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GROWING COMMUNITY: When There's Nothing One Can Say

Published in the Aspen Daily News on September 1, 2022

By Shirley Ritter and Katherine Sand

There’s nothing that can be said. It’s a strange way to begin a column. After all, columnists always have something to say. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

We try, in these columns, to be informative and supportive, to provide advice, resources and common sense thoughts about kids, school and family life in a manner you might be accustomed to receiving across the kitchen table from a friend or relative.

But there are times when there is nothing anyone can say. The senseless, accidental death of a young person is one of those times. Just two weeks ago, our whole community was rocked by the loss of Aspen High School student Carson Clettenberg, and our hearts go out to his parents, his sisters, all his loved ones and friends.

There is no way to provide sufficient comfort to those directly impacted by a tragedy like this. Nor to ourselves. Nothing can prepare a parent for this profound loss, and only the knowledge that people do, somehow, survive and continue, is there. In time, feelings will shift. Our lives can go on in a way that we cannot comprehend right now.

It’s at these times that we understand the power of community and togetherness. We watched the high-schoolers coming back to school with some relief, because for many of them, nothing is more sustaining than being among friends. Returning to classes may feel like the last thing anyone wants after a long summer, but routine can keep us occupied and moving forward.

Students at the high school are fortunate. They are headed out on their Experiential Education journeys. This monumental effort by the school’s administrators, teachers and volunteers ensures that every child will go somewhere, step out of a comfort zone, meet a new person, try something different. This, too, is momentum: forward motion.

Others are heading off to college, full of hopes and apprehension. But whether it’s your first day living away from home, your first day of fifth grade or even your first day of preschool, you will experience challenge and change, which are the things in life that keep us going and give us all the skills and resilience to sustain us through the difficult times we encounter.

Living here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we are lucky to have resources if we need more help. And we remind each other that there is no shame in asking for help: Actually, being able to do so is a great strength in itself.

For those coping with grief, anxiety, unease — any feelings at all that you need to know more about and get help for — there are wonderful professionals all over the valley, including at Mind Springs Health, Mountain Family Health Centers, The Hope Center and private practices. Look at the Aspen Strong Provider Directory. Make and take the time to take care of yourself. These people are highly skilled in helping people navigate intense tragedy and grief. Our churches and synagogues provide spiritual sustenance, and all those places where we come together — senior center, sports teams, fraternal organizations, youth center, book clubs and more — are there for us too.

Our children may need extra support and we have wonderful school counselors. Thanks to the Aspen Education Foundation, there are now two in each of our three K-12 schools. Children do not always process grief, fear and other emotions in expected ways, so it’s important to have expert, caring eyes on our kids.

We also would like to recognize our community’s most incredible, stealth resource. Always on speed dial is Allison Daily of Pathfinders. There are many people who are wise and supportive. But we do not fully know how Allison accomplishes all that she does. She shows up with simplicity and a lightness that immediately gives hope and comfort. She is everywhere for everyone and knows exactly what is needed at our most difficult and dark times. Pathfinders is for many, a literal godsend. And Allison is an angel in human form. Remember Pathfinders: Their work is of incalculable value.

So, let’s lift up our eyes and look forward, even through the sadness of loss, to wish us all — children, parents, grandparents, school staff, and indeed all community members — a wonderful school year of good health, education, exploration and connectedness.

Growing Community, by Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, director of Aspen Family Connections, runs every other week in the Aspen Daily News. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at or Katherine at


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