Avon High School Seniors Discuss Grief and Life After Their Parent had Passed
There are pivotal days in every teenager’s life, including going to prom, getting a driver’s license and graduating from high school. Through four years of high school, teens experience other highlights as well – perhaps special moments in sports or standing in a spotlight on stage. Sadly, however, sometimes other pivotal days rise to the surface when life delivers an unexpected blow. Such was the case for Avon High School seniors Hannah Hughes, whose mother passed away when she was a freshman, and Carson Dossey, whose father passed away during his sophomore year. Despite their shock and sadness, both teens found ways to persevere, move forward and honor their parents by joyfully embracing life.
On March 16, 2019, Hughes, 15 at the time, was at a state show-choir competition. Before going on stage, a weird sensation washed over her.
“I knew something was happening but I didn’t know what,” she recalls. Following her performance, her sister found her.
“It’s mom,” her sister said. “We need to go.”
In recent years her mother Missy had suffered heart problems and several strokes. She also struggled with other physical and mental health issues which worsened over time. Still, her decline came in rapid fashion.
“My sisters and I sat by her side all night, holding her hand,” Hughes says. The next day she passed away at age 53.
In the initial days and weeks following her mom passed , Hughes struggled to get out of bed as she wrestled with feelings of depression and guilt for not having spent more quality time with her mom.
“It hurt knowing that I could have seen her more but didn’t because I had a hard time seeing her so sick,” she says.
In an effort to get to a better headspace, Hughes talked openly with her sisters about how she was feeling. She also began journaling.
“That helped me pour my emotions out into something,” she says. “I wasn’t in a great state of mind then, but it’s good to look back now and see how far I’ve come.”
One of her biggest difficulties since her mom’s death has been listening to people talk about what they get to do with their parents.
“Hearing others talk about their mom really hits me in the heart because I can’t experience that anymore,” she says. “Mother’s Day is especially tough.”
Throughout her high school career Hughes has proactively tried pursuits that would make her mom proud, starting with getting outside of her comfort zone by being more social.
“She would talk to everyone, but I’ve got social anxiety so I’ve been pushing myself to be outgoing like she was,” Hughes says.
Following graduation, she plans to take a year to earn some money, then head to the Big Apple to land a job doing special effects and stage makeup.
“I want to work on movie sets,” she says. “That’s my main focus.”
A self-proclaimed “theater nerd,” she began doing makeup for theatrical shows in eighth grade. The last couple of Halloween seasons, she’s also worked at Hanna Haunted Acres doing both makeup and performing as a “scarer.”
“I made a lot of friends by working there,” she says. “That helped get me out of my bubble.” It also proved to boost her confidence, as she worked with a makeup artist who has worked on movie sets with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“She complimented my makeup technique and told me my lines were beautiful,” Hughes says.
The high praise makes Hughes think of all the times her mother encouraged and supported her passion for theater and choir. Missy proudly watched her daughter’s theatrical performance in her eighth-grade production of “The Wizard of Oz,” when she was cast as the Wicked Witch of the West. Though her evil cackle was deliciously spot-on, it is her mom’s boisterous chuckle that makes Hughes smile.
“I vividly recall being on stage and looking out into the audience at her beaming face,” Hughes says. “Her laugh was everything. Mom’s death took a huge toll on my life, but I’m forever grateful for her and everything we shared.”
* * *
It was January of 2020, and the world had not yet shut down when Carson Dossey’s world came crumbling down around him. His father Kelly, a local soccer referee who organized tournaments for multiple soccer clubs here and in other states, began to feel unwell on a Wednesday after returning from a work trip to Baltimore. Given his symptoms, his doctor prescribed flu medicine, but it didn’t help his high fever, nausea or extreme fatigue. Though he felt lousy, he assumed he’d get some rest and be back to normal by the following week. Four days later, however, Kelly passed away in his sleep at the age of 55. Dossey was just 16. His father’s death came as such a shock because he was completely healthy the week before.
Dossey had attended Winter Jam, a contemporary Christian music concert, two weeks before his dad’s passing. An artist at the show named Austin French sang a song called “Why God,” and the lyrics resonated with Dossey.
“After dad passed I thought, ‘Maybe that’s why I love this song so much,’” he says. “I realized that all the puzzle pieces in your life ultimately fit together. Thankfully I didn’t go down a super dark path like some people do when they grieve. I had faith that it would get better.”
Grief can manifest in different ways.
“My sisters looked at the negatives and I looked at the positives,” Dossey says. “There’s always regret when it comes to loss, but I wanted to focus on the good memories.”
Soccer was a family passion, and Kelly coached all of his children in the sport including Dossey, starting when he was 3 years old. When Dossey was 13, his team traveled to Orlando to compete in a tournament. He went to Disney World with his dad, which was extra special given that the pair loved thrill rides. He estimates that his family has been to Kings Island more than 100 times. A favorite memory with his dad involves riding Delirium, the largest frisbee-style ride of its kind in the world.
“Dad and I used to watch the show ‘Impractical Jokers’ where this guy would randomly yell out the name Larry, so when we rode Delirium, my dad, who had a super loud voice, would scream ‘Larry!’” recalls Dossey with a chuckle.
Kelly had a fun, playful personality, which he passed on to his son. The best life lesson Kelly ever taught his children was simply to be kind to everyone.
“He was happy no matter the situation,” Dossey says. “He always had a smile on his face. He wanted to lift everyone around him.”
A big part of Dossey’s healing journey involved music. He had always wanted to learn how to play an instrument so when COVID hit, he bought a guitar and taught himself how to play it by watching YouTube videos.
He also began to journal his feelings. This year, two years after his father passed, Dossey pulled out his journal and transformed his entries into a song, which he titled “Love You More.” When he performed it at a choir concert to honor his dad, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
“A lot of people told me that the song touched them,” Dossey says.
His choir friends, church community and grandpa have all played roles in helping him heal. He also appreciates the transparency of those who shared their own grief journeys with him.
“There are a lot of people you don’t realize have gone through similar situations,” he says. “I had teachers come up and talk to me about what they had been through.”
When he graduates later this month, Dossey plans to go to college and major in criminal justice, then join the military for SWAT training. His end goal is to become a K9 officer. Mostly, he just wants to make his father proud.
“The thing I miss most is the connection we had,” Dossey says. “I have a stepdad who is old-school and into cars. My dad was super sportsy and super emotional. I learned both sides of manhood from the two of them.”
Hannah and Carson’s Advice to Newly Grieving Teens:
“Talk through your feelings with someone you trust. Confide in a good group of friends. Eat, sleep, journal.” – Hannah
“Try to remember the positives, because most of the time they outweigh the negatives.” – Carson
“Experiment with different things and activities to try and keep your mind running instead of focused on that one situation.” – Hannah
“Everything in life is a learning curve. Grow from this experience.” – Carson
“Let yourself grieve, but also take care of yourself.” – Hannah