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This past weekend our community suffered a loss – an unexpected and devastating loss, of a young woman, Terry DiFalco. I say our community, because the ripple effects of any loss in a close knit community like ours, is felt far and wide. I say “our loss” while being aware of and sensitive to the fact that this is a deeply personal loss for Terry’s friends and classmates, and for her sister and her parents, it is a loss of inexplicable and unbearable proportions.

Here is the uncomfortable and maddening truth – try as we might, we cannot “fix” this. There is no magic phrase or gesture that will make things alright. All we can do is show up for those people that are grieving – show up in all of our awkwardness; show up in all of our discomfort and fear and pain, and bear witness.

Beyond Terry’s family and friends, there are also people that are feeling sadness and grief over Terry’s death even if they didn’t know her (or know her well). For those of us that are parents, maybe that means you clutched your kids a little more tightly to your chest last night, or gave them extra kisses. Death – especially unexpected death, especially the death of a young person, of a child – opens up a Pandora ’s Box of emotions. For many of us, it can bring up past losses that are always there just below the surface;  things that we thought we had “fixed” or “conquered” get stirred up again. We grieve and we regrieve, and that’s ok, that’s normal. For many others that have never had a personal or direct experience of loss, something like this can hit close to home, which is then too close for comfort. It causes children (and let’s face it, parents, teachers and the adults in their lives) to start questioning their assumptions about life and death, about permanence, about what’s fair, about God. These are incredibly uncomfortable questions and conversations; they make most people nervous. It’s tempting as a parent to want to avoid or change the conversation, to deflect or gloss over stuff, but it is important and necessary to be brave enough to enter into the unknown, into doubt, even if we don’t have all the answers.

I wish I had answers for my 10 and 8 year old when they asked me over the weekend how it was possible that Terry could die because she’s just a kid. That felt like a punch to the stomach. Immediately I was taken back 30 years to when I asked that same question after a friend of mine died in middle school.  I didn’t get any answers, just silence and an effort by all the grown-ups to “return to normal”. In the meantime, everything that had made me feel safe and secure in the world had completely rotated on its axis, and the silence was crushing.

My kids didn’t know Terry, and I didn’t either. There are many people in our community that did not know her or her family, but are mourning her loss, too. There are many kids in WHS and throughout our town that are grieving whether they knew Terry or not. I wish there was something, anything I could say or offer her family that would lessen the pain of their loss, but I know I can’t. What I hope for them is that those around them will not turn away out of their own sense of fear or inadequacy, but will be brave enough to stay and be a safe space for them. Stay. 

By Kathy Vergel, Imagine Development Director

For support and information contact info@imaginenj.org or call 908-264-3100.  

Comments (10)

  1. Lou Kotsinis:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 11:04 AM

    Kathy - this is a heartfelt and important perspective. As a Westfield resident, and the parent of two young children, this is an especially jarring tragedy. I appreciate your call to those closest to offer whatever support they can.

  2. Anne Edmondson:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 02:12 PM

    As a fixer that is your first response, what can we do to help this family 'feel' better? You simply can't imagine their grief. Your words were perfect and this town is blessed to have Imagine. Although Imagine can't 'fix' anything, it gives an outlet for those grieving to try their best to lighten their own journies and accept that for what they cannot change. This might be the greatest gift one can give and for that, I say Thank You.

  3. Amanda:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 02:27 PM

    And this is why you do what you do. Perfect words for unimaginable heartbreak. Thank you.
    One of the many reasons I'm honored to be part of Imagine.

  4. Mindy Szeto:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 02:32 PM

    Thank you so much for your heart felt words. My heart is heavy and struggling to express the grief even though I do not know the family. I so appreciate your acknowledgement and most important guidance of what so many of us must be feeling.

  5. Tom Quinn:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 02:51 PM

    As a parent of 2 teenagers, it is hard to burden them with the dark and difficult parts of life. We need to let them "feel" and have their space, but always reassure that home is a safe place to land. An emotional tightrope . No one can feel what this family is feeling - we just hope for better days...
    Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...

  6. Keith Petersen:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 02:52 PM

    I deeply feel for the Di Falco family - especially - and for everyone sorrowing in the community at large as the grieving is, as stated already on this blog, shared with others. Especially, as myself a parent, the tragic loss strikes home - it is, perhaps, the realization of a worst, innate fear of any parent.

    I also sympathize for what must be a pervading grief for the State Trooper (and his family) who struck and killed this young woman.

    Having said the above, as a fundamental Christian I have an unshakeable faith in the reality that God is working in this earthly sphere to bring souls from a scene here which is avowedly circumscribed by death into a realm of eternal life - the Bible says "translated [us] into the kingdom of the Son of his love".

    We have no lasting hopes here - our only abiding hope is in what God Himself is accomplishing in the way of salvation - "If therefore the Son shall set you free, ye shall be really free" (John 8:36).

  7. Michelle:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 04:34 PM

    Kathy, such meaningful work. Thank you! Your article expresses my sentiments, except, I struggled to comprehend why I feel such profound sadness for this beautiful angel that I did not know. Terry was my son's classmate in 2nd grade, then again in 8th grade. Everyday since the accident, I think about her and my eyes well up with tears. Every morning as I drive up Summit Ave, I think, "Terry would be on her way to school now" and, I feel so heart-broken for her parents and sister. I especially love your reference to the uncomfortable and maddening truth that we cannot 'fix' this. Oh gosh, how I wish I could, for the sake of Terry's family. Thank you.

  8. Melinda Allen-Grote:
    Mar 10, 2017 at 07:40 PM

    Stay~
    Amen~

  9. Michelle Weintraub:
    Mar 12, 2017 at 08:15 PM

    Thank you- so much - for these words of support for "us" the community at large who are indeed suffering; for the family and the pain that they are forced to endure, for the children who whether they knew Terry or not are grieving and mourning the loss of one of " their own" - the invincibles, and for the parents, all of us, who are now watching and feeling our biggest fear and worst nightmare for this family. My children regularly ask me and wonder, "how are they able to sleep or eat or walk or wake up or do anything without her"? I just shake my head and respond, "I don't know bc I don't know how on earth I ever would". And it terrifies me to be shaken with this knowledge - it happens to anyone at anytime without warming or reason. It just does. We are so sad.

  10. Kathy Vergel:
    Mar 31, 2017 at 09:22 AM

    Thank you all for your comments. I'm, of course, so sad that something like this had to be written, but grateful if it resonated with or helped anyone in any way.


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