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Grappling with Grief

Another friend of the town is taken all too early.

The news of Dan Scharfman’s death has this community, once again, grappling with grief.

Like many Belmontians who knew and respected Dan, I feel sucker-punched by this latest of life’s assaults. Hasn’t this town buried enough of its young? Haven’t we tasted the agony of untimely death too many times in the past decade or so?

In 2001, it was Brendan Grant. An 19-year-old met up with his buddies to play a game of baseball. In an attempt to field the ball, Brendan collided with a teammate, collapsing his windpipe – and a life was cut short, decades early. The town was collectively devastated by this tragedy.

In 2006, METCO student Herman Taylor, a senior at the high school, was shot dead outside his home in Roxbury. His death was both violent and senseless and left all who knew him shaken to the core.

Just a little over a year later, our community was pummeled again. A Burbank first grader’s heart stopped beating during a soccer game. Maeve was only six when she was ripped away from her home, her parents, her sisters. We mourned in misery alongside Maeve’s shattered family.

A few years later, on a cold morning in early January, my friend Barbara called with horrible news: MJ Firenze had died suddenly in his home. MJ had epilepsy, it’s true, but many people live a long life even so. Why did this fifth-grader, who bore the burden of his illness with grace and courage, have to pay so dearly? Why did this family, and tangentially this community, have to lose such a sweet boy?

Have you had enough heartbreak for one column? Unfortunately, I'm not done.

In April 2010, a gust of wind knocked a tree down and killed nine-year-old Nicholas Marrama. A few short months later, Belmont native Spc. Jonathan Curtis, 24, died violently while serving his country in Afghanistan.

It goes on.

Just this past December, Dan Downey died unexpectedly in his home, leaving his family and this community both saddened and shell-shocked.

And now Dan Scharfman has been inexorably ripped from us.

As I catalogue these untimely losses, I am sadly aware that there are probably many others I am leaving out. For instance, there was a young father of four who died suddenly, just a few years ago – I don’t know his family, but I still think of them and wonder how they are holding up in the face of such a horrible loss.

But I did know and respect Dan. That I will never again encounter my friend around town has not yet sunk in. Something deep inside me refuses to buck up and brace myself for the painful undertaking that is grief. And something deep inside me is protesting that we in this community must soldier on without Dan among us. His commitment to this town was unstinting; his contribution consequential.

Episcopalians say, “In the midst of life, we are in death.” We have all lived long enough to know this is true. But I also know these sudden deaths of the very young – and the relatively young – are harrowing burdens to be borne by those who loved them.

So, once again, Belmont collectively mourns one of its own. We know – all too well – how to do what must be done. And so the hole in our hearts grows a little bigger as we let the reality of this latest fatality take its toll.

I don’t know if I’m up for it. Not that I have any choice.

Johanna Swift Hart January 22, 2013 at 03:03 PM
Dan's energy and integrity were remarkable, and you're right, his heartbreaking absence from our community is hard to accept and will be deeply felt. It does seem there's been too much sadness for this relatively small town, too many children lost to a falling tree, a commuter train, a suicide bomb, or an awful physiologic accident, and too many fathers and mothers gone while their kids still need them so much. I comfort myself with the thought that we feel these losses so deeply because we are engaged in each other's lives, because so many of us stop to talk when we meet up on the street, we attend meetings and work on PTO's and political campaigns and town committees, we passionately discuss our vision for our town and how we might achieve it. And we try to support each other in our grief, and find ways to honor and remember our neighbors and children and friends who have been taken from us too soon, as we will with Dan. It's small comfort, but it's something.

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