Mary K. Fitzgerald, CEO of Eluna (right) with Susan Hansen, Chair of Eluna’s Governance Committee (second from right) and Camp Mariposa Seattle campers.

by Sue Ann Rybak

More than 120,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, that’s three times the amount of U.S. soldiers who died in World War I.

Being unable to physically be there when a family member dies and not being about to participate in traditional funeral rites such as sitting Shiva or seeing hold funeral services makes it difficult for people, especially children, to process the death of a loved one.

We all know someone who has died from COVID-19. We are all grieving now. For children especially the long-term effects of not dealing with the complicated emotions of the death – rage, depression, guilt and anxiety – can be detrimental to their mental health. Children who are grieving have a higher risk of depression, suicide and substance abuse.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of day to day life. One of the most devastating effects is not being able to give a sick family member or friend that last hug or being able to mourn a loved one.

It’s just one of the reasons why Chestnut Hill resident Mary Fitzgerald, 49, CEO of Eluna, a nonprofit that supports families impacted by death or substance abuse, is passionate about helping today’s youth overcome the trauma of losing a family member.

Fitzgerald, the mother of a nine-year-old, said Eluna’s Grief and Addiction Resource Center is designed to help families affected by grief and addiction. She said the nonprofit will help people design an individual program or adults and youth can search their online Grief and Addiction Resource Center by themselves at elunanetwork.org/resources/.

The online resource center provides books and art and music activities to help kid process trauma related to the death of a loved one or addiction.

“When there is trauma there is always grief,” Fitzgerald said.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eluna and their partner Penn Medicine Hospice have canceled Camp Erin this year.

Fitzgerald said despite the challenges of COVID-19, the nonprofit continues to provide a community of support for youth.

For example, Eluna’s volunteers and staff have been dropping off cooking kits that contain all the necessary ingredients for simple recipes. Then, the kids and the staff member follow the recipe and cook together online.

They have also delivered camp care packages that contain simple crafts like the kind they would make at camp such as a friendship bracelets or T-shirt.

“While we continue to provide support to youth grieving loved ones and kids struggling with a family member’s substance use disorder, we see the primary need for many families right now is to obtain help with anxiety and depression,” said Fitzgerald. “With so much uncertainty and unprecedented changes to our lives, many of us are concerned about our and our loved ones mental, physical and financial health.

While we may not have a playbook for this, it is vital that we address the need, examine the long term effects and increase funding to support those most impacted by trauma, loss and grief by providing  services to promote healing and resilience.”

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