EveryStep Grief & Loss Services' Amanda the Panda Program: Amery's Story

When you’re a 7-year-old girl, your mind is probably occupied with your favorite toys, Disney movies and possibly concern about tomorrow’s spelling test. But 7-year-old Amery has more on her mind.

Amery is mourning the sudden death of her dad.

Amery’s father had battled substance use disorder and had been sober for six months when he died from an accidental overdose on November 1, 2020. He left behind a grieving family, including his daughter Amery. She says at first, she didn’t know how to handle the emotions she was experiencing.

“I was really sad and I didn’t really feel like talking about it to anyone,” says Amery. “I would just go off and play — I just felt like I shouldn’t think about it.” But then her grandma discovered the grief support groups for children offered by EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda program. She became involved with an online grief support group for kids.

One of Amery’s favorite activities involved coloring “grief pages” in an activity book provided by EveryStep.

“There are these little monsters and they have feelings in the middle of them – they have a heart around them in the middle of their chest,” says Amery. “[The heart] would say a feeling like happy, sad, mad, angry, disappointed — something like that. We would color them a specific color if that’s what we were feeling. We would color them green if we were feeling that and red if we never felt that.

“Well, at first, I colored in happy and sad for green because I had felt those before. Now, if I were doing the page, I would color happy, sad, mad, angry and disappointed. It’s okay to feel confused and stuff, too.” Amery says the pages helped her feel a lot better and she felt more like expressing her feelings.

Amery is proud of the art project she completed that helps her remember her dad and her feelings. “It was like a canvas; it had a big painting with ‘love’ [in the middle] and we were supposed to put a bunch of things around it like stickers, and glue a lot of things around it,” says Amery. “I put a panda sticker on it, and I put a bunch of books around it. I put a few pins on it for the sad times. And I have a bunch of clouds with different colors on it — yellow for the sun, gray for the rainy times, purple for the Overdose Awareness Walk (May 20 at the DMACC Ankeny Campus), green for when I’m not really feeling much of anything. I got signatures from people in our family, including our two dogs!”

Amery and her grandparents also received a Cheer Box from EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda program. The Cheer Box included 12 meaningful gifts to help the family honor and remember Amery’s father during the holidays. She especially remembers the paper lantern that she watched float into the night sky from her grandparent’s back yard.

“I was thinking about how could that bright light represent something that happened to me. It represents to me, that bright light that was floating up into the sky, it represents the happiness that I feel and the joy,” says Amery. “And with the dark night sky around it, sometimes I feel sad like the sky, and sometimes I feel really happy, like the lantern floating up in the sky.”

Amery made friends with other children in the online grief support groups, which she still attends. She remembers doing scavenger hunts where the children would find things that would help them remember their loved one. Amery would usually take her teddy bear. “[It has] a zipper on the back and you can stick a glass heart in it and it has my dad’s ashes in it,” says Amery.

For Amery, EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda program gave her the skills to acknowledge her grief and permission to feel whatever emotion she was feeling. “I would be willing to talk to a grownup too, but I really feel, like, safe to talk to the kids more.”

Amery wants to help other children grieving the loss of a loved one. She wants to share this piece of advice for other kids — a skill she learned through her experience with EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda children’s grief group:

“Well, I would like them to know it’s not a shame if you’re in class and you start to cry. It’s not a shame. If you have to cry, just let it out.”

EveryStep Grief & Loss Services offers a variety of grief support opportunities provided at no cost for anyone in communities around Iowa. Available to individuals and families of all ages, services include the following:

  • Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp   
  • Monthly and quarterly support groups  
  • Eight-week educational support groups
  • Memorial gatherings     
  • Family nights    
  • Peer support
  • Online support 
  • Mailed resources           

For more information about EveryStep Grief & Loss Services, call (515) 223-4847 or email griefandloss@everystep.org. Additionally, if you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form at www.everystep.org/find-care. The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.