“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.”
Inside Cason’s Place, a new support center for grieving children and teens, is an alcove called “Cheers.” Lyrics of the sitcom’s theme song hang on the wall.
The nook, stocked with colorful ceramic cups, is an homage to Cason Terjeson, for whom the center is named. The cups will eventually bear the names of kids who come to this facility in Pendleton to work through their grief.
Cason died in an accident 2007 at age 16. The teen was comfortable in his own skin, say family members. He sported a fedora hat and had encyclopedic knowledge of “Weird Al” Yankovic lyrics and Greek mythology. He competed in Pokemon tournaments at the world level.
He signed off every email with “Cheers.”
His death came while working on his grandparents’ Helix wheat farm. As Cason maneuvered a wheat truck down a steep dirt road, the truck’s engine died, along with the steering and brakes. The truck tipped on a curve and slammed into a bank.
Cason’s death devastated his parents, Matt Terjeson and Jan Peterson-Terjeson, and his 12-year-old sister Lydia Terjeson. Eventually the family, who lived in Beaverton at the time, found healing at the Dougy Center in Portland, where they shared their experiences with others stuck in the painful funk of grief.
The healing they discovered there was so profound that eventually Matt and Jan spearheaded efforts to bring a similar center to Umatilla County. The Pendleton couple and other members of the non-profit’s board secured a site and designed the facility, modeled after the Dougy Center.
On Sunday, more than 250 people attended an open house at the center at 1416 SE Court. Visitors drove from as far away as Arlington, Ione and Walla Walla to tour the facility, which provides peer support groups for grieving children, teens and family members.
In the cozy reception room hangs a photo of Cason and his sister Lydia, showing from behind the siblings with their arms around each other. The image inspired the Cason’s Place logo.
On one side of the building is a “talking room” for teens. On the other side, younger children will gather twice-monthly to share difficult feelings with other kids who are in the same boat. Parents meet in the building’s conference room.
The teen talking room, an oasis of comfy couches, offers a safe place to share. The room for younger children has oversized pillows and teddy bears.
After a chat of 20 minutes or so, the kids move to activity rooms designed for their age group and then regroup for another talking session.
The Volcano Room offers teens a place to release tension by yelling, stomping on bubble wrap, warring with pool noodles and engaging in other physical activity. In another room, they can don boxing gloves and hit a punching bag. In the game room, they play air hockey, foosball or darts. There’s also an art room.
Spaces designed for younger children include a volcano room, art area, paint splatter room, theater, Lego and sand table room and a faux hospital room stocked with toy stethoscopes, syringes, bandages and scrubs. Different community members sponsored each room and helped design them.
Retired Pendleton High School counselor Vickie Read, who came to the open house, marveled at the center.
“This is such a positive place,” Read said. “Every room is dedicated to a piece of the healing process.”
Lydia Terjeson traveled from her home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for the open house. She hopes Cason’s Place will help others heal just as the Dougy Center aided her and her parents. After Cason’s death, she felt isolated.
“Most of my friends hadn’t even had a grandparent die, much less a brother they saw every single day. They didn’t know what to say,” she said. “It was a lonely feeling.”
Her load lightened at the Dougy Center. Kids shared their grief, she said, and no one judged. Emotions ran the gamut. One girl who had lost her mother cried a lot, but also laughed and smiled.
“I learned that grief and happiness aren’t mutually exclusive,” Lydia said.
Cason’s parents had also gone to a dark place where just getting up and getting dressed took Herculean effort. After work, they sometimes grabbed blankets and went to separate corners to nap. When they started attending an adult support group at the Dougy Center, they discovered peers who understood. The fog started to lift.
“The Dougy Center really saved our lives,” Lydia said.
Mary Len Rees, of Helix, was a facilitator at the Dougy Center and will serve the same role at Cason’s Place. She finds that grieving adults and kids find relief in telling their own stories to peers who know similar pain.
“Saying it out loud is healing,” Rees said. “You release emotions that get trapped like a pressure cooker. Kids learn to speak about their loss and then move forward.”
Talking isn’t required, however.
“You can talk or you can pass,” Matt Terjeson said.
He said Rees is one of 11 facilitators who are ready to go, though more are needed. The next training session is Oct. 21-22.
To register for groups, go to www.casonsplace.org. Select “Our Services” and click on “Join Our Support Group.”
Matt often gets emotional as he looks around the center named after his son. He couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
“It’s not a big scary place,” he said. “It’s a welcoming place.”
A place where everybody knows your name.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-966-0810.