Elmo danced alone beside the stage, flapping his arms as he waited for fans to approach. Cookie Monster tracked blue fuzz across the hardwood floors. The voice of Oscar the Grouch extolled the virtues of trash over the speaker system.
And in a quiet corner, Amanda Rivera, 12, fastened red puzzle pieces onto a white cardboard heart: a tribute to her father, William Rivera, a New York police officer who died after being injured in the line of duty in 2004.
“I think about him, like, every day,” Amanda said, looking up from her work. A group of children joined her table.
“We all have the same problem,” she said.
On Sunday, Amanda was among the scores of children to gather at Chelsea Piers for a family fun day, hosted by the Sesame Workshop and geared toward those who had lost a parent or close relative.
The event, organizers said, had dual ambitions. For adults, there were several local support groups, providing information on how to help children reconcile the death of someone close to them. And for the children, the get-together amounted to a day of escape — and, if they chose, a day to remember.
As some families waited in line to meet Elmo and Rosita, the bilingual Muppet, others spent the morning decorating ceramic hearts. The hearts were to be delivered, along with brief messages, to grieving strangers as part of a program called Hearts of Hope. As part of the same program, each child on Sunday received a heart that had been made elsewhere.
One woman who lost her husband in the Sept. 11 attack attended with her three children. She encouraged the eventual recipient of the heart she made to remain strong.
A 7-year-old named Jaid adorned a heart with a pink sheen and golden stripes. “I loved my brother very much,” Jaid’s accompanying message read. “He was happy and I want you to be happy too.”
Darren Finkel, 32, of Cranford, N.J., arrived with his mother, Debbie, and his 2-year-old daughter, Ellie. Mr. Finkel’s wife died of colon cancer in April. He said the show’s foray into bereavement counseling provided parents with a powerful educational resource. Last year, “Sesame Street” broadcast a special about grief that included the death of Elmo’s uncle.
“Sesame Street is a staple for them,” Mr. Finkel said, with Ellie at his feet. “In some ways, Elmo’s coping with loss is a mirror for young kids.”
Kevin Clash, who has performed as Elmo for more than 30 years, said “Sesame Street” might be “the safest place” for children to confront such serious subjects. (Mr. Clash entertained the children with an Elmo puppet during the event. Another performer worked the room in a full-body Elmo costume.)
Sunday’s event — sponsored by New York Life and tied to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 — was the latest iteration of a program that was formed in 2006, to counsel military families.
“The power of these Muppets is to make kids smile,” said Lynn Chwatsky, who helped put together the event for Sesame Workshop. “Today is not about ‘woe is you.’ ”
A Bronx woman, who declined to give her name, said that since her husband’s suicide last year, their 4-year-old daughter, Julia, had struggled to discuss her grief with friends. An event like this, she said, allowed Julia to meet children in the same position — and talk about it.
“She was only 3,” the woman said, adjusting the balloon animal hat atop her daughter’s head. “It’s important to talk about him.”
Julia, beginning on Sept. 27, is to attend group counseling sessions in Bronxville, N.Y., for two hours, every other week. As she prepared to make a beeline for the familiar characters across the room, her mother asked what she planned to speak about at her first session.
“Daddy,” she said, smiling. “And Cookie Monster.”
ETA: Just realized some of you might want to see these if you haven't already. Elmo and his father dealing with his Uncle's passing: http://www.sesameworkshop.org/grief
Some of the clips are there. Elmo's uncle died and it shows Elmo, his dad, and his cousin talking about him. It was beautiful.
There's another one about the war. Elmo and Rosita's fathers both served, and Rosita's father no longer as use of his legs.