The latest National Alliance for Grieving Children conference brought together Alexis Sandagato and Dr. Heidi Horsley. Sandagato is a teenager who’s a junior in high school and doing a three-year research project on the impacts of parental death and how that affects children. She lost her father when she was two years old, and has spent her childhood without her father. What helped her heal was having a supportive family and professional help. If you feel you need it, don’t be afraid of what anyone else will say or think.

Children need support, and to know that other kids have been through it. Go to a teacher, friend, trusted adult, or anyone you feel will support you in a healthy way. Two of Sandagato’s close friends have also lost their fathers. Those friendships are very helpful, normalizing the situation and providing support nobody else can offer. It’s not always easy, but by identifying your own support network, you can regain control over the situation.

Hard Losses at Any Age

There’s no easy age to lose a parent, whether you’re a young child or an adult. Sandagato is passionate about the research behind bereavement and helping other children and teens who have lost a parent. By seeking out support in various ways for many years, she has learned what works best for her, how to ask for help, and that there will be some trial and error when looking for a supportive group.

Now, Sandagato is preparing for college and considering the bereavement prospects in academe. Dr. Horsley was once in a similar situation, losing her brother in a car accident while she was in college. The bereavement field is growing, and with passion-driven students like Sandagato, it will only continue to improve.


Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is an international grief expert, licensed psychologist, and social worker. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, one of the largest internet grief resources, with over 2 million yearly visitors. She hosts the award-winning Open to Hope cable television show and podcast. Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She serves on the ​National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest peer to peer support organization in the world. She also serves on the National Advisory Board for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS has served over 50,000 military families who have suffered a loss. In addition, she serves on the National Advisory Board for the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation. Dr. Heidi is on the VIP section of Marquis Who's Who in America, Madison Who's Who, and Who's Who of American Women. Dr. Heidi has co-authored eight books, including; Spouse Loss; Fresh Grief; Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss; Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss; Real Men Do Cry; A Quarterbacks Inspiring Story of Tackling Depression & Surviving Suicide; Teen Grief Relief: Parenting with Understanding Support and Guidance; and Signs and Hope From Heaven. She has appeared on the ABC television show 20/20, has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio shows as well as quoted in dozens of media publications, including the Metro World News, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsday, Money Magazine, and New York Daily News. Dr. Heidi is also the author of numerous articles and academic book chapters. Dr. Heidi gives keynotes, presentations, and workshops throughout the country, and teaches continuing education workshops for health care professionals on support following trauma and tragedy. For 10 yrs., Dr. Heidi worked as a co-investigator for the FDNY-Columbia University Family Guidance Program; a study which looked at traumatic loss in families of firefighters killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Through this 9/11 study, Dr. Heidi provided ongoing intervention and follow-up to firefighter widows and their children, and facilitated groups for bereaved siblings. In addition, Dr. Heidi supervised the school social work staff at Harlem Democracy Charter Schools in NYC for four years. Dr. Heidi's early career included work in a variety of clinical settings, including; Manhattan Psychiatric Center, California Pacific Medical Center Psychiatry Dept., University of San Francisco Mental Health Clinic, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Psychiatry Dept., and Hope Haven Residential Treatment Center in New Orleans. Her doctoral dissertation was on the sudden death of a sibling. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from the University of San Francisco; a Masters degree in social work (LMSW) from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in mental health counseling (MS) from Loyola University, in New Orleans. Dr. Heidi splits her time between NYC and Tucson AZ.

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