‘A common unfortunate bond’: hockey player aims to bring child grief services to Durham

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A former Oshawa Generals player is hoping to create more resources in Durham for children in grief after suffering the loss of one of his own family members – Nov 18, 2020

A former Oshawa Generals player is hoping to create more bereavement resources in Durham for children in grief.

It’s been Will Petschenig’s mission ever since he lost his father and former Toronto Argonauts player, Dan Petschenig, in 2013.

“I was playing for the Oshawa Generals at the time. It was a tough situation for my family and I had a support system from the Oshawa Generals and my family didn’t quite have the same.”

His father died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism — a blockage to the pulmonary arteries in one’s lungs.

“It’s unfortunate I never got the opportunity to say thank you, but this is the best way I can give back to him and say thank you to him for everything he’s done for me,” the professional hockey player said.

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Read more: Avery’s Legacy — How an Alberta mother is parenting her daughter after loss

Due to the pandemic, Petschenig plans to start by bringing virtual services for children under 18 to the region by spring 2021 through his organization, A Heart Like Mine. However, a plan is in the works to also run a facility called A Heart Like Mine House, where families would go in person to access the mental health services they need.

Petschenig says he volunteered with children in grief during his time playing for the Saginaw Spirit, a junior hockey team in Michigan, in 2015-16.

“I just saw first-hand how effective it is for children to be supported by others who are going through the same grieving process as them. Whether their parent died or their sibling died, everyone has a common unfortunate bond.”

Petschenig shares a special bond with Brock Strong, one of hundreds of youth he’s worked with since forming A Heart Like Mine.

Read more: ‘My greatest fear is that he’ll be forgotten’ — Losing a spouse at a young age

Strong’s father died in a snowmobile accident in 2018, leaving him and his brothers behind.

“It was just a blink of an eye and he was gone,” Strong said.

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“It’s still really hard for us because we don’t like to talk. When I met Will, he kind of opened me up a little bit because he had been through something that I had been through and it really helped me out.”

According to the Children and Youth Grief Network, one in 14 kids in Canada will experience the death of a family member by the time they’re 18 years old.

Watch: Children’s Grief Centre aims to help more Calgarians through loss

Durham regional chair John Henry says while there are existing services for children in need, there is still a large demand, especially as people continue to lose loved ones to COVID-19.

“When a young person loses somebody it has an impact on them,” Henry said.

“Finding the right help at the right time is key for a successful future, too, so what Will is trying to do is a great concept and I’m excited for that.”

As for Petschenig, he “can’t wait to help all these families out.”

“I know first-hand how difficult it is to lose someone you love so much.”