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061716-mis-nws-tamarack

Rob Terwilliger, clinical coordinator and grief specialist, Liz Manley, development director, and finance director Paula Griffith, right, stand outside Tamarack Grief Resource Center’s new location recently. After serving more than 3,900 people last year, the center needed a bigger building.

When Molly Pickett was 12 years old, her father died of suicide.

Pickett is a quadruplet, and all four siblings grieved in unique ways. That led her to A Camp To Remember, a nature-based grief camp for children ages 8-14 who have lost a loved one.

"I can't describe what changed, how it changed my life totally, but it did change my whole life," Pickett said of the summer camp. "It changed the perspective of what I had lost and gave me hope again."

Since then she has volunteered with Tamarack Grief Resource Center's Young Adult Program and got her master's degree in counseling. She's worked at Tamarack ever since, now serving as assistant director and grief specialist.

Tamarack gives people the tools they need to navigate the grieving process, and it's been so successful – they served more than 3,900 people last year, about five times more than when they opened in 2008 – that they had to move from 516 S. Orange St. to a new location, 405 South First St. W.

"We were busting at our seams," Pickett said. "We were in a place where we were saying, it’s time for us to have a permanent home. We had a list, and it was a long list, of here's what we would want and need."

That list included, among other criteria, a bigger building, having access to parks and river trail systems and being located in central Missoula.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, Tamarack is holding a grand opening and hootenanny at its new home. It's a celebration, said development director Liz Manley, and a chance for staff, board members, clients and community members to see the new location and learn more about what they do. The party also coincides with A Camp To Remember summer camp registration (Look for clinical coordinator and grief specialist Rob Terwilliger playing banjo on the front porch, Pickett said).

"It truly is a dream to have Tamarack Grief Resource Center own its own building," Manley said. "But we still have some work to do."

***

Tamarack officially opened its new doors and started seeing clients June 7, the day after staff moved in.

Boxes were still being unpacked and offices were unfinished, but it was starting to take on a relaxed, homey feel. They still need to make the entry handicap-accessible, the basement isn't complete (it will hold art therapy, youth groups, teen council and volunteer training) and the healing garden in the backyard needs some work.

"It all happened very quickly," Manley said. "It was a couple years of looking for places, then two of our board members said this looks like a really good opportunity. We found it and things just started happening really quickly. We immediately went into a 30-day capital campaign to raise money."

During that time, which wrapped in early June, Tamarack was able to incorporate one of its fundraisers, the A Taste to Remember benefit gala, into the campaign. Tamarack has closed on the building, but it will continue to raise funds to help with improvements.

"I certainly think there are people in our community who do not know (we exist), or haven't had a reason to come," Manley said.

***

The grief center is 8 years old this year, but it was preceded by A Camp To Remember, created by Tamarack executive director and co-founder Tina Barrett 20 years ago.

"It grew and expanded (in 2008) to not just be camps and programs but counseling, camps, programs and education," Manley said. "It really grew from camps and retreats to really much more full-service and encompassing many other aspects."

One education component is the annual Grief Institute, a Missoula conference that brings together nurses, doctors, counselors, hospice care workers, funeral home directors, community members and more to learn how to handle grief in their profession.

"We're not the only organization that offers grief support, but we're the only year-round comprehensive grief center in the state," Manley said.

In addition to the Missoula headquarters, Tamarack has an office in Kalispell and Browning.

"I think when people hear about Tamarack and they hear about what we do, there's that level of 'I wish I would have known about this 20 years ago,' " Manley said. "I think there's not an awareness that help is available or should be available or that people don't need help, that you're just expected to deal with it.

"It never leaves, it's just how do you live with it."

***

Nature has always been the core.

When Barrett began working in residential care years ago, she looked for ways to get children out of hospitals and into nature. That's how A Camp To Remember began.

"There's lots of components of nature and metaphors and qualities that indoors don't provide," Pickett said.

"It's not something you can teach. What we know is that everyone's process is an individual process, so we're helping them understand what their process is like and how best, then, to do it, given that this is their situation. It doesn't meant that it's acceptable, it's not OK that their person died, but given that they are living this life now, and they have a new lens through which they view the world ... it's going to look different for every person."

That was true of how Pickett handled her father's death, compared to her brothers and sister.

"It’s the same parents, the same home, the same school, the same teachers. So much of what we lived was the same," she said. "But the way in which we grieved the loss of my dad was so incredibly different and layered and complex. I was the one who wanted to cry and talk and hold pictures and tell stories and hold his clothes, and my twin sister did not. She didn’t want to tell stories or talk about it. She found a lot of relief in being outside with horses. The difference was profound."

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Reporter for the Missoulian