Loving Through Loss
As a child, Kate Atwood experienced the severity of trauma and grief when she lost her mother to cancer. This tragic event shook the lives of Kate and her family, leading them to each find their own isolated version of coping with the heartache of losing their mother and wife. At the time, there were minimal resources available for families going through grief; Kate’s family was able to attend counseling sessions, but therapy cost a lot of money, and after a few months, they were just expected to get right back on the normal cycle of life. This lack of support made 12-year-old Kate’s grief feel isolating and shameful because no one surrounding her in the community was dealing with it.
This pattern of isolation and shame continued in Kate’s life until she was 19. She volunteered as a counselor at a bereavement camp and was able to have meaningful conversations with other youth who had experienced loss. “All of us facing our grief together made me finally feel safe and empowered,” says Kate of the importance of realizing how strong a community of support can be for children. A few years later, Kate defied the norm: she quit her job, raised money, and launched her non-profit, Kate’s Club, that would revolve around grief and support for children.
“I just knew there was a better way; I knew there was a world that awaited hundreds of thousands of children who could actually experience a life of dreams and joy, even if they had experienced severe loss,” recalls Kate of the inspiration behind launching Kate’s Club. From the beginning, she knew one of the foundations of the non-profit would be support, which led Kate’s Club to base its model around pure community. Kate explains, “The best thing for a child who is facing emotional pain or trauma is to put them in a community of children who are facing the same struggles. There’s something magical about children who have support in community, where they learn tolerance, love, joy, confidence, and generosity.”
When children experience premature traumatic loss of parents or siblings, our society tends to label them as monsters, but Kate suggests that we should not be asking what’s wrong with them, but what’s happened to them in their childhood to lead them to such a dark place. “We have the opportunity to change it for the next generation and intercept these children at the point of trauma, and what a better world we’d have where we can all face grief together.”
Success in the eyes of Kate’s Club simply revolves around serving these children facing trauma by providing them with peers who are also going through the same situations. Kate remarks, “I’m most proud of the retention we’re having with the children. When you’re a member of Kate’s Club, you can stay as long as you want. Part of healing is helping others, and so when I start to see our older children helping younger children and coming back—then that’s how I know its successful.”
In the future, Kate hopes to see our culture continuing to break this cycle of unresolved grief so we can have generations of lives that are healthier and happier. She hopes for an environment that’s less toxic with isolating and hiding, but instead an environment that’s healthy with supporting and showing love for one another. “Our culture is finally starting to start open our minds to grieving and support, and not shaming children and adults who are embracing the sadness and tears that come along with loss,” Kate says.
Since June 2003, more than 1,200 children and families have joined the community Kate’s Club provides. Within this community, there are children from different races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, but they are all brought together to support and love each other through their hard times. Kate comments, “Nothing is more inspiring and motivating than to know there’s a path to a world that is way more happier and healthier for these children going through Kate’s Club.”
Words by Leah Gwin
Photos Provided by Kate's Club