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Grief Counselor Helps Westchester Kids Accept Loss

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – Maribel Nazario says people don't stop living after a loved one dies.

“There is life after death,” Nazario said. “There is, and I've seen that."

Nazario, a Cortlandt Manor resident, works as a children's grief counselor and coordinator for the The Caring Circle, which is a program under the Tarrytown-based Hospice Care in Westchester and Putnam. She works with art therapist Renee Pastolove to help children come to terms with loss.

“Children and adults, they deal with their grief differently,” Nazario said.

Some children may withdraw, some may not be able to speak, some may cry and some may not cry, Nazario said. The Caring Circle uses individual and group therapy along with art to help kids express and understand what they're going through.

The program began in 1999 in Yorktown, according to Director of Social Services Victoria Assumma. Programs have since been expanded to Yonkers and New Rochelle. Any child in Westchester can join the Caring Circle support group.

Art is one way kids can process grief, Nazario said, adding the art can also help children deal with other issues they're not expressing, such as how they perceive themselves. The Caring Circle also provides a safe and comfortable environment for kids to express themselves, she said.

Nazario was not always a grief counselor. For 25 years, she's worked with child welfare services, victims of domestic violence, teen moms and the homeless. There are different types of losses, she said.

“A person doesn't necessarily have to die for the family or individuals to experience grief or go through that process,” Nazario said.

Some things in Nazario's career have stuck with her, such as when she saw domestic violence victims find empowerment and a better life. She's watched victims go back to school and get jobs.

“The women would come in destroyed,” Nazario said. “Mentally, emotionally, spiritually to where they see there is no hope, there's not a rainbow. They give up on themselves.”

Seeing the change, she said, was “rewarding.”

Nazario acknowledged her job can be difficult emotionally and although she says she's learned how to compartmentalize work and her life, she still feels loss.

She recently got past the death of a 9-year-old who she counseled by talking with the spiritual pastor on staff, attending the viewing and talking to the child's mother.

“I worked myself through it,” she said. “If I don't do that, I won't be able to continue in my work.”

For more information on The Caring Circle, visit http://vnahv.org.

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