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The laughter of children echoes inside the walls of Discovery Depot Children’s Museum, at times even drowning out the roar of trains passing by just outside the door.
That laughter is a sound Darcy Thorp wants to hear every day because it eases her grief over losing her own child.
It’s been just over a year since 3-year-old Katie Ann Thorp, daughter of Darcy and her husband, Jason, drowned in a daycare provider’s swimming pool in Knoxville.
After what she calls the “surreal” experience of watching doctors try to save her daughter in the hospital and then saying goodbye to her little girl, Thorp went through a period of anger.
Little by little, that anger gave way to grief.
Working through the grief
Thorp spent months in a fog, some days having to remind herself to breathe and other days having to persuade herself to get out of bed.
Through the support of her friends, family and church, Thorp found ways to deal with the crushing loss of her daughter.
She drew strength from her young son, James, now 7, and her husband and other relatives, even as they were grieving in their own ways. She gave birth to another child, a son, this spring.
She shied away from support groups, sleeping pills and pity and instead turned to friends who encouraged her, rather than offered advice, and who were always willing to listen.
She also made serious lifestyle changes, including a new job.
In March, eight months after Katie died, Thorp was appointed director of Discovery Depot Children’s Museum, leaving a higher paying career path to surround herself with other peoples’ children and give back to the community.
Thorp said she never would have considered such a career before Katie died, but she knew she had to get the job.
“The paycheck just wasn’t as important anymore,” she said. “I needed to do something where I could better myself plus help other people.”
In her interview, she didn’t mention the heartbreak of her daughter’s death.
Instead, she won over the search committee with her solid experience in management and fundraising and her sincere desire to work for a non-profit organization that benefits children and the community.
“I would still do anything to have her back,” Thorp said. “But in another way, I feel so lucky that I have been given this opportunity.”
Smelling the roses, learning to give
The swirl of activity inside the brightly colored museum each day is a gift for Thorp.
Earlier this summer, a benefit raised $6,000 in Katie’s honor toward a new playground, parking lot and other improvements at the museum.
“I can see her out there running and playing and laughing, having a good time and learning,” Thorp said.
Thorp describes her blonde-haired, bright-eyed daughter as an “old soul,” someone with wisdom well beyond her years who paid close attention to her surroundings and always wanted to talk to the people around here, whether she knew them or not.
On July 28, 2006, the night before Katie died, Thorp met her mother for dinner in downtown Galesburg.
Katie came along on that July night and they were running late. On the way from the parking lot to the restaurant, Katie was awed by a batch of bright pink flowers in bloom.
Despite the fact her mother was in a hurry, the toddler wanted to inspect and sniff every single flower. It frustrated a hurried Thorp at the time, but the scene that plays out in her memory of that night now has added significance.
“She literally wanted to stop and smell the roses,” Thorp said. “She just took her own sweet time.”
It’s a philosophy and a lesson that Thorp now applies to her work, her family life and her faith c and an example of how Katie’s wisdom and personality continue to influence her mother’s life.
“You can’t measure life in time,” Thorp said. “You have to measure it in what a person gives. And what she gave was amazing.”
Strength through stress
Katie’s organs were donated following her death, changing the lives of numerous people.
Her life c and death c also changed the family dynamic, both for the Thorps and their extended families.
After Katie died, Thorp’s mother quit her job and her father retired.
“We’ve all come back to the core of what life is about,” Thorp said.
After years of trying to get pregnant with a third child, Thorp found out just a few months after Katie died that she was expecting.
Still in her fog of grief, Thorp at first was afraid to share the news with others. Jacob was born this spring. Thorp said he’s not a replacement for Katie, but her influence on him and the family is obvious.
“I am 20 times a better parent than I used to be,” Thorp said.
Spending time with each other and appreciating the small, but important, moments shared with one another are now priorities for the family.
I let the dishes sit now,” Thorp said. “I’m not as concerned with how the house looks and I’m not all caught up in a lot of other issues that used to be important.”
Thorp said she is a much stronger person than she was a year ago, as well as a more religious person c and someone who has felt her Type-A personality giving way to a more relaxed, family-oriented and giving one.
Despite the persistent sadness over Katie’s death, Thorp said she is better able to “giggle things off.”
“I have so much strength. I don’t really get stressed out because there is no greater stress than what happened,” Thorp said.
Thorp still cries every day over the loss of Katie.
“When I’m 80, I’ll still cry,” Thorp said. “But you just put that mascara back on and you go out the door.”
Jane Carlson can be reached at the Galeburg Register Mail.
SIDEBAR - Support group
GALESBURG - Therapy and support groups weren’t right for Darcy Thorp.
In the wake of the tragic death of her daughter, Katie Ann, in a drowning accident last summer, she turned to friends and family instead.
But her son, James, now 7, benefitted tremendously from attending a one-day grief camp sponsored by Community Hospices of America.
And her husband James found his own ways to cope.
“It was different for me than it was for him and it was different for my parents than it was for his parents,” Thorp said. “It’s your own path.”
The grief camp for children is one of several counseling programs offered by Community Hospices of America as extensions of the organization’s hospice work.
Karen Johnson-Wenger, a licensed community social worker, co-leads a free, five-week Bereavement Support Group several times a year. She said the group works great for some people, but isn’t right for others.
“It’s 100 percent dependent on the person and how that person grieves,” she said.
One of the first lessons imparted to the group is that everybody grieves in different ways.
“One person may cry, while another person may put themselves into work,” Johnson-Wenger said. “There is not one specific way to grieve. It is a unique experience for everyone.”
Johnson-Wenger said there are two types of grieving - instrumental and intuitive c and people employ various combinations of those types of grieving to deal with the loss of a loved one.
An intuitive griever, she said, is going to cry and talk openly about his or her feelings, while an instrumental griever won’t talk as much and is likely to deal by working on a project or internally processing the grief.
For example, she said, her grandfather was an instrumental griever. When his wife died, he didn’t cry c and he didn’t want to talk about it.
“He said, ‘The garden needs weeding,’ ” Johnson-Wenger said. “And he was in the garden for seven hours.”
Part of the support offered by Community Hospices of America is to help those who are grieving learn how to deal with friends and family who might not understand it’s acceptable to grieve in a number of different ways.
The group also provides an opportunity to learn other coping skills, from creating projects to memorialize and remember the deceased. Other support programs are available through Community Hospices of America. For more information, call 342-2007.