WALNUT CREEK – Ann Khadalia and Steve Grimes interact with sometimes remarkable ease, sometimes finishing each other’s sentences or remembering another story to tell. They speak easily and think often.
They can always smile, and when the time is right, they can laugh too.
âBelieve it or not,â Grimes said, âyou can get away with this.â
Yet as they stand together outside the offices of the Contra Costa Crisis Center in Walnut Creek, holding a window to their soul – photos of Steve’s late son, Kevin, and Ann’s late daughter, Priya – the dark cloud of pain is never far beyond the horizon.
They are grateful that it is no longer raining sadness.
Grimes and Khadalia are close today as their respective paths connected and passed through the Contra Costa crisis center following the deaths of their children over 20 years ago. Kevin Grimes, who was almost 16, collapsed while on a scout outing with his father near Kirkwood Mountain Resort in March 1996 and never regained consciousness. Three years later, 5-year-old Priya Khadalia was struck and killed by an unlicensed driver of a car who turned on a red light at an intersection in Hayward.
Their parents are now volunteering on the same grief support teams that helped them survive the worst nightmare they have ever faced.
Grimes facilitates and sometimes leads bereavement groups. Khadalia does the same and was so inspired by the centre’s impact on her life that she obtained her Masters in Counseling at Cal State East Bay two years ago.
âWe’re not trying to be therapists,â Grimes said. âWe Listen. We are empathetic. We ask open ended questions. We have a conversation and we try to find a connection.
The Crisis Center has facilitated such conversations since 1963. The association is accredited by the American Association of Suicidology and provides 24/7 support and counseling to people in crisis, distress or suicidal, 365 days a year. . Its mission is to keep people in crisis alive until the storm passes.
The organization received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual vacation campaign that helps residents in need of East Bay. Donations will help support 56 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The center will use its grant for staff salaries and benefits; create the ability to return customers’ daily phone calls; train new volunteer animators; and coordinate weekly bereavement support groups.
Grimes and Khadalia said these services were essential for their ability to resume their lives after the loss of their children. Each participated in group sessions in small gatherings, meetings that turned strangers who started out into teammates united in grief.
âThey helped me get through my grief, but to be more precise, they really allowed me to grieve,â Khadalia said. âI’m in this nightmare, but I was so wrapped up in the way other people were doing that I wasn’t dealing with my own feelings of loss and grief. I was just sort of surviving. The first few months were a total fog. I think for a year I cried every day. But the group helped me find a place to go with it all, and as you go through the process it starts to help you.
Grimes said the grieving groups at the center also provided a place where people were not afraid to talk with him about his loss, a key to his recovery. He said family and friends were initially reluctant to bring up Kevin for fear of opening a wound that was too painful.
Such fear is wrong, he said. The memory of Kevin is never far away, and neither is his father’s desire to talk about him.
âI’m always so happy when people ask me,â he said. âHe was an adventurous young man. He had short trick type skis. He loved the Boy Scouts, he loved bungee jumping. We just did a lot, a lot of trips together during the summer. He was an explorer.
Khadalia similarly shines when the subject turns to Priya.
âShe was a very lively and spirited little girl,â she said. âShe was very determined, extremely curious. She loved to dance and took ballet lessons. She had a fearless personality.
In many ways, the same can be said of Priya’s mom and Kevin’s dad. They experienced the worst fear of parents. And while the scars are still there, so too are the inspiration they provide to countless others just by going forward and rediscovering the joy.
Both say the Crisis Center was an integral part of this process.
âAs you get help, you come back to a place where you know you can help others,â Khadalia said. âAnd it seems helping others is what made that dark cloud not so close to me anymore. It’s there, but it’s very far now, and there is light now.
And the pain is less intense.
âThe loss allows you to have a perspective,â Grimes said. âIt teaches you what is important and what is not. We are here to show others that life can go on and on.
Share the spirit
The Share the Spirit vacation campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, provides relief, hope and opportunity to residents in need by funding nonprofit vacation and outreach programs in the counties of Alameda and Contra Costa. To make a tax-deductible contribution, cut the coupon accompanying this story or go to www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate. Readers with questions, as well as individuals or businesses interested in making grants or contributions, can contact the Share the Spirit program at 925-655-8355 or [email protected]