New Year Starts With Mixed Emotions

The New Year is off to a tremulous start – the prospect of better days and the importance of maintaining hope remain strong influences on our lives, but the past few weeks have been ones of sharply contrasting emotions and extreme sadness for many in our Ohio Valley communities.

All years are marked by combinations of happiness and sadness, triumph and tragedy, this is true. Perhaps, though, it is a sign of reaching a certain age, when life’s twists and turns take a dizzying, and sometimes puzzling, course that we are struck by the incongruities of our days’ passage.

As the old year ended and a new one began, my mind was filled with thoughts of the striking contrasts between momentous events that unfolded in 2010. The year brought pain and uncertainty as people we love struggled with major, lingering illnesses, followed by joy and thankfulness for their steady recovery. We watched in awe as other friends fought serious illness with determination and a strength that defied the odds.

The year 2010 brought a miracle that gave new life to my dearest friend, renewing and strengthening my belief in the power of prayer and humble gratitude for God’s grace. The year now ended also brought joy and laughter with the uniting of loving couples for a lifetime together and with the arrival of tiny, healthy babies to other families.

Yet, the final days of 2010 were filled with the unspeakable horror of senseless, tragic deaths; the unimaginable shock of lives ended unexpectedly; the poignancy of seeing a man of great faith and determination struggling to bid farewell to his beloved wife of 72 years; the sadness of saying goodbye to people who mentored and inspired us in their now-completed earthly journeys.

Platitudes offer scant comfort to those who are grieving the loss of loved ones’ presence and mourning the end of one part of life. There are no easy solutions, no “quick fixes,” to the sorrows of the heart. Faith, love and the steady presence and support of others can offer a pathway out of darkness as time unfolds and pain eases. That, I believe, is a sign of God’s mercy.

We can barely understand, and we cannot begin to know, why life unfolds the way it does. We can only accept that we are not meant to know the answers on this side of Heaven.

So, what do we do? Well, we live our lifes, while remaining mindful of the needs of others. We honor and serve our God; we help our neighbors; we aid strangers; we comfort those who suffer and mourn; we celebrate the good times; we cherish our families and friends. Let’s begin this year by always remembering to hug our loved ones, to give an extra smile to people we encounter, to lend a helping hand to those in need and to be grateful for blessings, large and small.

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Wheeling community leader Deborah Allen, who died unexpectedly at far too early an age Wednesday, Dec. 29, was one of the good people whose passing leaves a terrible void for her family, friends, colleagues and hundreds of local children who benefited from her care and compassion.

Deb Allen was the executive director of the Ohio County Family Resource Network Inc. In addition, she was a guiding force and active volunteer in so many other community endeavors. She was a strong supporter of the pro-active efforts being undertaken by the Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition; she was involved in activities and projects at the schools where her children attended and at other area schools and learning centers.

She and her dear friend, Deborah Troeger, who coordinates the volunteer reading tutorial program at Woodsdale Elementary School in Wheeling, spearheaded an annual campaign to put books into the hands of children who are improving their reading skills by participating in tutorial programs offered in Ohio County schools.

In a recent letter, Allen pointed out that more than 500 students participated in tutorial programs in Ohio County during the 2009-10 school year. Through the auspices of the Ohio County Family Resource Network and the generosity of donors throughout the community, Allen and her team launched a supplemental reading program for children being tutored. “In its second year, students have EARNED approximately 2,000 ‘new’ or ‘gently used’ books since the personal supplemental reading program began in January 2009,” Allen wrote.

Deb Allen was a quiet, gentle force for good in our community; she was always ready with a smile and an encouraging thought. Her untimely passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of many. On behalf of the entire community, we extend sympathy to her husband, Douglas, and to their children, Erika and Trevor. May light perpetual shine upon her soul.

Linda Comins can be reached via e-mail at: