Hollis Brookline High School holds meetings to deal with multiple deaths

Crisis counselors held sessions at Hollis Brookline High School on Wednesday, meeting with students in the day and about 20 parents at special evening session.

Disaster Behavioral Health Response Teams were responding to several deaths within the community in the past few months.

The most recent death came Monday, when high school senior Cameron Ricard lost control of his truck on the Exit 1 on-ramp of the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Nashua.

In August, Kendall Van Schoick, a 2011 graduate of Hollis Brookline High School, was killed when the car he was a passenger in crashed into a utility pole. Sebastian Abt, 21, another HBHS graduate, died in a car accident Nov. 14.

Juniors, seniors and members of the lacrosse and hockey teams who played alongside Ricard attended a special assembly during school hours.

“The kids were visibly upset but so supportive of one another,” said interim Principal Rick Barnes. “Many kids got up and spoke, kids I wouldn’t have expected to speak in front of their peers. It was encouraging to see.”

Because Wednesday already had been scheduled as a half-day, Barnes said it was easy to take advantage of the shortened classes to have several smaller group counseling sessions for those who needed it.

Mark Lindberg, of DBHRT, began the evening session by praising the staff and community for being so supportive.

Lindberg discussed the nature of grief and trauma, how the symptoms might manifest themselves in a teenager, and what parents can do to help their children process their grief. Because of the suddenness of these losses, he classified them as “traumatic grief.”

“So many things have happened to this community since the term started,” Lindberg said. “There have been three (fatal) accidents, deaths of parents or family members. It has a cumulative effect. As much as they are affected by the loss of one individual, they might be at the tipping point in how many they knew.

“Traumatic grief doesn’t affect everyone, but we need to talk about the worst-case scenario to talk about your own case. I don’t want you to forget that as parents and community members, you have been exposed (to trauma), and self-care is important.”

He described the symptoms of traumatic grief and how it can result in a shattered sense of safety and trust, and the need to redefine oneself now that peer groups and relationships have been disrupted.

“The importance of a peer group and the loss of a peer often increases the intensity of feelings, and of attachment, even retrospectively,” he said.

Lindberg cited as an example how someone who wasn’t particularly close to the deceased might post on Facebook how they feel about losing their best friend, or someone who barely knew him remarking about how much they adored him.

“Grief is not just about the person that is lost; it raises a question of ‘who am I now, and what does this mean to me?’?” he said.

Parents were invited to ask questions and discuss how their children were reacting to the loss. Many in the room voiced worries about their own children driving in winter weather and felt that this would prompt a lot of discussion about safety on the roads.

Kendall Van Schoick’s father, Lindsay, was among those who spoke. He described how he once watched his son play a video game where he reached a high score before crashing the car, and then shrugged it off because he had two more lives. Van Schoick urged parents to teach their teens that a car goes faster than a cannonball and is a potential weapon.

Van Schoick said his family acutely feels the cumulative losses, since he has a daughter at HBHS, his son was friends with Sebastian Abt, and his other daughter was friends with Abt and Ricard’s older sister Marisa.

“For a community this size, we’ve lost more (students) than in a war,” Van Schoick said.