Seip column: If you are grieving, you are not alone
There's no one picture that captures grief and its many faces.
Professionals in psychology and counseling talk about grief being a process, of needing to work through stages of it, of needing to express it.
For some, the grieving process began Tuesday night when they learned about the deaths of Red Lion Area High School students Stone Hill, 17, and Nick Mankin, 16, in a car crash.
If you're grieving, you are not alone.
Grief can be a journey. And we will meet a lot of people on this journey, members of the community affected by death.
One person we will meet is Margaret Sheridan, a mother who lost her daughter in a car crash. Yet at some of the darkest hours she found herself buoyed by her daughters' classmates, by other families who had lost their children in the same crash. Other people we will meet include former football coaches Pat Conrad of Red Lion and Don Seidenstricker of South Western. They had players die before graduation. They talk about their teams, and they talk about a group of people who needed each during the worst times.
If grief is a journey, these people have shown us there is a path. It might be a long path. On the darkest days it might feel like aimless wandering, but the light will return. And remember, there are always going to be others struggling along the same path.
• • •
Margaret Sheridan has been there, on the edge.
She lost her daughter, Casey Sheridan, in December 2011.
A car crash resulted in the death of five student-athletes from New Oxford High School almost four years ago. Sheridan, Diego Aguilar, Oscar Bando, Anthony Campos and Chelsea McFalls died. None of the victims had lived to see their 18th birthday.
"Honestly, most of that first year was just a blur," Sheridan said.
It affected more than one family, more than one classroom, more than one grade and more than one athletic team — since both the boys and girls had been soccer players.
"After the accident, there's not even words to describe it," Sheridan said.
Yet, she found a way to keep going. For her daughter, and with the help of her daughter's friends.
• • •
Life stops with one phone call.
For Don Seidenstricker, the former South Western High School football coach remembers answering the telephone near the end of a film session with his coaches in the midst of the 2011 season. Coaches had just finished mapping out what they believed would be a game plan for defeating Central York in what everyone in the room agreed would be one of the most important games of the season. After hanging up the phone, Seidenstricker looked at his coaches.
"I told them next week's opponent wasn't significant," said Seidenstricker, who is the athletic director at South Western.
Seidenstricker had just learned a South Western junior, Benjamin Bynaker, died with his mother, Tammy Bynaker, and father, Gary Lee Bynaker, in a double-murder suicide — with the father pulling the trigger. Seidenstricker had lost other players during his coaching tenure, but never during the season, never with a game days away.
"The hardest thing as a coach was facing that team," Seidenstricker said.
The very next morning, he held a team meeting. He wanted his players to know they would have to resolve the loss of a teammate on multiple levels. For some, who played the same position as Bynaker, they would have to overcome the shock that the boy next to them for every drill, during every practice, would no longer take the field. For others, they might have been childhood friends.
"Now we're talking about a deeper relationship," Seidenstricker said. "The thing we needed to do was talk things through and not pass judgement on how others went through a grieving process."
The odd thing was that the moment he dreaded most, facing his team, became one of the biggest blessings. The team could lean on each other.
"Having people around helps, it really does," Seidenstricker said.
• • •
So what happened to Margaret Sheridan and the New Oxford community?
Remember, New Oxford had lost five teens in a car crash in 2011.
Despite the tragedy, the family unit, the one part of the community that could have been torn apart by the tragedy, is what helped the community, teams and friends still hurting.
"The families really rallied around each other, and I think that helped," New Oxford athletic director Ken Shafer said.
Days after the accident, Sheridan sat with her daughters' friends and talked.
"The community was just there for us," Sheridan said.
Together they remembered Casey's caring nature. She was someone who at age 5 or 6 talked about giving children who couldn't afford soccer cleats a pair so they could play.
After the conversation, a knock came on Sheridan's door. The younger brother of one of Sheridan's friends wanted to make the first donation to a program, in Casey's honor, to provide cleats for disadvantaged youngsters or players in need.
Out of that conversation came Casey's Cleats, a program designed to provide cleats for any soccer player in need.
The program, open every Sunday and Wednesday during soccer season at Hanover Soccer Club's Utz Fields, has now provided hundreds of pairs of cleats to children in need, according to Sheridan. It has also sent cleats and soccer balls to an orphanage in Haiti.
Sheridan's journey didn't end here, though. It kept going.
• • •
Pat Conrad lost a special player in 2006. The former Red Lion Area High School football coach had taken Matt Barshinger and some of his teammates on a tour of 13 colleges at one point. By Barshinger's senior year of high school, the two had developed a bond.
"He and I were close," Conrad said.
So when Barshinger died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 18, it shocked many of his friends, and Conrad tried to be there for his players and students at Red Lion.
On the night of the death, Conrad remembers meeting with a group of Barshinger's friends until midnight. One student and his father stayed with Conrad until about 4 a.m.
"You have to be there for them," Conrad said. "Someone told me, 'This has to be the worst time to be a coach.' I used that in the eulogy, 'It's not the worst, it's when kids rely on you the most.'
"The biggest thing from a coaching standpoint is you rely on your team," said Conrad, who still teaches at Red Lion. "I relied on them as much as they relied on me. You're relying on everyone with the program. You are there, and you are just supporting each other. And you talk things through."
His own grief, however, didn't hit him until about a week later.
"I was running around trying to be there for the kids," Conrad said.
Seidenstricker experienced a similar delayed wave of grief. For him, it hit two or three weeks after he learned about the death of one of his players.
"There are a lot of people looking for guidance, so you focus on everyone else and not on your personal loss," Seidenstricker said.
Ultimately they drew on the strength of a larger community — their team and their school.
• • •
So how did Margaret Sheridan continue her journey?
Remember, New Oxford had lost five young lives.
Sheridan recalled the overwhelming emotions.
"You have two choices," Sheridan said. "You can absolutely give up. Pull the covers up over your head — and trust me when I say most days that's what we all wanted to do — or you can do something your children would be proud of."
The families of the victims had met. Early on there had been talk of constructing a statue, a cross to honor the victims.
"We wanted someone to benefit from this tragedy," Sheridan said.
So the families and community chose a soccer tournament.
All five teens had been soccer players, and the families came together to organize the 5 Angels Memorial Soccer Tournament. The fourth annual preseason tournament is scheduled for Aug. 15-16. In its first three years, the program has provided six students with college scholarships, it has raised money for the boys' and girls' soccer programs at New Oxford, and it has donated a set of goal posts to Hanover Soccer Club's youth soccer program.
• • •
Somehow, everyone has to keep going.
It's a difficult time. Students are looking back at a teammate they lost, but they also need to survive those first weeks when the loss might feel the most raw.
"The thing I remember telling (players) is you have to remain productive," Seidenstricker said. "You have to keep moving forward.
"Teenagers are pretty resilient people."
Then months pass, and the grief is still there. Perhaps it hits in a classroom, where a friend used to sit. Perhaps it hits on the playing field. Perhaps it hits one night at home.
Adults struggle, just like children.
Manheim Central High School lost four student-athletes in a one-car crash in 2011.
"I don't even look to get past it," Manheim Central basketball coach Chris Sherwood said. "Your emotions just get different. I honestly struggled to be a husband, a father, a coach and a teacher for the next month. In every aspect of my life I struggled.
"When I think back to those days, I don't think my mind was normal for about three months. ... I would tell every kid on that (Red Lion) team or in the community that any way they need to grieve is OK. If you need to cry in somebody's arms, then cry in somebody's arms."
• • •
For some, their journey with grief has taken years, for others it's just beginning.
The families and the communities lost all this love, all these lives. Nothing will change what happened in 2006 or 2011 or June 2015. All that terribleness, all those tears.
Yet, happiness can return.
So what happened with Margaret Sheridan?
Remember New Oxford and its five angels.
Sheridan has rough days, but she and the four other families have been able to look at the smiling faces of graduating seniors when they are handed college scholarships. She and the five families can look at this growing soccer tournament that seems to just keep getting bigger. She has seen friends of the victims smile again on the field in a tournament the five families created.
"You have to find a purpose," Sheridan said. "There was a reason why you had your children. ... We're doing something to honor them and something that would make them proud."
GameTimePA.com reporter John Buffone contributed to this story.