ongoing repositories of grief, most K-12 educators say they haven’t received training on childhood grief. In turn, some may shy away from offering care to students.
I’ve had several occasions to ponder grief’s fallout in my personal life. In my Long Island hometown following the 9/11 attacks, I witnessed firsthand the devastating ripple effect of loss across a community. Within my immediate family, when my own children grappled with loss after my father’s death, I was attuned to the important role schools can play in offering comfort.
But my chance to really make a difference beyond my daily work responsibilities arose when my firm, New York Life, where I serve as an agent and registered rep, created a nationwide program (called the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative) for its workforce to bring grief resources created by experts to schools in their communities, to help local educators build a more robust culture of grief support and resiliency at their school.
Over the past year, I’ve served as an ambassador for the program and traveled to many K-12 schools surrounding Charlotte, to deliver critical bereavement training and resources equipping educators and personnel to help students coping with loss. Hearing from schools how much they desperately need such assistance, coupled with stories of grief personally experienced, I’ve felt more connected than ever to my firm and my community, and also have felt renewed appreciation for the aid that a caring professional can offer.
My advice to my peers seeking a deeper purpose in their communities: Need is everywhere, though not always in the open. Think of needs you’ve experienced yourself — your community probably shares them. And consider how you, perhaps with your firm’s help, might intervene. Make no mistake: Your neighbors will benefit from your efforts — and the return could be even more gratifying than you imagine.