I try to make a conscious effort to focus on the positive (I HAVE to or I'd plunge headlong into my deep dark hole of depression, especially this time of year!) but in light of recent events, it's significantly more challenging to do so. Suddenly, compiling a list of favorite photos, resolutions for the new year, or special stories from the past year seems so trivial.
The tragic circumstances that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary on that fateful December day in Connecticut shook my sense of security and threatened my faith in humanity. As the mother of 6-year-old myself, I could see my dear, sweet, Bug in the faces, stories, and names of those precious children who lost their lives that day. That little boy who bravely announced "I know karate" and said he would "lead the way out" to safety...that was so something Nathaniel would do/say. My little firefighter would surely set up a control center to save the day! It tore at my heart to think of those parents who put their babies on a school bus that morning and would never see them bouncing off the bus and down the driveway at the end of the day. Or ever again.
Then I woke up on the morning of Christmas Eve. Excitement for the upcoming family time, Santa's arrival, and the new treasures to behold saturated the air. Opening up my laptop and checking in with friends on FB, I learned that tragedy had struck again. This time in my backyard. Evil had made its way into my little world. Suddenly it wasn't just a headline on Yahoo! or a ticker running on Fox News. This was people I knew, members of a "family" I am a part of.
A madman had decided to shift the world's axis by setting a fire at his home, and laying in wait to open fire on the first responders as they arrived to answer the call for help. I read the updates from friends and family in the public safety community and tried to make sense of it all. Information trickled in. Conflicting accounts were received from all directions. Slowly the details emerged - two firefighters had been shot and killed, two more wounded, and a police officer had been injured before the gunman turned the gun on himself. Seven homes were destroyed as the fire the crews were responding to continued to burn. Seven more families affected. Seven more families who lost everything.
My husband has been a 9-1-1 police dispatcher at the Monroe County Emergency Communications Department for nearly 27 years. My parents served the community as EMTs for Hilton Ambulance for more than a decade. My husband, my two step-sons, and many friends and family are proud members of local fire departments and wear many hats in various other public safety arenas, both paid and volunteer - paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, dispatchers and more. Therefore, this incident struck close to home, both geographically and emotionally.
As my husband responded to work that Christmas Eve morning, to lend a hand with the extra call volumes at 9-1-1, he learned that one of the two firefighters killed at the scene was a 19-year-old coworker on his shift. Tomasz Kaczowka was fresh out of high school, so young and barely given a shot at life. He died doing what he loved most and left behind a closely knit polish family who now struggles with how to go on without him. Lt. Mike ("Chip") Chiapperini had a long career as a firefighter and past Chief with West Webster and Lieutenant with Webster Police. He was a mentor to many and left behind a wife, two small girls, a son, and a legacy of helpfulness and giving that anyone could be inspired by.
As we watched the funeral of Lt. Chiapperini yesterday, Nate watched silently. He would look at his father and I, seemingly to gauge our reactions so he could then adjust his own. Every once in a while, he would turn away, resuming play at his personal emergency fire scene (set up with his matchbox cars and Playmobil guys). Then, in his best 6-year-old tribute, he lined his fire guys up in front of the TV. One by one, he placed them purposefully, with honor and intent to pay their respects to the fallen hero. My heart swelled with pride at his simple, innocent gesture.
Nate's a smart little guy. He feels strongly, deeply and is wise beyond his years. The born firefighter instincts in him are undeniable and with his recent anxieties and realities of death and dying, I don't want to over do this heavy experience. But I also don't want to deny him a grieving process I think he has a right to and needs. He's seen his Daddy cry more in the last week than ever. Everywhere we go our friends and family have been affected by this tragedy. However, it is my hope that he doesn't just see and feel the sadness and extreme loss left behind by our fallen heroes. Instead I hope to impart in him the amazing generosity, heart warming camaraderie, and extreme kindness that has been displayed by our community here and across the nation.
I joined the FB page Prayers and Support for Webster Firefighters and have been moved daily by the outpouring of love, support, and encouragement. People throughout the community and across the nation have stepped forward with donations of hotel rooms, gift cards, and more for the first responders coming to our area for the services this weekend. Strangers have bought rounds of drinks, paid for meals, and delivered food and tokens of gratitude to their local public safety agencies. It has been truly amazing. I encourage you to check out the page to see some of the most heart wrenching and inspirational stories and photos shared from all over the country. It's awe inspiring.
I could go on and on, sharing stories of pain and loss, hope and inspiration, but I've been rambling on long enough (without any clear direction) so I shall end with this:
These are words shared at the funerals of Chip and Tomasz that struck me every time I heard then and that speak volumes about the intense brotherhood suffering from this great loss: