Technically, its days plural, but I didn’t like the sound of that in the title. If you don’t like the topic of grief, I suggest you just stop reading now. 🙂
Grief is a topic I am well-acquainted with, unfortunately. I am in no means attempting to assert that I am an expert at dealing with it, but I have had lots of practice. It’s really not a contest I’m trying to win – quite the opposite. There are many others out there who have had much more tragic experiences, so I gladly tip my hat to those who have waded their way through the tatters grief leaves in its wake.
This particular post is to speak specifically about the loss of 3 of my friends, but I always like to mention others who have gone before me to be with Jesus as their presence made a difference in my life, such as both my grandmothers, my dad, my stillborn son, an uncle, an aunt, my sweet niece, one of my best friend’s little girl, my pawpaw (the only grandfather I ever knew as both of mine died before I was born), family friends including our dear neighbor of many years, my friend’s dad (she’s one of the 3 mentioned), one of the most precious women I’ve ever met (my new step-father’s late wife), two of my friends mothers, and an older gentleman who I worked with and attended church with who would always banter with me in his dry sense of humor. I’ve known many other people who have gone on to be with the Lord and attended countless funerals, but these are the people closest in my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances whose absences were notable.
June 2, 1997 – 20 years ago
Keri is her name. She was the first person to leave my life in a way that left a gaping hole. Today is actually her birthday. She would’ve been 38 years old. She turned 18 just one week before her tragic car accident. She wasn’t present at her high school graduation. Her mother, father, and sister received her diploma. She was a scholar (yet gullible at times), a beautiful dancer, and a light in every room she entered. She lived by the mantra, “Smile, God loves you!”
I met Keri when I was 4 years old. My family moved to NC as my dad accepted an assignment to pastor a church there. Keri and her family attended the same church. Keri was 3, I was 4, her sister was 5, and my brother was 5 or 6 depending on the time of year. My mom has always said we were stepping stones in age. My brother and Keri’s sister played more together and left Keri and I to play together. Of course, we all played together many times. They lived across a field from us so we could ride our bikes back and forth to each other’s houses.
Even in high school, I remember trying to drag sleds across the field to Keri’s because she had a huge hill on her dirt road which was perfect for sledding. Keri saw me struggling to make it in the snow and came to meet me halfway to help carry the sleds. I saw her at her baccalaureate the night before her accident. I’m grateful for that night. Since Keri was a year younger, we always had our own group of friends from our own class/grade. She was my back-up friend and I was hers. If our friends were busy, we could count on each other to have someone to hang out with. I remember at the funeral home, I was standing next to her casket and an employee asked if I was family and said only family was allowed at that time. Keri’s mom said, “yes, she’s family – they’re like sisters.” That meant the world to me. Still does.
I love telling stories about Keri – fun times shared throughout our growing up years, her OCD issues, the songs she loved to sing in church and the other songs she liked to listen to in the car. This year marks 20 years without seeing her smile in person. I’ve lived longer without her than I ever had with her. Every once in a blue moon, I’ll see an old car and wonder if it’s her before my brain remembers it can’t be her. When I hear those songs she loved, I smile. Occasionally, a tear will escape (like today as I write this).
March 6, 2002 – 15 years ago
Baker attended Keri’s memorial service. He was an intern at the church where I attended youth and Keri was involved there as well. He was so supportive throughout that loss. He gave me a cd (well a tape back then, but I eventually found the cd) with a song about death. It quotes 1 Corinthians, “death where is your victory, where is your sting?” I remember going to lunch with him one day as I had a lot of family issues going on at the same time of Keri’s death. I told him secrets I wasn’t comfortable telling anyone else. He was a faithful friend who could be trusted with my fragile state. I only knew Baker a short time. I wish I had met him sooner and stayed in touch with him longer. I was living in Florida when a mutual friend called to tell me of his passing. Nonetheless, hearing that the world in which I’m living no longer had him in it was a blow. First Keri, now Baker, I still don’t understand why it’s the most amazing people that get called Home so soon. It somehow makes this world less attractive to me. Baker was 25 then and would be 40 now. Just trust me when I say, you would be a very blessed person to have just met Baker, much less to befriend him. I count myself blessed to have known him the short time I did. He was, in a sense, an angel to me. He was there when I needed an extra loving touch from God and then he was gone.
August 19, 2007 – 10 years ago
Dan’l knew both Keri and Baker as we all attended the same youth group. I was maybe 17 or so when I met Dan’l. I went with my brother to this youth group and this kid (complete stranger, mind you) came and sat on my lap, introducing himself as Dan’l. I remember asking him again what his name was – it took me a while to get it. He was only 3 years younger than me, but he seemed so much more like a kid because of the innocence he portrayed. We became quick buddies. I remember at a youth trip out of town writing him a letter of encouragement. For some reason that stuck out in my memory. Like Baker, Dan’l and I lost touch as we grew and moved away from home, living our adult lives.
However, I don’t know why, but I tracked him down at some point and just called him out of the blue. I went to stay with my dad in Washington state because he was ill. Dan’l lived in Idaho at that time. We stayed on the phone for the longest time catching up and sharing what was going on in our lives. I remember in that first phone call after years he told me a story about a girl and mentioned he hadn’t told anyone about some of the things he shared. (I couldn’t remember what he said about the girl to save my life now). But it made my heart smile that he so quickly trusted me again after all those years. We agreed to meet in Boise which was halfway between where he lived and where my dad lived. It was a long drive for us both, but we made it work. I’m crazy enough to do stuff like that, but I never expect anyone else to do the same. It so blessed me that he drove hours just to meet me and hang out for half a day to turn around and drive hours back home. I recall that he kept calling me on the drive to meet me just to check on me, well that and he was probably bored. 🙂 We had a great day. We went out to eat and then to a Starbucks. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I got the best Dan’l hug of all time that day.
Dan’l didn’t just hug people. Dan’l embraced people in a way that makes you feel completely accepted and loved just the way you are. He had such a welcoming spirit that just enveloped you. It was that day I saw Dan’l in a different light than the kid I once knew. That was also the last time I saw Dan’l in person. From that day on, Dan’l and I either spoke on the phone or chatted online every day. We both kept trying to talk the other into coming to visit. I was in Florida and he was in Idaho. If I had only known, I would’ve moved Heaven and Earth to go visit him.
Dan’l died from a fatal motorcycle accident at the age of 26. He’d be turning 36 this summer. It was totally a God thing that I was informed as early as I was. No one really knew the extent of our daily conversations, so no one would know that I would want to know asap. A friend of Dan’l’s who I had never met before called me on a Sunday around lunch time. When she introduced herself as a friend of Dan’l’s, I knew something was wrong. I had a hunch something was wrong because I attempted to contact Dan’l the night before and never got a response, which was out of character for him. She said she saw that Dan’l and I seemed to be good friends on Myspace (and I have no idea how she found my number unless it was on there) and she told me about the accident. Then she said telling me was harder than she thought and she couldn’t call anyone else. I had the pleasure of meeting her and thanking her in person at the memorial service in Idaho. My brother gifted me flyer miles to make it out there. Dan’l’s family was gracious enough to let me stay with them. Otherwise, I couldn’t afford it. I remember asking Dan’l’s brother what Dan’l did the day of the accident. He told me what happened the night of the accident, for which I’m grateful, but I still don’t know what he did all day. I was so accustomed to sharing with him about my day and hearing all about his.
Dan’l’s death changed me in a way the others hadn’t. It’s one of those tragic unrequited love stories. We never actually had a conversation about our feelings for each other, so I was left with the loss of my best friend, the loss of the hope of what I wanted for the future, and the loss of having no answers – ever. I was left with no closure. God has really healed me and I feel like I have received answers, at least answers I choose to believe. Dan’l told me once he still had the letter I wrote him from our youth trip. I didn’t believe him until his family was going through his belongings. His mom handed me the note and asked if that was from me (it was signed dana). Sure enough, my handwriting and everything.
Dan’l was calm, steady, wise, and larger than life. He didn’t get ruffled easily, not never, but not easily. Whenever I’d discuss a problem with him, his advice was always, “you should pray about that.” He loved golf and always responded the same when I asked about it, “The first nine were glorious, the back nine I don’t want to talk about.”
I’ve since found closure, but I still miss my friend.
I miss all my friends who are dancing in Glory now. I’m sometimes frustrated that they’re there and I’m here. It’s bitter sweet. I’m happy for them, sad for me. I picture my heart like a puzzle made from thousands of pieces, each shape unique and not like any other. It’s a puzzle with missing pieces in the shape of Keri, Baker, and Dan’l. The picture will be complete again one day. In the meantime, I’m so utterly grateful to have had these beautiful, amazing people in my life for the short time I did. If I had to do it over again, I’d go through the pain and heartache again just to spend the time with them. Each one of them is so worth it. I’d rather have the pain from the loss than to not have the joy of calling them friends. Now, most memories come with smiles instead of tears. When the tears do come, they are a simple reminder of the love and friendship I have.