Vail Daily column: Too much tragedy, heartbreak
Nineteenth-century American novelist and poet Herman Melville once wrote, “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Our community has borne witness to these “connective fibers” recently as we’ve struggled to understand, grieve and grow from a trio of student and staff tragedies connected to our schools.
A few weeks ago, Kailyn Forsberg (a competitive and very talented freeskiing athlete) was seriously injured in the national finals at Copper Mountain. Her recovery is happening in Denver; the extent of her long-term recovery is still unknown and may be life-changing. Kailyn is a student at Eagle Valley High School and was a student at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. She grew up in Eagle and her father, Mitch, is the principal at Gypsum Elementary School, and her sister and mother also live in our community.
The same day as Kailyn’s injury, longtime Eagle Valley High School office employee Linda Hatton had a serious medical incident as well. She continues recovering at the Glenwood Hospital. Linda grew up in Eagle County, raised her family here and has deep connections to many in our community. She’s been a regular welcoming face to students attending EVHS for 24 years.
As if this were not enough heartbreak, we also lost Johnny Gomez, a young man attending Eagle Valley High School. Johnny passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident on Interstate 70 while traveling with another student, Adrian Favela (a student at Red Canyon High School), who also sustained serious injuries in the crash. Both of these students have siblings, relatives and friends who attend several of our schools. I attended Johnny’s service with his classmates, teachers and friends.
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I was asked by a student recently, “What’s the hardest part about your job?” It was not difficult for me to find my answer: witnessing the passing of a young person, and being part of the grieving our schools and community feels as a result never gets any easier. Burying one of the community’s children is not a process that feels routine, natural or right.
The connective fiber among all of these tragedies is how deeply they touch and impact so many parts of our community. We all feel the pain of these tragedies, grapple with their meaning, and struggle to cope and go on.
While the pain and loss cannot be rightly comprehended or described, these are also times we see the best in people and the strength of our community.
Within hours of Kailyn’s injury, the community had mobilized to support her, the Forsberg family and the affected schools (EVHS and GES). That support continued via our local media assisting in communicating the two financial support vehicles set up to provide medical expense assistance. Athletic teams at both EVHS and BMHS symbolically and directly sent Kailyn support by wearing ribbons on their uniforms as seen on the front page of this paper. GES organized the entire school to participate in photos, sign making and fundraising. The same type of energy rallied for Linda and her ongoing struggles toward recovery. And at the Gomez funeral, I witnessed the family, students and teaching staff leaning on and supporting each other through the deepest levels of grief and pain.
Our Eagle County Schools family has experienced more than our quota of tragedy and heartbreak this year and we hope and pray for a reprieve. But, through the anguish of all this loss, the resilient and loving foundation of our community is also revealed.
I’m proud of our community including our kids, educators and parents in how they’ve responded and coped with these tough times. But please, at least for a little while, no more.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.