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Grieving school community shares pain, hope

Written on August 17th, 2009

[caption id=”attachment_2690” align=”aligncenter” width=”300”]P1040110FS The gazebo built to commemorate Durham Christian High School student Geoffrey Dykstra.[/caption]

Durham High builds gazebo to commemorate student

A grieving Christian school community has come together and found ways to support one another through the pain of losing a loved student. Active love and ongoing reminders of the after-death hope they share are carrying those affected through the tragedy.

Described as a vibrant and inclusive person, Geoffrey Dykstra was to enter Grade 10 at Durham Christian High School (DCHS) in the fall of 2008.

“He was a fun-loving boy, very lively,” says his father John Dykstra, sharing how his son used to deliver newspapers with his younger sister.

“They would be singing at the top of their lungs (as they) put the papers together,” says Dykstra. “We were telling them to be quiet but they were just loud and boisterous and having so much fun.”

Neighbours have also recounted their memories of a younger Geoffrey and his sister delivering the papers, giggling and laughing and full of life.

At school Geoffrey is remembered as an inclusive person, according to principal Fred Spoelstra.

“He could bring people together in spite of their differences,” says Spoelstra. “He was just a really great friend to so many different kinds of people.”

It is just about a year since Geoffrey died, two weeks after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the same cancer that Terry Fox had.

Not only the family but DCHS, a small, tight-knit community, has been hit hard, says Spoelstra.

The high school has undertaken a number of activities to honour Geoffrey’s memory, help people process their grief, and point to the hope for after death that they share as Christians.

Geoffrey’s classmates have created a scrapbook highlighting their cherished memories of his life.

One of his close friends, Grace, shaved her head in February, 2009 to raise funds for osteosarcoma research. She collected more than $7,000.

Dykstra says Spoelstra has been especially supportive throughout this time, taking him out for coffee, inviting the family to dinner and connecting through phone calls to see how he’s doing.

The school has also built a gazebo to commemorate Geoffrey. Fellow students thought the outdoor structure reflected Geoffrey’s personality especially well since he loved to hang around outside with his friends.

A host of students and parents and other members of the community contributed to the construction of the gazebo with monetary gifts, material donations and their time.

A plaque hangs on the structure to remind people of why the gazebo is there, including Geoffrey’s name as well as the words “see you later.”

Spoelstra describes the phrase, “see you later,” as “a deeply confessional statement in terms of our hope for heaven, for the Resurrection.”

Dykstra agrees.

“As the pastor said in his sermon at the funeral service, it’s not good-bye, it’s ‘we will see you later.’ That’s something to give us hope,” says Dykstra.

As difficult as this time has been for the family and school, the expressions of community support have been a help to everyone, says Spoelstra.

“They have helped (the Dykstra family) in the struggle in facing the death of their son and also for his friends here at school, (it has been good) just to be part of the healing process, for them individually and for us as a community.”

The Dykstra family has also created a scholarship award, the Geoffrey Dykstra Award, for students at DCHS and Knox Christian School. Recipients are to reflect the same God-honouring traits that Geoffrey had, including love, joy, peace, patience and kindness, says Dykstra. The award is another way to pay tribute to the memory of their son, he says.