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.

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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.

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