FORT WORTH, Texas — Dinosaurs adorn the Sawyer family’s home. They were 12-year-old Jacob’s favorite.
“Jacob was a very cool kid, he loved life, when he was sick, when he was healthy,” said Melinda Sawyer,
Jacob’s mom.
At just 5 years old, Jacob was diagnosed with a rare brain disease, Spinocerebellar ataxia. Just a year before he passed, the family learned his condition was terminal.
The family had to tell Jacob’s two siblings John Bradly, the oldest and Luke, the youngest. John Bradley took it the hardest, Melinda said.
“He just kind of threw himself into working and doing things on his own so he kind of just retreated,” Melinda said.
Luke was too young to fully grasp what the illness met but he tried to be helpful anyway possible to his older brother, Jacob.
“He knew that Bubba needed help and he wanted to help him,” said Lucas Sawyer, Jacob’s stepfather, “whether it was giving him food or putting on a movie.”
The family was able to have one last trip together in 2019 through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The family visited Disney World and were able to enjoy Jacob’s favorite thing: dinosaurs.
In March 2019 Jacob died. It took the family a few months before they were ready to seek out peer support for themselves and children.
The Sawyer family had been made aware of the WARM Place.
“We were the first children grief support center in all of Texas and actually the sixth in the nation,” said Shelley Bettis, executive director of the WARM Place.
The center focuses on helping children cope with grief in a peer support group setting. The organization has been in place for over 32 years and helped more than 43,000 children.
Bettis explains that grief is different for everyone, and children grieve too. The WARM Place provides services for children ages 3 to 25. The losses the children experience can range from death of a parent, sibling, friend or grandparent as well as the cause.
“Often we hear from our kids that they think they're the only one that this has happened to, they may have never met another child whose mom or a dad die, or a brother or sister,” Bettis said. “When they're able to connect with their peers and talk about how they feel and know that that's important and know that other people care and know that they're supported.”
Due to the need the Sawyer family had to initially be placed on a wait list.
“When a family is experiencing what they are and they are finally willing to open up and ask for help,” Lucas said, “and they say we're happy to help you in six months, that's a problem.”
The center provides all its services free of charge and relies solely on private donations.
“The more that people can help minimize that wait list, the more powerful this place can have in people's lives,” Lucas said.
After four months Luke and John Bradley were able to start attending the WARM Place.
“The WARM place has really given him [Luke] language to express his feelings,” Melinda said.
With the holidays the WARM Place creates special activities for the families as well.
“Grief is different around the holidays and the holidays are different for those who are grieving and that may change year to year,” Bettis said.
The center hopes by providing support and teaching kids healthy coping skills it will not only help in their grieving process now but in life.
The Sawyer family continues to navigate their grief as individuals and as a family. One tradition they have continued is to give back to the center that has helped them through their healing in memory of Jacob.
For the last four years the family has held a toy drive. This year they are gathering squishmallows to give to other kids at the WARM Place.