Following the recent student suicide at Gunn High School, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) has partnered with Kara to host two family nights with the hope of providing support to community members facing the difficulties of grief and loss.
Kara is a Bay Area-based nonprofit specializing in “grief support, crisis intervention and education,” according to a quote from their website.
Jaymie Byron, Kara’s Community Outreach and Education Director, led the events on Aug. 24 and 31 at the Cubberley Community Center Auditorium.
The intention of these trainings were to help community members support those in grief by “developing a foundation of knowledge on grief, growing one’s sense of compassion and providing opportunities to reflect inward on one’s own grief history,” according to an event flyer.
Byron began the event by welcoming participants into a safe environment and shared her own adolescent experience with grief, recalling her grandfather’s death by suicide when she was 13. “Everyone thought that I had it all together, but internally I shut down all emotions possible,” Byron said.
Byron was unaware of her own grief until she started noticing new perfectionistic behavior in her schoolwork — a common reaction to loss. She also addressed other symptoms of depression and grief such as risk taking, lack of motivation and mood swings.
“I didn’t want to let go of the pain because it would feel like I wasn’t connected with my grandfather anymore,” Byron said.
Byron noted how significant of an influence a student’s peers have on their emotions and self-image, whether it be a positive or negative influence.
My advice to teens helping their friends in grief is that no acknowledgement and no act of kindness is too small. Going for walks together, laughing at a movie or joke, sharing a memory, all of these are good ways to stay connected and be supported. Additionally, parents offered helpful advice on how to approach grieving adolescents without being intrusive or condescending.
“I was struck by what she said about being present on the heels of a tragedy without constantly problem-solving and I found her list of directions and queues really helpful for starting up conversation,” Gunn parent Karen Jacobson said.
Kara leaders were touched to see community members uniting in support of those in grief.
“I feel we are a generation of parents who are really feeling for the community and PAUSD family,” Gunn parent Kimberley Lee said.
In addition, the school board has posted several documents provided by Kara with specific instruction on how to manage grief and provide comfort to others on the Aug. 18 Superintendent Message.