The Cole Project partners with the Christian Center for a music-based grief support group
Music has a lot of uses. Many studies have shown that music can make people happy, help them remember the past and even deal with grief.
The Cole Project, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit, uses music to help people work through their grief, and Park City will get the chance to experience this power during peer-to-peer, inclusive and creative group sessions at the Christian Center of Park City starting this month.
Registration is open for the sessions that will scheduled according to the participants’ schedules, said Rob Harter, Christian Center executive director.
“These sessions, which are specific to youths and young adults, create safe spaces for them to process through whatever loss they are grieving through,” Harter said. “We offer individual counseling services, and it seemed logical to have a peer-to-peer support group as another avenue for us to provide these kinds of services.”
The sessions will be led by board-certified music therapist Tony Ollerton, director of Expressive Therapies of Utah.
“(The participants) don’t have to have any musical skill or previous music experience to be part of the group,” Ollerton said. “We provide the different music opportunities for them to explore their grief.”
Those explorations will be done by listening to music, talking about certain songs that help the participants through their grief and, if the participants want, writing or co-writing songs, according to Ollerton.
“Music is such a huge part of the culture of an adolescent and young adult population, more than any other population,” she said. “It is used to form identity. It’s used in the way they talk with each other and how they express themselves. So, utilizing this medium provides an opportunity for them to also explore their grief.”
Ollerton has found that many people who have participated in the Cole Project sessions were already using music by themselves to cope with losses.
“So by getting them together in a peer-support model, gives them the opportunity to see how others are also dealing with the same feelings they are,” she said. “This gives them a place where they can deal with grief together and find support.”
The Cole Project was founded by its executive director Angela Busch in memory of her son, Cole-Michael, who passed away at age 15 in 2001 from brain cancer.
“We knew from the beginning that his prognosis wasn’t good, and I began gearing up in my mind how we were going to get through it,” Busch said.
Cole-Michael’s death left Busch, her husband and younger children ages 11, 7 and 3, to deal with the loss.
“As his mother, I was trying to figure out how was I going to lead my other children through this,” Busch said. “The first thoughts I had was to find a support group for my children because I remembered I didn’t have one when I was a teen.”
Busch’s father died when she was 15, and she was advised not to talk about it.
“Consequently, I really didn’t grieve over him, and that put me in a corner,” she said. “I never spoke about it out loud, and that sat in my mind as to why don’t we talk about death and dying, particularly with young people.”
With that in mind, Busch knew she needed to do something to help her own children and her son’s friends.
“I found that a lot of Cole’s friends, most of whom had known him since elementary school, were also grieving,” she said. “So we kind of turned our home into a makeshift memorial.”
The Busch family cleared off a dining room wall, and allowed friends to visit and write messages to their son on it.
“For two years I had a stream of teens coming through my home, and I think that helped them,” she said. “But there were still others who were dealing with the grief through addiction and problems through school, which told me they weren’t getting what they needed.”
So, Busch began to put ideas together of a safe space where the kids could talk about what they were feeling with each other.
“I came up with an idea where they could come and lean on each other,” she said. “So the idea about a peer-to-peer support group came up.”
The music element came in after Busch met Ollerton.
“My husband used music as his main form of communication and expression of grief, so I knew it worked,” Busch said. “I got together with Tony and the idea evolved into this beautiful thing we do now.”
Ollerton’s passion for music started when she was a child.
“I can remember times in my life when music was the saving grace for me when I was very young,” she said.
She had a difficult experience within her own relationship with music, but was extremely active in it.
“When I was in school studying psychology, I felt there was something missing,” she said. “Shortly afterwards, I heard about music therapy, and when I checked into it. When I saw the possibilities, I knew that’s what I needed.”
Ollerton first met Busch a couple of years ago during a meeting with representatives of Skullcandy, a Park City-base company who makes various audio devices.
“We talked about the Cole Project, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Ollerton said.
Nearly a year after the initial talks, Busch contacted Ollerton and they began working together.
Busch and Ollerton were introduced to Park City through Skullcandy.
Skullcandy was Cole Project’s corporate partners, and connected Busch and Ollerton with events with CONNECT Summit County, a local mental wellness nonprofit.
“We did a few events with them during Mental Health Awareness month in May,” Busch said. “We received a lot of feedback during those events, and heard that Park City and Summit County teens and young adults could benefit from a program like the Cole Project.”
A friend suggested the Christian Center of Park City to Busch.
“We talked with them about what we could do in collaborations, and they asked us last fall to start up a program in Park City,” Busch said.
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