Two weekends ago was beautiful, wasn't it? After weeks of playing peek-a-boo with the sun and living through the constant, dismal rain, summer announced it has arrived.
Just in the nick of time, too: It was graduation weekend all across the Pacific Northwest, and gorgeous weather makes for an added cherry on top already special memories. It was also opening weekend of the World Cup, a soccer fan's utopia.
For those reasons and more, you just kind of knew it was a weekend to be enjoyed.
And then on Saturday morning in Fremont, that suddenly and irrevocably changed. Seattle's deadliest fire in nearly 40 years took the lives of one adult and five children.
A family gone
Within minutes, the fire gutted a two-story townhouse, and one mother lost two sons, a daughter, a niece and a sister. The mother, Helen Gebregiorgis, lost her sons Joseph Gebregiorgis, 13, and Yaseen Shamam, 5, and her daughter Nisreen Shamam, 6. Gebregiorgis also lost her 22-year-old sister, Eyerusalem Gebregiorgis, and 7-year-old niece, Nyella Smith. Their bodies were found in a bathroom; they probably ran there to escape the thick, black smoke that filled the home.
Witnesses at the scene have given the media alarming accounts of what they saw. Fire Chief Gregory Dean agrees there were problems: The first truck to respond was unable to get water on the house. The second dropped a hose on its way to the scene. The delay may have been less than three minutes, but as Dean said on Saturday, "Every minute counts."
Could those three minutes mean the difference between life and death? We'll probably never know.
Neighbors tried to consol the distraught mother as she wailed on the sidewalk, overcome with shock and grief. Some accuse the medics on scene of forcing the mother and another relative into an ambulance against their will before transporting them to Harborview Medical Center, where they were later released.
Emotions are high on all sides.
On Saturday night, the family gathered with community members to support and grieve with each other.
Many just want to know how this could have happened. The answers will come with time, but they'll never stop the overwhelming pain that comes with losing a child, let alone three.
A pain like no other
When I heard the news of what happened, my stomach twisted into knots as my focus fell on the mother and what she must be going through.
My youngest son was born early the morning of Oct. 6, 2001. Three years and eight months later, on the morning of June 14, 2005, I stood at his side, my hand rubbing over his leg as he quietly took his last breaths and died.
After cancer and chemo and stem-cell transplants, lengthy operations, radiation, loss of hearing, sight and mobility, his life was over. The machines I'd grown so accustomed to hearing 24 hours a day were silent.
It has been five years since that day.
It seems like five minutes.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can remove the pain that comes with losing a child - not friends, family, God, therapy, tears, talking or writing. Nothing. Time goes on, sure; life goes on whether we want it to or not. But everything, everything reminds me of his life - and his death.
I've had people tell me to "just move on and let it go," and I've had people tell me, "Just focus on the good. It'll be OK. You're stronger than you know." Many insist that time will heal the wound.
That seems so ridiculous. I can tell you with all certainty, five years later, time is not the great healer many make it out to be.
Losing a child is like having a part of yourself ripped out, leaving a massive hole that is never filled. There are wonderful memories, but nothing can cure the pain of that loss. Not just emotional pain; no, it's a physical pain. A pain nothing can touch. A pain no other human being can feel, unless you've been a parent and lost a child.
All we can do
I knew my son was going to die because he had terminal cancer. It didn't make it easier, but I knew it would happen.
I cannot imagine the sudden shock and helplessness that comes with watching a home burn, knowing my children were inside. I can't imagine what it would be like to fight to run inside, through the flames and smoke, while strangers are holding me back, or the moment of realization: All the children are gone.
So to say the family has my condolences doesn't feel adequate because it doesn't change anything; it does nothing to take away the pain. But it's all I can do - it's all any of us can do.
Sable Verity provides social commentary for theFreshXpress.com: The Pulse of Young Black America, KBCS Radio and many other outlets.[[In-content Ad]]