By Jack Ryan, executive in-depth editor
At the hospital, senior Alec Heyde waited in concern for the doctor to come into the room. The doctor walked in and asked Heyde’s mother, Noreen Heyde, “Who are the people around you?” Her response was not what Alec had hoped for.
When it came time for her to say Alec’s name, she couldn’t form the word, and at that very moment, it he realized the severity of the situation.
“When I saw that [she couldn’t say my name] I was crushed,” Alec said. “I had to go out into the parking lot, and I was just like, ‘Holy crap, I don’t know if she’ll ever be the same.’”
Before this happened in Feb. 2015, Noreen had been in and out of remission for brain and breast cancer since 2005. Sadly, she passed away June 3, 2015.
Nine months have passed since Noreen’s death, and Alec has slowly come to terms with it after entering into a stage of grieving, which school psychologist Jay Kyp-Johnson says is completely natural after a tragedy. One in 20 children will experience a tragedy before they graduate high school, causing each to experience their own form of grief.
Right after Heyde’s mom died, he was busy with caddying and running cross country all summer. Cross country helped distract him from thinking about his mom’s death.
As a caddy, however, he was sometimes alone for up to four hours. Those were the times when he thought about his mom, her death, and how he did not give himself enough time to grieve and to process what had happened.
After his mom passed away, Alec’s two most supportive friends were gone. Senior Kenny Hsiao was in Taiwan, and senior Max Crowninshield was in Montana looking at colleges.
“It’s not like [people were] treating me differently. It’s like [they were] amplifying the compassion that everyone already has towards someone.”
Alec Heyde, senior
Even though he did not have his closest friends with him, running with his cross country team everyday helped him cope since they gave him the support he needed.
During the grieving process, Alec felt that he was sometimes overwhelmed by support he received from others. At times when he was alone, he would receive multiple messages from people asking if he needed anything, but he was not sure of their sincerity.
“It’s not like [people were] treating me differently. It’s like [they were] amplifying the compassion that everyone already has towards someone,” Alec said. “It’s not to say that they’ve changed [their outlook on me]. It’s really just to show that you can see [their compassion] more visibly.”
Like Alec, Kyp-Johnson dealt with grief after he was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia in 2008. This type of cancer is extremely rare and occurs when the body has fewer healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Kyp-Johnson discovered the cancer after he cut his head with a razor while cutting his hair before a girls’ basketball game. When he went to the doctor to get the wound taken care of, his doctor suggested he come back for a check-up.
At the check-up, he was told that he needed a test on his bone marrow. That same Friday, they urgently called Kyp-Johnson and told him that he needed to come in the following Monday for chemotherapy, a cancer treatment that uses medication to destroy the cancer cells; they discovered Hairy Cell Leukemia in his bone marrow.
“I thought I was going to die,” Kyp-Johnson said. “I was shocked by [the doctor] saying, ‘You have to come in right away’ … [because] I had the weekend to think about, and I didn’t even know what that meant.”
After being faced with the news, Kyp-Johnson’s outlook on life changed, and he started to see the bigger picture.
“Change happens slowly in the way you look at things [when a tragedy happens],” Kyp-Johnson said. “I always thought before that I was undamaged. There’s no reason I’m not gonna live to 100, or there’s no reason I shouldn’t work 80 hours a week . … You start thinking, ‘Wow, I’m sort of damaged now,’ and you feel like you have a good reason to start taking care of yourself better.”
The only person Kyp-Johnson told about the diagnosis was his wife. Because the doctors told him he had a 90 percent chance of living, he did not tell his children or his family members since he did not want to worry them.
Regardless, he started preparing for the worst-case scenario by gathering all of his insurance forms and telling his wife where they were.
These decisions he made helped with his grieving process because they forced him to understand that he had cancer.
Express You Feelings
If you are grieving and need to talk to someone, here some outlets.
- Go to the school psychologists Dr. Jay Kyp-Johnson and Selby Roth. One can find them in the counseling office, and their doors are alway open.
- Talk to a professional counselor and or therapists. There is a GriefShare group at the Faith Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights.
- Talk to an adult, whether it be a teacher or your parents. Adults will be able to understand what you are going through and try as best as possible to nurture you back to normality.
Information courtesy of school psychologist Dr. Jay Kyp-Johnson.
Unlike Alec’s grieving process, Kyp-Johnson’s process centered around his family.
“I wasn’t concerned about me. I was concerned about what I needed to do preparation-wise for my family,” Kyp-Johnson said.
Both Alec and Kyp-Johnson believe that everyone grieves in a different manner and amount of time. What Kyp-Johnson wants others to understand is that grieving has no time limit.
“Humans don’t usually realize how connected they are to everything or the value of some things,” Kyp-Johnson said. “There are times we take for granted every day, [like] people [being] in our lives or seeing them every day. Then all of a sudden, one day something changes and we go into shock, and it is a personal tragedy for anybody to have something exit their lives.”
Junior Grace Peisker agrees. She experienced her own tragedy when her friend Lindsey Eyles, who had a rare bone cancer called Ewing Sarcoma, died in sixth grade.
After Eyles’s death, Peisker was not sure if her grieving process was natural; she didn’t know if she was crying to much or not enough. She became very dependent on her family, and she also turned to her friends that she was not close with before the tragedy.
When Eyles died, Peisker stopped riding the bus because she and Eyles always rode it together, and it reminded her too much of Eyles. Two years after Eyles’s death, Peisker entered eighth grade, and she finally stopped wearing the charm necklace Eyles gave her. At that moment, Peisker knew she had come to terms with her friend’s passing.
Peisker believes time made the grieving easier, and she looks back at her friendship in a positive way.
“It’s pretty uncommon for this to happen at such a young age, and I feel like it’s definitely made me more mature.”
Grace Peisker, junior
Like Alec and Kyp-Johnson, Peisker felt love from the people around her and believes those reassuring comments truly make a grieving person feel better.
“I feel like everyone has some sort of sense of loss that they can relate to people with,” Peisker said. “I mean, if you’re hearing, ‘I’m sorry’ from someone you never met, I think that might be a little weird, but mostly a lot of people take it as a way of support.”
Because of Eyles’s passing, Peisker is always there for her friends when they experience a tragedy.
“I feel like now I can be that person, at least in my friend group or family, where if someone is having trouble they can always come to me,” Peisker said. “It’s pretty uncommon for this to happen at such a young age, and I feel like it’s definitely made me more mature.”
Five years have passed, and Eyles’s memory lives on with Peisker even though she is done grieving.
Peisker has come a long way, along with Alec and Kyp-Johnson, with overcoming tragedies. All of them recommend for grieving people to talk to someone so they can vent their feelings.
“Once you can revert back to the norm, everything falls back into place again, and you get readjusted,” Alec said.
For more on Prospect students facing tragedy, stay tuned for Prospector Friday tomorrow.