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A Beacon of Hope: Listening Circle Helps Community Navigate Grief

St. Michael’s College School’s (SMCS) Listening Circle was founded by Grade 12 student Gianluca Caporicci to provide solace for bereaved students and staff. Read on to learn how and why he started this important initiative in his own words.

Step into the depths of grief’s ocean, where the waves of sorrow crash upon us with relentless force. Here, amidst the tide, you will find our school’s Listening Circle —a beacon of empathy and understanding throughout the storm.

Towards the second half of my Grade 11 year at St. Michael’s, I was overwhelmed by the devastating news that my mom had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Throughout the months that followed, I juggled many emotions and anxieties, trying to be a caregiver for her and keeping up with the demanding nature of my academic and athletic commitments at the school. My mom, Ramona Caporicci, taught me many lessons of great significance, and more than anything, she taught me what it means to be a courageous leader, both by example and by vocal decision-making.

SMCS Listening Circle founder Gianluca and his mom
Gianluca Caporicci and his mom, Ramona.

Watching my mom navigate the mental and physical toll of cancer, she showed me another level of leadership; each day silently struggling through countless adversities and still welcoming me home with open arms, always looking forward to hearing about my day. When I think about leadership, I hear my mom’s voice echoing, as her example has taught me to overcome personal obstacles while still caring for those around me.

One of the staff members who inspired me to create this initiative was Dr. Fantilli ’94. As I tutored some of his Grade 9 math students, we had many deep conversations about grief. When asked about these talks, he said, “I remember how much of a blessing it was when no students came to our tutoring sessions, and we had the chance to have long, deep conversations. When I play the role of a teacher, I feel I can’t be vulnerable in my emotions. As we discussed topics of grief, I had to console myself and say that it’s okay that I went through my trauma and pain, and it’s okay that I wasn’t okay and that I still have moments when I’m not okay as God always has a plan for me.” These dialogues with him began my journey towards understanding that I wasn’t alone in my sorrow in the yellow brick halls.

SMCS students who participate in the Listening Circle
Gianluca Caporicci (third from left) and other members of the Listening Circle.

After a long summer navigating the struggles of my own grief, I returned to school hoping that we could establish a listening circle as a tool for navigating the waves of grief. In many ways, I felt I had an opportunity to showcase the gifts my mother would give to those around her. She was graced with a lovingness and a gentle yet powerfully loquacious presence, always willing to lend a helping hand to everyone who had the privilege to stand by her side.

Many staff members supported our initiative from the start, including Mr. Antolin ’05, whose eloquent voice of leadership moderated our early circles. Our first meeting was filled with opening stories of each person in attendance and their experiences with loss, in addition to the many tears shed throughout the conversation. After these early conversations, I felt I learned a lot about the nature of grief and became ever more aware of my feelings of sorrow, which would come in rapid waves, appearing to me without warning.

I started to notice the group’s impact on different members who were in attendance.

“Before the group, I was very close-minded when it came to sharing my feelings of grief, but then I realized I wasn’t the only one that felt that way, so it basically opened me up to everyone,” says Giuliano Demasi-Ventrone, Grade 12, when asked about his personal grief journey from attending the circle.

Listening Circle members in the forest.
The Listening Circle initiative was created to provide solace for bereaved students and staff.

As the months went on, we marked days that would be challenging for members in the unique ways of grief. For example, memorial dates, holidays, and birthdays of passed loved ones would be something we would help each other through. Despite the emotional hardships we encountered this year, it is with great pride that I can say our beautiful group has flourished into a small family, showing us that our community truly can unite as one and help each other through anything.

Specifically, we found our community united through the tragic passing of our dear teacher, co-worker, and friend, Mr. Heijmans. Our listening circle opened our doors to everyone in SMCS. Sharing laughs, smiles, and tears, our listening circle found a way to honour and remember him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, including his wife Cathy and children Peter ’08, Genevieve, and James ’22.

My hope for this group is that it will continue to provide a safe space for bereaved members of our school and celebrate those who have left us in the physical world but will remain in our hearts for eternity. Let us anchor ourselves in knowing that these listening circles are not mere, singular events, but rather, they are the seeds of empathy that must ripple through our school community in the years to come. My thoughts, my love, and my prayers are with all current and future members of the community who have encountered and will encounter the waves of grief and that, in some way, our listening circle will provide a lasting impact on the overall well-being of our resilient community.

– Gianluca Caporicci ’24

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