Interview With Amy Ritzhaupt, Jeff’s Place Volunteer

In 2023, we interviewed Amy Ritzhaupt, a volunteer who has been with Jeff’s Place from the very beginning. Amy’s service and dedication to the families here at Jeff’s Place came through in every interaction – she often  commuted several hours to be with our families on group nights. Now, as Amy steps away from her volunteer role to focus on the next chapter of her life, we reflect on her years of service with so much gratitude. We appreciate you, Amy!

How long have you been volunteering with Jeff’s Place?

I came to Jeff’s Place initially by way of Manitou Experience which is a one week camp for boys who have had a significant death loss. Jenny Kaplan was the clinical director there and when she asked if anyone was interested in working with grieving families throughout the year, I was all in. That was 13 years ago and I have to say that being a part of Jeff’s Place and watching it grow has been a defining chapter in my life.

How have you seen the organization change and develop during that time?

Those first couple of years were building years as we started with only a few families. In fact there were times when it was just me and one other teen in my “group.” Now though, Jeff’s Place has grown and not only serves numerous families and individual clients, but there are multiple groups on different nights. It’s a place where children, pre-school to teens along with their care givers can come and talk about what it’s like to survive a significant death loss. And it’s not just families that look to Jeff’s Place for help now. Schools have asked for staff workshops to help teachers and counselors support students who are dealing with the death of someone important in their lives. The communities have reached out to Jeff’s Place and Jeff’s Place has reached back.

What drives you to keep volunteering with Jeff’s Place?

Jeff’s Place gives people the space and the security to talk about their deepest sorrows, their hardest emotions and know that they are with people who understand not only intellectually but in the core of their being.  It’s a place where people can renew their commitment to keep on keeping on. This is a journey, with good days and heart breaking days but I would like to think I can help let people know that in their darkest times, there is still light and they are not alone as they put the pieces of their lives back together. Being a part of that is what brings me back year after year.

After working with bereaved teens and caregivers in our support groups, what’s something you’ve learned from them?

And so, what have I learned as I travel this road with our families? I’ve learned that grief is not neat and tidy. It’s not linear and doesn’t follow rules. It’s hard and it comes in it’s own time and in its own way… different for each person. I’ve learn that the language of grief is complicated and that grief expresses itself in many ways, not just sadness, but it’s longing and anger. It’s loneliness and resentment and a myriad of different and unexpected feelings that crash over you like giant waves or sit quietly in the back of your soul and whisper. It’s more than one loss. It’s not only the death of our person, it’s the death of a way of life and a future we had planned. We build our walls to protect ourselves from these awful realities but these feelings need space to breathe. So to name them is to see them. To see them is to feel them and to feel them is to deal with them. Finding ways to ease the power of these emotions allows more room for life to begin to grow around them, to let the light back in as we carry our person with us. And while they may not be with us physically, they are with us in laughter and joy and the memories of who they were in this world and who they remain in our world.

What advice would you offer to those who are supporting a grieving person?

To friends and family who are supporting someone who is grieving, give them space to grieve. And by that I don’t mean distance. I mean give them the opening to talk about their feelings, to talk about their person, to share memories and their story or maybe just to sit in silence with someone they trust. Open the door for them to talk. Say their person’s name and let them do the same. Listen without trying to ‘fix’ things and make it better. ‘Better’ comes in baby steps as the person learns to hold their person differently but always with them both in pain and joy.



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