About 300 people gathered at the Brattleboro Common on April 16 for a vigil for Leah Rosin-Pritchard, shelter director at Morningside House, who was slain on April 3.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
About 300 people gathered at the Brattleboro Common on April 16 for a vigil for Leah Rosin-Pritchard, shelter director at Morningside House, who was slain on April 3.

Grab onto hope and healing

Leah Rosin-Pritchard exemplified acceptance, compassion, warmth, empathy, and love for her fellow humans. It is more important to celebrate her ideals than to focus on those things that we use to divide us.

BRATTLEBORO — Thank you for being here today. Thank you for coming out and showing up in the memory of Leah Rosin-Pritchard and in support of Groundworks.

As I struggled to find the words I wanted to say, I realized that words are important as containers for the thoughts and feelings we want to express. Yet at the same time words say so little - they cannot seem to convey everything we are feeling.

The clients and staff of Groundworks are deep in the midst of processing their trauma and grief. The entire state is. But Brattleboro - you are in the eye of this storm.

The staff of Groundworks knew Leah, they saw her regularly, they talked to her every day, they reached out when they needed support. She was an essential part of their work family.

Just like any other individual family member, Leah was irreplaceable. Her loss will be felt today and into the future. There will be an empty space at their table and a silence where Leah once stood.

But there will also be the continued blessing of Leah's presence and the memories that they have of her compassion toward her clients, her empathy for everyone around her, and her love and humor and humanness.

And there will come a time when people will be able to think of Leah and smile and be comforted that they knew her.

* * *

I hope today will be a time to reflect on Leah's and Groundworks' contributions to the life of this community. I didn't know Leah, but after hearing and reading about her life, I am confident we would be friends. I think many of us gathered here today feel the same way.

She had a deep love and passion for gardening, which I call “playing in the dirt and making mud pies,” and cooking, for herself, her friends, her family, and anyone she thought would enjoy her food.

But, above all, Leah had a commitment to the work she did and the people she served.

I do not want to memorialize Leah as a statue above us but rather as a human who can inspire us. Leah dedicated her life to caring for those who are often unseen.

* * *

Maybe it's because this trauma and the grief is so much bigger than what most of us have experienced before. Trauma and grief can write deeply on the body. It is a weight we carry with us wherever we go. No matter how we try we can't seem to escape it - no amount of running or hiding helps us avoid it.

The more we try to avoid trauma and grief, the bigger it gets and the more of us it consumes. We have to experience it, digest it, and learn from it.

Many of our trauma reactions come from fear, and those fears ride deep within the primitive parts of our brains. For many of us, fear turns into anger, and anger turns into hatred. We look for something, some ones, some group, or some threat to blame.

Understand that fear is also closely associated with our feelings of safety. We worry for ourselves, for our friends, and for our families. It is human to want to find something we can do to ensure that sense of safety, to return to a time when this fear and anger did not exist.

* * *

But as we try to make sense of this event, we should not tip over into blaming others.

It's all too easy to point the finger at those who we perceive to be different in some way, such as people who identify as Black, indigenous, persons of color, refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers, homeless, substance users, or people who struggle with mental illness.

We want to reject those we see as other and to blame them all for the events that have occurred. We want to see people as outsiders who destroy the Vermont we love.

However, speaking from personal experience, I am a first-generation immigrant and a person of color. My parents chose to come to America when I was a child, to find a better life for my sister and me.

I came to Vermont in 1985 to attend college. I met my partner, settled down, and had three children. Those children grew up, and while raising them my partner and I attempted to teach them our values of compassion, empathy, and service.

Today, my entire family lives a life of service to Vermont. My husband works closely with the Vermont Department of Corrections as a contractor who supervises re-entry programs for people emerging from the prison system. One of my daughters works for the Department of Health; another daughter works for a community partner, providing services to those who are in need; and my third daughter works and leads a restorative justice center.

All three of my daughters finished their college education in Vermont and have settled down and purchased homes. We love Vermont and are dedicated to making this a more compassionate and equitable place for all.

So although I may be an immigrant, and a person of color, and not originally from here, I choose to believe that the work we all do enhances life for Vermonters and provides service to our community.

The more we become open and welcoming and supportive the more we will gain and the more Vermont will flourish. I think we are an example of that.

So know that those, who today you may see as others, are a part of the fabric of our community, and in this richness of diversity we can and will grow stronger.

* * *

In this time, unity is the one thing we can take from this event.

Leah Rosen-Pritchard was dedicated to this community, which she wanted to see to grow and flourish. Groundworks staff are also dedicated in the same way. The best way to honor their work is to pull together, and support each other.

As we pull together as a community - especially in times of grief - we seek to make sense of events like this. And part of that sense-making involves trying to understand why.

But the whys may never be answered, so we insert our own ideas and point fingers and assign blame. It is not our job to be judge and jury.

I challenge you to work with the facts we know - and only the facts we know.

We know Leah Rosin-Pritchard is dead.

We know she worked at Groundworks.

We know many people loved her.

We know she leaves behind a partner, family, and friends.

Instead of focusing on the why, the how, or even the who, I challenge you to grab onto hope and healing. It is more important to celebrate the ideals Leah exemplified of acceptance, compassion, warmth, empathy, and love for her fellow humans than to focus on those things that we use to divide us.

* * *

One of the things I really think we must remember –- and probably appreciate now more than ever - is that as humans we are social beings. We need each other. We don't only heal in isolation but also in community.

The central message I have to give to you today is one of unity. I'm a practicing Hindu, but I understand many different religions and their practices, and I know that Easter marks a time of rebirth, renewal, and transformation.

Transformation is powerful. For it to occur, we must come together in unity, including all people, and all voices, to support one another in love and compassion.

Leah's obituary told the story of a friend who asked her brother told if there was anything that they could do for them.

“Just love one another,” he said.

Thank you.

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