Three years ago life took an unexpected turn for then Nashua High School freshman Chris Anderson, when his father, John Anderson – his hero, baseball coach and best friend – became suddenly and terminally ill.
That was the jumping off place for Chris, who at 14 was about to face the most difficult, life-changing event of his young life: the loss of his dad.
Although this story could easily be about the devastation of such a loss, it's not; this is a story about how Chris Anderson found more than solace through a unique grief program offered through Home Health & Hospice Care, a not-for-profit Visiting Nurse Association, which has helped him move beyond his own grief while helping others along the way.
HHHC entered the family's life when they provided at-home hospice care for Chris’s father for the 10 days in January of 2009 before he was moved to the Community Hospice House. John Anderson was only at the Hospice House for three hours before he died at the age of 47, with his family by his side.
Chris remembers his dad's final days in great detail, particularly the moment when his father said to him, “You’re the man of the house now.”
Chris took that realization to heart, embracing his father’s words and the added responsibilities that would follow in his role as only son and older brother of two sisters, star athlete and honor student.
It was a lot to shoulder for a 14 year old, especially at a time in life where there are so many other changes going on, physically, emotionally and socially. So when Chris' mom mentioned a support group for teens available through HHHC, Chris decided to give it a try.
Chris joined the newly formed Teen Topics grief support group in the fall of 2009. Teen Topics brings bereaved teens together from many communities in Southern New Hampshire. Each session couples a topic related to grief with an activity. Bereaved teens often feel isolated in their school peer groups as their loss has put them in a different place. The group is a safe outlet for teens to meet with others who understand what they are experiencing.
“I always feel better after leaving the group,” said Chris, who has found the most meaningful activities have been the art projects, and specifically a collage booklet that he made about his father.
Chris has also played a key role in encouraging more physical activities for some of the grief sessions, including a low ropes course and hiking. Group leaders Eleanor Owen and Tom Knapp praise Chris’s excellent listening skills and humble leadership.
However, the most substantial contribution that Chris has made to the group involves preparing his father’s spaghetti sauce recipe for younger bereaved children annually.
Twice a year for the past two years members of the teen group have volunteered to prepare a pasta dinner for the families of Good Grief the program, serving elementary and middle school children. When the teens decided to reach out to the younger children in this way, Chris volunteered to prepare his father’s spaghetti sauce. Some of his fondest memories of his father were standing by his side in the kitchen learning the secrets to his spaghetti sauce recipe. Members of Teen Topics work together with Chris as lead chef to prepare the special evening.
For Chris, the night is not only a way to commemorate his father, but also a way to provide hope for the families of the Good Grief program. Chris feels it is important for parents to see that children who go through difficult times are still able to thrive and even go on to reach out to others. Chris has helped to create one of the bereavement division’s most meaningful and celebrated events. This May Chris will prepare his fifth batch of his father’s spaghetti sauce for the families of Good Grief.
In spite of the life altering loss that began his high school career, Chris has grown into a capable, accomplished, fearless young man. He'll graduate in June from Nashua High School North, a member of the National Honor Society, captain of his football team, state wrestling champ, and influential member of his teen grief group.
Chris will be attending St. Anselm College in the fall, studying forensic science and continuing to play sports. And for the first time since his father’s death, Chris also tried out for baseball this spring, a sport he grew up loving, under the loving guidance of his father, and first coach.
Chris has made such a positive impact on Teen Topics that he has been asked to consider training to become a volunteer facilitator for future sessions.
HHHC has been a partner for Chris and his family in their life’s journey. Although the people and the services of HHHC have certainly made an impact on Chris and his family, Chris has made an impact on HHHC by honoring his father’s memory and reaching out to others while doing so. Grief is a lifelong journey, and there is no need to travel the road alone.
If you would like to learn more about our bereavement groups, from children, to teens, to adults, please contact our bereavement coordinator Deb Pelletier at Deb.Pelletier@hhhc.org or our Good Grief Coordinator Eleanor Owen at Eleanor.Owen@hhhc.org.