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October 2017

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 A week ago today, i started noticing a number of condolence messages popping up on my Facebook feed, indicating that someone I used to know had died. This prompted me to do an internet search for news about the accident that was referenced in those posts. What I found was more than a bit of a shock. My old friend, Rod, had been killed in an accident, along with two other employees of the ambulance company he worked for when their car drove under a jackknifed tractor-trailer on the interstate between Syracuse and Watertown, in upstate New York.

I knew Rod from my time at Clarkson University, when I joined the Potsdam Volunteer Rescue Squad. I took my EMT class with his wife, Patsy, during the fall semester of my junior year, right after I joined the squad. The next autumn, I took my Advanced EMT-Intermediate class with Rod. He was one of my mentors in the squad, and I considered both him and his wife to be friends. I have fond memories of time spent hanging out with Rod at the rescue squad during my senior year at Clarkson. I even returned to Potsdam a couple of times during the first couple of years after I graduated to visit.

However, the distance proved to be too great an obstacle in that pre-World Wide Web world, and I mostly lost touch with them. Eventually, we reconnected on Facebook, but he was apparently not one of those people who spent lots of time there, so our Facebook connection was mostly symbolic. For my part, I felt some nostalgia for my college/rescue squad days when I saw his name, but otherwise there was no real connection to his current life. Specifically, I did not know that he had begun working for R.B. Lawrence Ambulance, a private ambulance company that provides inter-facility medical transport services for the North Country region of New York, and certainly did not know that he had become an EMS Supervisor for the company. I have no idea how active he was with the Potsdam Rescue Squad, but during my time there, I know he was a huge part of the organization. Given what I know about him, I know that he was a huge asset to the emergency services in the communities up there.

This week, I have watched Facebook fill up with notes and photos from his funeral.  It is clear that he was widely respected and that his sudden passing was a shock to the community.  These photos of the funeral procession moved me deeply:


The other surprise were the photos that showed that members of the FDNY Pipes and Drum Corps came up from New York City to pay their respects to a fallen brother. And the photos of the funeral procession passing underneath the giant US Flag hanging between the extended towers of two ladder trucks from different fire departments brought tears to my eyes. This was a funeral on a magnitude that is probably unprecedented in these small communities, and I think it shows just how widely spread the reaction to this tragedy was felt.

There was just no way for me to be able to attend the funeral myself, but I am comforted by the images of the massive outpouring of support. Rod dedicated his life to helping his community, and the community went to great effort to acknowledge his work on their behalf. Well done, all. Rest in peace, Rod. You will certainly be missed.

A week ago, my wife and I were reflecting on the sad anniversary of the death of our younger daughter, six years ago.  While the pain of that loss isn’t as acute as it was, it lingers, surfacing from time to time as we reflect on the milestones that we haven’t been able to celebrate along the way.  Our daughter would be starting her sophomore year of high school this year and would be learning to drive.  Every now and then we see one of her friends and we are always surprised to see the young men and women they have grown into, because, for us, our daughter will forever be nine years old.

The very next day, we drove our older daughter and a vanload of her possessions down to the college she has chosen to attend.  We helped her move all the boxes into the dorm and lent a hand as she started to unpack.  After taking a break for lunch and stopping to pick up a few items at the store, it was pretty clear that she wanted to finish unpacking on her own.  So, after taking the obligatory photos, we climbed into the van and headed home.

I have seen many people posting about how emotional this moment is for them, the mixed feelings of sadness and pride that they feel as their children take these first steps into adulthood.  Many have assumed that my wife and I share those feelings, that we might have found the separation from our older daughter somewhat painful.  But honestly, this hasn’t been a big deal for us, not after what we’ve already lived through. Our older daughter hasn’t really left us, not in any way that is permanent.  We will see her again soon enough, and while she will continue to grow and change, we will get to experience it, even if from a distance.  The same is not true of our younger daughter.  She is truly gone, and we don’t get to watch her grow up and find her place in the world.

I am proud of my older daughter. She has worked hard, and I expect that she will do well in her new school.  I think she is looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities that college will present.  She may not yet have a clear plan for her future, but she’s still young, and I hope she embraces this time to explore her wide spectrum of interests, to meet new people, and discover new ideas. In some ways, I’m jealous of the opportunities she has before her.

And so, her mother and I now get to adjust to a new stage of our lives, where we have more time for each other, with fewer distractions.  In light of all that we’ve been through over the years, it almost feels like we are starting over, getting to know each other anew.  Let the adventures begin!
We are rapidly approaching our first holiday season since my mother-in-law passed away.  My mother-in-law has been a fixture in our celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas, hosting and preparing Thanksgiving dinner most years, and coming to celebrate Christmas with her grandchildren every year.  So, as these holidays draw near, my wife is feeling this latest loss acutely, and is preparing to cope with it in her time honored avoiding things.  On Thanksgiving, she will be working at the hospital for a 12 hour day shift, which leaves me and our daughter to fend for ourselves.  My brother-in-law and his family are going out of town to spend the holiday with his wife's family, and I simply can't bring myself to venture out into the worst traffic of the year to travel anywhere.  I expect that the day will be a chance for some quiet father-daughter time, though I'm still trying to figure out how to snag an invitation to a local Thanksgiving dinner without seeming entirely too desparate...
In the aftermath of the loss of our daughter, I knew that our lives were forever changed. But in some ways, the changes that we’ve experienced have been unexpected. We have become friends with a neighbor we’d never met before that tragic day. As a child, one of her siblings died, and she felt a connection to us through our loss. She brought a number of meals to us, and spent a number of evenings at our place, chatting.

Yesterday, she called my wife. Friends of hers had just experienced their own tragic loss and she wanted our suggestions as to how to respond. As a family that had just recently suffered a loss, what insight did we have as to what she could do to help her friends in their time of grief.

Her friends had a new son, just two months old. He was born at 37 weeks (almost a full term pregnancy), but only weighed 4 lbs. at birth (which is extremely small for a 37 week birth). However, he seemed healthy and was gaining weight rapidly, so all seemed well. Tuesday evening, his father was holding the baby on his chest and dozed off. When he woke up, the baby was dead. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of death, but the initial theory is SIDS.

In addition to the trauma of losing a child, this family now has to undergo the additional trauma of being the focus of a thorough police investigation. I understand that the father was subjected to a lengthy questioning by detectives, and I’m sure that the police will be interviewing everyone close to the family. I can’t even imagine how much more painful this must make everything for the family. As difficult as our loss was, the causes were pretty obvious, so there wasn’t any need for an intensive investigation. My heart goes out to this family as they struggle through their ordeal.

I found my wife’s response to all this commendable. Her focus went almost immediately to the family’s other child, a 3 year old girl. While I’m not sure how much a three year old will understand in a situation like this, she is going to be upset, if only because everyone else is upset. My wife gathered a few of the stuffed animals that our daughter loved so much and passed them along to our neighbor. My wife suggested that if the little girl is having trouble coping with the loss of her new brother, they could tell her that our daughter would look after him, but our daughter needs someone to take care of her animals. Hopefully, this would give her something other than the loss to focus on. I thought it was a nice gesture, and it seems to have been therapeutic for my wife as well.


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