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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

As memorials come down, remember to 'never forget'

Too much. For far too long.

In two towns, they’re saying enough.

In one, it took 10 months. In the other, it wasn’t even two weeks.

But, when you consider the scale, it really does make sense.

Let me explain.

On Wednesday, officials in Chardon and Newtown, Conn., asked for an end to the memorials dedicated to the victims of school shootings that occurred in 2012.

I feel like I’m insulting you to remind you that both were deadly. Three young men died in Chardon, while 26 died at Sandy Hook School in Sandy Hook, Conn.

Don’t read that their requests wrong way: They’re not asking you to forget.

No, rather, they’re announcing plans for memorials to those who died and their hope to include some of the items from the temporary memorials.

The memorial in Sandy Hook, according to a story in The News Times in Danbury, Conn., will use everything that’s been left behind in memory of those slain at the elementary school.

“The city plans to compost biodegradable materials left at the memorials and lease equipment to grind items, such as those made of metal and wood, and mix them into a cement slurry for a permanent memorial. Volunteers may be needed to help sort and possibly tear apart certain items,” according to the story on

I’ll admit I’d been wondering how long they could leave that stuff out there.

It rained consistently in the days following the shooting, and it’s now snowed a couple times. Even though I don’t like to think about it, I shudder to think about how bad it smells near those materials, with mold undoubtedly building on the countless stuffed animals and toys left behind in memory of those 20 youngsters who died in the school.

In a story I read over the weekend, someone from Newtown said they’ve received more than 60,000 teddy bears since the shooting. That’s more than the number of people who live in Sandy Hook and Newtown.

I saw the story after I’d purchased six bears to donate to a collection being conducted nearby. I figure I’ll just hold on to them until someone around here is asking for teddy bears.

In Chardon, city officials asked residents to remove the red ribbons they’ve left behind in public places over the past 10 months since a gunman opened fire in the cafeteria in Chardon High School.

Suspect T.J. Lane is due to go on trial Jan. 14 in Geauga County Common Pleas Court. He’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The City of Chardon and the school district, too, are planning a permanent memorial.

“To continue the healing process for the community, it has been decided to remove the ribbons on public property and to use the ribbons to construct a more permanent item of remembrance for presentation to the families of the victims,” according to a news release.

The release said ribbons can be brought to the city’s Municipal Center on Water Street.
It’s important to say again that neither town is asking you to forget or to move on.

On the contrary, it’s important to remember what happened in both of these places.

The people who were lost deserve to be remembered. They deserve to be honored.

Most were young people who still had a lifetime of memories to make and successes to achieve.

That doesn’t make their lives any less important than the teachers who died along with them in Sandy Hook.

In fact, many of us have focused on their loss, because of so much lost potential. Who knows what they could have become, what they could have done had they been allowed to live their lives.

When I first heard the Chardon request, I grew irritated.

Who were they to tell those who tied those ribbons that it was time for them to come down? I looked over at the poster of a black ribbon with the big red C in the middle that I hung on my door a couple days after the Chardon shooting, intended to do what so many of us pledge when tragedy strikes.

Never forget.

Each time I look at the ribbon, I remember different aspects of that event.

The young victims. The families who spoke at a news conference at Classic Park a few days afterward. The Chardon community left reeling by the heinous act of violence in a school. The Chardon students forced to return to class in that building after a week off.

But then I realized that, as with those in Sandy Hook and Newtown, these memorials won’t be tossed out like yesterday’s trash.

No, they’ll be used in a planned memorial to those lost.

Somehow, that makes it a whole lot better.

For now, I’ll leave my ribbon in place on my door.

If nothing else, it’s a reminder of the recovery that one day will come for those in Sandy Hook. One day, it’ll be OK to look forward without fear of forgetting the past.

Until then, let’s remember those words we turn to in times of sadness and loss.

Never forget.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My thoughts are firmly on the family in Sandy Hook

I was a half-day kid during kindergarten.

I’d go to Mrs. Holtcamp’s class in the morning, then head home for lunch, playtime and probably a nap in the afternoon.

It was quite a life back then. My brother was a grade ahead of me, so he had to stay all day in Mrs. Saver’s first-grade class.

Of course, I held it over his head when he’d come home, but he didn’t really seem to care that I got to play with ALL the toys while he was gone. Too much learning going on, I suppose.

There were a few days, though, when the routine changed, and I found myself heading home for lunch with one of my buddies, Mark.

His mom, Margaret, was one of my mom’s best friends from the time when they were little kids in the Collinwood area of Cleveland. There were plenty of stories of how the girls would walk to school, cause trouble in class and generally just enjoy life before the big, new freeway stole my mother’s home and forced her family to move.

As I look back now, I’d show up at Margaret’s house when something really bad happened.

The three times I went there during kindergarten were when my grandparents died.

Yes, three died in one year. When I was 6 years old.

They say that kids notice everything and remember everything. It’s a warning many don’t often heed.

The sadness I saw from my parents and extended family rubbed off on me. The empty houses and missing cuddles were noticed, too.

Then, one Sunday night at my remaining grandmother’s house, I walked in the living room, sat down and started to watch TV. It was tuned to the nightly news, because my family always caught the headlines at night, no matter where we were.

On this particular night, the news included a funeral, and a massive crowd in the streets. For reasons I never knew, the crowd was moving the coffin above their heads. Today, you might say it was like crowd-surfing.

That funeral and the deaths of my grandparents apparently became too much for my young brain to handle, and I couldn’t sleep when I went home that night.

I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling. After what seemed like hours, I got up and walked into the living room. When my mother asked me why I was out of bed, the words flew out of my mouth as fast as the tears left my eyes:

“Are you and dad going to die?”

Oddly, I don’t remember the answer to the question. I’m sure it had something to do with “no.”

I do recall the type of crying that involved gasping for breath and then hiccups. I got to drink some soda, too, before I was hustled back to bed.

That memory came rushing back last week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The event hit close to home, because that’s my niece’s school.

My brother and his family have lived in Sandy Hook, which neighbors Newtown, Conn., for 11 years.

Emily was in the library when the shooting occurred, and safely left the school with a police officer after he showed his badge under the storage closet door.

My sister-in-law picked her up at the fire station and they returned home.

The true horror of the event became known about an hour later, when officials confirmed 20 children had been gunned down in their classrooms, along with six of their teachers.

The killer’s mom was found dead around the corner from my brother’s home. Every time they leave the house to go anywhere, they’ll pass that house of horrors.

My youngest two nieces know the families of many of the children who died. In fact, my sister-in-law said, on the about five mile route to the highway, they pass three homes where someone died in the shootings.

In the days before the shooting, I spent some time laughing at the items on the girls’ wish lists for Christmas.

The 13-year-old, who goes to the middle school, suggested Nordstrom gift cards.

The same items I found silly seem pretty special now when I realize I still get to buy them. I still get to wrap them. I still get to hand them to them. I still get to watch them open them.

That’s a blessing that goes beyond the much-talked-about “Christmas miracle.”

Too much death. Too much loss. Too much tragedy. Too much fear.

When you’re that young, the words “you’re lucky to be alive” don’t mean much. Neither does “it’ll be OK.”

Because, when you’re little, your friends are everything, school is the social gathering place and teachers are your heroes.

If only I could promise the loss is over for these youngsters.

Sadly, we all know I can’t.

There’ll be new pain down the line, and it, too, will remind them of this tragedy.

The night after the killings, during an interview with a couple on CNN, the wife put it very simply.

“We love Sandy Hook. It’s a great place to live.”

She’s right. We visit about once a year, and I take some time to walk around my brother’s housing development with its million-dollar houses on huge lots. They’re all different, with unique window patterns and landscaping that seem perfect for an edition of House Beautiful magazine.

As I walk through, virtually a stranger to the residents, I study each home for what makes it unique.

The ones with big porches are my favorites. It’s unusual to cross paths with a resident as I make my way around, but on those rare occasions, there’s always a wave, or a greeting of "Good morning."

When you venture into town, it’s exactly as it appears on television — quaint, with old storefronts and homes housing businesses and, for no reason at all, a giant flagpole in the center of a busy intersection.

It’s heartbreaking to see Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima in Newtown, struggling to lead these families through this horror. Weiss celebrated all three of my nieces’ First Communion masses, apologizing to the families gathered because his focus was on the children. They hang on every word, and it’s a comfort to know he’s there for them now. It’s easy to see his heart is breaking, too, as he greets endless caskets at the church door, too soon after welcoming them to the church in baptism.

No answers on motive or opportunity will be enough to wipe away such pain.

Let us hope we never forget the shock we’re feeling. It will be a reminder that we must make the world a safer place and remember to love our neighbors, even when they don’t show us they’re in need of support.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Nurse involved in royal prank deserved better

I’ve worked with a lot of pranksters.

For some reason, the vehicle of choice for most was the telephone.

One of the more legendary pranks could almost be mistaken for hazing. An editor here used to greet new reporters, after a few days on the job, with news that the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo had acquired a new animal and that they’d need to call Mr. Lyon to get a comment for a story for the next day’s paper.


Another guy used to page one of our other editors and tell him he had a phone call waiting.

When we get calls, we “park” them, and someone else can pick it up by dialing 3 and the extension. For instance, if I got a phone call for someone, I’d tell them to pick up 3473.

This guy would page Chris, telling him to pick up “9911.” Dialing nine on our phones gives you an outside line. You can figure out the rest.

We caught Chris a few times, phone in hand, as he was about to dial in for his calls.

When we explained it to him, he’d usually look over and say, “You got me!”

Phones seemingly have always been the source of pranks. From children asking “is your refrigerator running,” to teenage lovers dialing their new boyfriends just to hear their voices, to a select few who reach out to touch a stranger with the fear of a threatening call.

Then there are the ones who work hard to fool you, such as a pair of disc jockeys in Australia who have become pariahs because of a prank call to a London hospital about 10 days ago.

You’ve surely heard about the call.

The morning radio hosts on 2DayFM dialed up the hospital where Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge was being held because of “acute morning sickness,” pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, inquiring about Kate’s condition.

The call went through the first gatekeeper and on to Kate’s nurse, who filled the pair in on details of how she slept, how she was eating and her prognosis.

The DJs taped the entire call, and broadcast it on their radio show. It then was picked up by media around the world, who were desperate for any information on the duchess’ condition.

Buckingham Palace was sharing very little detail, and the nurse spilled it all in a few seconds.
The story spread and spread and spread.

Some thought the DJs were clever, showing spunk to get the information with a simple phone call. Others said they were criminals, prying into the duchess’ privacy and sharing details that only her loved ones should know.

In the middle of it all was the woman who put the DJs’ call through to the nurse — the one who made the prank a success.

We learned her name on Dec. 7, when media outlets reported that she’d hanged herself.
It was news we didn’t need to receive.

And, I argue, it was news that wronged her worse than any harm caused by the DJs whose actions started the entire saga. Yes, she made a mistake. Yes, it was embarrassing.

I’ve been there. I’ve made mistakes that were completely embarrassing — to me and to The News-Herald.

You learn from them. You eventually get over them. Time heals all wounds, as they say.

For whatever reason, this 46-year-old nurse couldn’t imagine that happening, and then took her own life.

I have a feeling she’d be horrified that her friends and employer identified her in the media as both the person involved in the hospital prank and also as a suicide victim.

Generally, our guidelines don’t call for identifying suicide victims. We write about them in cases where there’s public inconvenience or concern.

I only wish those with knowledge of this nurse’s death had been so kind to her.

She deserved better than them turning a spotlight on her in the hour of her greatest pain.

 — Laura Kessel | | @Lauranh

Friday, December 7, 2012

Time of the year for all the hacking to begin

It’s December.

That can only mean one thing.

It’s time for me to cough.

I’m perfectly healthy in every other way. It’s just that every once in a while, I launch into a coughing jag that follows a desperate gasp for air.

But I’m fine. Really.

I’d tell you all about it, but I can’t make it through two sentences without coughing.

No, really, I’m fine.

There’s no fever, no chills, no stuffiness, no chest or lung pain.

It’s just a cough.

Trouble is, it hits every year about this time and lasts a good two months.

At least, that’s what’s happened the past two years. The first time it happened, I headed down to South Carolina for a week on a story assignment, and it sort of dried up. It wasn’t warm down there, but the air is more dry, so it helped.

But, about 10 minutes after the plane landed — BOOM! — the cough came back with a vengeance.

It was almost like it whispered to me, “hello, old friend, did you miss me?”

I tried to be pre-emptive this time, sucking down a package of pills to remove whatever is causing the tickle in the back of my throat.

No dice.

So, I’m mainlining decaf coffee in an attempt to keep the throat clear of this phlegm ball that’s made itself at home once again.

It doesn’t really bother me that much, because, as I said, I’m not sick any other way.

In fact, most of the time, I forget about it when I’m sitting around or at my desk working. But when I go to speak, after a few words, I’m hacking.

It’s right about now that you’re probably wondering why I haven’t been to the doctor yet?

It’s not a cold. It’s not the flu. It’s nothing antibiotics could treat.

Why waste the time or the money to head in to the doctor’s office only to have them send me out with a suggestion that I pick up some cough syrup with -tussin at the end, or a pack of Mucinex to clear out the phlegm.

I already beat them to the punch on the second part of that — taking a full pack of the extra-strength variety for a little over a week.

And, yet I still cough.

I’m beginning to treat the December cough like I do my sweaters: I put them away in spring, and dread their arrival in late fall.

Maybe my next step will be the -tussin aisle at the drug store.

If you haven’t been there in a while, it’s a complicated journey that usually involves gazing for what seems like an eternity at boxes with terms such as “expectorant” and “suppressant.”

I’m not a doctor, but I periodically play one in the aisles of area drug stores.

Over time, I’ve learned one of those words means “cough stuff up” and the other one means “put aside.”

It’s which is which that sometimes confuses me. I’m sure you’re the same.

Well, not if you’re a doctor. And if you are, can you give me a call to tell me what to do about this ridiculous cough?

I’m sure you’ll be able to diagnose me in a matter of seconds, because as soon as I say “hello,” you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I’m going to excuse myself. It’s time to cough.
Twitter: @Lauranh