- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

In the days following September 11, a grief counselor gave Donn Marshall some compassionate and valuable advice.”Give your sorrow meaning,” he told Mr. Marshall, whose wife, Shelley, was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, where Mrs. Marshall worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Three years later, the foundation Mr. Marshall created in his wife’s memory has given his life — along with his children Drake, 6, and Chandler, 4 — a new purpose and a new structure. The Shelley A. Marshall Foundation is dedicated not so much to the memory of the United States’ worst terrorist attack, but to capturing the spirit of Mrs. Marshall, who was 37 when she died.

Developing special events, raising money and seeing others benefit from the foundation’s work has helped Mr. Marshall and his family in its recovery process, he says.

“It has been therapeutic,” says Mr. Marshall, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who now runs the foundation full time from his new home in Shepherdstown, W.Va. “Doing this helps keep Shelley alive in a positive way for me and the kids. By keeping her spirit alive, Shelley gets the last word.”

Taking a personal tragedy and turning the pain into a source of help for others can be an important part of the recovery process, says Helen Fitzgerald, a Washington-area grief counselor, author and training director for the American Hospice Foundation.

“A lot of people do something to memorialize a loved one,” Ms. Fitzgerald says. “It can take all that sad energy and re-forms it into something good.”

In fact, Ms. Fitzgerald, a former commercial artist, became a grief counselor 30 years ago after the slow death of her first husband from brain cancer at age 35.

“I never dreamed I would be doing this work,” she reflects. “My Dad had a philosophy, ‘If one door closes, another opens.’ After my husband’s death, I saw doors opening up. It allowed me to move beyond my own pain.”

Gretchen Miller of Stevensville, Md., saw a door opening, as well. She and her husband, Jeff Pincus, were devastated after their second son, Spenser, died shortly after his very premature birth in April 2001. They were disappointed at the lack of support and resources for families in their situation, so they created Spenser’s Hope, a support service and Web site offering information and resources.

More recently, the couple has created a project called Caring Hands. They collect handprints of children on fabric, which they sew into tiny quilts to comfort premature infants at area hospitals.

“It has made us feel like there was more to Spenser’s life than tragedy, pain and loss,” Ms. Miller says.

Taking time for tea

Donn and Shelley Marshall were very busy in 2001. They both worked full time for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), he in Crystal City and she at the Pentagon. They had a long commute from their Charles County home but were enjoying the precious time with their two young children.

Mrs. Marshall had several passions, her husband says. She loved reading and would read out loud to her children every night. She also loved the ritual and relaxation that went along with enjoying a good cup of hot tea.

“My wife collected teacups,” Mr. Marshall says. “One day in 1994, we were on our way back from the beach and we went to a bookstore. She pulled out a book on tea, and within a week we were having scones and loose-leaf tea at home. It was therapeutic to her to come home and take 10 minutes to make a perfect pot of tea.”

When trying to think of a way to help others while honoring his wife, tea and stories were a natural answer, says Mr. Marshall, 39.

The foundation has raised more than $200,000 in the last three years, Mr. Marshall says. Much of the money has gone to throw intergenerational tea parties at nursing homes around Northern Virginia, where Mrs. Marshall was raised. The food is served on elegant china that has been donated to the foundation, and Mr. Marshall pours the tea himself.

The foundation also funds library programs in Northern Virginia; Charles County, Md.; and Jefferson County, W.Va. The foundation has sponsored everything from puppet shows to storytellers to Indian hoop dancers, Mr. Marshall says.

“I remember looking around the room during one of the story hours in Vienna,” Mr. Marshall says. “There was a crowd of people, from babies to 80-year-olds. There were all kinds of people there — black, white, Asian, Hispanic. Everyone was laughing. I knew that Shelley was smiling, too.”

Linda Holtslander, assistant director of the Loudoun County Public Library system, says more than 4,000 children have attended the library programs at the Loudoun County libraries alone.

“His work has touched a lot of people,” Ms. Holtslander says. “Many foundations work toward larger goals. Tea parties and story programs are really small kinds of things, but they make a big difference to a lot of people.”

Mrs. Marshall also enjoyed writing stories and admiring art. The foundation has funded creative writing contests and art workshops for area high school students and students at George Mason University, Mrs. Marshall’s alma mater.

While Mr. Marshall says he and his children still miss Mrs. Marshall greatly, life has taken on a new rhythm in the last three years. Mr. Marshall took a year off from his government job. He says he returned to work for six months but was stressed out by a life of commuting, working, caring for the children in the evening and working some more on his computer until midnight.

The family now lives a quieter life in West Virginia, near Mr. Marshall’s parents. He still reads to the children every night.

“Now I take the kids to school, I work on the foundation, and we have a life,” Mr. Marshall says. “I had a dream the other night. Shelley was in it, and she was alive. I was so happy, but I thought, ‘What do I do about the foundation?’”

Spenser’s story

Creating something for others in their same situation gave Jeff Pincus and Gretchen Miller a feeling of control, they said.

“For me, it was either I could stay up all night and not sleep, or I could do my own research and build a Web site,” Mr. Pincus, 32, says of the months following Spenser’s death.

Spenser’s Hope is a resource for parents of preemies. Parents find information and support. They can also order a free affirmation-of-life keepsake from the nonprofit.

But it is the handmade quilts that surround the tiny new babies with flannel, cotton and hope. Ms. Miller has given away 75 of them, mostly to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Howard County General Hospital, where Spenser was born, and to Children’s National Medical Center in the District. She has another 1,200 handprint squares waiting to be stitched into quilts.

Ms. Miller — who now has two sons, Ripken, 7, and Hobbs, 19 months — got the idea for the quilts as she was going to make one for Spenser’s birth.

“Of course, he couldn’t use it,” she says, “but I made it anyway, and I said it could be for other parents.”

Several quilting clubs around the country read about Caring Hands online and have helped stitch the 24-by-26-inch blankets, Ms. Miller says.

Online was also the way Ms. Miller connected with Liz Selby of Frederick. Mrs. Selby lost her son, also named Spenser, after complications a few months after his premature birth in 1996.

Mrs. Selby couldn’t believe the similarities between the two families, right down to the babies’ names. Mrs. Selby now helps Ms. Miller with Spenser’s Hope.

“I was looking for someone who felt the same way about getting word out that prematurity is a big issue,” Mrs. Selby says. “Gretchen and her husband are so determined.”

Mrs. Selby and her husband, Greg, left their own legacy for parents of preemies eight years ago. The couple — who are now the parents of Margaret, 3 — donated money to organize a library for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where their son was born.

“We still go down there a few times a year,” Mrs. Selby says. “I saw a young mother looking up her condition in one of the books. I saw how grateful people were to have them.”

Helping create parents

After Lt. Col. Kip Taylor was killed at work at the Pentagon on September 11, his wife, Nancy, wanted to memorialize her husband by aiding military families who wanted to become parents.

Both of the Taylor children were conceived through in-vitro fertilization. Mrs. Taylor was eight months pregnant with the couple’s second son when her husband died.

As a way to memorialize her husband, Mrs. Taylor created the Kip Taylor Memorial Fund, which helps military families undergoing fertility treatments pay for travel costs. Those costs can be steep as couples travel to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District, one of only two military hospitals nationwide that does advanced fertility treatments.

“Nancy mostly wanted to keep it for the enlisted,” says Jeff Anderson, a family friend and a member of the fund’s board of directors.

Mr. Anderson says the foundation has paid for fertility treatment travel and ROTC scholarships at Mr. Taylor’s alma mater, Northern Michigan University.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Taylor, who lived in McLean, was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her younger son’s birth in October 2001. She died last November.

The fund goes on as a tribute to both of them, Mr. Anderson says. The children now live in Colorado with Lt. Col. Taylor’s brother and his wife.

“She fought [cancer] off until she knew she had everything in order for her two boys,” he says. “People wanted to give money in Kip’s name, but with all the insurance policies, the children were going to be fine. School was going to be paid for. She wanted to take the other money and put it somewhere as a memorial fund.”

More info:

Books —

• “The Mourning Handbook: The Most Comprehensive Resource Offering Practical and Compassionate Advice on Coping With All Aspects of Death and Dying,” by Helen Fitzgerald, Fireside, 1995. This book has advice and perspective for people coping with the death of a loved one.

• “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Death of a Loved One,” by Brook Noel, Champion Press, 2000. The author of this book suddenly lost a brother and her husband, and this book was her response to a lack of resources for those in her situation.

Associations —

• The Compassionate Friends, P.O. Box 3696, Oak Brook, IL 60522. Phone: 877/969-0100. Web site: www.compassionatefriends.org. This nonprofit group is dedicated toward assisting family and friends cope with the death of a loved one. It offers support groups, information for children and spouses, local resources and ideas on how to memorialize a special person.

Online —

• The Shelley A. Marshall Foundation (www.shelleysfoundation.org) offers tea parties, literary events and art and writing contests for high-school students as a way to memorialize Mrs. Marshall, who was killed at the Pentagon on September 11. The foundation held its annual fund-raising gala on Sept. 18.

• Spenser’s Hope (www.spensershope.org) is a group dedicated to helping those experiencing preterm labor or in the aftermath of a premature birth.

• The Kip and Nancy Taylor Memorial Fund (www.kiptaylorfund.com) raises money to assist military families who are traveling to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to undergo in-vitro fertilization.

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