On the eve of her senior year of high school, one of our daughter’s oldest friends died unexpectedly.
Within a couple hours of hearing the heartbreaking news, our daughter and I drove back to our old neighborhood and the house of good friends. This was something of a second home to the young man — no, boy — we’d just lost. He and our friends’ daughter were so tight, so like brother and sister, they were often teased that they even fought like siblings. Although they hadn’t hung out together quite as much since the varying interests of high school took them in different directions, the loving survivor was understandably devastated. Having been one of the few people who’d known for several days he was in bad shape, she still wasn’t prepared for his death.
Who at 16 or 17 is prepared for the sudden death of a peer? I didn’t have to face losing a good friend overnight until I was nearly 40. And although a lot of the kids who showed up for what I dubbed an “Irish Wake for a 17 Year Old” had lost beloved grandparents and family pets, I doubt any of them had said goodbye to someone their own age. Until that Saturday morning, they were walking around with heads full of SAT scores, college applications, and their latest Facebook profile pictures. Now their hearts were full of confusion, disbelief, and the novel pain of fresh grief.
As we grown-ups sat discretely on the screened-in porch, we heard snippets of conversation. The dad of the house noted how there’d be rolls of laughter, followed by silence. Truly heartbroken, the stricken teens were as unsuccessful at holding back tears as they were in stopping smiles while they remembered their lost buddy.
We also heard tales of where they were or what they were doing when word of the tragedy hit them. Like my parents’ generation’s Pearl Harbor Day, and our own 9/11, this morning would forever mark a historically pivotal moment in the lives of those huddled in the family room; and while all certainly needed and lent moral support, a few seemed to be on hand because they had to be part of something bigger than they could digest alone. Like battle-wise soldiers, they gathered strength as they instinctively closed ranks against an all too real world.
This inaugural loss for our daughter was followed within two years of graduation by the sudden deaths of two classmates. They ran with different crowds than our daughter’s, but still their passing brought home a sense of mortality that people so young shouldn’t have to grasp, much less master.
The growing list of “gone too young” got longer again two weeks ago when an 18 year old boy from our town, a kid our son talked to and got to know a bit on the bus ride to and from school, first lost control of his car and then the battle for his life — as did a girl with whom this same boy would have graduated, had she not been in a car accident the summer before their senior year.
As a mom, I can’t help thinking of and praying for the parents left behind. As a sister, I share the pain of losing a sibling too early in life. But how do these kids — who don’t yet have a full sense of the terrifying flight of time, who dream of the decades and the living still to come — process and absorb such sorrow, such loss?
And just how much can these naturally hopeful hearts take?
From her Woodsboro home base, Susan writes for both for both fredericknewspost.com and The Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.