Just before Thanksgiving six years ago, Tamika Thomas’ fiancé, and the father of her three young children, died in a car accident in Detroit during a winter storm. He had just started a better job, and the family was looking forward to a brighter future.
At the Thanksgiving table that year, and every year since then, Tamika and the kids have left an empty chair to represent an absence that still aches.
“We are all still dealing with the grief, which remains so strong, especially this time of year,” said Tamika, 48.
Tamika’s middle child is Victor, who was a baby when his dad died. Victor has a hard time making sense of his feelings and how tragedy happens. Victor sometimes blames himself for his dad’s death, thinking that if he behaved better subsequently, his dad would still be alive.
“How a young child processes grief and the death of a parent is very unpredictable,” said Dewand Guyton, a Wraparound Counselor at Southwest Solutions, who is working with Victor and the family. “It is important to compassionately help the child understand so the child can honor the memory and successfully move forward in life.”
Dewand has been working with Tamika’s family for many years and has a deep understanding of the children and family dynamics. Before Victor, he had served as the wraparound counselor for the oldest child, Victoria, who is now 11.
Tamika strongly believes in the value and effectiveness of counseling. All three kids – Victoria, Victor and Victorian – also see clinician Latanya Gater at Southwest Solutions’ Children, Youth and Families division.
“Dewand and Latayna have made a big difference in our lives,” Tamika said. “The kids’ behavior has definitely improved. They are more confident and open, and they are learning good coping skills. I have also learned how to be a better parent to help them and myself recover.”
When she was pregnant with each child and then through the early years of each of their lives, Tamika participated in the Early Childhood Mental Health program at Southwest Solutions. The program is designed to strengthen the bond between caregiver and child, and to help the caregiver understand and meet the development needs of the child.
“I’m very glad I did this program with each of my children,” Tamika said. “It brought us together closer as a family and the closeness helps us get through the tough times and move forward together.”
Tamika herself receives mental health counseling at Southwest Solutions’ Waterman Outpatient Clinic. She has experienced much tragedy and trauma in her life, including the murder of her mother when she was a teenager. During the Covid crisis, she is continuing her weekly therapeutic sessions with her counselor Huri Kushner via telehealth.
“The counseling helps me manage stress and stay on track to accomplish my goals,” Tamika said.
Because of the pandemic, Tamika is not working her regular job right now. She has been a bus driver for Detroit Public Schools for the last 16 years.
“I like driving a bus and I am a very cautious driver,” Tamika said. “All the kids on the bus are my children for the time I have them, and I make sure they arrive safely.”
With all three of her kids doing remote learning, Tamika needs to stay home with them to care for them and help them with their schoolwork. The kids are good students. Victoria, the oldest, is in sixth grade and prides herself in maintaining straight A’s. She loves to write and wants to be a storyteller in words and images. She has begun writing her mother’s story to help both her mother and herself understand their family history and how adversity can be overcome.
Tamika is optimistic about her and the children’s future. She wants to further her own education. She is currently taking Spanish classes and intends to enroll in business classes. She wants to own her own company and move into her own home in the coming years.
“Tamika is a good model for her children,” said Dewand. “Her kids are her first priority and she is deeply invested in their lives and their success. The family has been through a lot, but her strength, determination and resourcefulness keep them going toward their dreams.”
To learn more about the Children, Youth and Families programs at Southwest Solutions, call 313-963-2266. To inquire about enrolling in our mental health counseling services, contact our ACCESS unit at 313- 841-7474 Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM.