Monday, April 28, 2008

Living so close to the edge

Ever since I was a child, I have realized to some extent that life is short and we never know what tomorrow brings. It could be wondefully joyous or it could be tragic. I think growing up with health problems makes a person all that much more aware of how precious a good day is and helps you to never take your life for granted. It's really a blessing, I feel, to be able to think that way.

Being a journalist also drives that point home. Unfortunately,it is most often under very unfortunate circumstances that you come to that realization. My co-workers and I joke that I have the dead person beat because of the large number of obits, visitations and funerals I have had to write about. I have learned to take it in stride and to admire the human spirit through these stories. The visitations and funerals are never easy to cover and the hardest one has was to cover the death of a Mukwonago High School student who died in a car accident this past winter with two of his friends. Now, I have had to write an even more difficult story. On Friday, there was a horrible car accident in Oconomowoc that we first learned about as we heard over the scanner the emergency vehicles being called. Then they called for two Flight For Life helicopters that were eventually canceled because of the high winds and lightning. Children were in the car accident and one had gone into cardiac arrest.

We weren't able to get much informtation in the afternoon and only had photos of the demolished car. Later in the night I worked hard to pull the details together. The Oconomowoc Police Department was taking a while to get the press release together and we needed the information to run with the photos. A rumor started to spread that the person who died on the scene was an associate prinicipal at Oconomowoc High School. Needing to confirm that, I looked up the superintendent's home phone, called and left a message. I was so happy when she called me back. Her news though was not good. She confirmed that an associate high school principal, Jennifer Bukosky, was killed and her two daughters were in the car with her along with a third child. The two children that were taken to Children's Hospital were in critical condition. Adding to the tragedy was that Bukosky was pregnant. And then over the weekend, her daughter died at Children's.

The cause of the accident is unknown at this time other than that the driver of an SUV hit the small car belonging to Bonkosky from behind as it sat at a signal that had just turned green. The little car was destroyed beyond recognition. Speed is suspected, but the fact that the driver was taken into police custody leads one to believe that there might be more involved.

This story is so extremely tragic. I know that the Oconomowoc School District already started to come together as early as Friday night by meeting and notifying staff, administrators and the school board. Today, extra staff is on hand at the high school.

Fortunately for me, I will not have to cover this story further as it is in the Oconowoc Enterprise's area. If I had to follow up and write more stories about it, I know that it would be the hardest one that I would have had to do thus far.

It's interesting, though, how a tragedy like this makes you drive differently and think differently for a few days afterwards. I am that much more aware of my own driving and others and how close we are all living to the edge.

There is always some good that comes out of situations like this horrible tragedy. People will drive more carefully, friends will hug each other who have not done so for a long time and family will say I love you more often. The positive affects are short-lived and do not in the least equal what was lost, but through it all, the human spirit survives and demonstrates good.



Friday, April 25, 2008

Paying respects to a fallen hero

Opicka remembered by family, friends, veterans

LUXEMBURG - From the line of visitors that stretched outside Luxemburg-Casco High School, the many gifted flower arrangements and the tears that were shed and the smiles shared, it was evident Lance Cpl. Dean Opicka touched many lives as family and friends remmebered his life during Wednesday's visitation.

That is the beginning of the story that I wrote for Thursday's edition of the Freeman. On Wednesday, I drove to Luxemburg (north of Green Bay) to attend the visitation for Opicka. It was a very difficult story to do, but one that I was also honored to do.

Unsure of how the family would react to my presence during the visitation, I waited in the line that stretched outside of the high school. It took me about 45 to 50 minutes to get to the end of the line where the Opicka family was standing. Along the way, I was able to look at many memory boards and mementos on display. Dozens of flower arrangements had been given to the family, along with benches, memorial garden plaques and trees. Opicka's guitars and keyboard were on display next to a scrapbook that his fiancee had created of one of their trips.

As I approached the family, I wondered what to say. More often than not when I am doing an obit story, I forgo the hollow words like I am sorry for your loss or please accept my condolences. I know that whatever I say as a reporter will sound insincere.

On Wednesday, I said that I had written the story last week for the Freeman and that I had come to pay my respects. I then asked if I could interview people and take some photos. The family was as receptive as could be possible under the circumstances.

I was surprised at the emotional and physical toll attending the visitation took on me. The whole time, I felt very self conscious and very self aware. I had to keep building up my nerve to go to talk to people and take photos of them. It was hard not to let myself feel like an intruder in this very personal, emotional time.

The hardest part was talking to Opicka's future in-laws, Debby and Jim Bonkoski. Debby told me how their daughter had a wedding countdown calendar in her room and how the couple were planning the wedding even while Dean was stationed in Iraq. While I talked to them, the Bonkoskis fought back tears and I did as well.
"It's hard to think about what they could have had and what an awesome life they could have had together," she told me.
Jim agreed.
"It was like a match made in heaven - truly," he said.
Jim Bonkoski saw a lot of potential in Dean.
"(There was) so much going for him and he touched so many lives," he said. "He did more in his 29 years than a lot of people do in their entire lives. We were just thrilled to have him as a future son-in-law."

What amazed me was that even though I was asking them such difficult questions, the Bonkoskis thanked me for the stories we had published about Dean and thanked me for doing so much. I only wish that I could do more!

Throughout the process of writing the stories about Dean, and previously about Staff Sgt. Chrisopher Frost who died in Iraq about a month ago, I try to emotionally distance myself from the soldiers and their families. I think that if I didn't, I couldn't write the stories.

I really hope that I don't have to write any more stories about soldiers who have died fighting overseas. It's nor for selfish reasons because doing these stories keep getting easier, but because I truly do care about them and their families. Throughout it all, I worry about my friends who are serving in the Army and all the other young soldiers with so much potential who risk their lives everyday.



Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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Highs and Lows

Sometimes I wonder if every one's life is as filled with highs and lows as mine is. I know a lot of it is the nature of my job and my position. There are days when I am very busy and then there are days when the hours I work prevent me from accomplishing a lot at work. Some days I work on stories that are very rewarding on a personal level, while other days the stories are dry and just something to get done.

This week is also full of highs and lows so far. I am always excited to help out with my church's rummage sale. It's a twice yearly sale and I am in charge of the clothes in the boutique section. This week's rummage sale feels like extra work due to different circumstances and because of my busy schedule. But the sale definitely has its rewards. Besides helping raise money for missions, I usually find some very nice things, such as my crystal decanter and shot glasses, my aluminum cake keeper, my white vintage coat and my vintage cashmere sweater. Tomorrow, I will spend a lot of time there sorting, hanging and pricing the clothes.

It's hard for me to feel excited about the rummage sale or anything else knowing what I have to do today. I offered last week to go to the funeral for the latest soldier with ties to Waukesha County to be killed in Iraq. I did the story when we first learned that he had been killed. I wanted to cover the funeral for a couple selfish reasons: I could work days and I could get out of the office. Also, I felt a connection to this man and his family, whom I talked with, and I knew that it would be best if the story process continued with me.

Now, however, I am dreading covering his visitation today. It's up north near Green Bay, which I knew, but I am not looking forward to driving there and back by myself. Also, I still have to work nights. The biggest obstacle is taking pictures of the event today. People often don't mind talking, but it feels kind of intrusive to be there with my camera taking pictures. The one good thing is that the visitation, military walk-through and military service will be held in the high school's gymnasium, so that makes it more open and less personable than a funeral home. It will definitely be a challenge for me that I hope will have its rewards by helping me become a better reporter and photographer. It also feels good to know that my editors trust me with this much responsibility.

I already did one obit story about a longtime New Berlin principal this week, so I hope that after today, I will get a break from the dead beat again. It's ironic though, that the obit stories I write, I get the most positive feedback from. Often, the family will contact me and thank me for doing the story. I never knew that stories like that would touch so many people.

So, I just have to get through today and enjoy working at the rummage sale tomorrow during work day, which is when the pot luck lunch is! Yummy.


"If you don't find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further."
--Mohandas K. Gandhi

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A new place to call home

I am amazed at how quickly my new apartment felt like home. I really lucked out with finding a place that allows me to diplay my things and that complements my personality well. Everything from all the windows and the door leading to the roof, to the large bedroom with its open closet space that displays my clothes so well to the cute built-in and the large black radiator all suit me so well.

Moving day went smoothly. My dad and I loaded the truck in Oconomowoc and got to Waukesha about 10:15 a.m. I had three friends help to haul the furniture and boxes up the steep stairs to my apartment, which is located above an antique store in a building from 1929. It's a very cute building located pretty much right on the Carroll College campus, which is where I went to school.

It only took us about 30 minutes to get everything unloaded. I thought I had more stuff! I wish that I would have brought my big sofa instead of the loveseat. I do like the extra space to move around in.

Within three days, I had my boxes unpacked and had started to hang pictures. My friend, Kaitlin, and I hung all my clothes and organized small details.
I hope to do some hosting next month. I have had a few friends and family members over, but it would be fun to do something a little bigger. I certainly have enough space for people to hang out here.
I have found myself anxious to leave work at the end of the day and to return to my apartment. It has been a good adjustment so far.

Friday, April 4, 2008

On the move

Sorry for my absence on Kat in Name Only. I have been busy preparing for my big move to Waukesha tomorrow. There has been so much organizing, packing and shopping to do. I plan to post pictures next week,but I will not have internet until next week Thursday.

There is so much news: the new apartment, the church exploding in Waukesha, the interesting animals I've seen. I promise to write more again once I get settled.

Now it's off to bed so I can wake up ready to haul furniture and boxes.