When Grief Strikes


Calm Waters opens new Edmond location, expands support group offerings

By Heide Brandes

Photography by Calm Waters Center for Children and Families; Emily Brashier

At age 23, Koko lost her mother suddenly.

In addition to the grief of losing a parent, the loss also left her with three younger brothers and her own baby girl to support the best she could. Because she was caring for her siblings and child, Koko had no time to grieve her mother’s death.

“Calm Waters saved my family. Without Calm Waters, my baby brother Terriyon would still have an empty place in his life,” she said. “He had completely blocked out my mom’s existence when she passed and didn’t even recognize her in pictures. Because of Calm Waters, he speaks about her almost every day now.”

Calm Waters Center for Children is an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit that helps bring broken and grieving families together. Through support groups, grief facilitators and special programming, Calm Waters helps family members navigate the harsh waters of significant loss through death, divorce or other situations.

“Our services are free of charge,” said Barbara Butner, executive director. “We anticipate helping 35,000 individuals through our grief services since our inception in 1992 by the end of this year.”

Now, with a new in-center support group location in Edmond, thanks to the support of Edmond’s Swine Week, Calm Waters is reaching even more families in need.

The Journey Through Grief

Loss can be a confusing and frightening time for children and teenagers. Calm Waters Center for Children addresses the unique needs of families dealing with major loss like death, divorce and other situations by being a support center for children and families.

Calm Waters offers free center-based grief and divorce support groups for families with children 3 to 18 years of age. It also offers free school-based grief support groups that help children going through traumatic issues such as death, divorce, incarceration of a parent, foster care issues, deportation of a parent or deployment of a parent.

The center also provides a four-hour “Parenting Through Divorce” seminar, which meets the court requirements for divorcing parents.

“Our support groups in schools address loss issues like deportation, issues with foster care, incarceration of a parent, deployment and, of course, death and divorce,” said Lauren Nichols, director of development. “We offer a weekly service in the schools, and all groups are age-appropriate. We do activities using a curriculum developed by Calm Waters, and we have contract employees who are selected to facilitate those sessions.”

Calm Waters is active in 70 schools and serves 1,800 students annually.

In addition to offering support groups at its center and in the new Edmond location, Calm Waters also offers grief training for counselors and educators, community and tribal grief training and volunteer group facilitator training.

“When families first come here, adults are sometimes unsure who we are, but know we can help,” said Butner. “Children are sometimes uncertain, timid and closed off. Some have suffered a horrific loss that could be natural causes, murder, suicide or accidents.”

Because the whole family is involved in the process, the grieving process evolves, said Nicole Wayne, community outreach administrator.

“They can start to verbalize how they are feeling,” Wayne said. “We have a topic each night, and everyone talks on that topic, whether it be communication, self-care or anger. Even the adults are doing activities, and when the family leaves group, they talk about it with each other.”

On Jan. 31, Calm Waters opened a satellite service in Edmond called the Calm Waters’ Edmond Family Grief Groups at Clegern Elementary.

A Need For Support

Calm Waters Center for Children and Families was founded in 1992 as the result of a 9-year-old boy’s grief after the loss of his father Jason Woodruff and his mother Sondra. Charlotte Lankford in partnership with the Baptist Medical Center Outpatient Counseling Department convinced Baptist Hospital (now Integris) to support the creation of an agency that would address children’s grief.

Initially, Calm Waters offered free support groups specifically for children and their parents. In September 1994, as Oklahoma’s divorce rate increased, the center added groups for divorced parents and their children.

In October 2016, Calm Waters’ Infant Loss Support Groups for parents losing an infant under 12 months began, as well as Adult Support Grief Groups.

Calm Waters celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

“When you cut yourself, you rush to the hospital, but with grief, the bleed is faster for some, slower for others,” said Butner. “That wound can heal, but sometimes you bump it, and it bleeds again. Grief is a journey.”

Support And Celebration

On May 22, Calm Waters will host its annual Golf Classic Scramble at Gaillardia Country Club.

They are looking for 128 golfers and 64 teams to participate in the scramble. Team entry is $1,300, and different sponsorship levels are also available. The tournament features a hole-in-one prize, various contests and drawings and more.

The organization also seeks volunteers who can share their own gifts with families in crisis. Volunteers have the option to serve by facilitating small groups, assisting with special events or performing administrative duties. For more information or to enroll, visit calmwaters.org.


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