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Nov 9 - Dec 31, 2023

SPOTLIGHT: Papillon Center

Papillon Center spreads its wings by offering grief support groups to the wider community.

By Pam Marino

Butterflies are everywhere inside the Monterey offices of the Papillon Center for Loss and Transition. The symbols of transformation and new life are displayed on wall quilts, and dangle from a small tree in a corner of a meeting room and are featured in the logo of Papillon, the French word for “butterfly.”

The natural transition from larvae to a butterfly mirrors the human experience of grief, says Joy Smith, one of Papillon’s founders. After the death of a loved one, people go into the “really yucky” insides of a cocoon and, with support, are able to emerge more courageous and able to live within their new reality. Smith sees that transformation unfold every week in the support groups Papillon offers.

Smith, an oncology nurse, and co-founder Helen Grady, a marriage and family therapist, started Papillon in 2013, two years after Grady’s husband died. As Grady looked for support working through her own grief, she couldn’t find any existing services that were a good fit. Grady and Smith – who had already worked together on a children’s grief group – decided to create it themselves.

They started with three groups: one for adults; one aimed at parents experiencing the loss of a child; and a program for children experiencing grief. At first they met in Grady’s office, but the response was so great they outgrew the space within a month. Papillon has helped about 600 people since then. The organization never charges participants, relying instead on donations and grants to cover expenses.

Papillon provides weekly drop-in support groups of eight to 12 adults, as well as other more specific groups that meet once or twice a week for situations like loss of a child, loss of an infant or miscarriage, or loss of pets. Papillon uses trained facilitators who come from professional care backgrounds, such as nurses, therapists and teachers.

“We keep it drop-in because we recognize people have good days and bad days,” Smith says. The door never closes – participants can come back any time, even years later.

Papillon’s Big Idea for MCGives! is to expand to the Spanish-speaking community. Funds will go toward paying for one or two professional bilingual group facilitators.

“If our society was more skilled in addressing grief and bereavement needs – which is a normal human experience – we would be a healthier community overall,” Smith says.