Remembrances, Reunions, Goodbyes

I spent my first fifteen years of education in small private schools.  My middle school and high school were one in the same, with 300 students in six grades.  My class was the largest, at around 68 students when we graduated in 2006.  Since walking the stage, I’ve only seen a handful of my former classmates, though of course, thanks to Facebook, I’ve been able to at least see what everyone has been up to.  We have a little Class of 2006 group where we all share updates on our lives.   We were the kind of class who didn’t have bullies or cliques.  Yeah, we all had our own little groups within the group, but truthfully, for a small class of private schoolers, we got along really well and we still support each other.

Last week, one of those classmates was killed in a tragic accident.  I hadn’t seen Ross since our graduation day, nor had I really stayed in contact with him, but it was still a huge shock.  You read stories about young deaths online, and you think, “Oh, how sad.”  But deep down, you never think that it will happen to a family you actually know.  It doesn’t quite register that it’s a real death, a real loss.  Even tragedies like the Newtown shooting, while horrific and heartbreaking, seem more like something you’d read in a sad book than experience in reality.  I can’t imagine what that kind of pain feels like, and to be totally honest, I don’t want to.

This morning, I, along with several of our classmates and band mates (of which we were both members), attended his funeral.  I’ve never been to a funeral for a young person, which is a little strange, especially considering my first book is about ghosts and tragic deaths.  The thing is it’s really easy to write about tragedy and loss when it’s fiction and no one is actually hurting.  Experiencing it first hand is a completely different, and heartbreaking, experience.

Walking into the church was surreal.  At first, it appeared splendid and beautiful, decked out in wreathes of red, green, and gold, Advent candles, and a tall and beautiful Chrismon tree; a glorious temple waiting in joyful anticipation to celebrate the birth of our Lord.  It was so joyous that for a split second, I forgot that I was supposed to be at a funeral.  Then I noticed the simple brown casket, outlined in white satin, facing the alter, and looking terribly out of place in such a festive setting.

I don’t really want to go into details, because in the end, the details don’t really matter.  A young man lost his life, a mother lost her son, a sister lost her older brother, a young girl lost her soul mate.  And all so close to what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.

After the service, we all gathered for a small reception and to pay our condolences.  It was touching to see how many teachers and students from our high school had made the time to attend.  As I said, several of us hadn’t spoken in years, but to be honest, it felt like no time had passed at all.  We all still had that bond, that mutual sense of camaraderie, respect, and friendship.  It’s amazing how close we all still are, not only to each other, but to our teachers as well.  I’ve always known I was lucky to have had the high school experience that I did, where we all genuinely cared for one another, and the teachers all treated us like we were their own, but it’s also easy to take the good things in life for granted.  It’s moments like these, the really tough ones, that remind me what true teachers, and true friends, really are.  We might not be as close as we once were, but I know if I ever needed anything, I could call on any one of those teachers or former classmates, and they would be there for me, as I would for them.

Near the end of the reception, Ross’s mother bravely stood in front of the room, thanked us for our prayers and outpouring of love, and implored us to remember the true meaning of Christmas; the love of God, our Savior, family, friends, and spending time together.  You won’t find Christmas at a mall or wrapped up beneath a tree.  You find Christmas in the love of those around you, in the moments you cherish, in laughter and joyful conversation, in driving around with friends drinking hot chocolate and looking at Christmas lights.

Remember to love, to embrace, and to be thankful this Christmas.  And, if you would, say a prayer for those who suffer, those who are lonely or sick, and for those whose holiday will be spent missing a beloved son, brother, and friend, whose young life ended far too soon.

4 thoughts on “Remembrances, Reunions, Goodbyes

  1. Jackie, thanks for sharing these poignant words, especially on behalf of those of us who couldn’t be there and haven’t been able to express our feelings so aptly.

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