Envisioning a grief lodge for Central Minnesota

On Sept. 28, 2013, BriAnna Rose Kruzel, 18, passed away unexpectedly in her home. She left behind her parents, Randy and Tami Kruzel, and two brothers, Josh and Brandon. 

Since BriAnna’s death, family members have channeled their grief into outreach and events to help others in the local community by organizing a nonprofit, What Would Bri Do. 

BriAnna Rose Kruzel (portrait by Lisa Sherwood Photography)

WWBD’s latest initiative is a grief center, called Bri’s Lodge, intended to support people struggling with a variety of losses. Programming will include healing through the five senses. 

To raise funds for Bri’s Lodge — $2 million over the next five years — all are invited to “An Evening of Hope” from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at the St. Cloud Holiday Inn. In addition to a meal and two speakers sharing their stories, there’ll be games and live music. (See box.) 

Living with the tragedy 

“It’s a hard story to tell,” Tami said, “but rewarding to keep her memory alive.” 

Earlier in 2013, BriAnna, a senior at Sartell High School, had been named the High School Big Sister of the Year and honored with the Youth Appreciation Award from the St. Cloud Optimist Club for her work in Big Brothers Big Sisters. Among her passions were Girl Scouts and the dance program at Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education. 

“That evening I’d just completed my 12-hour shift — I’m an RN — and was eating supper,” Tami said. “I heard BriAnna laughing with Brandon downstairs. It was getting late, so Randy went to tell the kids to go to bed because of church [at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell] the next morning. 

“He found her on the floor of her room. I did CPR until the EMTs arrived, but I knew she was already gone,” she said. “The autopsy just said ‘unknown natural causes.’ Though the Mayo Clinic also did a DNA workup, they didn’t find more. 

“Not knowing what happened is terrifying,” Tami said. “I often wonder if the same thing will happen to Josh or Brandon so I worry about them every day.” 

That first year the family struggled, each person grieving differently. Holidays were difficult, especially Christmas. Tami’s friends and family couldn’t understand the depth of her pain — and didn’t know what to say or do. Regrets weighed on her, she said. 

“I love to talk about my daughter, but people can be uncomfortable around tears,” Tami said. “Grief just overcomes you. It’s heavy, like a monster standing over you. The journey never gets better but we continue to get through with the help of others.” 

She was angry at the loss, wondering how God could do this. She struggled, worried that God would be mad at her. 

“Randy grieved differently. He would say ‘BriAnna’s in a good place, and we’ll be with her again someday.’ That takes faith, but it took me a long time to get there. My being angry with God was hard on Randy,” Tami said. 

On March 21, 2014, a group of family and friends threw BriAnna a birthday party — “An Evening of Hope.” From the funds raised, they donated a sound system to the dance program where BriAnna danced for many years. 

The Kruzel family — from left, Brandon, Randy, Tami and Joshua — stand near the Angel of Hope statue on Lake Francis in Sartell. (Photo courtesy of Tami Kruzel)

Giving back to local needs energized them, as did helping others through their grief. Since then, WWBD has shared $50,000 with community groups and hosts several annual events, including: 

• “An Evening of Hope” annually to raise funds for Bri’s Lodge. 

• “Rays of Hope Walk,” a family-friendly celebration of life on the first Saturday in October. 

• “An Angel of Hope Candlelight Vigil” on Dec. 6 at the Angel of Hope sculpture in Sartell. 

Not grieving alone 

In February 2018, Tami and Randy attended a retreat at Faith’s Lodge in Danbury, Wisconsin, for couples who’ve lost a child. 

“I finally could cry and laugh, and not worry about being judged,” Tami said. “The men also let their guards down and had conversations with each other. When we left, I knew I wanted to build a similar lodge for central Minnesota, for anyone struggling with any type of loss, including programming on child loss like Faith’s Lodge offers.” 

Juli Sieben, a WWBD board member, had volunteered at previous WWBD events. But after her close friend Marnie died in 2017, her grief was crippling. 

“A piece of me died with Marnie,” Juli said. “I was living daily with guilt, anger, denial, sadness and more guilt. I was on autopilot by day and shut down alone at night. Grief is raw and so very hard to understand. 

“The energy at ‘An Evening of Hope,’ and knowing the challenge of getting to the end result — Bri’s Lodge — had me at the next board meeting,” she said. 

Land for the grief center is the board’s first concern. WWBD hopes for a donation. They’re also developing a “legacy program” for naming rights to the playground, guest rooms and various rooms within and around the lodge. Additional programs they hope to offer include meditation, yoga, craft events and informational meetings for family and friends with tips on how to support their loved ones. 

“No one should ever have to grieve alone, and Bri’s Lodge will make sure of that,” Juli said. “Having a local resource to help navigate through the stages of grief will be life changing for so many.” 

“Raising money at ‘An Evening of Hope’ — this year for Bri’s Lodge — keeps me going every day,” Tami said. “It’s my way of still being BriAnna’s mom, my time with her.” 

An Evening of Hope 

When: March 21, 5-9 p.m.
Where: Holiday Inn, 75 S. 37th Ave., St. Cloud
What: Cash bar, silent auction, jewelry box raffle, wine/booze pull, live raffle drawing, dinner at 6 p.m., program at 6:30 p.m., entertainment by the Levi Pelzer Acoustic Show
Who: All are welcome
Why: Raises funds for the future Bri’s Lodge
Cost: $35 per person
For more information: Visit brislodge.com 

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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