Michael J. Gonsalves

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Station Nightclub Fire, a tragedy that left an indelible scar on the psyche of many Rhode Islanders. In a state this small, if you didn’t know someone directly affected, chances are you know someone affected indirectly by the events that night. And while the scar may have faded, the wound still aches this time of year. The ripples of 100 souls lost and 230 more injured still cause waves of pain across the Ocean State.

The healing process can be long and difficult, and the scars can be not only physical but also psychological. Six months after the fire, a former colleague from the ProJo, Brian Jones, wrote a piece in the Providence Phoenix on healing. It mainly focused on losing my best friend, but also on the response in the wake of that night to ease everyone’s minds so that a similar occurrence could never happen again. Looking back at that time now, it was like a scab had just finished forming and the pain was still intense.

In the fire’s aftermath, many started foundations and scholarship funds to help ease the pain, and it has. Nothing keeps a loved one’s memory alive better than a charitable gift given in their name on a regular basis. The Michael J. Gonsalves ’86 Fund at Rhode Island College has awarded scholarships to those affected by the fire and those not, and every time I’ve been able to meet a recipient, the tears shed have acted like a salve for my soul. I can only imagine it is the same for everyone else who has done the same.

One thing that holds true from that original article from almost 20 years ago, even though I helped form the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, is that I still have a hard time visiting the site. I’m not alone in feeling that way. Over the course of my professional life, I’ve worked with many first responders, and most have a hard time even speaking about that night and the days that followed. It just goes to show how traumatic events leave lasting scars, and everyone deals in their own ways, and heals at their own pace. Hopefully, those who remain silent have some outlet.

The point here – there is no straight line when it comes to surviving an event like this. Sure, there may be five stages of grief, but while it may be easy to get past denial and bargaining, and even gain acceptance, for the mass trauma caused on February 20, 2003, it is understandable if the anniversary dredges up feelings of anger and drags people into varying degrees of depression. The best way to defeat that is to talk to friends, family, and those who understand exactly what was endured. If you start feeling phantom pain from a scar don’t let it break open, seek help. And remember, if you start to despair, we got through this as a state, and our motto is, “Hope.”

For more on the Michael J. Gonsalves Memorial Fund, click here.