Children dealing with grief of refinery explosion

11-year-old Raymond Bynes lost his grandfather in the explosion.
11-year-old Raymond Bynes lost his grandfather in the explosion.
Children deal with grief together through different activities, from message boards to quilt drawings.
Children deal with grief together through different activities, from message boards to quilt drawings.

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Families are still reeling from the grief of losing loved ones in the February Imperial Sugar plant explosion.

Local grief counselors say as time goes by, more and more family members are seeking help and many of them are children.

"This is a good memory," 11-year-old Raymond Bynes tells WTOC as he looks at a picture of his grandfather.

The last six and half months haven't been easy for Raymond.  "I didn't want to go to sleep at night and I was crying every day," he said.

On February 7, his grandfather Earl Johnson, was one of the Imperial Sugar employees who was missing and later found dead in the explosion aftermath.

"It was hard when they started showing it on the news," Raymond said.

"It happened so suddenly. I didn't know what to do. Didn't have time to think," Latacia Bynes told WTOC. "I just fell to pieces. I wasn't a good support system to my children."

Latacia is Raymond's mother. Earl Johnson was her father, "Papa" to Latacia's five children, ages 14 all the way down to 2.

They saw Papa every day.

"It hurts. And then I get angry, because of what happened and how it happened. So sudden. He was just taken out of our lives," Latacia said. "Everybody was just angry and crying. They miss Papa. He asked my mother, 'Nana can you please just go get Papa out of the fire.'"

As time went on, Latacia says the older boys had a harder time, especially Raymond.

"He's aggressive and angry. I don't think he knows how to accept it," she said. "He watches the news and sees the different reports and he says, 'why didn't those people clean their building? Now look. I don't have a Papa.'"

To deal with the grief, Latacia sent Raymond and his brothers to Full Circle at Savannah Hospice, where other children deal with grief together through different activities, from message boards to quilt drawings.

"They made us write these letters and then we go up and burn them. It felt really good," Raymond said.

"I've seen progress, but since we seen other information surface recently, it's been like a relapse," Latacia said.

"You see something like a lawsuit at the sugar refinery. These things come up and it triggers memories and emotions which can be hard to deal with at times," grief counselor Renee Bade, told WTOC.

Bade is Full Circle's bereavement counselor. She says the children's grief group has grown from two children with ties to the sugar refinery to ten in recent weeks. As family and friend support fades after a tragedy, grief kicks in, and children deal with it their own ways.

"They often try to protect the guardians, whether parents or grandparents, they might not express grief right away and everyone thinks they are ok, when in fact they are trying to protect their family," Bade said.

"I think it's going to take a long time," Latacia said.

Funerals, more employee deaths, fines and lawsuits. The triggers for grief continue, but Latacia thinks besides family sticking together, the counseling is the best thing she could have done for her children.

"Yes. This does help," she said.

Raymond is sharing what he is learning about grief.

"I just say go somewhere where they used to go and stay there for a while. I went to Papa's house," he said. "It will make them feel better."

Latacia understands the tears of her son may take a while to dry. Raymond is staying strong in his quiet way. He's also learning to deal with those tears.

"You might see him when you die, so you don't have to cry every day," Raymond said.

If you'd like more information on Full Circle, you can call Hospice Savannah at 912.355.2289 and make an appointment. They have groups for children and adults and it's free of charge to the community.