Finding Joy in a Black Hole
“Mr. Williams, can we talk about those black holes, they are scary!”
Joy Fisher Williams’ partner of 20 years, Brent, and father to their two young sons, died unexpectedly and suddenly from a heart attack in November 2017. Brent loved to share his curious nature about
all things, especially his interests in music, youth hockey, and science. Just prior to his death, he joined his son’s classroom to discuss his work as a mission planning manager for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA’s flagship telescope designed to detect X-ray emissions from hot regions of the universe, including exploded stars and matter around black holes. “Black holes are terrifying conceptually and even more so in reality, much like the first days and weeks of grief. For the boys and me, that time was marked by pain, fear, a darkness all but impossible to push through,” shares Joy.
Joy and her sons, Fisher and Ruben, went to The Children’s Room (TCR), a Parmenter grantee organization, two months after Brent died. She says, “The beauty of peer support groups at TCR is that at the outset, newcomers are meant to benefit from the wisdom and insight of the more experienced members. The wonderful facilitators at The Children’s Room know the skill that is sadness and grief; they taught us the value — the necessity, even — of integrating grief into our lives.”
By encouraging memory-keeping with intentional child- and teen-focused activities such as Family Nights, making memory boxes, and creating photo albums, The Children’s Room clinicians work both in-person and via Zoom-based groups to foster hope and resilience in children and families. Joy explains, “Children and teens at TCR are encouraged to use art and activities as outlets for grief. Ruben loved the volunteers who would challenge him to a foosball match or a pillow fight in the “high-energy” room. Fisher likened the staff and volunteers to big brothers and sisters who made him feel safe and seen. The boys were encouraged to record favorite memories of their dad and turn them into luminaries, and the three of us participated in TCR’s family events,” says Joy. She and her sons were able to find solace at TCR, as they commemorated Brent, a shining star in their universe, and learned to find their way out of the black hole.