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By Julie Freedman, M.D.

The shriek of the pager cut through my half-sleep. Willing myself to sit up on the plastic mattress, I pressed my thumbs along my eyebrows to clear a fleeting dream. It was 2:00 a.m. The emergency room had a new patient for me. She was 71 years old and recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. She was having trouble breathing. After a near-lifetime of dutiful function, the neurons that moved her muscles had simply started to die. Even those muscles we never think about — her diaphragm or the ribbons that lifted her ribs to expand her lungs — had become unreliable. I switched on the fluorescent, call-room light and found my clogs.

Eleanor had a fever. The pneumonia on her X-ray looked like smudged chalk across both lower lungs. The ER physician had started BIPAP — Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure — strapping a cushioned plastic mask tightly over her face, forcing oxygenated air into her mouth. We call this “non-invasive” ventilation, but it is not comfortable. Her vital signs conjured a grim picture — heart racing, breathing fast — but the woman wearing the mask gave a different impression, despite the odd way the machine was ironing out her cheeks with each breath. She was calm. Her unstrained eyes were the chalky blue of flax blossoms. She was feeling better, she mouthed. Actually, she was hungry. Could she eat something?

Her husband, Bill, at her bedside, was calm too. He was tall and trim and moved with a youthful quickness. His neatly-tucked shirt made me suddenly aware of my own pajama-like hospital scrubs. Since Eleanor’s diagnosis, Bill explained, they had been managing everything at home. He was a retired electrician, so he was comfortable with all of the medical equipment. They even had a BIPAP unit there for nighttime. 

They had been living close to this edge for some time. It had become normal for her to strap on a mask to breathe. Bill said they wanted to return home as soon as possible. He could handle everything, he assured me, seeming a little irritated by my hovering at Eleanor’s bedside. They had no illusions, he explained, deftly untangling the tangle of wires lying across his wife’s chest. They knew her disease was progressive, and fatal, but they still had things under control. 

She was still gardening, he said, with an edge of pride. He showed me a picture of sunlight, caught in the bowls of tulips. Not that life wasn’t messy. It had been messy even before the day Eleanor admitted to him that she could not get her fingers to button her blouse. Bill’s retirement money never quite stretched enough. There were grandchildren to scramble after three days a week. They were sweet kids, but Bill didn’t have the patience. Eleanor did, though. She gave me a stretched-out smile from behind the mask. She was hungry, he reminded me. Was there a sandwich somewhere she could have?

I wasn’t reassured. Her heart was working like she was running up stairs, just to lie still. A patient with weak respiratory muscles and pneumonia in both lungs might soon need the more “invasive” kind of breathing support, a mechanical ventilator. A ventilator blows air into a patient’s lungs through a tube we insert directly into her trachea. Bill and Eleanor hoped to avoid a ventilator, but she would accept it if necessary, at least for a time. To use a ventilator, we would need to sedate and paralyze her, which meant that Eleanor’s stomach should stay empty. So, no sandwich for now.

Over the next two hours, I sat at the ICU nurses’ station across from Eleanor’s room, propped awake by a familiar anxiety, the prickly weight of my own hesitation. If Eleanor’s breathing muscles tired out before the antibiotics took hold, she could quickly worsen. Not intubating her early might endanger her, but it is my nature as a doctor to try to avoid aggressive interventions. I tend to see their burdens in the foreground. 

When we intubate someone, we affect a strange transformation. The patient becomes a chimera, part woman and part machine. We lose the expression in her face. The ventilator’s vocabulary of alarms replaces her voice. Her family’s eyes track the cardiac monitor. They touch her skin without knowing if she can feel it. We lose all of the small, animal ways we read each other. A mechanical ventilator can save a life, but when a patient dies despite using one, I struggle to accept what we have done. I was not impartial here. I wanted to get Eleanor back to her tulips and their brief season, but I really did not want to intubate her. So I watched, tracking the cursive of Eleanor’s heart rhythm on the monitor. Eventually, she closed her eyes, her breathing more even, and I returned to my plastic mattress to sleep too.

In the morning, Eleanor smiled brightly when I walked in the room, the only plastic on her face the slender oxygen tubing. Could she finally have breakfast? I was grateful, not sure she grasped the fate she had outrun. Yes to breakfast. Yes, she could. She returned home the following day.

Three months later, Eleanor was back in the hospital with another pneumonia. This one was milder, just some stray sketch lines on her X-ray. At home, she could walk only a few steps now. A truck brought steel oxygen tanks to their house each week. Bill had been half-lifting her, wrapping her arm across his shoulders, to pivot to a portable toilet at her bedside. He had learned some simple cooking because she could no longer manage that, and was getting pretty good at roast chicken. Despite his efforts, Eleanor had lost weight. The space between the bones of her forearm was a furrow under my fingers. Each day though, she spent time in their garden. There was a shady spot for her wheelchair.

Eleanor did not seem to defy her medical numbers this time. She looked weary as her heart jogged along. Her thin shoulders kept slumping leftward despite the pillows that the nurses had tucked around her. I was at her bedside on her third hospital day when she took a sip of water and started to choke. 

She coughed again and again, a flash of the pale blue of her eyes each time, then finally recovered. She began to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she said. 

She shouldn’t be like this, she explained. Anger ridged her quiet voice. She was supposed to make cookies with her smallest granddaughter. The girl was four. What would she remember? This being lifted to the toilet, this fragility, it did not suit her. She was a mother and a grandmother. She stirred thick dough and weeded and bound her family together. Except that now, she did not. I had focused on her vital signs. I was missing her suffering. I sat and held her papery hand and told her that none of this was her fault. 

The next day, Eleanor was stable enough to return home. Busy with other patients, I sped by her room for a quick hug, taking in the sharp ridge of her shoulder against my chest.

Two months later, she returned. At home, she was in bed all the time. Her neurologist had actually sent two hospice nurses to the house a few weeks before. They set up an array of syringes and tablets in the dining room. Bill sent them away again after only two days. He didn’t like how they did things. Those nurses had brought morphine. They had started to teach Bill to administer it. That had scared them both. “We don’t believe in morphine,” Bill told me. Eleanor, watery-eyed behind her oxygen mask, nodded agreement. She pointed to a spiral-bound notebook and I handed it to her. In shaky letters, all capital, she wrote, “I WANT CONTROL.” 

It’s not often that patients tell me that they “don’t believe” in a medication, but morphine can spark intense reactions. I fell silent, trying to resolve what it was they did not believe in. Eleanor’s thin legs barely rippled the hospital blankets. Breathing itself was work. Both she and Bill knew she was dying. What did “control” mean for her now? 

The pharmacology of morphine is complex. It is an essential medicine at the end of life. It relieves pain, and, because there are opiate receptors in the lungs, also soothes the drowning feeling that comes with end-stage respiratory illness. I remembered Eleanor choking on that thread of water. If she felt that again, morphine would help. But it is an imprecise drug. It causes sedation as it relieves physical suffering. Was this the loss of control she feared? It can also cause euphoria, restlessness, hallucinations, and, at high doses, death. My training taught me to show it due respect: start with low doses, lower still for someone frail, then assess for effect. 

Medical ethics teaches that intention matters. If I give a reasonable dose of morphine with the intention to relieve suffering, and I cause an unwanted outcome ­— sedation or agitation, or even death — I am still keeping my oath not to harm. This is the “doctrine of double effect,” derived from the teachings of 13th-century Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas. It offers a clear enough theory, but it never really sets me at ease. If I give a drug and a bad thing happens, my patients and their families experience that bad thing. I have hurt them, and Aquinas does not offer much comfort. 

To be clear, morphine relieves suffering almost all of the time. Patients usually welcome that relief, but I’ve also spoken with grieving family members who look back on someone’s death from a long, terrible illness, convinced that morphine was the thing that killed her. These conversations play in my mind when I care for a dying patient in the hospital. I am aware of the family’s eyes on my hands, of how my words might replay in their heads, that they will relive my patient’s last moments again and again. In this sense, the family becomes my patient too. 

Eleanor’s words on that notebook page were wildly impossible: she did not have control. They seemed like a request for relief that I was not trained to give, spiritual or existential. Eleanor and Bill had faced her illness by asserting control in the face of the uncontrollable. They voiced acceptance, but they were defiant. All along, they had been letting out rope, in stepwise retreat, giving up the gardening, the cooking, the not needing help. With each retreat, they had established another defensive position, and now she was staked out at just remaining awake. Eleanor’s cardiac monitor alarmed in shrill tones as her heartbeat became briefly irregular, then quieted. I dropped the subject of morphine for the moment. I could not find words to resolve Eleanor’s desire for control with how near she was to death. I didn’t want to push anything on them that they might later look back on as a violation. 

A few hours later, Eleanor was struggling. There was sweat on the sides of her nose. I tentatively asked her if she would accept some morphine to help ease her breathing. She nodded. I ordered a small dose, and returned to the room with the nurse while she gave it. I talked with Bill and with Laura, their daughter, consciously modeling a sense of calm routine. The drug helped. Eleanor’s face relaxed. She even gave a hint of a smile.

That evening, Eleanor was mostly peaceful. When she did become uncomfortable, she received more morphine, and was able to rest. The next morning, Bill asked me about bringing her home. She wanted to see her garden. He wanted her there too.

As we talked, Eleanor began to cough, nearly silently. Her shoulders jerked. She lurched her hand clumsily for Bill’s wrist. Her nurse gave morphine. Ten minutes later, she was still breathing fast, grunting, heavy eyelids startling open with each cough. Bill sat down, then stood again, then sat. He reached to adjust her monitor wire, her oxygen cannula, then stopped, suddenly unsure of where to put his hands. Laura reached for Eleanor’s shoulder. I asked her nurse for another dose of morphine. A few minutes passed. Eleanor’s breathing quieted and she leaned her face into a pillow. Bill let out a long breath, then turned to me. He began to ask about the logistics of ambulance transportation home. 

Suddenly, Laura nudged her father. Eleanor’s eyes had closed, and her breathing pattern had changed. With each inhalation, she lifted her chin up and forward, like a swimmer reaching for the surface of the water. Bill called her name. She didn’t answer. Suddenly, she was gone from in front of us. Bill looked at me, eyes flashing something that might have been anger. My own heart pounded. I knew the morphine doses had been appropriate. Still, I worried he might hold me accountable if these were her final moments. Willing myself calm, I encouraged them to stand close to her, to hold her hands and touch her hair and talk to her. After a few minutes, I left them alone.

An hour passed. I crept back to her room, but hesitated before parting the polyester curtain. My patients are usually strangers to me, but Eleanor was not. It was an accidental gift of my call schedule that had let me care for her through her three hospitalizations, to watch over her and her family, even in this interrupted way. I was afraid I had failed them anyway. Gathering a breath, I went in. More family members had arrived, seven in all. At the center of this crowd, awake and laughing, was Eleanor. She had spent fifteen minutes beyond the reach of their voices, and then woke up to find them staring at her. She had jokingly asked for lipstick so she could face the occasion more glamorously. They were almost giddy with relief. But relief for what? Relief that she had not died, certainly, but she would soon and they all knew it. They now knew what her death could be like. They had had their dress rehearsal, and, in the extinction of that mystery, it was like they no longer feared it. Suddenly, they had these minutes, and maybe hours or even days, and each one was a gift.

Eleanor was too fragile to send home. Laura and Bill would instead stay with her overnight. She struggled briefly that evening, but by sunrise, she was mostly dozing. A few hours later, her breathing slowed. Again, she reached her chin upward for air. Again, she was beyond the reach of her family’s voices. I counted to 20 after one breath ended before the next one came. And then, none came. Bill wept. “My girl,” he said, taking her hand.

Julie Freedman is a hospitalist and palliative care physician at a community hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her medical degree from Harvard University and trained in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She believes that we need narrative almost as we need shelter: We build stories around ourselves in the face of serious illness. Understanding, and sometimes entering, these stories is an essential part of caring for patients. On the other hand, after this last year, she is thinking it might also be lovely to become a florist. She is on Twitter @jfreedmanmd

* This article was first published in the Spring 2021 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine (theintima.org) and is reprinted with permission.


Selden residents lay out candles to spell Jenna’s name on the Newfield High School football field. Photo by Kyle Barr

On the green turf football field at Newfield High School, the Selden community, also swaddled in different shades of green, laid out candles in the grass. The crowd came together like a tide. As they stepped back, the candles spelled out the name “Jenna.” Underneath her name, the flickering yellow and green electric candles and tealights also framed a heart.

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Jenna Perez, 17, a Selden resident who worked at the Five Guys in Port Jefferson Station was killed Aug. 24 while crossing Route 347 southbound at around 9:25 p.m. She crossed around 300 feet west of Terryville Road, police said. The driver who hit her sped off, and police said they are still searching for that person.

“She was one incredible kid from the day I met her,” said Scott Graviano, the Newfield High School principal. “A very quiet spirit, but always with a smile on her face, always saying hello. And with that sweet, soft quiet personality, she gained the love of support and respect of this entire community.”

For the hundreds of community members looking for ways to heal, remembering Perez as the loving and outgoing high schooler was the best way to deal with their pain. Wearing green, Perez’s favorite color, friends, family, faculty and more from the community held glowing electric candles while the sky slowly darkened Aug. 31. Several friends spoke for her, talking and remembering her fun-loving personality.

“She lived a short life but clearly left a significant imprint,” said Asia Austin to the crowd gathered at the vigil. “As someone who has been grieving recently, I want those to understand that we should not follow down that road in thinking we have no purpose … with support from family and friends, you will find yourself and you will be OK.”

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Donna Austin was her guardian for the past three years, taking care of Perez and her twin sister Janell in Selden. She had met the twins in 2008 when they were 8 years old living in the Bronx as she went there to take care of one of their relatives. Austin would eventually run a community center out of the building where the Perez family lived, and the twins would always be there to decorate her offices for whatever holiday came up. When their grandmother died, she took both sisters in to live with her back in her hometown of Selden.

“Jenna’s face would have lit up, and she would have been smiling, looking at all of her friends who had come to her like this,” Austin said.

Their caretaker said Jenna thrived in Selden, making innumerable friends and rising higher at Five Guys. She was set to take up her first supervisor training sessions at Five Guys on her birthday Sept. 6. Austin said she had been extremely excited and proud. 

Naziyah Dash, one of Perez’s high school friends, said she has been heartbroken since she learned of her friends death.

“Your story will always be cherished,” she said. “I will keep you alive in my heart.” 

The community is helping monetarily with three separate GoFundMe pages that have been set up in  Perez’s name. The first, which is donating funds to twin sister Janell, has reached close to $9,500. The other two GoFundMe pages are for funeral expenses.

Newfield High School Principal Scott Graviano speaks at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The Newfield community is an amazing place — deep rooted, full of love and support, and that’s evident here tonight,” said the principal. “Janell, we love you very much as a community, I hope you know that. We will continue to love and support you.”

An additional memorial service will be held Sept. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Church on the Sound, 335 Oxhead Road in Stony Brook.

A funeral for Perez will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home, 524 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx Sept. 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. Burial will be at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx Sept. 12 with a time still to be determined.

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On Tuesday, July 30, over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

The heart of Mount Sinai still aches, and for those who attended a vigil at Cedar Beach for the four recent deaths of their community members, tears could be seen behind the dark of sunglasses.

On Tuesday, July 30, well over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Dorien Lashea Brown, 23, of Mount Sinai; Rebecca Minunno, 24, of Hampton Bays and Casi Fricker, of Port Jefferson, all died as the SUV they were driving hit a utility pole, which toppled over the vehicle and the electricity caused the car to catch on fire.

“I never pictured this is where we’d be, I would lose my closest friends,” said Gianna Rubino, a friend of the girls. “Everyone’s lives have been flipped upside down.”

On Tuesday, July 30,  over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

As residents were still trying to come to terms with their deaths, the community experienced another loss. Robert Grable, the principal of the local high school, died unexpectedly while doing his morning routine July 19. He was 49.

Families and friends laid out near the bluff spread a collage of photographs, showing the girls and the principal in the prime of their lives. Friends and close family members came forward to speak, remembering the girls as the youth they were. Brown was often called a “firecracker” who could make a person laugh with just a look. Fricker was called “strong,” willing to make sure her friends were treated well at hair salons and the like, and also having a unique way with animals.

“Casi and Dorien, you were iconic, you were both so bright,” said Nicole Branca. “You had the kind of energy that some of us just could not keep up with, and I think that’s what we loved about you.”

Minunno had become active in the retro model pinup scene with The Luscious Ladies, a group of vintage pinup enthusiasts with chapters across the world.

One of those who spoke, who goes by the name “Dizzy Doll” in the pinup world, said the entire community was mourning her.

“When a pebble is thrown in a lake, the entire lake is affected. Every life has a wider effect in people’s lives then we realize,” she said. “Becca was and still is an inspiration to us.”

Renee Petrola, a retired teacher in Mount Sinai, taught both Brown and Fricker, and read the poems they wrote for a contest in sixth grade, both titled “How did I change?”

The vigil was organized by a small community group dubbed the “angel squad,” which included several community members and best friends of the girls who passed. Opening remarks were made by Donna Murph, the lead planner for the squad who had been guidance counselor to Brown and longtime coworker of Grable.

“Mount Sinai is profoundly saddened by the loss of these four beautiful souls,” Murph said. “May these families feel the support and love of this community and a reminder they are never alone.”

On Tuesday, July 30, over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

A few stepped forward in the grey twilight and bending over they laid their flowers in the gentle tide of the Sound. First, a little more than five came forward. Then, unbidden, members of the families came forward to the beach’s edge. The Brown family kneeled over, and sank their flowers into the Sound. Their heads low, then rising, they tossed theirs into the water.

The faces turned to the waning sunset and walked forward, first 10, then well over 100. They were largely silent, except for the music in the background and their soft murmurs, muttering memories of the loved ones they lost.

As the sky went dark, the families attempted to light floating lanterns for their deceased though the wind played against them. The Brown family managed to get theirs lit, and the lantern rose 20 feet up, hovering above the surf before gently sinking into the water, the light of the lantern’s fire staying lit for several minutes, even on the black waters of the Sound.

Stepping forward to speak, Joe Caggiano said he had worked with Fricker at the Jamesport Brewery, adding he came to see her as his closest friend at work. The day of July 9 was one they shared with laughs, also having talked on the phone with Minunno, making a joke by saying “hi” to each other, over and over.

“We had a lot of fun on that Monday — she laughed a lot,” he said.

They shared a beer with each other after work, where they spoke about “life, where we wanted to be, what we wanted to do and the people in our lives, and all those things … that was a really special time in getting to sit with her.”

Ciaria Colson, Brown’s cousin, then came up to the mike, and talked of her family member as the pinnacle of what being a friend could be.

“She made a point to have a relationship with each and every one of her friends,” she said. “My little cousin was nine years younger than me, but she inspired me … me and my cousins have a closer bond now because of her.”

Colson asked all her friends to step up and come together. They gathered together, nearly 20 in all. She asked them all to hold each other and to support each other.

“I want you guys in this time, to grab a hold of each other, support each other and develop relationships with each other,” she said. “If you have a close relationship, have a closer relationship … because I know I didn’t live my best life — I didn’t live it, my cousin lived it.”


Marcelo Lucero


Campus, community members to mark anniversary with Nov. 8 vigil at Stony Brook University

 Ten years to the date of the hate crime killing of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero, students, faculty and community members will gather at Stony Brook University for a night of remembrance and reflection.

“Our Town: Ten Years Later,” an educational vigil, will take place on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the university’s Students Activities Center (SAC) auditorium. Marcelo’s brother Joselo Lucero will address the crowd, along with Patchogue-Medford Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes and filmmaker Susan Hagedorn.

Six campus partners are sponsoring the vigil: the Undergraduate Student Government (main sponsor); the Hispanic Languages and Literature Dept.; Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Dept.; Center for Civic Justice; Office of Multicultural Affairs; and Campus Residences.

The program will feature the screening of a special one-hour-long edited version of Deputized,Hagedorn’s documentary about the 2008 attack on Lucero by seven teens that intentionally sought Latinos to assault during a night of what they termed “beaner hopping.” A discussion and Q&A session will follow.

Remarks by Dr. Hynes, whose school district includes Patchogue Village, where Marcelo was slain, will begin the evening. The Lucero Award-winning video from the UN Plural+ Youth Video Festival on Migration, Diversity & Social Inclusion will be shown preceding Deputized.

Given the current national climate of division and distrust of immigrants, organizers say this year’s vigil is more important than ever to promote understanding of and respect for cultural differences. However, despite the international attention Marcelo’s fatal stabbing received and resulting calls for improved treatment of immigrants particularly by police, his brother’s story is not “political,” Joselo Lucero stressed.

“This is a human issue,” he said. “This is not about legal or illegal, documented or undocumented. This is about what happened to a human being. That’s what we will be remembering and realizing on November 8th.”

Co-organizer Ian Lesnick, assistant to the president and director of diversity affairs for the Undergraduate Student Government, added that the vigil also provides an opportunity for us “to reflect on ourselves as a society to see how we’ve changed and where we continue to grow.”

Marcelo and a friend were walking near the LIRR tracks in Patchogue when they were attacked by the seven youth. The killing sent shockwaves across Long Island and beyond, generated hundreds of news stories and sparked numerous community dialogues, a play, a novel and a PBS documentary .

The vigil is free of charge and open to the public. Free parking is available in the SAC lot. Upon driving onto the Stony Brook campus, follow signs to the Student Activities Center.

For information, contact 631-258-2016 or [email protected].

Residents at the Town of Huntington's vigil for Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Scott Beigel was a beloved teacher, coach and son, and on Feb. 14, he became a hometown hero.

The Florida school shooting hit close to home for Huntington residents, who joined together inside Town Hall March 14 for a candlelight vigil in honor of the Dix Hills native. Beigel died protecting students from danger as a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Beigel, 35, who graduated from Half Hollow Hills East, was one of 17 killed during the tragedy. He was shot while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Beigel had only been teaching at Parkland for six months, but also served as the high school’s cross-country coach.

“[Scott] was a hero not just on the day he died but every day of his life, to his students and the people whose lives he often helped,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We have unfortunately seen these incidents happen far too many times … but I do truly believe that Scott’s death and what happened in Parkland is something that will change this country. His heroism will change our country and save many, many lives. That will be his legacy.”

Michael Schulman and Linda Beigel Schulman. Photo by Kevin Redding

During the ceremony, Beigel was remembered for his “goofball” sense of humor, selflessness and a true love for his job and the students he taught.

Prior to working in Florida, he was a camp counselor and division leader at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania and a volunteer teacher for underprivileged children in South Africa.

Half Hollow Hills Superintendent Patrick Harrigan said in honor of Beigel, students at the local high schools have implemented a 17 acts of kindness initiative to improve the culture of their environment and make an effort to prevent another senseless tragedy from occurring.

“Scott was a new teacher, only six months into his tenure, and already making a difference every day for his students,” Harrigan said. “As an educator, it is my hope that Mr. Beigel’s lasting legacy is as a child advocate, a teacher, a coach and an inspiration to other teachers to always improve the lives of their students and the children in their communities.”

Looking up at a large photo of her son, Beigel’s mother Linda Beigel Schulman held back tears and said, “I love you Scott … you will forever be my inspiration and hero.”

She called to action the need for gun control legislation including universal background checks before purchasing a firearm; a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and an increase in the minimum gun-buying age from 18 to 21. She also commended students who participated in the National School Walkout.

“We need action now and we will continue to be heard,” Beigel Schulman said. “When Scott was a child and came home from school, I worried about what kind of a day he would have; I did not worry about if he was going to come home from school.”

Beigel Schulman then turned to look upon a photograph of her son again.

“You may have died senselessly, but as I stand here today, I can honestly say not in vain,” she said. “It has been one month and I promise I will not stop until no child ever has to fear going to school, being with their friends at school and learning from their teachers [at school].”

A street sign that will rename Hart Place in honor of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) unveiled the new street sign renaming Hart Place, where Beigel grew up and where his parents still reside, to become Scott J. Beigel Way.

Tragedies such as Parkland, Lupinacci said, “especially touch home when you have someone that grew up here, went to the high school, went to many of the same stores we go to … We thought it very fitting for where he grew up and spent his formative years to be renamed in his honor.”

The supervisor said a proper ceremony for the street renaming will take place in the upcoming weeks.

“We just want Scott’s voice and legacy to live on — we don’t want him to ever be forgotten,” said Melissa Zech, Beigel’s sister. “I think he would be so proud and I know we’re so proud of him. ― He was so smart, quick-witted, caring and loving. These are things I wish I would’ve told him when he was here.”

Michael Schulman, Beigel’s father, also spoke of the honor.

“This took us all by surprise,” he said. “It’s a great acknowledgement of what this town meant to him, and what he meant to the town. Right now, the street sign is something that’s bittersweet, but, in the years to come, it’ll just be sweet. I just wish we didn’t have to have it.”

Huntington Town Board is expected to formally vote on renaming Hart Place in Beigel’s memory at its March 20 meeting. Lupinacci also said the new street sign would be put on public display for area residents to see.

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Residents read the names of all Charleston and Orlando victims, who each had a candle lit in their memory. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

On Friday evening, a diverse group of pastors and residents showed that, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, there is more good in the world than evil.

They gathered together at the Mount Sinai Congregational Church to honor the nine churchgoers who were killed a year ago in a shooting spree during a peaceful Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the 49 killed in an all-too-similar fashion in a gay nightclub in Orlando last week. While both massacres are products of hatred and bigotry, those who attended Friday’s service united under a theme of love and acceptance.

The service of remembrance was organized by the Mount Sinai church and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket, where a North Shore family related to one of the nine people shot and killed go regularly and last year’s service for victims was held. Just a week after 21-year-old Dylann Roof sat down in a Charleston church, participated in the readings, engaged with others, and ultimately stood up to open fire and take lives, the Three Village community showed up in droves to pay respects.

Greatly touched by the healing that took place, Bethel AME pastor Rev. Gregory Leonard and Mount Sinai resident Tom Lyon were quick to ensure this year’s anniversary service and, in light of another mass murder, a call for unity and support seemed necessary now more than ever.

Willie White, a Setauket resident, holds up a picture of his second cousin, a victim in the Charleston shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding
Willie White, a Setauket resident, holds up a picture of his second cousin, a victim in the Charleston shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s important that people of goodwill come together,” Leonard said to the intimate and emotional crowd. “We have to build bridges and get to know each other. As I press on in years, I think about the legacy that we will leave, and I hope all of us can say at one point that we were building some bridges, we came together and we cared and didn’t just let a moment pass us by.”

Setauket church member Willie White held up a picture of his cousin, the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, one of the victims in Charleston, and spoke at length about dealing with a tragedy that hits so close to home.

His family in Charleston had to wait hours after news broke of the shooting before they knew anything, he said, reduced to unbearable panic trying to call and get hold of their loved one, who would soon be confirmed as one of the fallen.

He called to action the importance of not seeing one another as different, saying that we are capable of avoiding future tragedies if we stand together. This is something he notices often in the aftermath of a traumatizing incident.

“I saw people of all walks of life hugging each other,” White said. “Why can’t we live like that every day? On that particular night, Charleston changed. The people changed. Unfortunately, it took nine lives for a change. I’m sure there’s gonna be a change in Florida. But look how many lives it took. We can think back on so many lives that have been taken with guns. And still, guns are on the market.”

Emotionally battered and certainly passionate about a need for change, Shahina Chaudry, a Muslim from the area, stood up and explained that her brother was among the 67 people killed by terrorists in the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, and she understands exactly what the grieving families are going through.

“May God be with them, may God make them strong,” she said. “And may there be big, big changes in this country and may we all be part of those changes. I’m happy to be with all of you.”

A resident named Ira Apsel then stood up and faced Chaudry, offering his condolences.

“An old Hebrew prayer is ‘shalom aleichem,’ meaning ‘peace be with you’, and the response is ‘aleichem shalom,’ meaning ‘and also with you’… Shalom aleichem.”

“Aleichem shalom,” Chaudry responded.

Apsel composed himself as much as possible when he said that everybody has so much in common, and the evil in society must not be allowed to keep everybody apart. Leonard helped solidify this notion by leading the church in a sing-along of “This Little Light of Mine” before the names of each and every victim of Charleston and Orlando were read and honored with lit candles.

Before the service ended and people took time to commiserate with each other, Mount Sinai pastor Ron Wood drove home the importance of acceptance.

“Places where you gather with others like you, essentially, are sanctuaries,” he said. “Where you can be who you are without judgment. Pulse was a sanctuary. AME Church was a sanctuary. A sanctuary isn’t a place to escape. It’s a place to be strengthened and nurtured.”

As everybody filed out of the church, they were holding each other, laughing and smiling, and appearing even more unified than they were upon entering only an hour or so prior. In the wake of a tragedy that should destroy all hope and joy, the Mount Sinai Congregational Church was certainly a place to be strengthened and nurtured.