Four-legged therapists star at Resilience Series

By on March 13, 2019

No one makes it through life without facing grief. Yet grief is one of the most difficult things for people to share with others.

“That’s because everyone experiences grief in their own way, and the way someone grieves is like their own unique fingerprint,” said Patti Anewalt, director of the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss.

Anewalt was the guest speaker at Warwick School District’s Resilience Series program at the Warwick Middle School on March 7. Her presentation was titled “When There Are No Words: Understanding Grief & Loss,” and about 75 adults and teens attended the program, which also included mental health organizations, student groups and therapy dogs. The therapy dogs from KPETS in Lancaster were a big hit with those attending the program, especially the super-sized Leonberger dog named Rollo, who weighs more than 180 pounds and is known as the “gentle lion” breed.

Patti Anewalt with Rollo. Photos by Laura Knowles.

“Rollo’s gift is giving lots of love,” said the therapy dog’s owner Terry Danowski, adding that his other two Leonbergers are Twix and Snickers. Indeed, Rollo is as big hearted as he is big sized. He has been to Warwick High School in recent months to help comfort students who have been grieving the loss of three classmates since October 2018, when two students died in a tragic car accident and another student’s death in December was ruled a suicide.

“Therapy dogs can do so much to help in the grieving process,” said Anne Marie Williams, whose 4-year-old labradoodle Truman was on hand for the grief program and also at the high school following sad events of 2018.

Another cuddly pup was Kody, a golden retriever, owned by Karen Gerth, who noted that Kody’s specialty was “snuggling and giving comfort to people who need it.”
As Anewalt noted, sometimes when there are no words, a cuddle from a therapy dog or a warm hug is the only way to console someone who is grieving.

“The topic of grief was important to Warwick’s Resilience Committee and quickly became our focus for this year’s Resilience event,” said Melanie Calender, assistant superintendent of the Warwick School District. “We know our students, staff and the community have experienced trauma this school year. A lot of us are still grieving.” Calender explained that the Resilience Series was introduced three years ago to address an increase in childhood and adolescent mental health concerns. Last year’s topic was on suicide awareness and prevention. After the trauma of last year, grief was a topic of great relevance for this year’s program.

Aevidum WMS members Olivia Shertzer, Kennedi Reiff, Ella Lucas, Jennibelle Stringham with Truman.

Anewalt began her presentation by explaining the difference between grief and mourning. Grief, she said, is the inner response to loss, while mourning is the outside response to grief. While some grief counselors talk about stages of grief, Anewalt reminded the audience that the grieving process is not as simple as a step-by-step formula. People deal with grief in a variety of ways, as they sort through feelings of loss cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, spiritually, and physically.

“It is more of a back and forth process,” said Anewalt, explaining that someone who is grieving might experience anger, crying, depression, guilt, questioning their faith, difficulty focusing, physical ailments, and trying to keep busy. “Sometimes people need a break from grieving as a way to protect themselves from the pain.”

Some people are affective mourners, who express their emotions and loss more openly. Others are active mourners, who need to keep busy and do something to help move through the process of grieving. The different mourning stages center on remembering, but not forgetting, as mourners find a way to find comfort, solace, reassurance, meaning, and purpose in the loss of their loved one.

Akash Banerjee with Kody.

For the students of Warwick High School, along with their parents, teachers, staff and community, the tragic accident on October was a sudden and unexpected loss. That makes it even more difficult to accept.

“A sudden death is an assault on the entire system,” said Anewalt. “For young people, it comes as a tremendous shock. The world doesn’t feel safe. It is so hard to reconcile the loss of someone taken suddenly and at a young age.” Since the tragic events of last year, Anewalt has been working with the school district and students to work through the grieving process.

Students Mickayla Harris and Kayla Ketchum introduced the panel, which was headed by Anewalt. The other panel members included counselor Amanda Jernigan, Theresa Taylor, who experienced the sudden loss of her brother when she was a child; Andrea Shertzer a school counselor who also lost her brother to trauma; Ryan Axe, Director of Secondary Education at Warwick, whose brother died in a car accident; and Nicole Adams, a counselor with Wellspan Philhaven.

“I lost my best friend when I lost my brother,” said Axe, who admitted that he struggled to face the sudden death of his brother. “I needed to grieve.”

Grief panel, from left to right), Amanda Jernigan, Patti Anewalt, Theresa Taylor, Andrea Shertzer, Ryan Axe, and Nicole Adams.

The entire Warwick community has been grieving its losses, and among those who attended the Resilience program on Grief were Hospice and Community Care, Samaritan Counseling Center, Weigel Counseling, ASAP Ephrata Cares, the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Warwick High School, and Aevidum at Warwick Middle School and Warwick High School.

It is the first year for Aevidum at the middle school,” said Jennibelle Stringham, who noted 159 group members support students through “acts of kindness, being there to talk, and providing suicide hotline information, with Aevidum’s motto of ‘I’ve got your back’.”

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com. 

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