Somerset HS: Students create art to soften the grieving process

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The trauma of a death, usually unexpected, is something that is dealt with nearly every week at the St. Croix County medical examiner's office.

The staff at the office has been looking for ways to make the experience less traumatic for grieving families. County medical examiner Patty Schachtner reached out to Somerset High School art teacher Becky Olson with an idea to create artwork for the office.

"After Patty and I talked about her vision for the space that was created to allow families of a deceased person time to say goodbye, my mind was racing with thoughts of how to create artwork that would help comfort and guide those that are beginning their grief journey," Olson said.

Olson decided to offer the project to the students in her AP art class.

Olson said it "was a difficult concept for students to grasp, so I summed it up by asking them to paint on a canvas their interpretation of the single word "hope."

That was followed by a trip to the medical examiner's office. There the students got to see where the art would be displayed, so they could get a sense of what was needed. From there, the students went to work.

"Students hit the ground running with all sorts of interpretations of their personal version of hope, each one having a different understanding of how to show comfort to those struggling through loss," Olson said.

Olson purchased a number of frames at the Heritage Center in New Richmond so students had options on the way their artwork could be displayed.

"Upon finishing the project, the students were left with a heightened sense of community and had developed a deeper sense of compassion for those who are grieving a loss," Olson said.

The artwork was part of a plan devised by Schachtner, her deputies and chaplains serving the office. Schachtner said the goal is to have her office offer "Trauma Informed Care," and the artwork is part of that plan.

Grieving families come to the medical examiner's office. At first, the new space for the office was quite bare, so the staff gave thought on what was needed to make a more comforting atmosphere. That's what led to Schachtner contacting Olson.

"It's changed the whole way our space feels," Schachtner said. "Each (artwork) is so thoughtful in its own way. You can see they took it to heart."