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Transcending tragedy: Event seeks to reclaim the good life

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Transcending tragedy: Event seeks to reclaim the good life
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

How do we explain the unexplainable? In our hearts, how do we get over the sudden, tragic deaths of innocent children?

After the triple murder of the three Schaffhausen sisters in July, a local stabbing death a week earlier, and the traffic fatalities of three New Richmond high school students later in July, Catherine Olson gave this matter much thought.

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What she came up with is an extravaganza called Kids 'n Kites/Music & Words. The free, three-hour event is from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at Highview Meadows Community Park -- not far from where the Schaffhausens lived and where the sisters used to play.

"We were all touched by what happened, united in our grief, and this is an opportunity to be reunited in hope through a common experience," said Olson, whose own daughter Celia, now a sixth grader, was close with the older Schaffhausen sister, Amara (both were Greenwood Elementary School classmates).

"Kids, especially, need experiences to better understand the world," Olson said.

As the name implies, Kids 'n Kites is designed for children. It will make heavy use of symbolic kites -- 51 all told, in six colors, diamond-shaped, hand-stitched and looped together. After being staked to the ground the airborne kites should form an arch.

Crowning the arch will be three white kites symbolizing each sister -- Cecelia, Sophie and Amara. A special rose-painted kite will fly to the side for Amara whose middle name was Rose.

Two 25-feet dragon kites and a 55-foot dragon kite will also be displayed.

"Kites symbolize transcendence, raising up from ground level, with hope and peaceful beauty," Olson said.

Reed Grimm from Ellsworth, of American Idol fame and lead singer for the Shoeless Revolution band, will perform.

"He is a powerhouse of positive energy, to say the least, and a messenger of hope and peace for all," Olson said.

The musical energy will be augmented by drumming. Olson encourages families and their kids to bring drums and buckets to add to the lively beat.

River Falls poet Thomas R. Smith is expected to read some of his poetry.

Other speakers include Kris Miner, from St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice; the Rev. Ted Tollefson, from the United Universalist Society (where the Schaffhausens attended church); and the Rev. Derek Washington of River Falls, an Episcopal priest and harpist.

A high school child development class taught by Sue Schwartz will do face painting and decorate drums for kids.

Meaningful experience

"I had many conversations this summer with citizens and community leaders about the tragedies and the aftermath," Olson said. "What I consistently heard, and this was particularly true with parents, was that they were at a loss to explain what had happened to their kids. They couldn't even understand themselves.

"Overall, this gets to our ability to manage what goes on around us -- our security and comfort levels. People felt our power to control things was taken away. But, what I'm saying is that the tragedies don't define our community or what our families are about.

"What we do on Oct. 7 is a way to regain our power to reaffirm the good life that truly represents our community."

Locating the event at Highview Meadows is strategic.

"This is the neighborhood that was geographically traumatized and stigmatized by the murders," Olson said. "It also where the girls lived and played, and now we are planning this beautiful activity that families can take delight in. The park is also wide open and a good place to fly the kite arch."

Olson says that while many have overcome the initial shock of the July deaths, the grieving process is unfinished.

Olson believes the Kids 'n Kites event will be a tasteful mix of celebrating childhood while honoring the memory of the Schaffhausen sisters.

"Grief recovery takes time," Olson said. "We can talk about it, rationalize what happened, search for meaning, for logic, but that's not always enough. We heal through experience, through doing."

Olson said the Schaffhausen extended family has "given its full blessing" for the Oct. 7 event.

Heartfelt, personal

Olson said her daughter struggled to cope with the loss of her friend Amara, as well as Amara's two sisters.

Amara was supposed to come over to the Olson house for a "play day" shortly before she was killed. Olson's daughter had just gotten a horse and the two friends were going to ride.

"I worried for my daughter -- for her emotional well-being and how she would work through this," Olson said, adding that her daughter was troubled by "bad-day visions of what took place in (the Schaffhausen) house."

This summer Olson's daughter rode her horse, hung out with other close friends, wrote, took a pottery class, and received much nurturing from relatives, including her father and godmother.

"Living in a stable home was key," Olson said. "Very soon my worries about her dissipated."

Cherishing River Falls

Highview Meadows Community Park is off County Road M east of the River Falls Hospital/Clinic. Turn on either Meadows Drive or Liberty Road. The park, with a small playground and expansive field behind, is easy to find.

However, there's only street parking. Olson said those who are able may wish to park at Hoffman Park, and then bike and walk the rest of the way.

Families who attend may wish to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy, and even their own kites to fly and drums to pound.

If there's a bad storm, the event would be postponed to the following Sunday afternoon.

Olson lives in the town of Eau Galle. She has a Baldwin address but the family has always opened enrolled her two children in the River Falls School District.

"This is our town, our social network. It has everything that we value in a community," Olson said. "From the college influence, a gorgeous public library and the Whole Earth Co-op to an active youth soccer program, the excellent school system, the Unitarian Church, violin lessons at Heartstrings Studio (at the River Falls Academy) -- there is so much diversity here and things that we love for our family. The people here are also open-mined in their thinking."

Olson, a therapist by profession, explains her motivation for Kids 'n Kites: "This is strictly a personal venture for me. I'm organizing it as a mom and as a member of this community."

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