: One of my first thoughts following the line-of-duty death of New Jersey State Trooper Marc Castellanos was of the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, where his tribute will be sung next May, along with those of others who sacrificed time with loved ones, exhanged “normal” lives at tremendous risk — and, ultimately, paid with life itself. Then came tragic news today….
“The New Jersey State Police family mourns the death of Trooper Scott Graham, 35, of Monmouth County. Trooper Graham died of a single gunshot wound this morning,” the release says (full text below).
“The tragic death of Tpr. Graham today deepens the wound that the New Jersey State Police family suffered from the recent death of Tpr. Castellano,” said Colonel Joseph R. Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “We are again offering our support to another family coping with a tragic end to a loved one’s life.”
These back-to-back heartbreakers made me pull out something I’d written last year, immediately following the 2009 memorial for New Jersey’s fallen officers….
(5/20/2009) Old Glory’s stars defy a relentless wind that pins her stripes, their fingertips fluttering, toward Asbury Park. An earthbound pigeon bobs around my feet, then perches on a rail at the end of the Ocean Grove pier. “Is that you, Mom?” I think, half-jokingly.
Jerry DeMarco Publisher.Editor
She would’ve told me to skip a day like this. Although a pale blue sky stretches to the horizon — and, presumably, beyond — the north winds blow chilly and cold. Like October.
At least I’m wearing a jacket.
Hours earlier, loved ones who left too soon were remembered in a different way, on a grand stage at Ocean Grove’s magnificent Great Auditorium.
I wish mom had that kind of stage when she was around.
She attended the Methodist masses in the hall, where today a mass of various shades of blue displayed the dignity of their calling, honoring three brother officers from New Jersey who died last year.
Mom liked the cavernous, wooden auditorium, with its barn-like doors that invite sea breezes in to cool the congregants. She was stirred by the choir, singing along from her stiff, wooden seat. She was provoked by whatever visiting minister was in town that day by the Shore to serve up his recipe for redemption.
Sometimes she even took in a sunrise mass on the beach, overlooking the cove where we spread her ashes six years ago.
For loved ones of the police officers honored today, the pain is all too fresh. As I watched the solemn service, I wished that I could go up to them, one by one, clasp their hands in mine, and whisper: You’ll never get over it, but you’ll get through it.
The waves gurgle silently in the sea’s depths, before suddenly cresting into whitecaps that storm the beach like invading armies.
We know the waves are there, even before they’re created. We know that they will come for each and every one of us someday — just as we know, deep down, that something could suddenly rip out a chunk of our hearts, if not sooner then later.
Unlike the wind, this tide never turns. With each wave comes another loss, as we cast for another reason to defy that which is bigger than us all.
We can’t help but seek, and find, whomever (or whatever) will become dearest to us. We just know that it will happen — the individual destiny of a collective conscience.
And we’ll grudgingly accept the price of pain as part of living, just as those who live near the waves eventually cease to hear them thumping against the shore. We classify the sorrow as passage, an EZ-Pass toll that we prefer not to notice until the account requires replenishment. If not, then the joy of loving would hold no charms, would it?
The beach is nearly empty today, save for a few grade-school kids flying a kite with a woman who looks to be their mom.
She brought them here in a coupe that’s easily 15 years old if it’s a day. She’s bathed and fed them, then clothed them in t-shirts and shorts that still fit. Now, together, the band of four have fled to a stretch of battleground wedged between a pounding surf and a relentless wind.
Mom holds tight to the string, struggling to keep the kite aloft and steady. The kids dash around her in increasingly widening circles, hoping she’s too preoccupied to notice the growing distance.
The rest of the nearby population power-walks the boards, in visors and hoodies and comfy sneakers. Even the gulls are sticking close to the man-made structures, counting the hours to Memorial Day in graceful arcs, impatiently awaiting the summer wind.
I stopped “feeling” mom long ago, as my belief grew that there’s no more than this — except, of course, for what we conjure in order to cope.
Maybe those grieving loved ones in the Great Auditorium earlier today can still feel those they’ve lost. Maybe that feeling will never go away. Or maybe the pain eventually will turn them against faith.
Soon, the wind won’t breathe as heavily, and the ocean will swing its arms in smoother, slower motions. Soon, the gulls will return to the sand. A new season will begin.
I’ll return to the Grove then, when I can easier face the great nothingness that stretches beyond mom’s cove, as throngs of all beliefs loll, roll and stretch behind me. Maybe then I will be strong enough to defy the wind, while retreating, just far enough, from the charging whitecaps.
Right now, though, I’m going home.
STATEMENT FROM NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE (6/16/2010)
The New Jersey State Police family mourns the death of Trooper Scott Graham, 35, of Monmouth County. Trooper Graham died of a single gunshot wound this morning.
He was found shortly after 7:30 a.m. in a marked State Police vehicle parked on the side of the off ramp from the southbound Garden State Parkway southbound to Rt. 34 southbound in Wall Township, Monmouth County. This was reported by [a] passing motorist who is a law enforcement officer.
An autopsy by the Middlesex County Medical Examiner determined that Tpr. Scott Graham died of a single self-inflicted gunshot wound.
At 10:32 a.m.,Tpr. Graham was pronounced at the scene by a member of the Monmouth County Medical Examiner’s Office, who subsequently removed his body.
The exit 98 ramp was reopened at 11:30 a.m.
Tpr. Graham was a member of the 119th State Police Class. He graduated in March of 2001 and had been a trooper for ten years. He was assigned to the State Police Academy.
He leaves behind a wife and three young children. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.
“We appreciate the compassion with which the public has reached out to us in this time of sorrow,” Fuentes said. “We ask for propriety and patience for anyone who would like to contact the Graham family.”
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