Disaster Falls: A Family Story

The death of a child is not a topic that many books are written about.  It is also not something that many talk about nor is the process of grief.  Grief is an emotion so deep that is takes hold of our entire selves.  Every person deals with heartache and loss in different ways.  There are many stages from denial to anger to acceptance but that deep pain never goes away it just changes colors.

Almost 9 years ago a family we know lost their child who was 8 years old on a family vacation white-water rafting down the Colorado River in an area called Disaster Falls.  Just writing this brings tears to my eyes and goose bumps over my entire body.  I remember where I was when I got the call.  I was alone at the beach and I was just making my way up to the bedroom when the phone rang.  After I got the news I called the head of our children’s school and gave him the horrific news that Owen had drown.  Then I sat at my table and sobbed.

Stephane Gerson, Owen’s father, has given others a gift by writing this book.  He put his grief into words and gives readers an insight into the process of healing not only for him but his family who all processed this tragedy differently.  His slow journey from just getting up every morning wracked with guilt while still having the responsibility to his son and wife as a father and husband and being aware of their pain through the fog of loss.

Alison, Owen’s mother, returned to Owen’s classroom often to engage with his classmates so they could ask questions and recall their memories of Owen.  It was her way of moving forward. Each chapter starts with a question from a child that only children at 8 and 9 can ask as they have yet to build walls around their emotions. Every question shoots a dart through your heart but also inspires others to be honest about grief.

Stephane spent a lot of time reading books from long ago of parents who had lost children.  He returned to his Brussels to understand his family history.  He spent time talking to people who were not part of their inner circle of friends but people from the school, the temple and others who had relationships with Owen that he did not even know about.  His older son, Julian, has gone on to college and Alison and Stephane have been blessed with another child.  Through all of this he has slowly healed yet changed forever and his story is what makes Disaster Falls an incredibly powerful book.

Owen has stayed with me.  That summer has stayed with me.  We went to the funeral with another family who is one of Josh’s best friends.  They were both good friends with Julian.  Everyone was numb.  I recall the funeral and to this day we still say “remember the rabbi” who was amazing in the shadow of despair.

I applaud Stephane for writing this book.  I hope that it will empower countless people who experience loss.  He is a beautiful writer.  Putting his grief into words has given him the ability to heal a pain that will never go away with the hope that he can help others with the loss of a loved one.