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ON THE SCENE: A time for joys and sorrows

June 8, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

This past weekend on a business trip to San Diego, I stopped en route in Los Angeles to catch up with my brother Gerret and his family. The highlights were my Aunt Kate's 95th birthday and attending my brother's granddaughter Pape's final softball game of the season.

It was joy tempered by the learning of the brutal death of my friend Barbara Nugent and the sudden death of Erik Lamb.

These deaths, coming so soon after those of Steve Holcomb and Saige Borden, and combined with the loss of John "Joe" Wilkins, have hit our community hard. They were all so young, vibrant, and passed in a manner that tore holes in our hearts and left family and friends stricken with grief.

Article Photos

Pape suits up for the softball game.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

We all die, but best is when we can celebrate a life well lived and loved as that of George Razook, Fred Richards and Helen Dennin. When cancer or some other disease cuts a life short, ideally, we can spend some time, however brief, sharing our mutual passion and love.

As an example, my good friend Brett Lawrence died relatively young from cancer but was fortunate to be with his newly born granddaughter, have time with close friends, and have his family at his side when he died. Hard as his passing was and remains, there was a grace to the process of closure that I wish for others facing similar situations.

A year ago, my partner Renee's brother died by suicide. With the nearly overwhelming grief, she asked herself, "If I had spent more time with him or been more attentive, might he still be alive?" Such feelings are just the tip of the emotional gauntlet those left behind by a sudden death go through. I asked her what advice she would give. She said to learn all one can about depression, and that if one is feeling overwhelmed by life, by loss, by economic, social, personal, inner-personal or other challenges to seek out a person to speak with, preferably a social worker.

Depression can affect anyone, most anytime. It's a common mood disorder that can affect how one thinks and feels. You may find you have trouble eating, sleeping and doing the normal things one does as part of one's life and work. An episode can happen once or multiple times over a lifespan. The good news is depression is treatable. The bad news is not addressing it can lead to terrible consequences.

Yes, it's good to speak with a friend, a family member or clergy, but many times they simply may not have the training or time to truly hear and understand your feelings - to help you feel truly heard and help you create a safe path forward. That path may include medications, which can help the mind get back to a place of stability, and should not be confused with opiates, which can be quite dangerous.

Self-medication of any kind is not smart. Good is eating healthy, getting exercise, tapping into the healing benefits of nature, and using the arts and journaling as a safe way to express emotions and connect with others.

A great resource is the Essex County Department of Mental Health, as they can provide trained counselors who are great listeners and can get you to social workers for who can work with you over the time that is needed. Keep in mind that if, for any reason, you feel the first counselor you work with isn't a good fit, find another. They key is crafting a safe place and working with a person you can trust and truly understands your feelings.

Also, the county's mental health department's staff is available for postvention services, one-on-one with the family or for the community after sudden deaths, and will provide free suicide prevention workshops for your agency, institution or community.

Last winter, the Keene and Keene Valley fire departments co-hosted a session that was attended by people ranging in ages from 16 to 80, of which I was one. It was an excellent program. I learned a lot, as did others. All you have to do is provide the space and invite people to attend.

I know more than a dozen people who have died by suicide, a sad reality for many others who have lived in this region for a long time. I want to help reduce that number. Furthermore, I lost three women friends to cancer during my early 40s. I used what I learned from them, with the help of storyteller Fran Yardley and the musician Peggy Lynn, and support from Adirondack Health and the Adirondack Foundation, to establish Creative Healing Connections as a means of helping people regain control of their lives.

Creative Healing Connections hosts annual retreats for women living with cancer and other chronic diseases and for women veterans, and they have hosted or co-hosted a range of programs for caregivers, military families, military spouses, and first responders. They offer a wide a wide range of scholarship support to ensure any person wishing to attend may do so.

They bring together people facing similar life challenges so they may develop a support network and experience the benefits of complementary therapies, the healing benefits of nature, and using the arts to enable people to give voice to their individual and collective stories. In addition, they provide amazing places to stay, such as Great Camp Sagamore at Raquette Lake and Wiawaka on Lake George.

My interest in helping people facing life challenges goes back to my time at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine when I learned what a profound difference the arts and connecting people could make in the lives of people living with AIDS, this back in 1986 when "living with" was not a phrase on anyone's lips. It was an insight expanded upon during my 12 years working for Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former U.S. surgeon general, at the Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

I've known Ann Nugent, sister of Barbara, since I was 5, and Joe Lamb not too long after that. Ward Wilber was one of my older brother Gerret's best friends, as Ward's brother Arti is mine. His death was like the loss of a step-brother to me.

In my mind, whether you were born here, moved here, or have been coming here seasonally for however long, we are all profoundly connected. I ask us all to help keep each other safe and to reach across any real or imagined divide be it to stretch out for help or to extend a hand. Don't worry about making a mistake or putting anyone out. We're family. It's always better to check in.

As for Pape, her team's catcher fainted in the heat after the second inning. She was asked to step in. Her team, now down one player, lost, but by only one point, 11-10 in their final game.

"Pape's team started out with a very rough season, but they found their heart and came together at the very end," said Coach Martha Maja. "They came very close. They lost the season and this game by one run. Pape did very well even though she was fighting a flu. She showed up and put up a fight."

"I like that softball is an outdoor sport," said Pape. "It's a sport that I'm good at, and I'm good at getting out of a pickle."

Pape excels at stealing bases.

"Sports help kids learn how to live with disappointment," said my sister-in-law Cheryl.



-Mental Health Association of Essex County: Shelby Davis, mobile crisis prevention coordinator, 518-962-2077

-Risk factors and warning signs: Online at

-National Suicide Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255); 24/7, free and confidential

-Essex County Mental Health Crisis line: 888-854-3773; or the MHA Hopeline, 800-440-8074; 24/7, free and confidential

-Mobile crisis: To initiate a mobile crisis referral for someone you think might be at risk, visit online at

-Creative Healing Connections:,, 518-538-6723



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