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Bennington: Woman copes with grief by dedicating business renovation to her brother’s memory

Finding joy  amid grief  over suicide

Woman dedicates salon makeover to lost brother

  • Darlene McKenney's brother Alan committed suicide last Thanksgiving and through her grieving period she was able to stay strong and still feel her brother's presence. Her salon renovations were completed unplanned and would have not  been impossible if her parents had not gifted her the money after selling her brother's house.
  • Darlene McKenney's brother Alan committed suicide last Thanksgiving and through her grieving period she was able to stay strong and still feel her brother's presence. Her salon renovations were completed unplanned and would have not  been impossible if her parents had not gifted her the money after selling her brother's house.

BENNINGTON — Happiness and joy can seem like similar things, but it took a devastating event in one woman’s life to learn the difference and the process of finding joy after death.

When her brother committed suicide almost a year ago, Darlene McKenney of Bennington didn’t know what would make her feel joyful again. Following the trying period of cleaning her brother’s house out every weekend for months, McKenney said she told her parents, “I was happy, but I lost my joy.”

For her, McKenney said happiness is what someone portrays on the outside, but joy is something that comes from the heart.

Her brother’s death was completely unexpected. Her brother, Alan Rodeschin, 50, of Newport committed suicide last November, and McKenney said she took each day one at a time after that, but she didn’t keep his death a secret. She shared it with customers at her hair salon in Bennington, which led to conversations with customers who’d experienced similar situations, and this also helped McKenney to move on.

“Take it day by day and rely on your family,” McKenney suggested for others who are grieving.

But what it really took to find her joy again was to do something in her brother’s honor, something she didn’t see coming either.

No work had been done to McKenney’s old hair salon, The Guys and Dolls Hair Studio, since she opened five years ago. One day this spring she decided to replace two of her salon chairs and went to a store to find some. “I walked out with a plan to redo the salon, but I realized on the way home I couldn’t do it,” McKenney said. In this moment of not knowing what she could do for her business as well as feeling heartbroken for her brother, McKenney said she could feel his presence.

McKenney prays to her brother, but said that anyone can still feel someone’s presence even if they are not religious. “Your heart has to be open to it, time of healing has to have happened,” she added.

After opening up to her parents about the effect her brother’s suicide was having on her life and the impromptu salon plans, they told her that once her brother’s house sold, they would gift her the money to renovate the salon in his name.

Over the last few months, McKenney completely renovated her hair salon, Sei Bella Salon, and said she thinks the changes are helping her to move on. “I feel very peaceful now because I feel my brother’s presence here,” McKenney said. The salon now has a plaque on the wall dedicating the renovated salon to her brother.

“The renovation wasn’t planned, everything happened so fast,” McKenney said.

It was like night and day, she said, comparing the old salon to the new. She described it as an extreme makeover. All the furniture came out, there’s all new equipment and everything was painted.

But it took more than just the renovations to feel “great peace,” as McKenney described it. It also took an extreme makeover of the heart, she said. “It’s making something positive out of a negative.”

She had a very small crew, just a few friends and neighbors, who helped her complete the renovations in just 10 days earlier this fall.

Her faithful customers have been very supported in her efforts, McKenney said. “They went through his death with me,” McKenney said. “It’s been all positive feedback [on the renovations]. There have been extremely nice compliments on the set-up and color.”

Along with the dedicated renovations, McKenney said her daughter, Mariah, 19, will be joining her salon in December when she graduates from Michael’s School of Hair in Bedford. McKenney recalled a conversation she had with her daughter almost a year ago when her brother passed.

“‘He will never be at my wedding and he will never see me do hair,’” McKenney said Mariah told her. “And now he’s going to see her do hair.”

Since the renovations and the plaque dedicating the salon to Alan, Mariah said she feels peace there like her mother. “It means more now to be working here,” Mariah said.

The two agreed that having each other there daily will be comforting for both mother and daughter.

McKenney wanted a name that reflected her brother when she started thinking of a new name for her salon. “He is the most generous person I know,” she said. It was her sister-in-law who thought of the name ‘Sei Bella,’ which is Italian for ‘beautiful you.’

“There’s a double meaning in the name. ‘Beautiful you’ is my brother, but ‘beautiful you’ is also what we do here,” McKenney said.

Mariah said she had ‘sei bella’ tattooed on her shoulder and it continues to help her to cope with her loss.

“It means more now to be working here,” Mariah said.

“Knowing that all this came from him, it brings me peace,” McKenney said. The two will host an open house this Sunday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Sei Bella, located at 148 Route 202, attached to Harris’ Mini Mart.

Grief support during the holidays

The holidays can be a hard time to deal with loss, especially for families who have lost loved ones around the holiday time. Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services in Peterborough is offering “Dealing with Grief and Loss at the Holidays” a free bereavement support group that will offer strategies for coping with the holidays and establishing new traditions after the loss of a loved one.

According to Lynn Anne Palmer, licensed therapist and bereavement coordinator for Hospice at HCS, she said anyone is welcome to join the support group. “We deal quite a bit with people with suicide in their history,” Palmer said in an interview Monday. The group offers those grieving a safe space free of judgment as well as education about grieving and what to expect.

“Holidays are tough for anyone grieving,” Palmer said. “Even in October people start to have anxiety about the holidays.”

These holiday support groups have been one of the longest running groups through Hospice, and Palmer said that many group members stayed together after the session is over and continued to support each other.

The group will meet Mondays, beginning Nov. 18, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hospice Annex building attached to People’s Bank on Main Street in Peterborough. Registration is required, so those interested can contact Lorraine Bishop at 532-8353 to register.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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