Revealing a darker side to the holidays


Watson family

Junior Frankie Watson (right) is pictured with sister Payton Watson (left) in summer 2007.


When junior Frankie Watson’s family unpacks their Christmas ornaments each year, poignant reminders of the past resurface. Since the death of her sister, Payton, in 2008, Watson and her parents have continued to hang Payton’s handmade ornaments on their Christmas tree.

For students who have lost loved ones or have family members that suffer from substance abuse, the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s can be a difficult and even painful time of year.

Ms. Jessica Wolke, student assistance counselor, said the holidays can be challenging because they evoke memories of times spent with family members who are now deceased. They also trigger an emotional response from students who are affected by substance abuse at home.

“Although time can help to heal loss, some students carry on their grief into adulthood. Grief comes in waves, with no specific timeline,” Wolke said. “Images on TV, which show how families are supposed to be together during the holidays, upset some students because that’s not always the reality for them.”

For Watson, the holidays can be a difficult time. Watson’s older sister, Payton, died in October 2008 due to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She was 11.

Since then, Christmas has become much quieter in the Watsons’ house. “Christmas is much less exciting than it was [when I was younger] because I don’t have someone to share it with,” Watson said. “Payton was young when she died.”

During the holiday season, the Watsons’ still host parties with their extended family, where they share dinner together and open presents.

“We’ve never really gotten over [the loss of Payton],” Watson said. “I don’t think it gets easier with time, but it has become more normal for us.”

To honor Payton’s life and bring awareness to childhood cancer, the Watson family coordinates Payton’s Pace, an annual 5K race. All proceeds are donated to community organizations and programs that benefit children with cancer, such as the Tomorrow Fund.

Watson encourages everyone to attend the upcoming race, which will be held on May 17 at Fort Getty in Jamestown. In addition, Watson hopes that people will consider buying a bracelet to support the cause. The bracelets are listed for sale on the Payton’s Pace Facebook page.

Whether NK students are coping with loss in their lives, experiencing difficulties during the holiday season, or just need someone to talk to, Wolke’s door is always open. Students are welcome to visit Wolke in Rm. 252 if they have any concerns at all.


Another option for students affected by death: Friends Way

About Friends Way:

  • Organization that offers peer-based support groups for children ages 3 – 18 and their parents / guardians
  • Meets on alternating Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays during school year; 6:30 – 8:15 p.m.
  • Services are free and staffed by trained volunteers and clinicians
  • New families are required to attend intake at Friends Way prior to starting the group
  • For more information: contact Ryan Loiselle at (401) 921-0980 ext 1. or visit

“[The friends of a person affected by death need to] LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. It is important for friends to be available if they want to talk about the person who died, or not; to be nonjudgmental and be accepting of their circumstances.” – Ryan Loiselle, Program Director at Friends Way