Holding vigil for a grave loss: Matt's Memo

Melissa Avery, Maryssa Houston and Jamie Bell.

Prayer, song and togetherness filled a vacuum tonight on the edge of Gatehouse Pond in Tully. On a cloudy, rainy evening the harmony of Amazing Grace overcame the discord of a family torn apart at that same spot three nights before. That's where a Ford Explorer carrying two women and a five year old girl went airborne off the road and into the pond.

The three were missing for 24 hours. Jamie Bell her niece Melissa Avery and Melissa's daughter Maryssa Houston were then found by police divers in the submerged car. Late that night I called Melissa's mother Mary to confirm the worst: several of her dearest family members were gone.

Mary answered her phone quietly. I offered my condolences. Asked if there was anything we could do for the family. I explained I was calling to confirm what had been posted on a Facebook page, but had yet to be announced by NY State Police. Was it your daughter and grand daughter in the car? I could hear her cry. Her voice choked as she said yes. It was also her sister.

I asked if she was at least around people as she dealt with the shock. She said not right now. "I'm driving home. I just identified them all at the Coroner's office." I asked if we could talk again the next day as I did not want her to drive with any more distraction. How she made it home safely I'll never know.

She clearly remains in shock. We talked again today. She admitted she doesn't know what to do or how this will all go. Who can even offer experience based advice when someone suffers a loss like this?

We have shown the photos of the three victims numerous times on the news this week. Collectively their photos reflect the magnitude of the loss. Yet, its the singular photo of 5 year old Maryssa that hits the hardest. Her adorable smile. The twinkle in her eye. Her kindergarten teacher tonight described how she would joyously lick the center of her Oreo cookies.

We can only imagine the final seconds of that little girl's life at Gatehouse Pond. That's where they gathered to remember tonight. The vigil hit the mark as part of the public grieving process. But, once they douse the candles, the cards stop coming and the Facebook messages stop buzzing Mary will be left in the quiet of her loss. We can hope for her those clouds will break and the sun will shine again.

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