Friday, March 04, 2016

Remembering Palmer

Give to the Palmerston RK "Bigfoot" Burk scholarship here.

I'll never forget the day Palmerston Burk left this earth, Oct. 4, 2012. Zach was a freshman, and Alex a junior at Vashon High School. I was in the middle of a long day at the office in Eastlake when I got the call: he was gone, Zach's friend Palmer. The hows and whys about Palmer were still to be confirmed while the bottom dropped out of my stomach and my heart. I slipped into an empty conference room to cry my eyes out for the rest of the afternoon. This could have been my child. This could have been any of our children. I thought of Kathleen, his mom, and Garnet, his sis, and what they had to be going through.

Death of our youth by any cause is enough to rock a community, but death by suicide brings with it so many more questions, feelings of guilt, and second-guessing you missed a sign or indication of what predicated such a final act. A constant rewind takes place in trying to make sense of it all.

When I got home that day, I wanted to comfort and hug tightly my son, Zach and then Alex. This was Zach's friend, a friendship that started back when they were little sprites in wrestling singlets with the Rockbusters that continued through middle school up to that fateful freshman year. There were tears. A lot of silence. A lot of questions. That night a group of kids were gathering for a bonfire to grieve at the Roters for an overnight. Because I was told I couldn't be guaranteed Zach would be on the bus to school the next morning (from there) I didn't let him go. I felt bad, but this was a non negotiable.

The high school did the best it could to work quickly to assemble grief counseling and acknowledge Palmer's passing, but it was a wake-up call nobody will ever want to do over again. I know that the Class of 2016 will always remember Palmer's sweet demeanor and compassion, and they were wrenched by his sudden passing.

The summer prior to freshman year was a transitory one for Zach already. A teen pushing his boundaries, but still innocent, this circle of friends splashed around at Dockton, met at KVI, the cliques marauded during Strawberry Festival, the boys still dabbled a little in Airsoft wars and there's plenty more I'm sure I knew nothing about. At this phase, hormones loom large. Brains are still developing and impulses rule. This was all being mitigated at a time when Palmer departed.

For Zach, after this event, I invested in counseling outside of the school. This grief (on top of just being a teenager!) was something that would take a professional to help process...for months, into the next year. I don't think the school administration was truly ready to handle how profoundly and deeply this affected the class. Academically and emotionally. I think it was somewhat clinically addressed as a band-aid, and the actual sensitivity the school showed to the student survivors was far too abbreviated. The pain does not really ever go away. Time just makes it more digest-able.

I also thought about Palmer's family right after they lost him. After participating in the meal train (Tami Brockway I think started that) for Kathleen, it struck me how we can all help in some way. I was not that close to Kathleen through the years, just friendly and affable in passing. My compulsion when Palmer passed was to barge into her life and cry with her and hold her. But she didn't really know me, and I hesitated. In retrospect, I probably SHOULD HAVE! As a mom, I think I'd want that for myself, relative stranger or not.

As the years have passed, I've watched this phenomenal woman synthesize sorrow into advocacy, power, awareness and legislation. I'm floored by her courage. Could I do what she did? I've checked in with Kathleen every so often mom-to-mom, getting advice and just reflecting. But this week, together we launched something really cool: the 2016 Palmerston RK "Bigfoot" Burk scholarship. We're going to try to send off the class with a few or many scholarships! If you can give any amount, please do! This would have been Palmer's graduating year, and those who receive the scholarship will undoubtedly cherish this gift as part of his legacy. Will you donate?!


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