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Dealing with a sudden loss

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Sergio Klor de Alva, right, is seen with supervisorial candidate Joel Engardio. Klor de Alva died April 25 in a car accident on Highway 1 just south of Devil’s Slide near Pacifica. (Courtesy Joel Engardio)

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It’s always hard to deal with death. But when it comes suddenly and takes someone who is young and full of passion and potential, it is devastating.

About two weeks ago, Sergio Klor de Alva died in a car accident. He was 24. Friends described him as a hard-working idealist, known for his enthusiasm and optimism. He dreamed of working in politics, of fighting for social justice.

But he didn’t come from privilege or have the connections within the political machine that make it easier to get jobs. He was an outsider in the ultimate insiders’ world.

So Sergio paid his dues. He studied politics at UC Santa Cruz. He took unpaid internships and volunteered in local political campaigns — such as Julie Christensen’s run for supervisor and Scott Wiener’s state Senate race — doing whatever needed to be done. Through sheer determination and hard work, he proved himself over and over again. Like a sponge, he absorbed everything he could from each experience. Finally, he got paid positions, most recently as coordinator for Joel Engardio’s current supervisorial campaign. He was living his dream.

“Sergio was smart, motivated, full of energy and promise,” Engardio said. “He had a huge heart and huge talent. I always let him review everything we did because he had such good instincts and insights.”

When news of his death spread, the reaction was swift and often visceral. Armand Domalewski, a colleague and friend, posted, “You’re not allowed to die, Sergio Alva. You’re just not. You were too sweet, too good, too kind.”

For many of his friends and colleagues, this was the first death of someone they knew, especially someone near their own age, Domalewski said. Even though Armand knew he was gone, he still texted Sergio’s phone with the words, “no, no, no, no, no.”

There’s really no “right” way to grieve, as Sergio’s friends are discovering. Some people cry a lot, others not so much. You just have to give yourself and others the space and support to cope with the loss, even though each may do so in different ways.

Basically, you just have to live through it.

The night of the day he died, a group of Sergio’s friends gathered on the steps of City Hall. Friends who knew him when he was growing up came over from Oakland and mixed with those who only knew him through his political work in San Francisco. More than 40 people gathered in a tight, intimate circle on the steps and shared stories about Sergio. Everyone learned more about the multifaceted young man who loved politics, basketball and rap, who always had a smile on his face.

The best way to remember Sergio, his friends suggested, is to live your life more like he lived his. Be positive. Engage in issues; don’t ignore them. And focus on giving rather than being selfish. “That way, a part of him will continue to live in each of us,” Domalewski said.

Sergio’s friends are also dealing with the loss of what might have been. “He was finally making it, finally getting what he deserved,” Domalewski said, “and that was taken away from him. He had a lot left to give to the world, and now that can’t happen.”

Sergio had drive, ambition and goals. It’s a cliché, but true — he wanted to be “somebody.” Judging by the outpouring of love expressed on the steps of City Hall that night, he was definitely “somebody” to everyone who was there.

It’s a testament to his personality, his hard work and his determination that even though many had only known him for a few short years, his loss was felt so strongly by so many.

It’s always hard to deal with death. It’s not fair. It hurts. The friends and colleagues of Sergio Klor de Alva, who hadn’t experienced that before, now know those most painful truths.

Sergio, you are missed.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park, and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

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