Health Check: Friends Way

It started out as an ordinary day in 2010 for Brian Levesque, no stranger to roofing.

"My husband had been up on a roof a couple of days before Christmas and he fell and was in the hospital for about a month before he passed away," said Kathy Levesque.

Brian died Jan. 19, 2011, leaving behind a wife and two children - 7-year-old Aaron and 3-year-old Rachel.

Eight months later, on Sept. 5, Charles Chopin was out on his bicycle when he fell off his bike. He had no helmet on and died two days later leaving behind a wife and three children - 13-year-old Cameron, 7-year-old Maile, and 4-year-old Aidan.

"They were very shocked," said Erin Davis, Chopin's wife.

For both families, heading into the holiday season without dad promised to be traumatic. But then, months apart, they found Friends Way, the only family bereavement center in Rhode Island.

"I think parents are on automatic pilot. They want to rip out the calendar November and December. But at least here the kids can talk about what they're going to do for the holidays, what they want to make for the person who died," said program director Ryan Loiselle.

"I think it helps them to have a place to outlet any feelings that they have," Kathy Levesque said. "I know my son has written poems here. It doesn't usually sit around the house writing poems. They do artwork, (draw a) picture of their dad, what they remember."

"It helped the children be able to communicate and express themselves which I think they wouldn't have done otherwise and it helped them release and explore some of their feelings which was huge," Davis said.

While the children are in one area, the parents are in another and sorting out their feelings.

"It's a place where you can say, you know, 'How did you handle this?'" Kathy Levesque said. "It was great to hear what people did and to be able to incorporate some of that into my life."

Both families continue to take advantage of monthly support group meetings at Friends Way.

Friends Way became a Lifespan partner this year. It has been offering support to thousands of children, teenagers and their families over the past 13 years.