From Grieving Teen to Giving Back: Rebecca's Healing Journey

Rebecca Nielsen was a teenager in 2014 when her older brother Erik died suddenly of a brain aneurism while he was at school. Erik was just 20 years old.

The following Christmas, Rebecca’s family received an EveryStep Cheer Box. “It’s an interesting feeling — receiving a gift from a stranger, not knowing who it’s from, but feeling comfort from that person,” says Rebecca. She says she most vividly remembers the blanket that was in the Cheer Box. “I immediately wrapped myself up in it! It’s still used today.”

Rebecca and her family also attended a holiday event organized by EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda grief and loss program. “That’s when I learned about the grief support groups and I got involved,” Rebecca remembers.

At 14 years of age, Rebecca had difficulty expressing her emotions outside of her family. She felt as though her friends had moved on with their lives and if she told them how she was feeling, she’d be a burden to them. “I remember [the Amanda the Panda grief support groups] being a safe space where we could talk about some hard things that I couldn’t talk about with other friends. I felt I was in a similar situation as some of these people and I could listen to their stories and they would let me talk and just get out all the thoughts I had in my head – things I was a little scared to share with other people. I felt like I could really open up.”

Rebecca took part in EveryStep’s grief support groups for two years and also attended the overnight Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp. This year, Rebecca’s employer, Sammons Financial, organized a Cheer Box wrapping event at its offices. That’s when Rebecca made the connection between that box of gifts she received as a teenager and EveryStep’s Cheer Box program.

“I just really thought it was so impactful, both back then and being able to volunteer now. I know firsthand it makes a big impact. It’s the small things that let you know people are thinking about you. Being able to participate now and thinking back on how things were at that time, it made me realize how much of an impact it made on me.”

EveryStep Cheer Boxes are a holiday box of 12, specially chosen gifts that go to families and individuals that have felt the pain of losing a loved one during the past year. During the holiday season, EveryStep wants to remind them that they have our support and care. The Cheer Box program is a long-standing tradition and one of many grief and loss support services offered through EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda program.

Donations for EveryStep’s Cheer Box program are accepted year-round at (Choose Grief & Loss Services/Amanda the Panda from the drop-down menu). To learn how to nominate someone to receive a Cheer Box during the 2023 holiday season, email For information about EveryStep’s free grief support services, visit

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.