Community Rallies Around DiRocco Family, as Funeral Services Announced; WHS Offers Words of Support for George’s Family and Resources for Students

The Wilton community has come together in many ways to support the DiRocco family, after the sudden loss of their 16-year-old son, George. With a student memorial erected in tribute as well as a fundraiser for the family and messages of support on social media, the community is mourning the sudden death of a kind student, friend, brother, and son.

On Thursday, George’s father, Artie DiRocco, posted a Facebook message of thanks to Wilton:

“On behalf of my family, I would like to express our gratitude to the overwhelming and awe-inspiring support from everyone. I can’t even begin to single out people. Deb and I are humbled by family, friends, and even strangers that have reached out to support us through what is otherwise a crippling period. Please know that your support props us up when we can’t stand and carries us when we can’t walk. We can’t thank you enough. Our love for all of you could not be deeper.”

He shared details of services and the funeral, which take place this weekend.

  • On Friday, Sept. 25 a wake will be held at Magner’s Funeral Home in Norwalk from 3-7 p.m.; pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings will be in place (including masks and social distancing).
  • On Saturday, Sept. 26 there will be a funeral service at 10:30 a.m. at Riverside Cemetery (81 Riverside Avenue in Norwalk, CT).

A note from Riverside Cemetery:  “All are welcome to attend the funeral service for George DiRocco. Please do not arrive before 10:30 a.m. to allow family, clergy, and funeral home personnel to assemble. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing. Thank you for your cooperation. Any questions, please feel free to contact the cemetery. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and the community.”

Flowers, posters and candles mark the memorial to George made by students and friends in the Wilton High School junior parking lot. Notes bearing George’s photo carry teenaged signatures with hearts and his football jersey number, #23, near the football stadium where he loved to play.

Wilton High School’s Morning Warrior show produced an episode that paid tribute to George as well as to Cesar Jimenez, the plant manager for the school who died unexpectedly just one day before George.

The community has also shown support through a gofundme campaign that will help the family with funeral costs and in the weeks to come.

The Wilton High School administrators sent a note to students and families, acknowledging that many people have reached out to offer support for the DiRocco family and the school.

“George was an outstanding member of our school community, a good student, a talented athlete, and most importantly a great classmate and friend. We will continue to support Deborah, Arthur, Nikolas, Arthur (R2), Victoria, and Kayla,” it read.

In addition, the message noted that the DiRocco family wanted to share the cause of George’s death publicly to allay worry, “because they want to dispel the rumor that it may have been caused by COVID, which could cause concern in the community.”

They “are a wonderful family and care deeply for the community in which they live. Mrs. DiRocco shared, and asked that we share this with students and staff, that the cause of George’s death was sudden cardiac arrest caused by an undetected heart abnormality… Their altruism in sharing this information at this time is truly remarkable and we thank them for their level of care for the entire school community,” the message read.

The letter included resources complied by the district for families and staff in need of support. “Grief can look very different for each of us, especially our teens. You may see irritability, anger, sadness, nervousness, trouble focusing, or all of the above. It is important for us to validate all the feelings our children may be experiencing and remind them there is no right or wrong way to grieve.”

Ways to help grieving teens:

  • Reinforce assurances of safety and security, even if teens don’t express concerns.
  • Maintain routines and set clear expectations, but be flexible when needed.
  • Allow for expression of feelings without trying to change, fix, or take them away.
  • Answer questions honestly.
  • Adjust expectations for concentration and task completion when necessary.
  • Assist teens to connect with support systems, including other adults (family, family friends, teachers, coaches).
  • Model appropriate expressions of grief and ways to take care of yourself.
  • Ask open-ended questions (“What is it like for you?”) and listen without judging, interpreting, advising, or placating.
  • Have patience with teens’ wide range of reactions and questions.
  • Seek professional help for any concerns around self-harm or suicidal thoughts

Excerpted from Developmental Responses to Grief from The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children & Families

The school has set up several opportunities for student support:

  • A virtual support zoom session continues to be open throughout the school day for all students who are unable to seek in person support due to hybrid or remote learning.
  • School counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists are available for students throughout the day.
  • In-school counseling rooms will remain open in the College & Career Resource Center (on the school counseling hallway), Room 216, and the North lot outside the Field House.
  • Support staff will be available to offer referrals for students and families.
  • Advisory sessions will be focused on supporting students through grief.

On Friday, Sept. 25, from 6-10 p.m., Trackside Teen Center will be offering a space for Wilton teens to gather safely. The announcement on the Trackside Facebook post read, “Friday, from 6 pm to 10 pm, Trackside is leaving the lights on and doors open to provide a space for our teens to gather safely during this difficult week. It’s an important time to be together. Anyone is welcome. We have room to safely space up to 75 people while following all COVID rules. Bring some lawn chairs to relax outside with friends and a movie as we support each other on a beautiful night.”

In addition, there are virtual sessions scheduled to help parents hosted by the Family Centers’ Center for Hope on Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 10 a.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 5 p.m. These conversations will offer guidance about how to talk to teens about grief and how to help process this tragedy. Parents are asked to register for each session:  Tuesday at 10 a.m. or Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Additional resources included articles, websites and community referrals:

How to help students with the loss of a friend
Stages of Grief
Tips for Survivors: Grief After Disaster or Trauma
Grief: Helping Handout for School and Home
How to Help a Grieving Teen | Grief Resources
Developmental Responses to Grief
Helping children deal with grief/ Child Mind Institute

Referrals for additional support:

Wilton Social Services Resource Page
Kids in Crisis 24 hour hotline
211 Infoline for immediate support

Websites:

ChildrenGrieve.org
Dougy.org

Resources for Students:

Tips for grieving teens
Tips for supporting friends

For any questions, concerns, or immediate needs please contact Kim Zemo, Safe School Climate Coordinator, at 203.762.0381, ext. 6219.