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Chester County Press

Editorial: Finding the poetry in our grief

09/25/2018 10:09AM ● By Richard Gaw
Despite the contents of the nearly 1,400-page Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary that contains the vast lexicon of the English language, no one, not even the poets, has been able to string together words that properly unravel the tragedy of a young person's death, or dare to lay beauty and closure down over the grief of such an unfathomable loss.

It is our aspiration and our will, however, to keep trying. It requires talent to illuminate, in words, the gut wrench description of a young person being taken from us, but more often than not, it's the heart that is best able to convey an act that is often described as a robbery.

On the receiving end, it is luck when we get to hear those words resonate the absolute hollow of truth in our ears.

Last week, in a ceremony to honor a young person who was taken too soon, those words dripped down like the rain that fell on this part of Chester County.

At the Pennsylvania State Police Troop J Avondale Barracks on Sept. 17, two oversized white tents protected about 100 visitors from an onslaught of rain. They were there to officially dedicate a portion of the Route 41 corridor north of Route 1 the Trooper Kenton Iwaniec Memorial Highway, in honor of the State Trooper who was killed by an impaired driver on March 27, 2008, just as the 24-year-old Iwaniec had finished his shift at the barracks and was heading home.

Just prior to his death, Iwaniec had purchased an engagement ring for his girlfriend Julie, and was getting ready to propose to her.

As Iwaniec's parents Ken and Deb and their immediate family sat in the front row, speaker after speaker expressed his or her sentiments directly to the family. After an invocation by Senior Pastor Dr. Earl Blackwell, Corporal Steven B. Ranck from Troop T in King of Prussia, spoke eloquently about his former colleague in Avondale.

“Trooper Iwaniec was a caring individual,” Ranck said. “He was smart, funny and he loved his family and friends very much. Trooper Iwaniec's friends had a nickname for him. They called him 'The Shepard.' He was always there for others.”

The Hon. Patrick Carmody, the Deputy District Attorney for the County Court of Pleas, successfully prosecuted the Iwaniec case. As sentencing approached, Carmody asked the Iwaniecs to send some letters from people who could discuss the character of their son. He received hundreds of letters, which he then presented to Judge Ronald C. Nagle. “Frankly, he was blown away by it,” Carmody said. “He said, 'How could one person who was only 24-years old affect so many lives in a lifetime?'”

Carmody pointed to the green road sign that now bears Iwaniec's name.

“Any time a person sees this sign, they'll say, 'Why is that person's name there?' They will be reminded how precious life is. Kenton was a special person raised by a special family, and he continues to be a Shepard, because he continues to show us the way.”

Rep. John Lawrence told the Iwaniecs a story about a friend of his who lost two of his children.

“He told me once, 'The thing I think about John, is that I don't want people to forget them,'” Lawrence said. “This sign we're putting up here today, is it a small token? Yes, but it says that your son is not forgotten. The people of southern Chester County have not forgotten, and any time a person drives by this sign, [it will indicate] that we have not forgotten, and that we remember this trooper who gave everything to the people of this community, and this commonwealth.”

Sen. John Rafferty pointed to the ashen sky. “I'm mindful of an Irish saying that says that if it should rain on the day of your funeral or your memorial, that it's the tears of angels in heaven rejoicing, of a soul being honored in the heavenly kingdom,” he said. “The angels are very happy that we're remembering Kenton.

“We're honoring him as a hero, as a member of the Pennsylvania State Police who knew, day in and day out, that he was going to face danger, and he gave his life as a hero.”

The last words of the dedication, and perhaps the most eloquent, were delivered by Sen. Andrew Dinniman, who spoke about the efforts the Iwaniec family has made to honor their son by forming an organization, in his name, that has helped spearhead efforts in the state to curb drunk driving and equip police officers with tools to help them test potential impaired drivers.

Dinniman told the Iwaniec's story by telling the stories of Chester County families who have turned tragedy into roads that lead to change and action.

“You can't blame any one or any family who has lost a child for just withdrawing so they don't have to remember, day in and day out,” he said. “But when you commit yourself to change, every time you get up, every time you attend an event, you remember.

“No task is higher than honoring your children like this. When we do good, when we do God's work, and we keep the memories of our children alive.”

Just as Dinniman finished, the rain arrived again after a brief respite, this time harder than before.