Plum-Oakmont Communities Coping After a Tragedy
Counselors were available at Plum School District schools Monday and Tuesday following the death of two students and two local women. Here are some tips on how to cope with grief and help children do the same.
Members of the Plum-Oakmont Patch communities have been devastated after the deaths of four residents over the weekend.
Kimberly Griffith of Plum and her two daughters Brenna and Mikaela, as well as Mary Saflin of Oakmont, died Friday, Aug. 19, after flash flooding on Washington Boulevard.
Community members have been mourning the loss of their neighbors since they tragically died. The Plum School District offered counseling services yesterday and today at three of its schools to help families and students, who were the Griffith girls' classmates, cope with the loss.
For those who chose not to attend the school district's counseling sessions, the Plum School District has offered resources and links on its website.
UPMC also offers a Re:solve Crisis Network that provides round-the-clock, mental health crisis intervention and stabilization services for residents of Allegheny County. People in need can call counselors at any time at 1-888-796-8226.
People of all ages are grieving after the tragedy, and there are different ways to cope.
Paula Calabrese, a certified school psychologist from Oakmont, offers some tips.
"As adults, we often rationalize tragic things that happen to make ourselves feel better," she said. “'It was just meant to be.' 'It was a natural event.' 'Nobody could have intervened.' But often deep down inside we know that no matter the event, we still feel angry, upset, irritated, sad, depressed that it happened at all.
"Most of all many of us are saying, 'I’ve driven that road a hundred times. It could have been me.' Coming to terms with our own mortality is the most frightening part of observing another family’s tragic loss."
Calabrese said adults can keep journals to release pent up emotions and be more present in life and situations with family.
Calabrese said it's important for parents to be available, attentive and accessible for children who are grieving at this time.
Parents can talk honestly with children about the situation, and they should accept their child's emotional response.
"Grieving children may act out in different ways," Calabrese said. "They may demonstrate anger, aggression, withdrawal, tearfulness or fear. Sometimes children have difficulty sleeping, lose their appetite or do poorly in school."
The National Association of School Psychologists states that common reactions to loss at the elementary school level include difficulty concentration, sleep disturbances, withdrawal and anxiety.
At the middle school and high school level, students might experience flashbacks, avoidance, high-risk behavior and nightmares.
According to the Highmark Caring Place, children of different ages deal with death in numerous ways. Because they aren't as able to deal with emotional pain as adults are, they have short sadness spans.
The Caring Place also encourages parents to support children and answer their questions. It's OK to allow children to be sad, upset or broken-hearted, according to the site.
Receptions at funeral homes for all four victims occurred last night and will continue tonight. Funerals will be held tomorrow, Wednesday.
Calabrese said it's important for parents to prepare children for the funeral service and helping them remember that grief is a process.
"Point out how friends and family rally to help and support one another during a time of loss and sadness," she said. "Explain that the love they have for the friend who has passed away lives on in the good things that they do for one another and the memories that they share."
Calabrese suggests that families attempt to cope with the grief together by reading passages aloud from books dealing with grief or loss and comparing feelings to those in the book, watching movies together that include the themes of dying or grief and discussing it, and setting aside time to write notes to family members telling them how you feel about them.
Regret and guilt often are associated with the grieving process. Though it's hard not to hold on to it, Calabrese said it's best to get away from those feelings.
"Regretting what has already occurred is a useless exercise, but learning from that regret—that action not taken or those words not said or that opportunity not explored—can make you a smarter person in the future," she said. "The living must move forward because they have an obligation to do so in memory of those who are no longer with us. Their hopes, their dreams, their values and beliefs live on in us as long as we move forward often mourning their loss yet always celebrating their lives."
Here are some more tips from Calabrese:
- Treasure every moment with your family. Keep things in perspective. Think about what you say to one another before it is said aloud. Loving one another now, doing what you can for one another now, being present to one another now is the best way to celebrate those you love and to avoid feeling like you didn’t do enough when your time together is over.
- Offer your child consistent reassurance to reduce her fears. Assure her that you will always do your best to be present for her, to take care of her and to keep her safe from harm. Continue this reassurance for weeks and months after the loss or as long as you feel it necessary to comfort your child.
- Help your child say goodbye to her friend. They say that if a child is old enough to love, she is old enough to grieve so allow your child to grieve and to express that grief by doing something tangible to say goodbye. For example, the child might choose the flowers that might be sent to the funeral home or create a collage of pictures for display or even select one photo or personal item to share with others at the viewing.
- Beef up the family rituals. Make it a family practice to not go to bed angry. Say I love you when you part from one another for work, for school or for other excursions away from home.
- Grief can never be denied. It must be dealt with. Refusing to deal with it will end in anxiety and restlessness. Deal with grief head on, feel it, experience it and know that although it never quite disappears, it does lessen with time.
- When your child makes a comment about how she is feeling, take advantage of the opportunity and affirm that feeling lonely, sad, angry, upset, confused are all legitimate ways to experience grief. Allow your child to express whatever feelings she is experiencing. Avoid minimizing them and explain that her feelings are real and understandable in this situation.
See related stories on Plum-Oakmont Patch: Mother, Two Daughters from Plum Drown During Flash Flooding on Friday; Remembering the Local Victims of the Flash Flooding; Oakmont Woman Identified as Last Flood Victim; Plum Community Mourns the Loss of Mother, Daughters on Facebook; Lessons Learned From Friday's Flash-Flood Tragedy; Memorial at Center Elementary Grows; Funeral Arrangements Set for Mary Saflin of Oakmont; PatchCast: Flood Tragedy, New Stores & Mylan Classic Announcement; Services Held for Oakmont Flood Victim; Funeral Service for Flash Flood Victims Stresses Their Faith, Legacies; Local Authorities Look to Prevent Future Flooding.