On the eve of my seventeenth birthday, I received a frantic call from a close friend: her sister had been killed in a car crash. In reality, both of her precious siblings had been in the car that day, but one had been spared with a short hospitalization and released with her jaw wired shut while the other had been declared dead shortly after impact. At sixteen it is hard to comprehend the death of those only a few years older--they had so much life left to live. We had so much life left to live.
A week later the service was held to celebrate a life cut short by a drunk driver on I-5. I was scheduled to run in a race during the service, but opted for an early morning race at the same invitational, and hopped in the car with one of my coaches for a frantic two-and-a-half hour drive back into the city. The comparison was not lost on me as we weaved in and out of traffic on one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the state--anything can happen, any time. We are not owed another day.
I stood in the back of the church since our late arrival afforded us few seating options. I watched as the surviving sister stood beside a friend who offered to read her eulogy. She could not read it herself due to her injuries. I watched as sister who had passed was grieved by her fiancee who strummed his guitar and sang to his lost love. I watched as the slideshow played the countless memories of her twenty-some years of life--endless reminders of how much was lost by her family. This was a precious member who would never be replaced, never be forgotten, never be fully grieved.
A year and a few months later, I lost my father. When the news came, I was speechless, even though I knew his health was failing, even though I knew this was realistic possibility, even though I'd been hanging on reports of his health for seven weeks. In the days that followed I struggled to interact with my friends, who walked on egg shells around me unsure of what to say. In the months that followed I resented those around me that failed to remember my grief, to acknowledge that my loss still burned within me. In the years that followed, I learned the cradle the ache I felt with the loss of my dad every time it came to the surface--sometimes at expected times, sometimes catching me with total surprise.
This week marked thirteen years since my dad's death, thirteen years of wondering what might have been different. In October we travelled to a farm belonging to one of my dad's closest friends from high school. Originally a dairy farmer, his friend had remastered his land into the quintessential elementary school field trip--corn maze, pumpkin patch, hay rides all included. The pig show delighted my two year old daughter, and someday my son will cherish the hay maze and slide housed in the old barn. After years of struggling to make it, this family has developed a business that rewards their hard work. My dad would have been so proud of his friend, and happy for his success--and he has missed it all. My dad would have loved ride behind the tractor pulling a trailer stacked with hay, carrying his grandchildren, and he will never know them.
Today a friend I have known since junior high found out her sister died. She was traveling the world, relishing her freedom as a single twenty-something with no mortgage and few responsibilities. She died hiking a trail with a few well-known treacherous points, and lived her last moments doing what she loved--traversing the wilderness. She wasn't yet 25.
I found myself shedding tears on multiple occasions this afternoon after hearing the news of her death. While she and I were not close, her sister and brother are people I have been close to for years, and her family is precious to me. I grieve for the loss of everything that might-have-been: her nieces and nephews that will never know her, her parents who are left without one of their children, her siblings who have lost a part of their shared history--and shared future.
Most people don't lose an immediate family member in their teens, but now that I am in my thirties I see more and more of my peers joining the ranks as those who grieve. Billy Graham once commented that "old age can be a lonely time," and I imagine that is very true. When a loved one dies, you move on, but you don't forget. The absence remains weeks and months and years later. As we get older and lose more and more of those close to us due to death--both foreseen and unexpected--we become less attached to our lives on earth and more intent in our pursuit of heaven.
As a pregnant woman readies for labor, so uncomfortable with the child she would prefer the pain of delivery over the continued confinement, so we grow weary of this broken world. We desire more and more earnestly the promise of heaven. Until then, until we meet our end, we grieve. We ache for lives ended too soon; we long for what might have been. We press on.