By Erin Breen
At 34, Emilio Parga is full of life. He is fit, energetic and enthusiastic about his plans. It has taken him years of living to realize that his calling is in educating us about death.
“I have lost so many family members and friends,” he said. “When I was 11 years old, I lost my biological father. And there really wasn’t anyone there to talk to about it. I needed to hear from other kids who had lived through that kind of loss.”
When he was 14, Parga was hit by a truck while he was skateboarding with friends. That accident left him in a coma. He has scars that will last a lifetime.
“I started high school in a body cast,” he said. “Most of the kids who knew me didn’t know what to say or how to treat me, so they avoided me.”
As a second-grade teacher and counselor, Parga saw other young children who had lost parents or family members. He saw them searching for support, just as he had done years earlier. Then he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. During his own battle back to health, again, his future became clear.
” I could just feel it,” he said. “I was put here to help all kids understand and cope with these losses. I understand loss. I’ve been through it, and I can help.”
That was just two years ago. Parga has moved forward to make it happen. He has immersed himself in bereavement and grief counseling. He has met with those who lead other bereavement centers across the country for ideas on generating support and understanding for the need for a center in Northern Nevada.
Parga is carving out a niche teaching others about death education and raising awareness on children’s grief. He works for the Circle of Life Hospice and is an advocate for ongoing grief support. He talks to groups at local hospitals, nursing homes and service centers, and he holds training sessions for healthcare workers to help them better deal with death. His main focus always is on children.
“The best way for kids to deal with death is to talk to other kids who have been through it,” he said. “Everyone’s loss is different, but then they see that they aren’t alone. Even if they spend the first few meetings just listening, eventually they share their own feelings and talk about their own experiences. It just takes time.”
His organization is the Solace Tree.
“Not only does ‘solace’ mean comfort, but its an acronym for ‘Sadness Overcome in a Loving and Caring Environment,” he said.
Death is a topic most people avoid. Emilio Parga sees the need for us all to talk about it, because someday death will touch us all. If you’re interested in helping him or if you need help, you can reach Emilio at www.solacetree.org.Erin Breen is a Reno freelance writer. E-mail her at erinmeehanbreen @ sbcglobal.net.