When Kris Munsch’s life fell apart in 2005, he set about rebuilding it the only way he knew how — with a hammer and nails.
After the death of his teenage son, Blake, in a car accident, Munsch struggled for years to deal with his grief and the eventual end of his marriage. Feeling lost, Munsch turned to his background as a high school woodworking teacher. He set out on a six-month, 48-state road trip.
At every stop, he built a birdhouse. And with each birdhouse, he drew parallels between the building process and the grieving process.
Munsch turned his experience into a continuing education course called The Birdhouse Project. The course will be offered at the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park on Saturday. During the course, students will build a birdhouse and write words on the interior of each wall that describe everything from how they are reacting to their personal crisis to their goals for rebuilding their life after their tragic loss.
“We always start with the foundation,” Munsch said. “We ask people to answer the question who are you now? There is something about giving people a block of wood to write on. It makes them stop and think before they write. It makes them go deeper.”
Munsch believes that as the walls of the birdhouse go up, students will start answering questions about their future goals and what inspires them.
“It takes time to understand grief,” Munsch said. “Grief stays with you 24 hours a day.
“This class gives students three hours to disconnect with the static of the real world. It gives people permission to come and be themselves.”
Michele Shanahan-DeMoss of Independence hasn’t felt like herself since her world came crashing down on July 4, 2011. That’s when her 11-year-old daughter, Blair Shanahan Lane, was struck and killed by a stray bullet, fired by a stranger 1,000 feet to the west of where her family was gathered for a celebration.
She and her husband took Munsch’s class at the KU Edwards Campus a few months after her daughter died.
“The grief and loss was so new that I was just searching for ways to express it,” Shanahan-DeMoss said. “I was really nervous when I got to the class, but I quickly found other people there who knew what I was feeling.”
When the class was over, Shanahan-DeMoss and her husband came home and painted their birdhouses together. She painted her birdhouse pink and green — Blair’s two favorite colors. As they painted, she and her husband talked about the class and about the future.
“There are times when I wish I had enough birdhouses for all of the people who are hurting,” said Shanahan-DeMoss. “It is just unexplainable about how it felt to go to the class and listen to other people’s stories.”
Munsch says The Birdhouse Project is for anyone who has ever experienced a loss, whether it was the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job.
Karen Rowinsky, a clinical social worker from Leawood, took the class last year.
“Every client I see has some kind of loss,” said Rowinsky. “It is hard to find things that will give them an avenue for healing.”
Rowinsky was still searching for healing from the 1994 death of her first husband after 25 years of marriage. She says that even though people sometimes put off grieving, everyone eventually has to do it.
“A lot of people will think well my loss isn’t that big,” Rowinsky said. “But every loss is huge when it impacts your life. Finding a way to work through it and come out of it with hope is one thing that this workshop does.”