Adam Dzialo

Adam Dzialo
Our son, Adam Dzialo, age 30

Monday, July 23, 2012

Moving from Apology to Forgiveness to Closure ... It Can Happen!

     July 24, 1998 to July 24, 2012...the fourteenth anniversary of Adam's near drowning and we acknowledge this day each year as a re-birth, a time to reflect.  This year, it is important to  remind ourselves  of the power of apology and forgiveness.  The previous blog of a few days ago described the details of the accident and the silence and indifference of the college and the State of Massachusetts.  This caused obvious pain which could not simply dissolve into the netherworld of forgiveness ..."turning the other cheek" is the worst biblical adage.
    I read a book, many years into this process:  On Apology, by Dr. Aaron Lazare.

"One of the most profound interactions that can occur between people, apologies have the power to heal humiliations, free the mind from deep-seated guilt, remove the desire for vengeance, and ultimately restore broken relationships. With On Apology, Aaron Lazare offers an eye-opening analysis of this vital interaction, illuminating an often hidden corner of the human heart.
He discusses the importance of shame, guilt, and humiliation, the initial reluctance to apologize, the simplicity of the act of apologizing, the spontaneous generosity and forgiveness on the part of the offended, the transfer of power and respect between two parties, and much more. Readers will not only find a wealth of insight that they can apply to their own lives, but also a deeper understanding of national and international conflicts and how we might resolve them. 
The act of apologizing is quite simply immensely fulfilling. On Apology opens a window onto this common occurrence to reveal the feelings and actions at the heart of this profound interaction." ( book description)

   I bought several copies, passing one on to the college president.  After meeting with him, he agreed to mediate and dialogue about my need for apology so that closure could occur.  We worked regularly, the president, Sharon and I, and our mediator to achieve what all of us initially believed was unattainable.  Six months of work, commitment, tears and brutal honesty.  Not easy...many times either side neared walking away, but no one ever did. There was apology, there was forgiveness and there was genuine closure.  I have never experienced the depth of honesty and dialogue which evolved in the process and probably never will again in this life.  The following is an apt description in the news media.

DIANE BRONCACCIO Recorder Staff *1/12/2008
GREENFIELD -- Almost a decade after young Adam
Dzialo of Greenfield was severely injured in a river
accident during a camp program run by Greenfield
Community College, the family got something that was
important to them: an apology.

At an all-school meeting in GCC's Sloan Theater, about 100 college
officials, staff and faculty members met with Adam, Sharon and Philip
Dzialo to express compassion and wish the Dzialos well as they leave
Franklin County, their home for 30 years, and move to Falmouth, on Cape
Cod. "By offering this apology, we hope to facilitate healing, not only for
you but for our campus and community," GCC President Robert L. Pura
told the family. "I don't think anyone can fully understand your suffering.

The least that GCC can do is to continue to try and understand, as best we
can, the magnitude of your suffering and the ways in which we have been
responsible. Be assured that our remorse is deeply felt, our commitment to
learn from you and never forget is sincere. I pledge on behalf of the college
that GCC will never repeat the behaviors that contributed to your distress."

Adam Dzialo turns 22 on Monday, which will be his last day of school at
Mohawk Trail Regional School. A near-drowning accident during a GCC
summer camp program on the Deerfield River in July 1998 left the then 12-
year-old boy with brain damage and mobility loss. He remains in a
wheelchair and still spends several hours a day in extensive, home-based
rehabilitation therapy.

Philip Dzialo, the longtime principal of Mohawk Trail Regional School,
retired 1 years ago; Sharon Dzialo, who left her job as a counselor at the
Franklin County Technical School to care full-time for Adam during the
first years after the accident, returned to her job for a couple years before

In 2004, the Dzialo family received a $936,000 settlement from the state
for Adam, who is likely to need medical care for many years to come.

But the settlement didn't bring the emotional closure that came with
Thursday's meeting, according to the Dzialos and to Pura.

What brought Pura and the Dzialos together this week was a book that
inspired Phil Dzialo, called "On Apology," by Aaron Lazare, the retired
chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Phil Dzialo
said the book "helped me see things and understand them better. It gave us
some tools to make the bridge (to the college)."

He e-mailed Pura, saying the book had given him more clarity about what
the Dzialo family needed for closure on the tragic accident. He asked Pura
to read the book and to talk to him.

Pura read the book, which talks about what constitutes a genuine apology
and how the process can change personal and even international strife.

Then the Dzialos and Pura met in several mediation sessions with David
Singer, beginning in April, to resolve remaining conflicts.

Thursday's meeting between the family and the college community resulted
in more openness, trust and even enough ease for the groups to be able to
laugh together and joke, said Pura. "Many described yesterday's event as a
dark cloud lifting," he said. "We all want that for Aimee (Adam's sister),
Adam, Sharon and Phil."

"There were a great many tears," he said of the meeting. "There were also
tears of joy, in seeing this incredibly strong and courageous family."
"As a family, we had wanted this and needed this for a long time," said
Sharon Dzialo.

In his apology, Pura expressed regret for several mishandled steps
following the river accident. They included the college's failure to contact
the Dzialos right after the accident; instead, the Dzialos didn't know Adam
was injured until contacted several hours later by the hospital. He also
apologized for the lack of contact and support from the college during the
first hours that the Dzialos waited at the hospital, not knowing whether
Adam would survive. The items also included the college's failure to have
written a letter of apology earlier to the family. Most of the incidents Pura
cited occurred before Pura was hired by GCC in 2000.

Phil and Sharon Dzialo, in accepting the apology, acknowledged "there
were many good people" at GCC who "expressed a deep compassion for
our journey. We are aware that, in an atmosphere of litigation, it is difficult
for anyone to express their feelings and to act upon them."

Singer said conflict-resolution "is not the norm" for most people in a
situation like this. "When conflict arises, fear sets in and people are
distrustful. That tends to happen immediately. Sometimes, people stay that

The Dzialos and Pura praised the mediation process that helped them. "I
think the important thing is, for the community to know, that the resolution
of conflict is very possible and very real," said Phil Dzialo. "I hope the
process we went through publicly will help serve as a model of hope for
other people."

As the Dzialos prepare to move to Cape Cod, Sharon Dzialo said, "we
hope to invite new people into our lives." Phil Dzialo, who works with the
ARC of Franklin and Hampshire Counties, says he intends to remain active
as an advocate of the services that the ARC provides for people with
cognitive disabilities.

Adam is also excited about the prospect of moving on, according to his
mother. "I tell him we're going on vacation for the rest of our lives," she

Copyright, 2008, Greenfield Recorder

   That story led to an editorial by the newspaper which I share:

EDITORIAL *1/17/2008 Time and healing What are
the ingredients necessary to foster healing? Patience, a
healthy environment and a desire to restore one's
health are part of the package.

And, of course, time. Recovery and healing are often governed by time. It's
part of human nature to want healing to happen quickly. After all, accidents
or tragic events seem to happen in a blink of an eye, why can't recovery
move just as quickly?

Healing, though, sets its own pace.
Time and the other ingredients were finally aligned in the relationship
between the Dzialo family and Greenfield Community College, to create an
opportunity to bring healing and a sense of peace that has been elusive for
almost 10 years.

There's no person, then or now, who wouldn't want to turn the clock back
to prevent the circumstances and events from unfolding as they did on the
Deerfield River in July 1998, where a 12-year-old boy named Adam
Dzialo nearly drowned while participating in a outdoor adventures day
camp sponsored by GCC.

The accident left the young Dzialo with brain injuries and mobility loss that
are a part of his daily life and which require continued therapy and medical

It changed forever the course of his life and that of his family.

And it led to bitterness from some in Adam's family toward the college
over the way the accident was handled. Now at least that bitterness has
been resolved.

As GCC President Robert L. Pura said during the meeting between the
college community and the Dzialo family, "The least that GCC can do is to
continue to try and understand, as best we can, the magnitude of your
suffering and the ways in which we have been responsible. I pledge on
behalf of the college that GCC will never repeat the behaviors that
contributed to your distress."

For Adam Dzialo's parents clearly there was a desire to bring about
closure to promote greater healing. Making that happen, though required
crossing the divide that had been created with the school.

The methods to do so, said Philip Dzialo, Adam's father, were found after
reading the book, "On Apology" by Aaron Lazare. Dzialo reached out to
Pura and GCC and with more time and the help of mediation, they were
able to find a way to accomplish what was necessary -- an appropriate
apology and the acceptance of that apology.

Paul Boese, a Dutch physician and botanist who lived from 1668-1738, is
credited with writing, "Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does
enlarge the future."

By reaching this point, the Dzialo family and GCC can move forward and
create, we hope, brighter futures.

It has taken time, but this healing can now take place.

Copyright, 2008, The Recorder, Greenfield, MA

       So, we celebrate the 14th year!  Healing, Apology, Forgiveness and Closure are distinct human possibilities, but not with mutual work, outside assistance, honesty, sincerity and love.  It can happen, but not should happen, often!  This is Adam's lesson and one of his contributions to community!


  1. Wow. I am humbled by this powerful, powerful chain of events and your words. Thank you for posting them, Phil. I send all of you thoughts of peace and love and ease.

  2. Love it. You all continue to inspire. All the best and I am truly looking forward to our next reunion! Cheers!

  3. Phil, Sharon and Adam; as a new anniversary approaches I send many hugs; your journey of care,love and forgiveness is such a humbling experience for so many of us. May we all continue to tread lightly on our earth xoxo

  4. Sincerity is a state of mind we can reach only after letting go our inborn fear, of the perceived state of weakness when 'giving in'. No one wants to admit they were wrong and then no growth can occur. Mistakes are made and tragedy ensues.
    But in this case the tragedy has brought about such change, though extremely harsh, also blissfully honest. True change in human perception is evolution.

    Once again I salute you and your family Philip, an inspiration to us all.

  5. A great post, as always. You strength as a family to not only get through life, but to forgive and then, set an example to the world continues to inspire me.

  6. I like "never ruin an apology with an excuse"-- hadn't quite considered before how negating that is.

  7. There are many lessons to be learnt from your story.

  8. Thanks to all for the kind comments. The experience which I described was a defining moment in our journey...I wish that such a process could be used to deal with the many other issues which happened in our lives...I guess that many people do not feel it's worth the effort, but we keep trying!

  9. Hafiz writes:

    Sharon, Phil, Adam & are human diamonds
    for being !

  10. This is so beautiful. I am a bit lost for words.
    I just had a quick read of a review of the book you mention, "On Apology" by Aaron Lazare, it looks brilliant... there is a lot to it..
    Thank you
    Love from us in NZ

  11. Phil,
    Mahalo for this post and your previous one. You, Sharon and Adam continue to inspire me. As I mentioned on a blog link, Miranda's school has as new Headmaster and I am hopeful for the first time in a number of years that he will at least try to make real changes at the school. He even responded to my e-mail appropriately and timely, so I do believe there is hope.

    I was off-island when he responded, so I still need to get back to him regarding what I would like the school to do. His response is a nice change since neither the former Headmaster, nor the former high school dean ever expressed true regret.

  12. Thank you for sharing this, Phil. It's truly touching and very thought-provoking.

    I feel fortunate to know you. :)



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