When a Son Loses His Dad: How EveryStep Grief & Loss Services Made a Difference

Losing a parent at any age is difficult, but increasingly, children are experiencing the death of a parent at a younger age. An estimated 1 in 16 Iowa children will experience the death of a parent by age 18.

When Kelsey McNaney’s husband-to-be died in September 2021, her son was just 6 years old. 

Kelsey shared two children with her fiancé and was co-parenting, with legal guardianship, two more children from his previous marriage. Kelsey’s fiancé had a number of chronic health conditions and died in his sleep.

“My oldest son was having a very hard time processing his dad’s passing away,” remembers Kelsey, who was referred to EveryStep Grief & Loss Services through WIC.

EveryStep Grief & Loss Services offers a wide array of free grief support resources for children, families and individual adults, including its Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp, in-person and online support groups, school support, social gatherings and deliveries of holiday Cheer Boxes.

Kelsey’s son participated in EveryStep’s online grief support groups. He met virtually with other children who had lost a parent or loved one. Peer support group facilitators lead participants in age-appropriate activities that facilitate discussion and sharing.

“At first he was really nervous. He didn’t really talk – he just listened,” says Kelsey. But hearing other kids his age talking about the same feelings he was having made him feel more comfortable. “He really liked it. After the meetings he was happier, instead of being sad all the time.” Kelsey says techniques he learned during the grief support group sessions, such as breathing exercises, continue to help her son.

Last December, Kelsey and her family received an EveryStep Cheer Box, a holiday box of wrapped gifts that are delivered to nominated individuals and families who have lost a loved one. The gifts are designed to help recipients navigate the grief that can be especially difficult during the holidays.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better than the Cheer Box,” says Kelsey. “It was just amazing. It really helped my son.”

Now Kelsey is giving back. As general manager of Applebee’s Grill and Bar on Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines, she is donating 50% of proceeds from special menu items on August 30 to EveryStep Grief & Loss Services. August 30 is National Grief Awareness Day. “My son benefited from EveryStep so much that I’m elated to do an event. EveryStep helped us a lot at the time we needed it,” says Kelsey. “I would tell anyone going through what we did that it’s okay to ask for help.”

EveryStep Grief & Loss Services relies on community gifts to support its nonprofit mission. Please consider giving to EveryStep at everystep.org/donate, or boost proceeds to EveryStep by visiting Applebee’s Grill and Bar on Mills Civic Parkway on August 30.

For more information about EveryStep Grief & Loss Services, call (515) 223-4847 or email griefandloss@everystep.org. To learn about EveryStep’s Cheer Box program and nomination process, visit everystep.org/services/grief-loss/about-amanda-the-panda.

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.