FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – For the last 30 years, Erin’s House for Grieving Children has been healing hearts. It’s giving kids who lost a loved one a place they can go and feel seen, heard and not alone. It’s a special place. Just like the special little girl whose legacy lives on through the kids who find hope.
Erin Farragh will forever be almost six years old.
“She was always the light in the room. Everybody would be happy around her. Just a beautiful smile and bright eyes and beautiful hair, Dave Farragh, Erin’s dad, said.
What were once just preschool projects are now treasures, frozen in time.
“She brought out the best in everyone – adults and kids. She loved her brother and sister,” Gail Farragh, Erin’s mom, said.
Erin was almost six years old when she died suddenly on January 5, 1989.
“I remember saying out loud, because she died at five, no one will ever remember. No one will know there was an Erin Farragh,” Gail said.
Tracie Martin was friends and neighbors with the Farragh family.
“There wasn’t anything I could do to take away the pain. There wasn’t anything I could do to bring her back. But, there was something I could do and Junior League of Fort Wayne could do and the community could do to make sure that everybody knew that Erin Farragh lived,” Tracie said.
Tracie was president-elect of Fort Wayne Junior League at the time. She was at a conference in Cincinnati six months after Erin had died and heard about a grief center for children. She knew Fort Wayne needed that. The Farragh family needed that. And it could be a way to never forget little Erin.
“Her death was the start of something beautiful in Fort Wayne and it’s amazing. Not all communities are like that,” Gail said.
It took four years of planning and a lot of help from community volunteers, but out of a terrible loss, a place of hope and healing was born in 1993: Erin’s House for Grieving Children.
“We started out in the community center and we had to set up the volcano room and take it down every night. Then it started growing and three churches in town offered us space before we moved to Park West and then now the beautiful building Erin’s House is in,” Tracie said.
That building was built on a lot Dave and Gail had once seen years before. Before Erin had died.
“I’m from rural Michigan and there was a big farmer’s field and I said wouldn’t that be so cool to one day buy that farmer’s house in that field. Now, 30 years later, that’s where Erin’s House is,” Dave said.
The Farraghs didn’t influence where a building would be built.
“It’s really just serendipitous,” Dave said.
In the last three decades, Erin’s House has grown from helping a few families to serving around 120 families a week.
“When kids first come in they want to see Erin. That’s natural as a little kid. So, that gives us the first opportunity to talk about Erin,” Debbie Meyer, Erin’s House Executive Director, said.
But, Erin is there. Her picture on a plaque greets each person inside the front door.
“It’s a great grief story to tell when they first walk in because this is what we’re all about and they understand that, Debbie said. “It’s all out of love. When Erin’s House was first started, it was all out of love.”
On a program night, children go into groups by age. They’ll visit several rooms designed to help with different parts of grief.
The volcano room helps get out the anger.
“They throw pillows and scream and yell and just get it all out,” Debbie said.
The hospital room is also a favorite with a lot of kids.
“We have a chart in there just like in a hospital room and one time a child put that their person died of hair cancer. To them, that’s what they remember about it. Then we’ll have a psychologist in there once a quarter and he sits in the hospital room and those kids can come in and ask any questions they want,” Debbie said.
There’s also a recreation room and a quiet room for reflection.
“Sometimes you might play your favorite song of your loved one or maybe share what their favorite food is. It’s a place to meditate and talk about your person,” Debbie said.
Most importantly they share stories of their loved ones with other kids who understand their loss.
“You feel safe here. It’s okay to talk about your person,” Debbie said. “Here there are other people that understand exactly what they’re going through. It doesn’t matter what school you go to or your background, you all have this one thing in common.”
Erin’s House gives children permission to grieve and the tools to heal.
“One child said this is the happiest sad place there is,” Gail said.
Erin would have turned 40 this year. While she isn’t here, her spirit is still inspiring smiles.
“Everybody knows there was an Erin Farragh and that makes my heart smile,” Tracie said.
“It just makes me feel proud and makes me feel grateful that families are being helped. Kids are being helped,” Dave said.
“She served her purpose. Her life made a difference,” Gail said.
In 2021, in the state of Indiana, one in 12 kids was grieving the death of a sibling or parent by the age of 18. That’s estimated to be one in ten in 2023.
In the last 30 years, Erin’s House has helped 30,000 people. It now serves around 800 people a month and has programs in 31 schools. It’s also expanding and building a young adult wing. The hope is to have that done in about a year.
All the programing is free thanks to support from the community.
“We don’t receive any government funding. We rely on the community and they always come through every single year. We receive money from grants, corporations and special events and it all goes directly to help kids and families,” Debbie said.
To learn more about Erin’s House and how to utilize its services, click here.