AATPC sees many families, often as a result of divorce, a parent’s alcohol or drug use, or a child’s acting out behaviors. The Smith Family (not their real name) had a different story. Mr. Smith had been fighting a rare type of liver cancer for 3 years with little improvement. He was unable to work and relied on his wife’s income to support the family with 2 young boys. The family was continuing to receive a great deal of material and logistical support from their community, which helped with food and transportation for the children. But the family was fatigued from the lack of routine and continuity. While grateful and attempting to appear hopeful about Mr. Smith’s health, Mrs. Smith was becoming depressed and fearful. The boys were each acting out in school and fighting with each other. Mr. Smith felt disengaged and guilty for being unable to contribute to the family. The family was grieving but because Mr. Smith had not been told he was “terminal” they could not share this in public.

Sessions at AATPC started with guided discussion about the losses they were facing. The boys were more easily able to discuss their feelings through discussions about Cody’s loss of his best friend (prompting Cody’s move to the Ranch), and Ethel’s recent loss of her leg and how they had both adjusted to these changes. The parents watched the boys were allowed to play cooperatively with AATPC’s two goats, taking turns haltering and getting them to walk. On a snowy day the family built a snow cave and worked together to entice the goats through it. There was laughter and playfulness as the family learned how to be together in new, different ways and how each could continue their roles (as children and as parents) despite the changes that were occurring. The parents learned to balance the need for grief with the need for living and had gained new tools to deal with the ongoing changes in the family’s circumstances.