I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void – the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning.
The above quote comes from Sheryl Sandberg. In addition to being the COO of Facebook, author of the acclaimed book Lean In and one of only a handful of women billionaires in the world, Sandberg has spoken deeply and openly about how to persevere beyond grief after her husband died at 47 from a heart attack.
While some may find it hard to feel empathy for a woman who by all exterior accounts has among the most privileged and advantageous lives possibly achievable in this world, her husband’s sudden and unexpected death actually perfectly encapsulates how grief and sorrow transcend material comfortability. Not even all the money and freedom attainable in the world can take away the pain of losing somebody you care about – especially, in a way that is tragic and without warning.
The thousands of family members, friends, first responders and community members who were touched by unspeakable tragedy 15 years ago when the Station Nightclub caught fire, killing 100 that night and altering the lives of so many more in the months and years following, know what this grief feels like.
At the same time, each of those affected by loss and grief also know the importance of finding peace with the horrible things we endure. No two people deal with grief in the same way, but eventually the choice becomes clear – you accept the reality and find ways to persevere, or you become consumed by the darkness.
On a day in which rain and clouds was forecast, threatening to further delay or hamper a remembrance ceremony for the fire which had already been put off once due to another stormy New England winter, the sun emerged and bathed the new Station Fire Memorial Park in light.
Those who gathered could walk the gorgeously landscaped grounds, which spread out memorial plaques for each of the deceased throughout several circular sectors along a walkway. The portrait, name and birth date of each victim is etched into a granite memorial stone, raised up and simultaneously resembling a headstone and a music amplifier commonly used during concerts.
The ceremony being held until May makes sense, and not only for the good weather. Spring is the natural time of rebirth, when plants held dormant for the bitter winter bloom and flourish, and the air becomes live once more with the sounds of birds and children outside at play. These are the times in which we can happily remember moments spent with our loved ones who have gone beyond our realm.
The new memorial park may provide a somber remembrance for many, but it also provides a crucially important lesson that can now never be forgotten. The price for learning such a lesson was too high, but it has likely saved many more lives than perished that February night, as strict fire codes have since ensured no similar loss of life in the state.
As Sandberg proposes, the only way to counter tragedy moving forward is to put our faith in the theory that all things – even the truly horrid ones – do happen for some kind of reason. We don’t have to like it, and that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause us sorrow, but that lesson is important and must be held as such. The memorial will allow us to reflect on our tragedy and continue to learn moving forward. Let future annual observances be held in the spring and the feeling it brings to all of us.