Quickly the word spread Sunday evening, October 13, of a devastating motor vehicle accident on Cutright Chapel Road near Queens. Details followed in the morning, as Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, notified Board of Education members of the very sad news that Jenna Davis, a junior student from Buckhannon-Upshur High School, had passed away after a tragic car accident that occurred the previous night. This is going to be a hard lesson.
Two thoughts came immediately to me as I felt overwhelmed. First, I sought my wife, Araceli, taking her hand and going instantly to prayer for the Davis family, for our Buckhannon-Upshur High School students and staff, and for our greater community. Second, I recalled the stages of death and dying as outlined by physician Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Practicing medicine in these West Virginia Hills for nearly 50 years, I have counseled way too many families and friends using these stages.
The five stages of grief recognized by Dr. Kubler-Ross in her own practice have guided me:
These stages are a part of the framework that makes up our painful and sad process of learning to live with a loss such as the death of our precious student Jenna Davis. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. Uniquely endowed by our Creator, we go through these grief stages in a non-linear timeline.
Thank you, teacher Brent Kimble, for posting on social media early about your acute grief: “It is after days like today - that I dare anyone to say that my job is easy! It is after days like today - that I dare anyone to say, “Anyone can do my job”! As the news has spread around social media - B-UHS has experienced another tragedy involving the loss of a young person. Jenna was one of a kind! From her contagious smile to her compassionate personality - she always knew how to make you smile! To the Davis Family - we are absolutely heartbroken over this!” I see healing in his heartfelt comments.
There is a bit of denial. Can this be? Surely not such a special person as Jenna?
Once again, our Faith community stepped up, helping us all. Hundreds of students and family and school staff gathered at the South Buckhannon Mission Church just 24 hours after the accident that took Jenna’s young life. Pastor Ed Lowther, speaking softly and compassionately, led us in prayers, songs, and a moving portrayal of Jenna believing in Jesus Christ for salvation. Church members met her at the altar scarcely six months before, where she received the gift of God.
We learned of her father’s untimely death. I experienced her mother’s deep and abiding trust as she met me at the church door. When I asked how can I help, she responded, “Pray for us!” What a demonstration of personal Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose precious blood was shed on Calvary for the forgiveness of our sins.
I write weekly of lessons learned. Let me emphasize that this grief process we now go through as a mountain community will be a hard lesson. However, I trust the process. And I echo the words of Dr. Debra Harrison, Assistant Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, who said as we lit our memorial candles outside the church, “Never have I been prouder of our students.” We witnessed authentic loving and caring for each other and for their classmate Jenna. We experienced our Upshur Strong students sharing healing grace.