Dorothy McElroy serves as an Advance Funeral Planner with Zimmer Westview Funeral & Cremation Care Center and with Ballhorn Chapels Funeral & Cremation Care Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She and her son, Wyatt, are examples of how the journey through grief can bring about unexpected opportunities to help others along the way. This is her story:

My husband, Dennis Kauth, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on March 13, 2013. Our son, Wyatt, was seven years old at the time. I needed an invisible string to connect Wyatt to his father, and archery became that string (bowstring, actually). Dennis bought Wyatt his first bow at age four, and they shot together almost every day after that. Dennis was also one of the original artists/cartographers/sculpturers for Dungeons & Dragons at TSR.

Exactly one week after Dennis died, we found ourselves on the doorstep of a local archery club. There was a public shoot, meaning we didn’t have to be members to participate. I had never shot an arrow, and yet here I was with my husband’s bow in hand. Without giving it much thought, we just started shooting.

The more we shot, the more relaxed we became. The longer the night went on, the more members reached out to help us, and we experienced many more smiles. Wyatt was wearing a dragon necklace with his father’s ashes in it. When praised for his accuracy, Wyatt held up his special necklace and said, “Allow me to introduce you to my dad, Dennis. He is guiding my arrows.” We were exhausted and sore by the time we made it back home, but we had found a new path toward healing. 

Wyatt attended grief camp shortly after his father’s death. During one activity there, he was asked to invent a special holiday to honor his father. Wyatt dreamed of a “Dragon Day” where thousands of archers around the world would shoot at dragon targets and raise money for other kids experiencing grief like his.

One year later, on the anniversary of our loss, we held the first Dragon Shoot at the club that had inspired us. My son and I went on to establish Worldwide Dragon Shooting Day and the Dancing Arrow Club to use archery as a way to help others all around the world who are grieving. With every arrow we pull back, we focus, breathe, and concentrate on our target. Unlike most archers, our target is a dragon. Grief is a metaphorical dragon, and it can be slayed. Archery can help restore the sense of control that death often steals. There is healing in every arrow you let fly. Every time a target is hit, a little more vulnerability is whittled away and a little more hope appears.

A little boy’s dream grew into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We currently have had Dragon Shoots in some 40 states and 67 countries, raising money for those affected by grief and loss. I am a USA Level 2 Archery Instructor, President of The Worldwide Dragon Shooting Day, Certified Grief Support Specialist, and End-of-Life Doula. Wyatt and I also volunteer at grief camps and schools, teaching about archery and grief.

Grief can take forms: death, loss of relationship, incarceration, or addiction, to name a few. When grief hits, there is a need for coping mechanisms and support. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Archery helped my son and I grieve, and still does. Do what feels rights for you when honoring the memory of your loved one. Death cannot steal the essence of someone if we carry forth what they left behind. Let us know how we can help you or someone you know slay a dragon. Please contact me at 262-325-5446 or Wwdsdnow@gmail.com. You can also visit our website: www.worldwidedragonshootingday.com.