Death and Dying
Pennsylvania Caregiver Receives as He Gives
By Camille Baier
When Dave McCall walked into the local hospital to help the victims of United Airlines Flight 93 last year, he didn’t know he’d be making lifelong friends from the sadness that exploded when the plane crashed into the hills of Shanksville, Pa.
On Sept. 11, the nation remembered the passengers and crew members who battled their terrorist hijackers. But the tragedy has taken on a more personal aspect for McCall, a volunteer caregiver.
"Every time I give, it seems I get twice as many blessings back," he said. "… It’s better than going to the bank, for it’s God’s bank."
A longtime member of First United Methodist Church in Somerset, McCall is a retired high school guidance counselor who provides grief counseling for New Day Ministries and teaches a course on death and dying at a community college.
On that first, awful Sept. 11, McCall simply wanted to help. But finding no survivors at the hospital, he went home. The next day, a call from the Red Cross followed by a "very brief" training session placed him at Seven Springs Ski Resort, the Somerset County facility that housed families of the victims flown in by United Airlines.
"What do you say to these poor people?" he asked himself. "It was like it is when you go to a funeral home."
But he was there to help. He provided picture frames for people who needed them. He brought newspaper accounts of the tragedy. And he just sat and listened as family members talked out their pain.
Since then, he has become very close to some of the families through yearlong correspondence as well as gatherings when they return to the area. Some find it comforting to return from time to time, while others find it more difficult and purposely stay away, McCall said.
Notable among his new friendships is the family of Louis Joey Nacke, a Baltimore businessman who died in the crash. At first, Nacke’s parents and siblings came to Shanksville, everyone having dinner together and some of them going fishing nearby. But six months after the crash, Nacke’s father died, as did a good friend of the family. "It’s been a tough year for all of them," McCall said.
Yet, Nacke’s young niece Courtney saw things from a warm perspective. Seeing a Christmas tree adorned with beautiful angels, she kept touching them, taking them down, playing with them. When her mother finally asked why she was doing this, she replied, "These are angels, Mom. They look like the angels that got the plane before Uncle Joey crashed and took the passengers and crew to heaven."
Each person McCall met had a personal perspective on dealing with the tragedy. Jack Grandcolas lost his wife and unborn child on the flight. Grandcolas and his wife had wanted a child for a long time. "But he was a man of great faith," said McCall. "He said it was providential that this happened. He said God picked families strong enough to deal with it."
The tragedy brought some families together, McCall said. Two sets of parents came to the site on behalf of Nicole Miller, "a 21-year-old woman just beginning her life." Her mourners included a mother and stepfather, a father and stepmother, "just like so many of our families today," he said.
But it also broke apart families that could not deal with the loss of loved ones, he said, "and that was sad."
Buoyed by the experiences, and comforted by stories of innumerable other volunteers and caregivers from the area, McCall put words to paper recently with From Tragedy to Triumph. The book is available online at Amazon.com or in B Dalton and Waldenbook stores.
Baier is a staff writer for InterLink, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
This United Methodist News Service article was originally published on September 16, 2002.