It was a sunny, warm day and after we visited Natalee's grave we took some time to walk around and study the other gravesites in that cemetery. It's a nature preserve too and a beautiful place, and we were struck again and again by the sad stories that seemed to surround us. There are a number of young children buried near Natalee and many of their gravesites were decorated with various items.
We were both struck by the universality of grief. While we were ourselves struggling still, it was a stark reminder that we are not alone and that ultimately, grief is one of the few things we humans have in common.
I've been struggling with how to write this entry all day, but I'm reminded of that day in the cemetery again today as I watch tribute after tribute for a man who died last night. He was a husband, father, son, friend, and co-worker. Many knew him as a funny newscaster in Chicago.
I once knew him as family and I think he is probably the reason I chose to go into television.
His name is Randy Salerno and when I was in high school, he married my then-stepmother's sister. Never one to get hung up on "step" family, I considered him an uncle. He was larger than life - both literally with his 6'5" height, but also figuratively with his Italian charm and gregarious personality.
I think I was enthralled with him from the first time I met him, and watching him in his career (first here in Peoria at a station I would later work for) and then as he and his wife found new jobs, first in Albany, NY and then in Chicago - inspired me. I realized that there was a profession for someone like me. Someone who loved to talk, (especially in front of people) who was inquisitive, who couldn't ever imagine a job that was the exact same day after day. The kind of job that might make me light up a room when I walked in the way Randy could.
I don't remember when exactly, but not long after they landed jobs in Chicago, Randy and Diane divorced. And you know, the funny thing about divorce is that you often forget about the "small-part players" who are affected - like the step-niece. In a little twist of fate, my husband was able to meet him covering a story in Decatur shortly after we married and then talked to him one other time as well.
I'm not the kind of person who can just cut people out of their lives and pretend they were never a part of it, and I don't think Randy was either. So I know he was genuinely interested when he asked about our family. And I was always interested in learning more about the family he has now. But exactly how does that e-mail start, anyway?
Sadly, I'm finally learning more - through video clips and newscasts that are being devoted to him today. But it's so strange as I watch to realize how little I knew of this man who really had such a profound effect on my life. I just knew him differently, I guess... at a different time.
Even so, I am sharing in the deep sense of sadness and loss others who did know him well are expressing. I also have some regrets and the stark realization there's nothing I can do about them now - no chance to send him that e-mail to say hi and let him know how he influenced my life and how much *I* missed him after the divorce.
I've watched a lot of those newspeople in Chicago tell stories about him today, and they're all great and speak very highly of the person I remember. But the first story that came to my mind happened one day when I was in high school.
Diane and Randy were visiting from Albany in the middle of winter. We lived on a lake and when I got home from school, I found that Randy had cleared a big square of snow off the lake with a snow shovel so that my stepmom and her sister could go ice-skating. It had taken him more than 2 hours of hard work, but when they finally got out there to skate it was so cold they only stayed out for five minutes! I felt so bad for him I went and skated myself for a while (and tried really hard to last more than 5 minutes!) I remember thinking how most people would have been frustrated that so much hard work had been for nothing, but he just seemed to laugh and take it in stride. If he was frustrated, he didn't show it.
You really never know whose life you may touch, and when you may be creating a memory for someone. And I'd have to be a fool not to see the lesson in all of this - I won't insult your intelligence by writing the obvious.
The other lesson though, the one that isn't so obvious, is that sometimes people can be a small part of our lives for a very small time and years later we'll still feel a huge void when they're gone.
My thoughts and prayers to Randy and all his family and friends..........