The Labor of Love Continues at the Beach

The Labor of Love Continues at the Beach

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This past Monday, Darrell and I had the pleasure of joining Mary and Jay Fagnano as they celebrated the life of their son Nick—and honored over 14 other young people (including our son Justin, Austin Plummer, Scott Wells, Brooks Paul, Jessica Thompson, Gus Deppe, Lori Peikoff, Judy Jones, Conor Lynch, and Brian Bonifer) who all left this world way to soon.

Jay, Mary & NIck
Jay, Mary & NIck


Encircled by the backdrop of the beach  with the swimmers and surfers, and the silhouettes of the volleyball nets (that Nick often played on) people gathered on the warm sand as their schedules permitted. It was not sad. It was peaceful. It was inclusive. It was organic. It was both comforting and joyous. The masses watched the beauty of the beach and listened to the sounds of the waves while every bit of the surrounds soothed our souls. Inside a beautiful white tent swaying in the breeze were Mary’s creative masterpieces– individual plaques of remembrance– each turning and dancing in the breeze as the rainbows of colors escaped whenever the sun hit the crystal chains.




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A News Reporter, who was covering the event, asked me: “Why are you here?” I responded: “I did not know Nick, but I feel like I know him from the glimpse of what I have seen from being in the company of his parents and from all the stories that I read. Nick was compassionate loving, spiritual and giving. He had a big heart. We lost our only son Justin. We are  part of an unimaginable “child loss club” that no one wants to be in! Strangers reached out to us with empathy and compassion and we are grateful. So, Darrell and I reached out to Mary and Jay. I also told her what my friend Valerie once told me: “The hole in your hearts can never be filled like sand in the beach.” Remembering our children is the oxygen that we need to breathe and get by each day. This is a hard thing to live with everyday for the rest of our life. So, we continue to move forward in their honor—everyday.

When people asked me how the day was I said the following:

It was a uniformed village with:

  • Family members from up and down the coast
  • Nick’s lifelong friends from elementary and high school, college and baseball team members, church parish and even his Kindergarten Teacher
  • Mary and Jay’s friends from high school, college and their community
  • Other Families who lost a child, brother, sister or friend
  • Varun Soni,  the Dean from USC School of Religious life
  • Friend’s sang Nicks favorite songs
  • A bonus was also having my elementary friend Lisa join the celebration for a second year in a row. Up until last year, I had not seen her since 8th grade.  She did not know the Fagnano’s at all- but she feels connected because  she has  one son Ryan and she vacations on Venice Beach every year at the same time. Nick’s story has touched her to the core.
Susan and Lisa
Susan and LisaVenetians from the Venice Beach Community

There were “Venetians “from the Venice Beach Community

  • Lifeguards whose lives were impacted by Nick…








Nick's Grandmother from Vacaville, CA
Nick’s Grandmother from Vacaville, CA







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As the crowd gathered to form a large human heart on the beach, Jay passionately told the crowd: “ We need you all in our life in the days and years to come. We want to hear about you and your families and   your life’s adventures. What else are we to do?” So, Mary and Jay’s Labor of Love will continue as they gallantly work to help others with the platforms of the “Thrive in Joy Foundation”…


I think I can safely say that for Mary and Jay, Venice Beach is akin to Rome, Italy—the Eternal City. The ancient Romans believed that no matter what happened to the world or how many empires came and collapsed– Rome would go on forever. Venice Beach will forever be Mary and Jay’s Eternal City…


We can all “ Get by with a little help from our friends”




It is kind of like that old African proverb, “ If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far—go together. “

This is what I call a real “Labor of Love.”
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This Crosby, Stills and Nash Song culminated the day…








Teach Your Children

Teach your children well

You who are on the road

Must have a code that you can live by

And so become yourself

Because the past is just a good-bye.

Teach your children well,

Their father’s hell did slowly go by,

And feed them on your dreams

The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,

So just look at them and sigh

And know they love you.

And you, of tender years,

Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,

And so please help them with your youth,

They seek the truth before they can die.


xoxo Susan







Photo Credit: Darrell Carr