Thursday, May 17, 2001

Grieving mom


Grateful for support from kids

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        The children tried to do everything they could. Little kids don't understand death. Who can blame them? I don't understand it myself, and I've had many, many more years to consider it.

        Patanna McElroy's classmates are only 7 years old.

        She fell while playing in her backyard, swinging on a clothesline pole. And despite the best efforts of her mother and emergency personnel who arrived within minutes, the little girl died. The coroner's office said she broke her neck. A freak accident. A parent's nightmare.

        The bad news reached Oak Tree Montessori on the Monday morning after Easter. The accident was on Good Friday. “We told all the kids on Tuesday,” said Pauline Childs, director and founder of Cincinnati's first downtown charter school. She'd gotten advice from Fernside Center for Grieving Children and Hospice.

Patanna
Patanna
        Right away, this school was embarked on a course that's about a hundred times more helpful and respectful and just plain healthy than the way we used to handle loss in the life of a child. “Think of something happy,” we used to tell them. Or “she's just sleeping.” No wonder kids don't want to go to bed at night.

        Instead, Pauline gathered the children together and read a book about death. They talked about feelings. A teacher who had lost a child of her own spoke to the kids, an uncommonly brave thing to do, in my opinion.

Vacation money
        The children had a lot of questions. Somebody wondered if the family needed anything. Well, Patanna's mother, Donneice Crawford, is a single mom, trying to work as a nurse's aide and go to school at the same time. She would be missing work for a while. Money probably would not be unwelcome at their Price Hill home.

        A fat, pink, ceramic piggy bank was installed in the office near the front door. The next morning, the children arrived clutching handfuls of quarters and nickels and dimes. A woman brought in a roll of pennies. This is not, for the most part, a wealthy school.

        One little boy brought a bag full of change. Vacation money, he explained. Vacation could wait.

Struggle to understand
        Some of the children sang at Patanna's funeral. Some stayed in school, and their parents volunteered to substitute for teachers who wanted to attend the services. A book was compiled: All About Patanna. Each child made a card. Drew pictures.

        “These children have been a blessing,” Donneice said. A person of faith, she is struggling to understand “how God could let this happen.” Blaming herself for “the times she asked me to help with her homework and I told her I was busy with my own homework. I was just trying to make a better life for us. Tell people that they should value the time they have with their kids. I always thought I could make it up. And you can't.”

        One more thing — she would like the children to know that the things they have told her about Patanna in their cards, in the book reassure her that Patanna's life was a happy one.

        She is trying, she says, to pull herself together. She has four other children, the oldest is 10, the youngest 2. I'll bet you have your hands full, I say.

        “Not full enough.”

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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