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ASD Guest Blog Post: Why I Always Cry A Little On June 6

Jun 06, 2018

In this Guest Blog Post, ASD Public Relations Specialist, Jessica Farren, shares a personal story about how a tragic death in her community impacted her as a child.


There are a lot of reasons not to like the date June 6th.

It is the anniversary of D-Day, the date Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy and thousands of men lost their lives.

It is one day after the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, an event that robbed many Americans of their hope for the future.

If you are subscriber to the belief that 6 is the “devil’s number”, the date holds a lot more dread than Friday the 13 th ever could.

For me, June 6th will always be a date on the calendar I hate. It is a date that brings death and mortality to the forefront of my brain, but not for any of the reasons listed above. Every year, no matter how old I get, when June 6 th rolls around my memory always returns to the day a classmate in my elementary school was killed in a house fire.

We were all standing in front of the school, trying to open the doors. Though it wasn’t smoky in front of the school, a distinct smell of something burning lingered in the air. I was getting upset because we were supposed to have an award ceremony that morning and I had somehow found out in advance that I was going to get a Reading Award that day. There are so many large pieces of my childhood I can’t remember, but somehow I can still recall that I was hoping the award ceremony wouldn’t be postponed that morning right before we saw the helicopter flying overhead.

A teacher came out and explained that school was cancelled due to a terrible incident that had occurred. They instructed us to go home and talk to our parents, who had been notified about what happened. Some of them had already arrived to take their kids back home. I remember feeling angry that I wasn’t going to get my award as I walked home. I was about eight or nine at the time. When I came in the door, my mother was crying hysterically. I’ve never forgotten how hard she hugged me that day.

Even now, more than 20 years later, I can still recall the combination of terror and confusion that enveloped me after I learned a 7-year-old girl in my school had died in such a horrifying way. I can remember feeling an intense guilt and regret over the fact that I didn’t know the girl well, as I was a couple years ahead of her in school. I grieved for the fact that the opportunity to know her no longer existed, that someone younger than I was could be taken so suddenly. It defied all of the logic in my brain that told me I was safe in this world and nothing could hurt me.

She was home from school that day because of a planned trip to Hershey Park with her Girl Scout troop. Knowing her husband would be home soon from work, the girl’s mother left the house for only 15 minutes to go to her crossing guard job. In that short amount of time, a giant blaze engulfed their entire home, trapping the poor girl inside. When the mom returned home, firefighters had to restrain her to keep her from running back into the burning house. I think about that girl’s mom so often. Since my job is so closely related to topics of grief and bereavement, I will often visualize her in my head when I think about grieving mothers. She worked at our local deli years after the fire and every time I saw her I wanted to cry. I imagined what it must be like for her, to see young girls coming in and out of the store and trying to picture what her own daughter might have looked like all grown up.

The tragic Collingdale Fire of 1997 haunted every mom, dad and child in our town. Parents were suddenly terrified of leaving their children alone for even a moment. So many of my classmates needed counseling services afterward. The incident happened only a few weeks before summer vacation began, and I can remember how that entire summer I was terrified to sleep. We were all told by our parents that gas had filled the house before the fire, causing the girl to fall asleep and not wake up during the fire. There was a long period where I can remember believing that falling asleep would increase the likelihood of death coming for me too. I later learned the story about her sleeping was a fabrication – a story we were all told to keep us from imagining a more painful scenario. A newspaper article I found years later spelled out some details that would have probably traumatized me much more.

Before the day of the fire, my understanding of death was very abstract. It was something that only happened to old people after they had lived a full life. Afterward, it became like a shadow over my life, inching its way into my consciousness whenever it could. When I did finally receive that Reading Award, it felt hollow and meaningless. I was always an overly exuberant child and this was the first time I remember having to fake excitement. It was like stepping into a doorway you could never enter through again.

When I look back on my life, June 6, 1997 is like a line in the sand. After that day, I became obsessed with learning about the Holocaust and stories about tragedies befalling children. I read The Diary of Ann Frank and Number the Stars over and over. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had this part of my brain that believes on some level that if I know enough about something, I can protect myself from it. I can vividly recall staring for so long at this one photo from a concentration camp that showed all of the children’s shoes piled up. It was an image that defied all of those preconceived notions I had about the world being a safe and kind place.

Today, when I noticed the date on the calendar and my brain inevitably returned to that sad day from my childhood, I began to wonder how many others do the same. How many others look back on that day and think about everything that was lost 21 years ago? When I see all of these school shootings happening today and all of the lives that are being taken so young, it makes me wonder how there is any innocence at all left in this world. Children should not have to fear for their safety or question the security of their surroundings. When that happens, it has a permanent effect on a kid that forever alters them. What happened in my town was something that could not have been predicted…it was a terrible, freak accident that nobody caused. It just happened. What’s happening today, however, is something that can and must be addressed…before it’s too late.

I still cry a little every June 6. I grieve for the little girl and for her family, but I also grieve for all of us who were young when it happened, because our innocence died that day.



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About The Author

Jess Fowler

Jess Fowler is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD's company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess.Fowler@myASD.com


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