Kids in Grief

MSUM alumna’s senior project leads to kids’ bereavement support group

Sharon Dardis never imagined all the ways her life would change when she pursued a baccalaureate degree in nursing from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1985.

She had already been working as a nurse with an associate degree for nearly 15 years when her employer at the time, Hospice of the Red River Valley, encouraged her to pursue a four-year degree.

Dardis was in her 40s with three kids in school when she decided to apply. That decision changed the trajectory of her career.

“I had been out of school for so long; I wasn’t sure they’d even accept me,” she says. “But so much came about as a result of me being brave enough to think I might get admitted.”

As part of her senior project at MSUM, Dardis was asked to identify a health-related program not offered in the community. Since she’d been working with hospice, she recognized there were no grief support services for children who had experienced the death of a loved one.

Once her proposal was approved, she developed a six-week bereavement support group series for kids ages 6 to 18. The pilot was so successful that hospice encouraged her to write a grant so the agency could incorporate the sessions into its programming.

Once a grant was secured, Dardis continued educating the public, speaking to area schools, churches, and civic groups about kids and grief. She trained facilitators and grew the program. “Kids Grieve, Too” quickly captured the community’s attention and Dardis received numerous affirmations and awards for her work advocating for children.

“MSUM gave me more confidence in my abilities as a nurse,” Dardis says. “It validated for me  that if you have the right education and people supporting you, you can do anything.”

She eventually moved away from the Fargo-Moorhead community but continued to work in the areas of bereavement and children. She helped establish a “Kids in Grief” group in Stillwater, Minnesota. Now retired, she volunteers with Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support (MCDES), an organization that sponsors two major educational conferences each year. Dardis also edits the MCDES quarterly newsletter, “Coalition News.”

These varied experiences are why Dardis and her husband, Stan, support nursing scholarships.

“If someone is willing to further their education and become a better-educated nurse or more well-rounded person, and we can help them do that, it’s a good legacy to leave,” she says. “It’s a wonderful way to give back.”

Dardis’s degree from MSUM had an additional benefit. As she worked on her four-year degree, she took an introductory English class where she rediscovered a love of writing and poetry. That passion came to fruition in 2000 when she and a friend co-authored and published a book, “As I Journey On,” meditations for those facing death.

“All this never would’ve happened without MSUM,” she says. “It was a rich time of learning more about myself and all the other opportunities and possibilities out there.”

Being a nurse is an integral part of Dardis’s identity. She says she still reflects on many of the experiences she had in the Fargo-Moorhead area, the people she met, and those she’s had the honor of supporting.

“I’m proud to be a nurse,” she says. “That’s why Stan and I continue to support this next generation of students. Always, but especially during these challenging times, we believe in nurses.”

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