Letter to the Times: Heartfelt thanks to the helpers

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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A message to the Lawrence, Kansas citizens and emergency personnel who were present during the accident that occurred on April 3, 2024 that claimed the lives of three members of my family and their fur baby:

It is 1:07 p.m. Sunday, May 5 as I am writing this. The funeral was yesterday. I have my cat at my feet and flowers at my window. The sun is trying to shine, which is an apt feeling to have right now.

My sister and I wanted to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who was there at the accident scene trying to help.

While laying crosses and flowers at the site of the accident nine days after it had occurred, a gentleman on his way back from the landfill stopped to talk to us. Sir, I cannot remember your name, but we are eternally grateful to you for stopping.

He told us how his friend watched the accident happen. And then he told us of the immediate aftermath. 

How so many of your wonderful citizens were rushing about to try to help put out the fire that ignited in the engine.

How, when our dear father was pulled out first, that a woman wearing nice clothes sat by his side and held his hand. He was already gone at that point from our understanding, but she was there. And he wasn’t alone. 

And ma’am, whoever you are? Thank you. It fills our hearts to know that a stranger took time out of her day, to risk messing up her clothes and taking on trauma of her own, to just be there with my dad. To make sure if there was any part of him that was aware and in pain, that he knew he was not alone.

We were also told of the presence of a young man who held my brother’s dog, Bear, in his arms. I believe Bear was also gone at that point, but he sat there with that sweet pup and stroked her anyway. To that kind man, thank you.

And thank you to the first responders and everyone else who arrived to do their jobs to the best of their ability. We would love to shake all of your hands someday.

Even though the last month has been what can only be described as a nightmare, there is a quote by the famous incomparable Mr. Rogers that has continued to sustain my sister and I and to remind us that there are good people in the world:

 “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Thank you to the helpers. We will carry your selfless deeds in our hearts forever. No matter how dark the world can seem, I know you’re out there, and that will always be a source of comfort for us.

— Aimee Smallcomb and Jennifer Somers, daughters to Ron Milano, sisters to Joshua Milano, sisters-in-law to Patricia Milano, aunts to sweet fur baby Bear

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