There is a room in Juniata where children speak of despair.


Goodnight, Moon

. No Dr. Seuss. No

Dora the Explorer


Here, they talk about homicides and car wrecks and fatal disease - all of which ripped away their parents or loved ones.

Today, in that room at the nonprofit Center for Grieving Children, Teens and Families, they will officially unveil a colorful mosaic mural born of pain.

It shows a figure on a path with a red and orange swirl spinning over its head. Artist Kim Niemela says the figure can be seen as a child on a "grief journey," with a loved one infinitely orbiting overhead.

Nearby is a tree of multicolored leaves that represent every emotion that can be experienced by a youngster whose world has crashed in.

"Everybody here shares the path," said 14-year-old Jessica Bustard of North Philadelphia, who lost her mother to heart disease. "It's the journey to get life back to normal, and not be alone."

Niemela, of the Philadelphia public art group known as COSACOSA art at large Inc., drew the outline of the image based on hours of conversations that the children have had with center director and therapist Rob Sheesley.

About 40 children, ages 6 to 18, broke apart colored ceramic tiles, then glued them onto the 4-by-8-foot mural.

A life-from-death work of art was formed, to be hung in the children's hidden sanctuary.

"Their putting down the tiles gave some of them the feeling of putting their lives together," said Niemela, who lost her husband to cancer three years ago.

"They're beautiful kids, with that spark of resilience in them," Sheesley said. "But they're carrying a great load."

Several youngsters have been acting out at school or committing vandalism because they hurt deeply and had no way to express it, he added.

"I would just break down and cry in school," said Derrilyn Brown, 13, of North Philadelphia, whose Uncle Junior - the only male figure in her life - died of cancer. "Then I would get bullied. Everything was piling up."

At the center, Sheesley gives the children a chance to talk about loss, anger, hopelessness and hope.

Some, such as Alexander Santiago, 14, of North Philadelphia, bear outsize burdens. Two years after Santiago's father died in a car accident, his mother was murdered.

"I'm just living day by day," said Santiago, who lives with an aunt. "Sometimes I feel sad, sometimes I don't."

With reference to the mosaic mural and the grief journey, Santiago wrote a poem about what he and other center children endure:

My grief is a piece of the little brick road,

A story of my life that I already told.

Reminds us of them and we all know who they are. . . .

The way I see it is life is like a tree that has a lot of leaves, and my grief that makes leaves fall.

The tree with a lot of leaves that change colors will make a rainbow.

And that is them telling you that they had emotions too.

And love is one of them.