Thursday, June 2, 2011
We arrived an hour early and discovered the parking lot to the high school was already full. By the time we parked at a church a block away and walked into the gym the chairs on the floor were full and the bleachers nearly packed. By the time the minister began speaking there wasn't an empty seat in the house.
I sat in the midst of those hundreds of people and wondered how it was possible for that much love and caring to miss the mark so completely when it might still have made a difference.
The 18 year old daughter of one of Walt's colleagues took her life on May 23. She was athletic, beautiful, and known to be a person who sought out ways to help others. Her radiant smile in the pictures of the slide show was its own form of sunshine beaming out into the darkened space. In many of the pictures she was surrounded by girls of equal grace and gorgeousness. She belonged and was treasured. She had a loving boyfriend whose speech at the service was heartbreaking. She was headed to college in the fall on a soccer scholarship. She was a hero, a role model and a young woman with everything to live for.
She also had an eating disorder, and deep wounds referred to but not identified as the minister worked to both celebrate her life and to help those sitting before him begin to mourn.
I thought I could see pain in her eyes in the most recent pictures, but wondered if I was projecting.
The minister called her a shooting star. Her time here so short, but every minute of it burning bright and leaving a trail of light that changed the lives of everyone she came into contact with.
Hers is the fifth suicide of a young person in our county in the last few months. It's the third in my life in the same amount of time. While I didn't know this young woman, I feel this loss as though it were my own. And maybe each death like this does belong to all of us just a little bit.
I find myself asking the same questions I asked when Kathleen's death was so fresh: How can a much loved person not feel that love? How is it possible for a person surrounded by people who love her, knowing everything about her, to still believe she's that alone? What makes one person able to walk through despair and another not? And where is God in all of this?
Still no answers. Only sadness.
At the end of the service, the minister asked the family to stay seated and just absorb the round of applause that was about to be offered to their daughter/sister/niece/cousin/granddaughter. In seconds every other person in the gym was standing, clapping, and focusing their love toward the front rows. It sounded like a heavy summer rain on a tin roof—cleansing, intense, enveloping.
The very last thing we saw as the service ended was the parents hugging. In itself not unusual except they've been divorced for years, and not amicably. Dad sat on one side of the aisle. Mom on the other. So even in her death, this shooting star managed to be a healing force.
And perhaps that's all we can do: Allow the pain of loss to soften our hearts. Enlarge our capacity to love in the soft soil of that new vulnerability. Seek ways to share the healing light born from that tender love.