When I was 3 years old, my sister, Ele Stover, died of a rare pulmonary illness that left me, my parents and two older sisters devastated. Like many, we were unexpectedly forced into a grief journey for which we were wholly unprepared and without resources to address our needs.
Ele’s Place was born out of the necessity, and each day serves to mitigate significant short- and long-term risk factors associated with the death of a family member. In our sessions, we foster understanding and healing, which in the immediate time after death seem indescribably unlikely and foreign.
Grief can affect entire families, communities and businesses. We all know of a co-worker who has lost a parent, spouse or a child; it is a pervasive part of our lives. Grief can cause stress and depression, which can manifest as physical symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, marked mental and physical sluggishness and more, according to Harvard Health. Furthermore, the Grief Recovery Institute published a study in 2003 stating that the total annual cost of employee grief to U.S. employers was $75 billion, equivalent to over $100 billion after adjusting for inflation in 2019.
The above statistics illustrate why we need to talk as a business community about grief and family impact and to share resources that are here for others, especially resources for the most vulnerable — our children. We must work to normalize the complex grieving process. When we lift up colleagues and co-workers, including those with children/teens who are grieving, we help them process their grief in healthy ways; this helps them on their personal journeys and makes our communities stronger.
Ele’s Place as a model
My parents founded Ele’s Place in 1991 to help provide a safe space for grieving children and teens after seeing how peer support helped me and other children/teens learn to cope with feelings of grief, anger, sadness and loss. It is estimated that 1 in 12 children in Michigan will experience the loss of a parent or sibling by age 18.
Since its inception, Ele’s Place West Michigan has supported more than 700 children and teens through the grieving process and has made a profound impact on their lives and the lives of their families.
Today, I am fortunate to be an ambassador for our mission. Having grown up in this world, I am more comfortable and equipped than most to openly discuss death — wherever that conversation may occur, and more often than not, these conversations happen in our workplaces. Grief is not “compartmentalized” to the home but follows us wherever we go.
Nobody wants to confront death and the emotional roller coaster that comes with it, but we all will face this certainty and need to be ready for the inevitable reality of death when it comes. We can look to the model of Ele’s Place and other community resources (such as Gilda’s Club) as incredible resources for many experiencing grief with safe places for conversation so that no one has to face the challenge of grieving in secret/alone/silos, but can gain the support that will make them and the communities around them stronger.
I am honored and blessed to be able to continue to celebrate Ele’s legacy by championing the Ele’s Place mission to serve as a healing center for grieving children and teens.
Bo Stover III is a workplace consultant with Custer Office Furniture and a community board member of Ele’s Place West Michigan.