Pacelli community grieves loss

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The days and weeks after you’ve lost a loved one are the hardest. Once the initial shock is over, the pain and trauma still linger.

That’s what Pacelli Catholic Schools staff, students, parents and members of Mower County’s Catholic community have discovered since Pacelli senior Joe Lewison was killed when his truck collided with an oncoming train the morning of Feb. 1.

Joe Lewison

“A couple of our kids are still struggling and they’re going to continue to struggle,” said Mary Holtorf, Pacelli’s principal.

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Holtorf and other staff brought in a grief counselor last week who gave separate presentations to staff and parents on how to help students and families cope with the death of their peer. Holtorf said the move was made once staff met after Lewison’s death and discussed what they could do to help.

“Some of the staff had asked, ‘Now that the initial shock is over, how do we carry on?’” Holtorf said.

That’s one of the questions the counselor from Whispering Willow Grief and Loss Center in Kasson answered for staff. Staff and parents were told that each student will cope with Lewison’s loss in a different way. Some students may not fully move on for about two or three years, and teenagers tend to react much differently than elementary students, according to the grief counselor.

“Children take a long time to grieve,” said Father Greg Parrott, local priest and religious studies teacher at Pacelli. “And they don’t know how to grieve, especially in this culture.”

Pacelli officials have come up with other ways to help students and families move on as well as honor Lewison’s memory. A special mass will be held this Thursday for Lewison, 30 days after his death. The Month’s Mind Mass is a catholic tradition dating back hundreds of years held in remembrance of the recently departed.

Pacelli officials have begun selling plastic wristbands in remembrance of Lewison, emblazoned with his signature catchphrase, “you betcha,” for $1, which goes towards a scholarship the Lewison family wishes to create in Lewison’s memory. Lewison’s locker will be sealed and painted over, as well, which will allow students to write messages to Joe and put them in his locker.

While it will take time for those who knew Lewison to heal from his death, many will remember him and how he died.

“You can’t snap out of it,” Holtorf said. “You’re going to hold that for the rest of your life. They’re never going to forget where they were when this happened.”