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Miss Tustin: Living Through The Pain

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Danielle being crowned as Miss Tustin 2015

Hi everyone, my name is Danielle Weniger and I am so happy to say that I am your Miss Tustin 2015! As I am writing this blog post, I am battling a case of the stomach flu, so in between my (sorry for the TMI) throwing up, I thought it was fitting to introduce myself and my platform which, like the flu, has some pretty difficult and painful components.

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Danielle as a child with her mother and father

Growing up, my family never had a lot of money, but we were comfortable and we were happy. Except when I was in middle school, everything changed when my father suddenly passed away. Not only was this incredibly painful and difficult to comprehend as a 12 year old girl who had never heard of anyone dying except in movies, but it also caused my mom and I a lot of financial strain and we had to move three times over the course of a year as my mother tried to find a stable income to make up what we needed since my dad was gone.

Over the course of about a year, I held in all of my emotions, even through countless other deaths that littered my life (like both my grandmothers, two uncles, my dog and my next-door neighbor, all in the span of 3 months). I needed to stay strong for my mother, because I thought she needed me more than I did. This was probably the darkest time of my life as my mother was battling depression, and I refused to accept that I was too. Instead of facing my problems and my grief head on, I just bottled it all up, and instead of helping and healing, I actually scarred myself emotionally for the rest of my life, just because I refused to accept the natural bereavement, or grieving, process.

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There are Camp Erin locations all over the US and they are free for any child who needs to attend.

Finally during the summer after my father passed, my mom signed me up for a bereavement camp named “Camp Erin”, and this place probably changed my life forever. Here, I met other kids between the ages of 4-18 who also recently lost a parent or a sibling – and meeting them opened my eyes to the fact that I was not alone. There were other children, from all over Orange County even, who were going through the same problems that I was. I didn’t have to deal with the pain alone.

At camp, I finally opened myself up and began my own grieving process that was probably a good 6 months late. Besides that, I also opened my ears. One was to a new healing technique called Music Therapy, and the other was to the children who were at camp with me. There were two music therapists who worked at Camp Erin that employed the healing power of music to help us through some of the darkest times of our lives. Here, my ears and my heart was opened, and I found out what I wanted to do with my life, because I wanted to be a positive impact in the lives of those similar to mine, because I never want anyone to feel as alone, scared and in pain as I did when my father died.

This is the Children's Grief Awareness butterfly, HOPE was created to spread the message of hope to grieving children

This is the Children’s Grief Awareness butterfly, HOPE was created to spread the message of hope to grieving children

This brings me to my platform of Living Through Childhood Grief. For me, there were almost no options in my home town of Tustin for me to even know what to do when my dad died. America is a death fearing society, and from a young age we are taught to fear and avoid death. However 50% of children will live in a single parent home by the time they are 18, and 90% of high school students will have lost someone close to them (whether a parent, sibling or friend) before they exit. The number is even as high as 69% of students having lost someone close to them in the past year.

Even with these staggering statistics, there are still little options for people to grieve in a healthy environment, and the options are even smaller for children who have lost someone, where their need could be even greater since they are still developing and learning about the world.

New Jersey State Legislators recently passed a bill, making November 19th National Children’s Grief Awareness Day, and I want to do the same here in California, to raise awareness for something so close to me. By raising awareness of the grieving process, and how it is different in every individual, and that children need support too, I hope that 1) our state community will be a more open place where no one will feel alone in their time of need, and 2) that people will understand that you cannot just “Get over it”, but instead will offer help and condolences. No one can take away the pain, or bring those who are dead back to life, but we can all show that we care.

Just like any other pain or sickness, grief hurts. But you wouldn’t tell somebody who was stooped over the toilet vomiting “It’s not that bad” or a person who broke their leg to “Get over it”, so why should we do the same for those in emotional pain?

Danielle Weniger
Miss Tustin 2015