Group dedicates memorial to loved ones

Embracing each other in the windy, rain-flecked cold of Wednesday morning, nine teenagers and two grief counselors formed a human ring of solidarity around a stone memorial on the south side of Douglas High School.

As members of the school's grief and loss support group, the students took turns speaking of their lost loved ones, remembering their presence in this life, and dedicating the school's new memorial to that presence.

"I'll remember my brother, Bob," said senior Jessica Merritt, who lost her older sibling to suicide in 2008.

In saying this, Merritt gazed out at the football field that lay only feet away from the memorial.

"He used to play football here," he said. "He loved football. He was an amazing guy."

Junior Devyn Hotho, 17, looked in another direction, toward the Carson Valley Swim Center on the other side of the parking lot. Hotho used to swim with Molly Lahlum, the young woman who died last spring after collapsing at a swim meet.

"I'll remember Molly," Hotho said. "The swim center is right there."

As the human circle tightened, counselor Jodi Wass said she'll remember everyone who has been part of the support group.

"I'm going to remember each and every one of you," she said, "and the time we've spent here."

The group first came together in the 2008-09 school year. In the wake of three students deaths, Wass and Emilio Parga, founder and director of The Solace Tree, were called to the high school to help counsel students.

Since then, Wass said, the support group has averaged about 12 students a meeting.

"The kids were in crisis," she said. "In the midst of grieving for one friend, they lost another."

Parga said the kids were in need of normalcy and commonality.

"There won't be as much unresolved grief in 20 years because of what these students are doing right now," he said.

Wass said students suggested the memorial a few months ago. They envisioned a place on campus where people could go to grieve, to remember, to honor those who've passed but are not gone.

"It took about two weeks to organize with community donations," Wass said.

Accolades Trophies and The Solace Tree donated two plaques for inscriptions. Carson Masonry and Steel Supply donated enough pavers for a circle, and Designing with Nature provided trees, plants and labor.

Additionally, Paige and Teri Dallas donated stained glass, and the Wass family found two boulders and a stone bench.

Wass also said the memorial wouldn't have been possible without the help of Douglas High Principal Marty Swisher and counselor Kris Robison.

"The support of the community brought it to fruition," Wass said. "When I first went out there, about 10 kids were sitting down facing the mountains. It's really serene, and we're hoping the kids continue on without us, that they continue to provide support for each other."

Sixteen-year-old junior Justin Weisinger, who lost his father in January, said the support group will carry on next year.

"It's nice to hear other stories of how people have dealt with it," he said. "I like to help other people, who maybe can't deal with it as well as I can."

Meeting the group outside in the cold, Robison remarked how the three trees around the memorial will eventually grow into a heart shape.

"It's beyond belief," she said. "I came out here and was just speechless."

Two granite boulders sit beneath the trees on either side of the bench. On one boulder, the support group has left a message: "In loving memory of our moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents, friends and Douglas High students who have passed on. You will remain in our hearts forever."

The other rock bears a quotation from Emily Dickinson: "I wait for the time we can soar together again, both aware of each other. Until then, live your life to its fullest and when you need me, just whisper my name in your heart.... I will be there."


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