Stories of Perseverance: Alita and Alyssa Cadwallader

Each year leading a handful of those in the community going through a cancer journey themselves or with a loved one share their story.  These are the people the efforts of Pink Arrow help in the community.  They’re friends and neighbors.  You may not even know how cancer has touched them.  This series of stories are written by the person you will read about or by someone on their behalf.  We thank them for sharing their story and the courage to battle cancer in some way.

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The following is from Alita and Alyssa Cadwallader.  They are cousins who are part of a grief group at Lowell High School.  After  each experienced a loss of a friend they found comfort in the group.  

Alita and Alyssa have much in common; including their last names: Cadwallader. They are cousins, good friends and both attend the high school grief group. Together they tell their story and express appreciation for the grief group which Gilda’s Club provides at the Lowell High School.

Alita:  I was about to start high school and was still struggling with the death of a very good friend.  He was my brother’s best friend and had been like a brother to me.  During my 8th grade year, our friend took his own life and I was struck by it.  My mother mentioned to the high school counselor that I was still dealing with this loss and the counselor recommended that I attend the grief group.

Alyssa:  I am a year younger than Alita, and I also experienced a huge loss when I was an 8th grader.  I was very close with one of my friends.  It was more like we were cousins.  We weren’t related, but we felt like family to each other.  When she died, I felt such a tremendous loss.  I was working with a counselor to help me deal with my feelings and she recommended that I attend the Gilda’s Club grief group when I started high school.

Alita:  Our group is led by Julie Petrie from Gilda’s Club.  At each meeting, we start with non-grief related events from our week.  This helps us get started in an easy way and prepares us to share deeper feelings.  The environment is very open.  Though we are there for different reasons, we are all experiencing grief and we support each other.  It’s not all sad—there are times when we goof around.  But we listen when it’s time to be serious and sometimes there are some tears.

Alyssa:  We have a system of how our group works together.  Mrs. Petrie never pushes anyone to talk if they are not ready, but she encourages us to talk.  It makes it easier when you realize that other people are also experiencing grief and you can talk with them about it.

Alita:  We start out with beads.  If someone has had a grief moment during the week, where you thought about your loved ones who have passed, then that person takes a bead and holds it while talking about the grief moment.  You then put the bead in the jar where others have placed their beads.  At the end of the year you see that the jar has lots of beads in it.

Alyssa and I both started attending the grief group because we had each lost a very close friend.  (I started attending a year earlier because I am a year ahead of Alyssa in school.)  When our grandmother died last spring, I think we became the only two persons to experience an additional death of a loved one while already participating in the grief group.  I have so many memories of my grandparents because I was at their home every morning and afternoon when I was little.  When my mom and dad would go to work in the morning they would drop us off at Grandpa and Grandma’s and my brother and I would get on the school bus at their house.  In the afternoon, the bus would let us off there and we would spend time with our grandparents until our folks picked us up on their way home from work.  Our grandparents, Phyllis and Ralph Cadwallader, were the best and they were very close to each other.

Alyssa:  One of the best memories I have of our grandma is from a trip we took together.  It was her last big vacation.  My mom, my little sister and I, along with Grandma, all took a trip to Chicago.  There were some unexpected events that happened along the way, but it left us with lots of laughs.  My grandma was terrified of birds and she wanted me to chase all of the birds away.  That trip has left me with really big memories.  I would also sit and drink tea with her; that was a big thing with Grandma and me.  When everybody was going through her things my mom grabbed her tea pot for me because it was my grandma’s and my thing.

Alita:  For me, one of the fun things about Grandma was when she told us what our parents were like when they were growing up.  I also loved hearing the amazing stories that she would tell us about her and Grandpa. I definitely regret not listening to Grandpa when he said I should learn to play the piano.  I still want to do that someday.  My Grandpa and I would go fishing in the pond behind their house.  That was always one of my favorite things to do. (I out-fished him a lot).

Alyssa:  Our grandmother liked to do all kinds of crafts and she and I would do crafts on Saturday night.  I liked to make bracelets but didn’t know how to start and finish them, so she would always do that part for me.  She spoiled me, so I still don’t know how to do the start and finish of a bracelet.  My favorite thing with Grandpa was to ask him if he was awake when he was taking a nap and he would always say, “I’m awake now.”  I used to go to my grandmother’s home and have my picture taken before I went to a dance.  I would to talk with Grandma on the phone a lot and I miss that now.  Sometimes when I’m upset, I’ll find myself wanting to call Grandma and talk with her about what’s bothering me and then I remember she’s no longer here.

Alita:  I have a similar experience.  I’ll find myself wondering how Grandma is or what she’s doing and then I remember that she has passed away.  One of the special ways for me to remember my grandparents is to go back to their house.  Before their home was sold last fall, I went there to have some of my senior pictures taken and the people who live there now have said that I can come out to have more photos taken.  I kind of regret that I didn’t go see her more often after I got my driver’s license, but I thought I was too busy.

Alyssa:  Our grandfather died in 2010.  Alita was 10 at the time and I was 9.  That’s when we started our shared grief experience.  At Grandma’s funeral this spring, we found ourselves sharing memories about Grandpa’s funeral.  I know that my participation in the grief group at school has made it easier for me to talk with other people about my feelings.  The group experience also makes us more aware of what others are going through.  When I look at what’s on my plate, whether it’s my mom going through more surgery or my grandmother passing away, I stop and think about what other people are going through.

Alita:  I know that the grief group has helped me in many ways.  Before, I could encourage others to talk about their feelings but I am bad at following my own advice.  The grief group has made it easier for me to talk about my feelings as well as listening to others.  I realize that sometimes I use anger as a way of dealing with grief and learning to talk things through has helped me with that.  I have definitely learned not to judge a book by its cover, because you never know what someone else is going through.  In our group we recognize that there are losses other than losing someone in death; it may be the ending of a relationship or a huge disappointment in life.

Alyssa:  Before attending the group I couldn’t talk with anyone about my grief.  I never wanted to be open about it.  The group experience gives me something, other than just crying, as I work through my loss.

Alita:  I have seen a change in the group since I started attending three years ago.  At first, it seemed that most of the kids had lost someone due to cancer, but now there is an increased number of people who are dealing with grief because of suicide.

Alyssa:  At the end of the school year we bring in snacks to share and talk about what we are going to do over the summer.  We are encouraged to share favorite memories, especially at the end of the year.

Alita:  Grief group will start again in the fall.  If we know someone who has experienced a loss and they are not already in the group, we tell them about it and encourage them to attend.  They come to one or two meetings and then decide if they want to continue.  It is always a choice.



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