Unthinkable grief

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It’s every parent’s nightmare. You send your young adult children off into the world, and then receive the worst possible news.

Our heart aches for the parents of Tavaris and Tavaughn Bulgin, the Jamaican nationals who jumped off Big Bridge, got caught in the dangerous current, and were found dead in Sengekontacket Pond.

By all accounts, these were two fine young men who came to the Island to work at Nomans in Oak Bluffs. That night they were with seven of their co-workers, blowing off some steam after a shift at the restaurant. From what we’ve heard, this was a weekly event for the co-workers.

This time it ended tragically.

We feel for Doug Abdelnour, owner of Nomans, and the many co-workers of Tavaris and Tavaughn. We’ve known Doug, who also owns Nancy’s, to be a caring and compassionate business owner when it comes to his employees. We recall, for example, in 2017 when there was a delay in visas, and Abdelnour sent his private boat to help popular Nancy’s bartender Donovan Clarke get to the Island: “Because he and five other H-2B workers from Jamaica arrived well after the last bus to the last ferry, Mr. Abdelnour hired a car to take them to Falmouth. Around midnight on Friday, he crossed Vineyard Sound in his own boat and picked them up.”

Abdelnour hasn’t spoken about the tragedy publicly, but did write about it in setting up a GoFundMe for the family of the two young men. The outpouring and generosity has been incredible, far surpassing the $50,000 goal that was originally set for the fund by nearly five times.

According to Abdelnour’s post, in Jamaica, Tavaris was “well-known as a beloved teacher,” and Tavaughn was known as a “musical prodigy” and a gifted soccer player. They studied business at the University of Technology, Jamaica, and the University of the West Indies. The campaign also highlighted the brothers’ Christian upbringing, playing music in church and taking an active part in the ministry of their father, the Rev. Keith Bulgin of Palmers Cross New Testament Church of God. Abdelnour wrote that Tavaris and Tavaughn “were destined to make an impact in every community they served and every endeavor they pursued.”

“Their enthusiasm for life, commitment to God and their church, and impact on their community are how family and friends remember them. They leave an unforgettable mark on the community of Martha’s Vineyard, their hometown of Clarendon, and the entire country of Jamaica,” Abdelnour wrote in the campaign.

There will be time to talk about bridge jumping and whether more can be done to protect those who join in what has become an Island rite of passage. At some point, we can discuss whether more signs should be erected to warn individuals about the dangers of the currents. And it’s still too raw to consider whether law enforcement should take a more active role in keeping individuals from jumping off the bridge.

For now, what the family, friends, and colleagues of Tavaris and Tavaughn need is our compassion.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, a frequent visitor to the Vineyard, knows the type of grief the Bulgins are feeling. Raskin has been open about his feelings after his son, Tommy, 25, committed sucide on Dec. 31, 2020. Raskin wrote about it in his book, “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and Trials of American Democracy.” Within days of his son committing suicide, the attack on the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump occurred.

“My book is not a how-to book on grieving, because I don’t know that that exists,” Raskin told People magazine. “Everybody’s just on their journey in dealing with death, just like everybody’s on the journey and dealing with life. Any glimpses of understanding I got, I was willing to share.”

The family and friends of Tavaris and Tavaughn Bulgin will grieve in their own way. What we can do is show them support, empathy, and compassion.

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