A reminder of how to love those we’ve lost

Review: "Celebrating Their Lives"

Live long enough and the sorrows keep piling up. Friends and family pass away, suddenly and slowly, predictably and shockingly. Former Watertown Daily Times reporter Norah Machia details those losses — the accidents, illnesses, and suicides of 14 people. But her focus, as the title “Celebrating Their Lives — Turning the Loss of a Loved one into a Legacy for Helping Others,” suggests, is the positive response of our North Country neighbors to the grief those deaths cause. Each profile puts a face on the pain, describes the response, and offers online resources for those in a similar situation.

Physician Adeline Fagan went to high school in Syracuse and medical school in Buffalo, worked in Haiti among the poorest, and then in Houston. It was there she contracted COVID-19, and passed away in September 2020. She was 28. Of her untimely death, her father posted in an online journal, “the time the world stopped for a moment and will never be the same.”

The Fagans are supporting an endowment at the University of Buffalo in their daughter’s memory.

Beverly Shepard waited 15 years before she looked at a videotape of her son’s wedding. Her son’s best man was Beverly’s other son, Kevin. Using his police service gun, Kevin took his own life before he turned 30.

Suicide has its unique demons for the survivors, a sense of responsibility that might not attend other deaths. Beverly said, “the outside world expected me to get over it, but it’s something you never get over — you just try to move forward. You put on this mask around other people, then when you get home, it cracks. And you cry.”

But she did find solace among Compassionate Friends, a group founded in England in 1969, for those who have lost a child. There Beverly could speak of her son among empathetic people who identified with her pain.

Native American Stephanie Eriacho followed her father’s advice and joined the military to see the world beyond the Zuni reservation in New Mexico. Enlisting in the Navy, she became an aircraft mechanic, and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. After separating from the service, however, adjustment was not easy: “In the military, I was used to being around a diverse community, and respect and discipline were really important. When you get out of the military, it’s quite a culture shock.”

Help came from an academic course at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, called Dialogues of Honor and Sacrifice. About her conversations with her classmates, Stephanie noted: “We trusted one another … combat soldier to combat soldier. It was like a secret language that no one else could understand, but we were all fluent.”

Discovering that some of her former squadron had taken their own lives, Stephanie joined an online support group. She also testified to a congressional subcommittee in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities that created the Jefferson Community College class.

Ms. Machia’s book is a gift. She focuses on our neighbors (including Saranac Lake high school graduate and former Adirondack Daily Enterprise reporter and managing editor Charlie Decker), noting their deaths and the lives they lived, and how their families and friends celebrate those lives. This is not a self-help book, but a reminder of how to love those we’ve lost.


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