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Families who survived tragedy seek growth with potted trees honoring their lost loved ones

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Posted at 5:58 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 12:40:28-04

CLEVELAND — On Friday, 15 families who have lost loved ones to one of two epidemics plaguing Northeast Ohio — crime and drugs — each received a potted tree in their honor. It was an opportunity to cast their tragedies in a new light and heal through growth, organized by the Founder and Executive Director of Hand 2 Hand Inc., Veronica Robinson.

“Crime and drugs, they go, like my organization, Hand 2 Hand. They accompany one another,” Robinson said. Robinson was inspired to launch Hand 2 Hand when she struggled to shake the trauma of her brother’s death. He was shot over a piece of clothing in the 1970s, she said.

“I never recovered from the memory of knowing how he died and laid on the dark, cold street," Robinson told News 5. Her brother was just 17 years old when he was killed. And for years all she could remember of him was “his blood shed, and he’s cold.” She practiced redirecting her memories which led her to create The Tree of Life event that unfolded at Luke Easter Park Friday.

The goal was to help families who’ve lost loved ones like she has “look at something that is lively, that is going to live as long as we nurture it, and we don’t have to think of those bad memories when it comes to our loved ones.” The trees were potted thanks to volunteers from Ohio State Master Gardeners, who came to teach families how to care for them. One of them went to Deborah Gordon.

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Deborah Gordon lost her son to addiction when he was 32 years old.

“My son got addicted to a drug called ‘water,’” she said. Dennis Gordon ended up losing his life to that addiction 11 years ago. All those years have done little to heal the hurt in her heart.

“I wish my son was still here. I think about my son every day. I miss my child,” Gordon said. She was with her son the day he died but didn’t realize that until two days later. Dennis usually checked in with her several times a day. When she hadn’t heard from him for two days, she called police and “they told me that he was in the coroner’s office,” she said. She was asked to identify his body but was too grief-stricken to do so. She asked Dennis’ wife to take on the devastating task.

While a potted tree can’t erase their loss, it could give Gordon and the other families who turned out Friday something to hold on to and to nourish, besides pain and grief. Robinson says so many were interested in the event she had to turn families away.

“I never thought that I would get so many people that need this service,” she said. For Deborah, it’s been a long journey since her son’s death. She’s become a staunch anti-drug advocate, adamantly warning parents and children to stay clean. She’ll watch her tree grow and remember Dennis for the wonderful son, husband, and father she remembers. And she’ll look to a higher power to help her continue this life without that piece of her heart.

“I had to learn there is a God and that's what’s healing me and always there with me and always there for me,” she said.

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