Counselors on hand to help Kennewick grieve

Tri-City HeraldJune 10, 2014 

Some people will cry when there is a tragedy.

Others will yell in anger or become unusually quiet. A few will show no outward sign of distress. Many will go through all of these emotions and in no particular order.

There is no correct way to grieve, Tri-City counselors say. Nor is there a set amount of time it takes to “get over” losing a loved one.

But all need a reminder they aren’t going through it alone, said Joanna Conover, who worked at Kamiakin High School on Tuesday following the shooting deaths of two Kennewick students.

“I just try to listen, be supportive,” Conover said. “Don’t let them be alone. Take care of one another.”

Police are still investigating the deaths of Kaitlin Austin, 16, and Ethan Austin, 12, after they were found Monday in their home. That’s left their family, friends and others to cope with the loss, something counselors and school officials said is best done as a community.

“We’re just wrapping our arms around everyone who’s coming in,” said Kamiakin High Principal Chris Chelin.

Kaitlin attended Kamiakin High, while stepbrother Ethan attended Desert Hills Middle School. They lived with their family in the west Kennewick neighborhood of Hansen Park and previously attended Ridge View Elementary School, district officials said.

Conover and other counselors met with students and others throughout the day Tuesday. The Chaplaincy, a nonprofit that provides grief counseling in the Mid-Columbia, also was sought out in the wake of the tragedy, said Tom Adams, director of chaplains.

Loss, specifically tragic loss, can have many different effects on people, counselors said. Some turn to eating or drinking alcohol in excess.

People who appear emotionally calm and settled are often experiencing physical stresses brought on by knowing they have lost someone important.

Even people who didn’t know the victims of a tragedy may suddenly break down crying, Adams said, as it may remind them of a past loss they have gone through.

“What happened yesterday is a community tragedy, not just a family tragedy,” he said, noting that the first 48 to 72 hours are important in helping people cope.

Many will want to retreat from the world after someone close to them dies, counselors said, and it’s up to others in that person’s life to show their support.

“We never want to just wonder if someone is OK,” Conover said.

There’s a reason community is such a large part of many rituals surrounding death, such as funerals and visitations, Adams said. People often find solace in grieving with others and it provides an opportunity to openly discuss feelings without having to explain them.

“It’s being comfortable to speak about the unspeakable,” he said.

At the same time, people shouldn’t be told how to mourn, Conover said. Children can have particular difficulty processing a loss and parents and other adults in their lives should make sure they’re available and taking care of themselves.

“Some kids may not want to talk about certain things,” she said.

Maintaining personal routines are also important and “a statement of life in the midst of death,” Adams said, though people should be careful to not push themselves too hard.

However, it is often the relationships with the people still with us that allow us to process grief, counselors said, even if it’s just having a conversation or sitting together.

Kennewick First Presbyterian Church picked up on that need. The church held two vigil services Tuesday night. A staff member told the Herald she wasn’t sure whether there would be singing, only that there would be prayer.

“It’s mostly just to have the church open so people can come in,” she said.

How to get help

-- The Chaplaincy’s grief support groups for adults and children are ending for the summer. However, people in need of guidance on how to process their grief or find other resources can meet with a counselor. Call 509-783-7416.

-- If someone is suffering a severe crisis from a loss, they can call the Benton Franklin Crisis Response Unit. It can be contacted at 509-783-0500.

-- Classes end in the Kennewick School District on Thursday but counselors will be available to students and teachers for as long as needed, district officials said.

“School ends but we don’t leave,” said counselor Joanna Conover. “We’re just a phone call away.”

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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