During a recent Town Meeting, an all-school event following breakfast on Wednesdays, I presented a slideshow and story about growing with grief.
“What to Do When Something Bad Happens to You” has spun around in my head for the last couple of years. I wanted to create something tangible for young people about navigating loss, something to help them feel empowered vs. powerless. I also want others to know about the grief I carry, how it rounds out my personal story; the NCS campus was an extension of home for my children, but they’re no longer present in that space.
I’ve censored myself often over the years about my personal life, even though a memorial to my younger son is housed in the performing arts center, and I know anyone can access my essays or this website online anytime.
Unless students or staff take the initiative to talk with me directly or ask someone else about it behind my back, though, my loss is mostly invisible. It’s buried in the hustle and routine of school, like the background hum of the printers or the ripped edge of the bulletin board you no longer notice.
Similar to my creative nonfiction work, the final product I shared at Town Meeting came after consulting others and integrating their feedback into the narrative. I took Robyn Shumer’s introductory storytelling workshop at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts in October. While Robyn didn’t know about my upcoming Town Meeting, her suggestions about image placement, removing the noise, and digging into the “why” were invaluable to me. I deleted a stupid introduction that focused on puberty knowledge metaphors, and then revealed “We’re actually going to talk about dealing with grief instead!” Ugh. Cut. Robyn also said to take a look at the content, labeling the emotional and the analytical points. Look for balance. Of course, my initial slideshow was all raw emotion.
Once I felt ready to present, I did a run-through with the current school counselor. Colleen is a gifted professional, and I’m always glad for her insight and support. She helped me figure out how to showcase the many ways loss shows up in our lives without diminishing my personal and specific experience of suicide loss; she gave ideas about how to expand the protective factors section so it was more relatable for students.
In the end, I was able to talk about my family, our loss, and what’s come after that tragedy. I narrowed the slideshow down to illustrations and stats to demonstrate the post-traumatic growth mantra:
Change the question from Why? to What Now? What Next? What For?
I told the audience to take care of those immediate needs (drink a lot of water, you gotta eat, don’t forget to shower), layer in specific healing techniques (get outside, stretch and support your body), and retrain your brain (learn new things). Plus, build those protective factors (healthy interests and skills that connect you to nurturing people and places).
I know my story is not unique, but this exercise of sharing about a significant part of my life along with scientific research to back up what helps people, including kids, grow with grief was and remains important to me.
After all, knowledge is power.