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A Community Mourns

Last week was so very heavy in our community. We lost people who were neighbors, friends, business owners; and whose lives touched many of us in different ways. Warmth, listening and resources can help us work through loss.

Today instead of other topics, I’m writing about something that is very close to my heart.

I’m writing about death.

And really, I’m writing about loss, and how we as a community can help each other.

I’m writing about it because last week was so very heavy in our community. We lost a fellow mom and friend. We also lost a dad. These people were neighbors, friends, business owners; whose lives touched many of us in different ways. Another family lost their home and everything in it. It was sudden, shocking and stressful for us all as a collective.

How do we as a community a mile square deal with tragedy? At any moment in the village, there are births and deaths. We are not new to loss. Sadly, we know it too well. We support each other, listen and open our hearts.

I know there are perhaps people who think this is a matter to bring up behind church doors and not in public. But here’s my thing. I’m not a religious person, so I don’t think that is enough to offer.  

I was raised “Pedestrian,” — a family joke when I’d say it at a young age, and a kind of mantra, as I got older. And, though my mother is now a Unitarian minister and a reverend doctor in Tampa, I am still ... just a pedestrian. The Shorewood community helped raise me, especially when things at home were falling apart. It has been my family, since I was small, and am a poster child for “It Takes a Village.” So my passion has pathology, and I want to give my all to the place that gave me so much. It’s why I want everything to run smoothly, and with humility and caring. 

It’s why I want to write about our connection to each other, and in our loss, help us all to do the right thing by each other and our children.

I know that this community looks out for its members.  

I don’t know about you, but my days in the last week have involved many small, hushed, fervent conversations with other moms and dads who are in shock, whispering our fears and sadness to each other.  I cried at the grocery store. I cried in the parking lot. Loss is on a lot of peoples’ minds, and everyone deals with it differently.

I had a conversation yesterday that was through a fence and both of our hands went numb with cold, as my neighbor, with whom I’ve rarely spoken, shared many feelings about her own life, through tears, as our children played nearby.

I imagine this is happening all over our village, as people come together in their sadness, and share what feelings it causes to erupt. With adults, listening is the No. 1 recommended support.


If you are like me, your instinct is also to turn to professionals for some advice. Sage friends have offered resources. Awakening from Grief by John E. Welshons is a much-lauded book offering professional help in reaching out of a state of grief. On Death & Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D., is one of the classic studies of death, life and transition, and was the first to identify the five stages of death. A dear friend also recommended a website: Mental Health America. There are counselors at the schools and in private practice in Shorewood who are ready to help.

What about for children?

Our school counselors offer the same advice as for adults: Listen, encourage, and respond to their questions as they come up. Betsy Barr in Shorewood said that she loves the book The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia, and recommends it for all ages. I can't actually bring myself to read it right now, but I will.

Also know this — appreciate that a child can become more distraught seeing a parent break down than from the actual news at hand.

For us all, there is going to be sadness. But at the end of this, we are here, we can help each other, and we can learn again how to be good humans for each other as we work through tragedy. It is startling and off schedule to be hugging and sharing stories and pain, but it is so very important.

The candlelight vigil last week was a treasure, and I am grateful to the people who put it together — not just for the family but as a way for us as a community to extend the light, show our love, and be there for each other.

Let’s all be kind, gentle humans as we turn to face whatever else is out there for us today. 

Cricket November 02, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Jenny - another really good book is "The Journey through Grief - Reflections on Healing" by Alan D Wolfelt, PhD. Its been 14 years since I got it after my own mom died. I am agnostic and have no belief in the afterlife whatsoever but it was actually a deacon that gave me the book. I read it again when my dad died 8 years later and a year later when my brother died. I have passed it on to others as well. I believe death of family and friends is the hardest thing we as humans will ever have to deal with - it puts so many other things in to perspective. It is a process that can take years but talking about your loved one is the most important thing you can do. If you know someone that is grieving a loss - please take the time to listen to them. You don't have to say anything, just listen.
Jenny Heyden November 02, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Thanks Cricket - this is so helpful and such a relief to hear from others.
Absolutelyfabulous November 03, 2012 at 06:20 AM
I was listening to an interview on NPR just a short time ago and this author/topic was being discussed. Thought it was interesting, especially w/ what seems to be one catastrophic event after another these days. Haven't read it, but here it is. Author: Steven M Southwick is Glenn H. Greenberg Professor of Psychiatry and Professor in the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine. "Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges " Many of us will be struck by one or more major traumas sometime in our lives. Perhaps you have been a victim of sexual abuse, domestic violence or assault. Perhaps you were involved in a serious car accident. Perhaps you are a combat veteran. Maybe you were on the beach in Thailand during a tsunami, or in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Or maybe, you are among the millions who have suffered a debilitating disease, lost a loved one or lost your job. This inspiring book identifies ten key ways to weather and bounce back from stress and trauma. Incorporating the latest scientific research and dozens of interviews with trauma survivors, it provides a practical guide to building emotional, mental and physical resilience. Written by experts in post-traumatic stress, this book provides a vital and successful roadmap for overcoming the adversities we all face at some point in our lives.


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