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Fri, Oct. 18

Column: Unity helped Prescott through tragedy

The evening of the June 30, one year ago, we learned of the loss of 19 firefighters in Yarnell. My column was due the next day. Words did not come easy then or now, but Prescott needed to say what was in our hearts, to grieve together, and to support the grieving. For individuals, those expressions come in personal conversations, but for the city they come in the public voices of its officials.

The column that day did not include the sort of words sometimes offered to the grieving, with comforting intent but often missing the mark. Most of us have experienced grief in our lives, in some cases mixed with tragedy. Had someone told me at such times that all things happen for a reason, it would have only stung for its hollowness. Maybe that's a lack of faith. Everyone has their own way in these things.

The column didn't offer that kind of comfort, but rather the only thing we can really give, the small comfort of the community reaching out in support. I could never say it better than I did a year ago. You may find some support in rereading it in this time of remembrance.

We speak of a period of mourning, but it doesn't really seem to be just that, does it? It does change, though. It softens, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that it becomes less harsh. It comes less frequently. It mixes with all the other aspects of life, the normal ups and downs and the mundane, daily things.

A good way for the community to remember these men is an idea covered in this paper on June 6, to do 19 positive things in their memory. Write 19 letters of gratitude to those who inspire you, do 19 acts of kindness, give 19 hours of volunteer time (my choice), collect 19 thank-you cards for your local firehouse.

To mention a touchy subject for a moment, another way to honor their sacrifice is to make it less likely to happen again. We've read the reports, which draw conclusions ranging from considering it unavoidable because of a rare weather event to highlighting a series of procedures not followed. I have no interest in assigning blame, but there is value in knowing what could be done differently in the future. Fortunately there is some news of attempts to learn just that, because to have nothing done better or safer, for other fire crews to simply have to accept that it may happen again, is not acceptable. Tragedy has no good in it, unless... unless someone learns something, unless it results in someone else avoiding that same tragedy in the future.

One other thing is the way we remember them. Joe Biden, when he came here to speak, and speaking from his own experience, reminded the families that, though it may take a long time, someday they would think of their loved ones and smile, remembering something funny they did or some endearing quality.

I didn't know any of these men personally, only through friends, but everything I've heard or read indicates they were men with a lust for life, a sense of humor, a thirst for adventure. I hope none of their loved ones get stuck in grieving, unable to temper grief with their own joy of living and sense of humor. Some joy of living would seem to be more in keeping with how these men lived, and I'm sure what they would want for their loved ones.

To echo the close of the column a year ago: As you continue to walk forward through the process of grief and remembrance, the hearts of the entire community walk with you. We offer our arms to support those heaviest with that mourning, the small comfort of the companionship of the community.

For those closest to the lost, we mourn with you. As you continue moving forward through your grief, we offer our arms for support. As you walk, we walk with you.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at

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