A Christmas morning tragedy hits close to home

Joel Baudouin and his mother, Marie Vernet, died on Christmas morning after their car was hit by a falling tree.: Photo courtesy Baudouin family.Joel Baudouin and his mother, Marie Vernet, died on Christmas morning after their car was hit by a falling tree.: Photo courtesy Baudouin family.

Christmas morning should be a time for unwrapping presents, preparing for an afternoon meal, and enjoying the company of close family and friends. This year, the peace of those special hours came to a sudden halt when we learned of a terrible overnight accident that claimed the lives of two neighbors and friends.

Joel Baudouin, 42, and his mother, Marie Vernet, 70, of Dorchester, were killed at 1 a.m. on Christmas morning as they drove to visit relatives in New Jersey. A tree toppled along the side of the road and came crashing down upon Joel's car as it moved along the center lane of the Garden State Parkway. A state highway official characterized it as a freak accident, something that would be impossible to replicate. Joel's two young daughters in the back seat were spared, although the older of the two girls, 13 year-old Rachele, remains hospitalized.

As news spread through the city's tight-knit Haitian community, the Lower Mills home of Joel's younger brother, Edouard and his wife Kenya, soon became the epicenter of mourning. All day Christmas, and in the days since, their apartment has been been filled with well-wishers bearing food and condolences and prayers.

Together, they cheered themselves with fresh memories of Joel, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on Thanksgiving with family and friends in this same Lower Mills apartment. A well-known photographer in the Haitian-American community, Joel worked as a manager at Children's Hospital. He loved to cook, paint and share his artist's eye for photography with friends. More than anything, though, he loved his daughters - and they loved him. Mrs. Vernet was a former nurse's aide and devout member of Dorchester's Temple Salem Seventh Day Adventist Church who was renowned for her talents in the kitchen. She was devoted to her grandchildren, as well as her own four adult kids and was beloved by her neighbors in Grove Hall.

The mysteries of life - and of our own mortality - came crashing down on Christmas Day. The nature of this freak accident just added to the surreal loss. How could it be that two vital, loving and caring people could be taken from us in such a way, and on this of all days? More than one was heard to ask, 'Why would God do this?'

There is, of course, no good answer. It is left to us - as a community, a neighborhood - to rally around our friends and provide an embrace that eases a pain too great for words and beyond the grasp of reason. In doing so, we seek a balm for our own wounds and relief for this awful reminder that we, too, are just visitors to this place.