Lessons Learned opportunities during my Upshur County Schools days related to grief are numerous. I have approached them according to my own stage of growth and development. Here I offer them up in a community column, providing a way for us all to help children deal with loss and grief.
First in my recollection comes from the paralysis and death of friends associated with the Poliomyelitis Epidemic when I was a grade school student at Academy Grade School. I remember stern warnings from my parents not to swim in the Buckhannon River during a summer spread of infantile paralysis. I swam anyway with friends. Oh my! That at least two families known to me had members infected caused me guilt feelings. My childhood angst sought relief in prayers offered up to God as I understood Him elementarily.
My second recollection centers around the death of my boyhood friend, Ricky Summers. How tragically he died in a family farm accident the summer between our 4th and 5th grade years. My mother offered up an understanding of Heaven where I could be with my friend again if I prayed to God, inviting Jesus into my heart. This has led to a lifetime of spiritual growth. Inside of me definitely a spark of Faith ignited, striving for success and accomplishment while growing a sense of “industry,” to borrow from development psychologist Erik Erikson’s stages of development. I vowed to live fully and abundantly the life my friend would never lead.
My third death and dying recollection comes from the 7th grade attending Buckhannon-Upshur Junior High School, when Sally Hawkins died of leukemia. We had many parallels in our life from Doctor Dad’s 4-H projects, church ties, and school goals. Both of us had successful 6th-grade birthday parties, marking an important peer event. My understanding of my “identity” came from working through Sally’s death.
The fourth recollection of grief/bereavement impacting my young life came with the fatal automobile accident of Max, an acquaintance but not quite a friend. I wrestled with “role confusion,” as Erikson calls it. Max’s accident hit me hard, but not as hard as friends dying in war. Unfortunately, the Viet Nam Conflict kept heating up, resulting in 12 deaths locally before the tragedy ended. I carry the memories of dear friends snuffed out of my adolescence and young adult life. Certainly, I am not through with my grief from that era.
The fifth recollection of grief comes from my young adult years achieving “intimacy” with Araceli. We had a long and fruitful 45-year marriage before her death in May 2021. We lived a blessed union! Doctor Dad told me clinically that a fulfilling life together makes for an easier stage of grief. Clinically he may have been right, but I am too close to my loss to know. However, I truly see that “isolation” as a possible bad outcome, according to Erikson, will not happen as I feel great support from family and friends.
Finally, a harbinger of good fortune for our current crop of Upshur County Schools students can be predicted for their own grief/bereavement suffered in our times of the COVID-19 pandemic and an opioid epidemic. For they, too, live in a supportive and encouraging community in our “Home Among the Hills.”