PUNXSUTAWNEY — Back on March 24, 2009, the community lost a man far too young when Adam Travis passed away.
Out of the tragic event, now three years past, though, Adam's mother, Chris Gigliotti, has found an inspiring way to experience a level of healing.
And thanks to her handiwork, members of the community who have suffered a similar loss will have the opportunity to experience the same when Alan Pedersen brings his and his wife's inspiring Angels Across the U.S.A. program to the Pantall Hotel.
Pedersen is a bereaved father himself, having lost his only daughter in a car accident in 2001 in Colorado. Out of that tragedy, Pedersen decided to make the most of the situation and has since become a nationally recognized inspirational speaker on the topic of grief and loss.
He is also known as a successful recording artist, having released four CDs of his own original songs.
As an in-demand keynote speaker and workshop presenter, he has been featured at many conferences — from regional to international — including The World Gathering on Bereavement and the National Gathering of Bereaved Parents of the U.S.A.
Gigliotti, looking for a sense of healing after the loss of her own son, and her husband, Vince, attended one of Pedersen's programs in Harrisburg.
"I was apprehensive, not knowing if I would be too emotional or expected to share my story," she said in a letter inviting other families who have recently felt the effects of tragic loss.
"What I didn't expect was how comforting it would be to just sit, listen and remember. Two weeks later, I took a friend the whole way to Ohio so I could see it again. Six weeks after that, I flew to Florida to attend a full-day workshop given by Alan and another bereaved father."
Gigliotti said that over the past six months, she has felt a pull toward helping other families in the area that she knows have lost a loved
one, especially one too young.
"Over the last six months, I started thinking about all the tragedies in our communities and wondering if there were others like me searching and struggling, looking for something, anything to help them deal with their grief and loss,” she said. “So, I contacted Alan, and he agreed to come and present in Punxsutawney."
After some planning on her end, Gigliotti and some of her friends set up the event, which will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Pantall Hotel, 135 East Mahoning St.
"Alan has such a talent for making you think that he is talking directly to you," she said in a recent interview. "He will validate your feelings, so you don't feel so crazy and alone. He also helps you understand the reason you hurt so badly is because you loved so much.
“Another message is that you'll never forget, and it does get easier. But it takes longer than people expect, and there will come a time when you will remember their 'life story' before you remember their 'death story.'"
Gigliotti went out on a limb by inviting Pedersen to town, but she said the response since has been extremely supportive of a need for such an experience in Punxsy.
"After I decided to host this event, people just started giving me names, which is wonderful and sad at the same time," she said. "To be honest, my main concern planning this event is that people will be hesitant to come and not realize just how comforting it can be. So, I spoke to Alan and his response was, 'Just invite your friends and those you think it will help. Let's consider it a night of remembering and celebrating the lives and the love.’"
Pedersen's message is "a simple one," the event flier says: "We were put on this earth to love them for as long as we live, not as long as they lived."
Speaking about why she thinks people should attend, Gigliotti said that, while it may be hard to convince people to step out of that comfort zone a bit, it is something she thinks will be incredibly freeing for them in their grief despite the fact that she realizes it's a subject "people try to avoid like the plague."
"It's tough for me to say exactly why people should come," she said. "I believe the answer would be different for everyone, but then again, it will be the same. The best answer I can think of is that someone they love died. I know that sounds oversimplified, but the bottom line is just that. Even though I realize that's life and everyone has had someone they know and love die, there are some circumstances that make that harder to deal with, such as the death of a child — no matter how young or old — suicide or just sudden unexpected tragedies that happen. That's where I think this will be the most helpful."
At the bottom of the flier she has posted around town, Gigliotti printed the words, "Honoring the memory of Adam Travis," and she went on to explain exactly why she thought it was important to include that message.
"I did that because honoring Adam is exactly what I'm trying to do," she said. "If Adam hadn't died, I wouldn't be doing any of this, and I hope that by me trying to help other people, it is honoring him. I hope it doesn't come across like it'll be a memorial to him, and that if you didn't know Adam or you don't know me, you shouldn't come. Everyone there will be remembering someone, so it will be like your own private memorial service for your loved one."
Gigliotti also pointed out that the event isn't all about sitting around and sharing, adding that Pedersen is a great speaker and entertainer as well, mixing his songs and stories.
"With a gentle mix of humor and straight-from-the-heart talk, wrapped around powerful songs about love and loss, an evening with Alan Pedersen will make for a unique, healing and memorable experience," the flyer says.
Gigliotti said that since her son's death, she has "spent a lot of time struggling and searching for 'something' to help me deal with my loss." Now, she has taken the initiative of inviting those in a similar situation to join her in a sense of healthy healing she has discovered.
Gigliotti added that the event is completely free and open to anyone — though she cautioned that the manner of the event is not designed for children and is geared toward the adults grieving the loss.
Within the adult population, though, she said folks should fedl free to invite their friends and families, "or anyone you think it may help."
With questions or other concerns about the event, Gigliotti said one can call her at 952-2100.