We’re with you.
Thirty-four oxygen tanks stood solemnly with candles at their bases. The candles’ flames flickered with the wind, and the tanks remained standing, representing the 34 lives lost on Labor Day near Santa Cruz Island. Cameras were pointed at these tanks; others scanned the crowd who showed up for Friday’s vigil at Chase Palm Park.
Family and friends of the deceased were greeted warmly by the County of Santa Barbara Behavioral Wellness team members, Mayor Cathy Murillo, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Santa Barbara community members who showed up to grieve together with the family members.
“Extraordinary sadness, and shock, and despair that this had happened to these 34 ppl who were out enjoying nature’s gifts and had succumbed to this freak and awful situation,” Ms. Jackson told the News-Press. “When there’s great grief, it is that sense of community that just helps us through it.”
And the community did show up for the individuals’ family members, none of whom are from Santa Barbara, according to the County of Santa Barbara Behavioral Wellness’ Suzanne Grimmesey. People covered the park; some brought chairs and blankets. Even dogs were there to console their owners.
“I hope that the families that came to our community and allowed us to embrace them during this difficult time will leave feeling loved,” Ms. Grimmesey added from the stage. “Know that you are a part of this community.”
Ms. Murillo seemed to agree with Ms. Grimmesey and strived to make the family members welcomed. Before the vigil began, Ms. Murillo was helping set up the family area, moving and aligning chairs. When the in-laws of one of the deceased arrived, Ms. Murillo showed them their space and chatted with them. She took a few minutes to talk with the News-Press.
“I was hoping for the best, that people would be fine,” reflected Ms. Murillo on the moment she heard the tragic news. “I’m praying for peace of mind for people who’ve gone through this horrible loss of their loved ones.”
A pair of friends who were Santa Barbara locals also wished peace of mind for everybody involved in the incident. The friends, who spoke to the News-Press on anonymity out of concern that they would face backlash, were disappointed with the comments on social media that placed blame on the surviving crew members.
“This is not the time to judge right now,” said one of the friends. “It is the time to allow the family members and those affected to heal.”
Reverend John-Stephen Hedges agreed that now is the time to heal.
“We don’t want to lose heart for the sadness of those that lost loved ones in this particular event,” said Rev. Hedges. “We approach this on a person to person level rather than being overwhelmed by the great sadness.”
For Rev. Hedges, who works with first responders in times of tragedy, these kinds of events are a repetitive stress injury to the heart.
“We have had so many things here in the last few years,” said Rev. Hedges, referring to the fires and mudslides that this area has witnessed. “It’s an accumulation of events sometimes. So many of these things breaks our hearts after awhile.”
But he’s confident that through the community and one another, comfort can be found.
“Here we are lingering. We come to this place not really wanting to because its sadness, but then we hang around together for a long time,” Rev. Hedges said. “Connections are being made and support is being given. And that warms the heart.”
Warming hearts was also Jackson Gilles, a singer who serenaded the mourners with “Stand by Me” and “Amazing Grace.” From the stage, Mr. Gilles got to see the vigil from an angle privy only to him.
“These are the moments you live for. You try not to cry when you are singing. There is a certain performance juice that usually prevents it. But as soon as I was done, I broke down. It’s just . . .” Mr. Gilles said as he trailed off into thought.
A Santa Barbara local, Mr. Gilles is confident that the town will help family members.
“As horrible as this was, there is no better town (than Santa Barbara) to do the cleanup,” said Mr. Gilles, moments after his final performance in Santa Barbara prior to relocating to London to attend a music program.
“This is an immediate, undenying loving town, no matter what it is, people don’t even think twice. They say, ‘What can we do?’ or ‘How can we help?’ It’s the spirit of Santa Barbara.”
And Mr. Gilles’ spirit seems to have merged with that of Santa Barbara during his performance. “It was an out-of-body experience watching people lay flowers down in the baskets while I was singing, I felt like I was floating a few feet behind myself and watching it happen,” said Mr. Gilles.
Mr. Gilles was not the only one to be using music as a healing instrument. Rabbi Daniel Brenners sounded the shofar, a religious object of the Jewish faith, to help mourners acknowledge the pain they felt and the “emotions that cannot be expressed in words,” according to him.
“As I play this instrument, I invite you to open your hearts to the pain, to the love that you all have felt over this last week,” he said to the crowd. “And to then take a moment of silence afterwards just to be with those feelings.”
Mr. Brenners then exhaled into the shofar for almost 30 seconds, and the instrument let out a low, rumbling wail. As Mr. Brenners approached the end of his performance, a train passed by, exhaling its own rumbling horn, as if mourning with those at the vigil.