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When dragonflies bring comfort

Twin Cities teenager reachs out to those in grief

The mother dropped her children off at school like any other day, but by the time she got home she could not stop weeping.
That day would have been the birthday of her 11-year-old son who had recently died of a brain tumor. Little did her husband know that when he came in with the mail he would be carrying a card that would provide comfort at a significant moment for his wife.
The card was sent in 2001 by Anne Brooker, of Nativity Lutheran Church, St. Anthony Village, Minnesota, simply because Anne was about the same age as the boy.
The card Anne sent to the parents had the dragonfly story, which her mother Valerie Marquardt found, and a dragonfly bracelet. The card meant so much to the family that they included it in their Christmas card.
After discovering how much the card had comforted the family, Anne decided to create a project to distribute grief packets to other families experiencing the loss of a loved one.
The first year Anne and her mother sent out 200 grief packets.
“I didn’t think the project would really grow. I didn’t think the people we sent the packets to would respond because they were grieving,” Anne said. However, people who received the packets did respond, and their responses encouraged Anne to keep going.
“People respond so strongly that I can keep helping,” Anne said.
Anne is now 16 and the initial act of kindness has grown into what is known as the Dragonfly Project. To date the Dragonfly Project has sent out over 12,000 grief packages in the United States, Canada and England; produced a musical CD titled “Dragonfly Moments”; inspired the children’s book Dragonfly Door; been featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune; made Anne a Seventeen Magazine All-Star award winner and a recipient of the Time Warner Youth Service Award; and led to various other awards for her.
Each grief packet consists of one of four professionally illustrated cards, a dragonfly keychain and the dragonfly story. The tale is a two-paragraph narrative of rebirth. It tells of the life and death cycle of the dragonfly.
Darolyn Gray, the Executive Director of the Dragonfly Project, said she feels the project has grown from “a real kitchen-table organization” because of the impact the card has on people. “The card is a message of hope from someone with the tenderness of a child and the eagerness of an adult,” in responding to the significance of an 11-year-old beginning the project.
“It is a random act of kindness that people are not expecting to have their grief acknowledged by a stranger,” she explained.
There are two sources of income for the Dragonfly Project. Some is provided through a memorial fund. More comes from individuals — people who request a card on behalf of another person and then decide to donate.
Anne is now ready to start her junior year at Southwest High School in Minneapolis. She’s beginning to think about where she wants to go to college (out of state), and in what she might want to major (perhaps psychology or social work). But the card she sent six years ago has had a continuing impact on her life.
Even though Anne’s level of participation now consists of signing the cards and giving speeches, she is still active in the Dragonfly Project. “Sometimes giving speeches makes life hectic, but I can sign the cards at any time so I don’t get too overwhelmed (with her high school schedule and working with the Dragonfly Project),” Anne said.
Fifty volunteers help find obituaries, assemble and mail packets, making her load easier. Staying busy is not the only way the project has impacted her, however.
“It has absolutely changed my life. It has helped [me] with public speaking and my writing abilities. But I can also relate to those who are grieving and this will help me if I continue with this project — or whatever I decide to do in the future.”
Even though Anne thinks she may encounter challenges when she leaves home for college she hopes the project can continue to grow.
“Since I [likely] won’t be in [Minnesota], it might be harder to give speeches. But I hope the project can continue in one form or another.”
The Dragonfly Project has sent packets to families of the victims of the London bombing, families of victims of a tornado at a high school in Alabama and to those caught up in other significant tragedies.
For more information about the Dragonfly Project, or to request a grief packet for someone, visit www.dragonflypro
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Cosgrove is a summer intern at Metro Lutheran.