Pioneer junior deals with grief through art; hopes to help others through her speech at TEDx Saturday, March 17

By Jeff Barr/
For Alexa Easter, art is more than paint on canvas or hands on clay. It is a way to express grief.Easter, a 16-year-old junior at Pioneer High School, lost her 8-year-old brother Stephen Easter when he died in a tragic canoe accident on Lake Michigan in July 2013. She was just 11 years old, and the grief was staggering, suffocating.
But she found a way to express that grief through her art.

“Sometimes, when words fail, art speaks,” Easter says. “My art definitely has helped me, and continues to help me express myself through ceramics, painting and drawing.”

Though she says public speaking is out of her comfort zone, Easter will tell her story on Saturday at the annual TEDxYouth@AnnArbor conference. TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading” and Saturday’s event at Skyline High School gives a voice to the future with high school students speaking about a number of different topics and sharing their ideas, dreams and goals.

The event is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.


Easter’s scheduled 7-minute talk will began at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Skyline, and it will be a completely new experience for her.

“I’m not a performer or a speaker, I’m more of an artist,” Easter said. “But I’ve looked to students who have spoken at TEDx, and it is a very inspiring platform.

“I’m hoping my story will help someone else who is dealing with grief, or maybe help people better understand someone who is grieving.”

Easter says her brother, Stephen, was the performer of the family. He would go in the backyard and sing for people in the neighborhood, “whether they were listening or not,” she said with a laugh.

“He would drop his backpack on the porch after school and run into the back yard,” Easter said. “Sometimes he would sing into old badminton racquets. He was more the performer than me. So, I think speaking on Saturday is kind of a performance that carries on his legacy.”

Stephen’s legacy also is carried on through Alexa Easter’s art. She made a mural inspired by Stephen when she was in 8th grade and struggling with “where did he go.” She later created a painting of her brother looking into a lighthouse, and in 10th grade she made a three-tiered ceramic “spirit house,” which is a Southeast Asian form of showing grief.

It is her way of keeping her brother close to her even though he’s gone. She doesn’t forget about that night when her father, Will Osler, and Stephen went on that fateful canoe trip off of North Manitou Island. She is quick to point out that both her father and brother had on life jackets when their canoe turned over and that Stephen died of hypothermia after they called for help and it didn’t come for 2½ hours.

She says she’ll never forget and she’ll always grieve.

“There is a difference between getting over it and getting through it,” Alex said. “You never really get over it, but you can work your way through it.

“You never forget about your best friend, but you can work through therapy and other ways even though I will be grieving my entire life for him. For me, art has been a great way – even though he died – to keep our relationship alive.”

Alexa Easter isn’t exclusively an artist. She excels in many other facets of life. She carries a 4.0 grade-point average, she is a board member on the Pioneer Engineering Club, she is active in the Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Club, and is on the Student Council. She also runs track and will be captain of the Pioneer cross-country team next season.

She hopes to connect with someone when she speaks on Saturday.

“Maybe my story is parallel to others who are listening,” she said. “I do know that it is empowering to have ownership of my story and to share it with other people.

“I have looked up to others who have given TEDx talks, and hopefully I’ll be able to help someone.”


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