(produced in 2012 for Stanford’s graduate program in journalism)
Killed in a car crash. Died in her sleep. Cancer. Drug overdose. Undetermined.
Rosanna Marks reads through the stack of applications to The Compassionate Friends, a support group for families coping with the death of a child or sibling. She lights a lopsided candle on the upper-left stove burner in her Burlingame home before starting a pot of coffee. This happens pretty much every morning.
“Oh, let me fix this for her,” Marks says, glancing at a small photo affixed to the wall as she stands the candle upright. From the image, Rebecca Marks smiles. Four years ago, Rebecca died of a drug overdose in New York.
Rosanna runs the Mid Peninsula, San Francisco chapter of The Compassionate Friends. She writes the newsletter. She promotes the group. She collects donations. She makes house calls. She picks up the phone in the middle of the night.
After Rebecca’s death, Rosanna felt there was nowhere to turn for support. She first looked to her religion and was referred to a rabbi in San Francisco. She remembers picking up the phone and saying into the receiver, “Hello, my name is Rosanna Marks, my 19-year-old daughter just died, and I need some support.”
“You’ll have to make an appointment after Passover finishes. Please call back after the holiday,” the rabbi told her.
“Make an appointment?”
“Yes. When you call back we can discuss payment.”
“Payment? How much?”
“It’s on a curve. If you can’t afford it, we can discuss it later.”
“Later? You’re discussing it with me now.”
Rosanna hung up the phone. She never made an appointment.