By Libby Smith

DENVER (CBS4) – The COVID pandemic has taken more than 9,000 lives in Colorado alone. Deaths across the country increased by 18% last year, leaving even more children and families grieving. That makes the work of Judi’s House that much more important right now.

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Lisa Dean and her son, Oliver, know the work of Judi’s House extremely well. They accessed services there some 12 years ago, when Lisa’s husband and Oliver’s father, Bart, died of cancer.

“Oliver was 5-and-a-half. I was 37, trying to figure out how to grieve myself and how to help him and so Judi’s House was there,” said Lisa told CBS4.

The staff at Judi’s House helped by normalizing what Lisa and Oliver were going through, and then taught them coping skills for managing their grief.

“Judi’s House taught me that grieving is not about letting go, but about holding on in a different way, and finding that connection and support, that other families have walked the path that I’m walking,” Lisa explained.

“I don’t remember much. I remember going upstairs and having group and sitting in bean bags,” Oliver said of his 5-year-old experience of Judi’s House.

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While he may not remember much about his time at Judi’s House, the impact has been profound for this now 18-year-old man.

“Judi’s House and Dr. Kati worked to have a tool belt to handle those moments, and be able to feel the things you want to feel and be able to not get stuck in a rut,” Oliver explained.

Oliver remembers his father through pictures and stories that his mother tells him. He is acutely aware that his own photo albums will be missing his father.

“The college process, thinking about graduation, not having my dad there. Bar mitzvah without having my Dad there,” he said.

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It’s a great loss in his life that he and his mother have worked hard to heal.

“I feel I’ve raised a child that is well adjusted because of Judi’s House, because we were with people and professionals that understood our situation,” Lisa said.

“I think every day for the rest of my life, I’ll have to use something from my tool belt,” Oliver added.

Both Lisa and Oliver have since gone back to Judi’s House as volunteers to help other grieving children and families.

LINK: Judi’s House Capital Campaign

Judi’s House is currently doing a capital campaign to build a new home where they can expand their services and help more children and families. Since 2002, Judi’s House has served more than 12,000 children and caregivers with grief care, at no cost to the families.

Libby Smith