While attending the National Alliance for Grieving Children conference, Dr. Heidi Horsley talks to Cindy Meek about Amanda the Panda, a grief support group. She’s the program coordinator in West Point, Iowa. The organization offers a free year of grief support to anyone who’s experienced a loss. There are camps, family nights, and other events offering peer to peer support. The whole family is welcome, and Meek says the biggest step to healing is realizing you’re not alone. Others have been in your situation, and there’s great power in healing and reaching out.

Secondly, know that grief is something that takes time and support. Being at a center with great activities can bring joy and hope back to your life. It takes being around others in a supportive environment. Meek encourages everyone who’s experienced a loss to reach out, share their story, and realize that grief is a normal healing process.

Finding Your Community

Many times after a loss, your support system isn’t what you think it will be. It’s often necessary to be the proactive one and identify your new best support systems. Don’t assume friends and family will offer the best support because they may not know how. Taking action and defining your own healing path is critical. Fortunately there are many organizations like Amanda the Panda, in person and online, that can help.

There are more avenues for supportive healing than ever before, but it still requires that first step. Plus, know that everyone heals differently. That’s normal and is to be expected. That’s why Meek’s organization offers peer to peer support for all ages, so you can connect and identify with people who really are in your shoes. Still, attending as a family unit can help strengthen bonds.



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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