PHOENIX -- As journalists we often cover tragic stories, then because of the rush of news events and the nature of our business we move on to the next story. But the story doesn’t end when the cameras and microphones are packed up and the headlines fade away.
Thirteen years ago last month, my cousin Esther LaPlante was one of several people who were shot at a homeowners’ association meeting in Peoria, Ariz. A former homeowner with a longstanding grudge against the board walked in and began firing.
Esther and another woman were killed.
Esther had recently been elected to the association board. Even though her nephew and his wife were visiting from Ohio, Esther told them she had to go since this was her first meeting.
That was Esther. She was always stepping up to help family and friends. Her older brother, his two sons and their families lived back East. She had no immediate family in Arizona but she had a huge extended family of primos, tios and tias in Arizona.
She once drove a van full of her elderly relatives to Los Angeles so they could attend a family funeral. She played the organ at a cousin’s wedding. She arranged horseback riding lessons for a younger cousin. She was one of the ringleaders of a family reunion.
Esther lived a life doing many little ordinary things helping others for the sheer joy of helping others, which made her an extraordinary person. In the last 13 years we have missed Esther at family gatherings, holidays or just her visits.
Recently one of her many cousins did something Esther would have done. She rounded up a bunch of family members to visit Esther’s grave site near Tubac, Ariz., where she is buried with her parents. Several cousins cleaned up the site ahead of time, and this past weekend about 30 of us drove down for a day of remembrance. We told a few stories, we laughed and we remembered Esther. She would have liked it. Instead of saying “yes” to a question, she often used a phrase that many recalled, “Si Chuy.”
It was just a silly thing she would say.
There were no headlines, there were no microphones, and the only cameras were taking family photos. We haven’t had a reunion since Esther died. Maybe if she had been here to coordinate it there would have been one, and who knows how many ordinary things didn’t happen without Esther?
The memories of that horrible day have faded. The shooter died in January, and for many in the family, that provided some closure.
And our memories of Esther remain strong. Hopefully we’ll have another full family reunion soon and we can laugh and tell more stories about Esther and the rest of our family, and keep her story going.