Gerber: 2011 - Year of loss, hope

Gerber: 2011 - Year of loss, hope

December 25th, 2011 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

In newsrooms across the country this time of year, reporters and editors are swapping opinions about the most notable news stories of the year.

At the Times Free Press, we asked our readers to help nominate the stories of 2011, then help us whittle those nominations into a top 10 stories list, which will run Dec. 31.

What struck me most is how many of the most memorable stories involved loss and tragedy. Consider this:

-- Eighty-one residents of the Times Free Press circulation area (about 30 counties in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama) are killed when more than 45 tornadoes tear through the region on April 27.

-- A beloved police officer is shot and killed while doing his job, leaving behind a wife and two children, a police force in shock and a community in mourning.

-- A young man and woman, their lives stretching before them and pulsing with promise, die in a freak accident with a train near Sale Creek in August.

-- A Signal Mountain mother disappears, leaving two young children. Seven months of mystery end when her body and her Jeep are found in early December, lodged on the mountain's side off East Brow Road.

-- Shootings, stabbings and beatings claim 25 lives this year in Chattanooga. Bledsoe and Bradley counties saw a double and a triple homicide, respectively.

The tragic stories of Tim Chapin, Gail Palmgren, Michael Hennen, Hannah Barnes and the victims of tornadoes or violence remind us just how fleeting life is. Those people all woke up one morning and started what probably seemed like an ordinary day, but didn't live through it.

What grabs the public's attention in these stories? Perhaps the knowledge that sudden and unforeseen death can happen to anyone. Maybe it's how unfair unexpected death seems. Or how hard to fathom.

That's why it's so compelling - and maybe comforting - when people manage to cheat death or recover from severe injury despite staggering odds.

On today's front page, reporters Mariann Martin and Joy Lukachick write about an infant and a toddler who, based on some accounts, should not be here. But they defied doctors' expectations and are here for the holidays.

They also profile an avid runner and cyclist who was told he might never walk again, let alone run. He completed a half marathon in October.

And they tell the story of a mother who nearly died while giving birth to her fourth child.

Christmas Day is a good time to tell their stories of recovery and hope and to remember that, amid life's losses and sadness, miracles still happen.

Alison Gerber is managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and can be reached at or 423-757-6408.