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He lost both his parents. Now, he’ll help kids and teens heal at Camp BraveHeart.

When the hospice coordinator pulled up to the house, she hoped she had the wrong address. She knew this family — she had been here so recently. There was the son, 30-year-old Jay Jeannotte, opening the door.

Four months earlier, Jay’s dad had been in the bed in the living room, receiving HopeHealth’s hospice care. Jay’s mom had been beside him, the picture of health. Now, his dad was gone and his mom was starting hospice.

The back-to-back losses were a shock to everyone, and devastating for Jay, their only child.

“My parents were my go-tos. The three of us were always a unit,” Jay says. “After my mom passed, there was this period of absolute disbelief. Then I started feeling truly lost.”

Slowly, with the help of a dedicated grief counselor, he began to find his way forward.

This summer, as a volunteer at Camp BraveHeart, he’ll help kids and teens do the same.

“Something I’ll always hold onto”

Jay’s mom, Mary, was his greatest confidant. “I would text her all day, every day,” says Jay. “There was nothing I wouldn’t share with her.”

He was close with his dad, John, in other ways. From as early as he can remember, they’d play games of catch or pickup basketball in the yard, or train together in the boxing gym his dad set up in the garage. That continued after Jay graduated college and moved back to Narragansett, RI, to a place just down the road.

In 2018, these rhythms were upended. That year, John was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. By 2021, the treatments had stopped working. He spent his final months at home, on HopeHealth’s hospice, the way he’d spent his life: with his beloved wife and son by his side.

“To watch my mom’s love and support for my dad, seeing how courageous she was, how much they were there for each other and cared for each other — that’s something that I’ll always hold onto,” says Jay.

A month after John passed, Mary went to the doctor because she was having trouble swallowing. Jay drove her to the appointment. When she got back in the car, she broke down. “It’s esophageal cancer,” she said. The same diagnosis.

John’s journey with esophageal cancer had lasted years. Mary’s only lasted months. The HopeHealth team returned to the house, offering comfort and dignity in her final days.

“It was all so sudden. It felt like I didn’t even have to time to grieve for my dad before we were consumed with everything with my mom,” says Jay. “But everyone from HopeHealth was just incredible: their patience, their heart, their compassion.”

One morning in July, Jay had a feeling it was his mom’s last. He called the 24/7 nurse, and asked for help getting ready. When she arrived, she gently washed Mary, changed her into clothes she loved, and styled her hair.

“My mom looked beautiful. She went out with grace and style, which would’ve been important to her,” says Jay. “It means I can look back on that day with a smile.”

A way through grief: “With you for the rest of your journey”

Jay leaned on HopeHealth’s hospice team for both parents’ end-of-life journeys. For the immense loss that followed, he leaned on its grief support services.

These services, which include one-on-one counseling, are free for a year after a loved one’s death. Jay was paired with grief counselor Diane Lambert. At first, they spoke every week.

“There were so many times when I’d be having bad days, and I would be hard on myself, and question if the way I was feeling was OK,” says Jay. “One of the most important things Diane taught me was to be patient with myself — to give into it when I need to give into it. This is an incredibly difficult time and situation: Don’t try to fight through and put on this brave face.”

Two years later, he still has days when he’s overwhelmed with loss. But he’s more prepared to weather it.

“Compared to this point last year, I think I’m an entirely different person,” he says. “Grief comes in waves. It can be random, it can come out of the blue. Try to put yourself first and stay in touch with your emotions. At the end of the day, remember that whoever you lost is with you for the rest of your journey.”

He’s ready to share that message with anyone who needs to hear it. This summer, that includes children and teens who are going through losses of their own.

> Related: 6 ways to help you heal after the loss of a parent

At Camp Braveheart, helping kids and teens heal from loss

At Diane’s urging, Jay will lead the sports program at Camp Braveheart this summer. The camp, which takes place in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, offers a safe, supportive space for youth ages 4 to 17 who’ve lost a loved one. It’s run by HopeHealth grief counselors who specialize in support for kids, with the help of volunteers like Jay.

For Jay, the sports program is a callback to all the time he spent playing baseball and basketball with his dad, and to memories of both parents cheering him on as a high school and college athlete. (They never missed a game.) He’s been gravitating to activities like this, where he feels his parents with him, to help him heal — like a charity boxing event that honored his dad’s days as a boxing coach.

“There are so many different avenues for channeling your grief, all these ways to honor the person you lost,” Jay says. “I hope that’s a message that can help these kids.”

His reason for volunteering at Camp Braveheart isn’t about sharing his own story, though. It’s to create a safe space where kids can open up about theirs.

He knows how important that is, from his talks with Diane and the support of his extended family.

“Grieving can be a lonely experience,” says Jay. “I’m excited to be part of a program that says to these kids: ‘You’re not alone. This is something that you can go through with others. At the end of the day, there is hope.’”

Are you coping with grief and loss? Find a virtual grief support group or reach out at (888) 528-9077 or

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