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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Schools, community help the grieving

Monday, December 13, 2004

In the wake of a sudden death, particularly that of a young person like 18-year-old murder victim Toni Dickison, friends and survivors of the deceased rarely mourn alone.

Members of the community where the young person lived as well as peers and educators at the school he or she attended are also affected by the loss.

"The most important thing we do in that time is let students share their grief," said Don Harrison, Director of Guidance at Northview High School.

When a pupil dies, guidance staff and clergy from local churches are available to talk with students in the gymnasium about the death and how it has affected them. It's amazing to see the positive impact of a negative event, when discussion of their grief turns to brainstorming methods of taking action, Harrison said. In the past, this has ranged from writing cards and messages to the parents of the deceased student to petitioning local government officials to install a guardrail on a section of roadway known to be hazardous after an auto accident.

"Certainly their grief isn't over when they leave that day," Harrison said. "It's always very comforting to see how they work."

Some students may have trouble returning to where they were before the death took place, but the faculty does an excellent job of noticing and monitoring students who are experiencing an extended grieving period, he said. Many talk about the unfairness of the death at a time in their lives when they should be able to concentrate on fun activities like attending football games with friends and going to the prom.

"With teenagers, it's always hard to realize that something is forever. The finality of it is so difficult," he said. "It really causes our students to face the real world in a way we wish they didn't have to."

A large stone at the northeast corner of the high school serves as a memorial to students and teachers who have died while enrolled or employed there. While Dickison was not a student at the time of her death, counselors are still available for grieving friends, siblings and other students.

"In times of grieving, every person looks to either a source of strength or a source of escape," said Rev. Tony Alstott, pastor at First United Methodist Church, Brazil.

While some choose to escape through alcohol, drugs, work or staying excessively busy, he explained, other people seek support from members of the community as well as God, their religious faith, friends, their children and other family members.

"Certainly it's an unfortunate situation," said Rev. Greg Comp of First Christian Church, explaining that a community is often shocked when, after regularly hearing news reports of tragedies in other places, a murder or similar event happens nearby. "It really does bring it home."

People of all ages experience grief, and it is important to avoid suppressing or ignoring those feelings, Comp continued. Children should have the opportunity to ask questions, and those struggling with spiritual questions or issues, such as how a loving God could allow something like a murder to occur, should speak to a religious leader like a pastor, Sunday School teacher or youth coach.

"The first thing to do is talk about it with family and friends, then seek outside perspective," he said.

In addition to traditional sources like libraries and bookstores, an array of materials about handling grief are available from funeral homes. Comp noted that Moore Funeral Home sends mailings, while French Funeral Home has videos, books, articles and other resources available to help mourners address their grief.

Persons interested in donating money to help fund the burial expenses of Toni Dickison may send checks to the funeral account at Moore Funeral Home, 142 N. Washington St., Brazil, IN 47834.

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