By LOU WILIN
Elmwood Schools students received grief counseling Thursday at the Bloomdale school following the Tuesday death of classmate Mackenzie Shaffer, 12. Counselors will be at the school again this morning.
Shaffer, a seventh-grader from rural Cygnet, appeared to have died from a sudden illness.
Perhaps some of Shaffer’s schoolmates have seen a grandparent die. But for many, it was the first time they saw a friend die.
“A friend is something a little bit different, because they kind of see themselves as invincible,” said Laura Davidson, Elmwood Middle School counselor. “They have so many dreams and future things ahead of them, that they are very sad for Mackenzie and her family.”
Superintendent Tony Borton called Shaffer’s death a “double-edged sword” because her mother, Erin, is an Elmwood High School science teacher.
“Not only am I addressing a loss of a child, I’m also (addressing) the loss of a teacher’s child,” Borton said. “That has created a different dynamic for us. We are trying to heal the community, but we are also healing ourselves.”
One way to do that is to help the Shaffer family.
Elementary staff and parents are organizing a district-wide effort to provide meals and food to the Shaffer family in the coming weeks.
Wednesday evening, a couple hundred people held a vigil at the softball field near the school. Mackenzie Shaffer’s parents attended the vigil and a minister spoke. Sky lanterns, small hot air balloons with short wicks, were released and rose into the sky.
Looking around Wednesday evening, Borton saw that the Shaffers have relatives and many friends of all ages.
“This is a K-12 issue and that’s what we noticed last night,” Borton said. “There were young kids and there were adults that were struggling to understand.”
Davidson, along with three counselors from Children’s Resource Center in Bowling Green, have been comforting students.
“Yes, they are going to have a lot of emotions and be mad and sad and crying, but we want them to … be able to talk those feelings out,” she said.
If they do that, it is possible Mackenzie’s friends can make something positive out of her passing, Davidson said. It helps to share stories about favorite memories or silly things they did with Mackenzie.
“You want to think about the good things,” Davidson said. “It can be hard, but it’s also very therapeutic.”
Davidson and Borton are preparing for another wave of emotions among students on the first day of school Aug. 20.
“As soon as we get to school and this child isn’t there … It’s that realization, that Round Two,” Borton said. “The kids who aren’t really dealing with it right now because they are not at school. But when they come to school, they are going to have those feelings.”
Davidson and other counselors will be available for students then. Davidson also may hold grief counseling groups which will meet weekly for six to eight weeks, Borton said.
“It doesn’t end tomorrow and it doesn’t end at the funeral,” Davidson said.
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