Last Tuesday, I was sitting at work, minding my own monotonous business when my friend K texted to let me know that yet another member of our graduating class had passed away.
In the sixteen years since commencement, maybe half a dozen of our class of three hundred plus have died — a car accident, a violent mugging, a brain tumor, an overdose — and while each death was shocking, sad, and untimely, this one hit me a little harder.
Although I hadn’t spoken to JG in over a decade, I quickly thought back to the days when she and I rode the bus together every morning and afternoon from sixth grade through tenth or eleventh. Me, JG, and our mutual friend N would argue back and forth with a younger male student about which music was better – grunge and alternative or pop. In those years, we shared private jokes, had a few sleepovers, and sung songs by the Backstreet Boys and from musicals, like her favorite, Grease. Her obsession with the John Travolta movie led a group of our friends to nickname her Sandy.
Towards the end of high school, JG and I drifted apart, but there were never any hard feelings. When Facebook exploded in the mid-2000s, we quickly friended each other and I watched as she got married, had two children, and worked her way through school to become a special education teacher.
A group of us at a middle school dance, maybe 1997ish (7th or 8th grade). I’m on the top left, JG on the bottom left, and K on the bottom right. Good times. ❤
Then last week I got the text that she had passed away. While driving her car one seemingly normal morning, she suffered some sort of cardiac event that the ER could not bring her back from. For five days, I exchanged frantic, emotional texts with friends who had been closer to her and cried over Facebook posts from her heartbroken sister.
Although I hadn’t been close to JG for a long time, reading these messages broke my heart. I cried for the pain her family was suffering – her two young children, husband, sister, and parents; and I cried for everything that suddenly seemed lost – youth, innocence, and the past. I cried for my own mortality, and for the fear and knowledge that at any time, fate could tap someone on the shoulder and inform them that it’s time to go, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
I’m certainly not traditionally religious, but at one point in my life I did believe that everything happens for a reason. Other occasions besides this one have made me question this belief over the years, and this is a perfect example of why. What reason is there for a young woman to be ripped away from her young children and the rest of her family? What reason is there to inflict such pain on so many people? What reason is there to cut short the life of someone who was just minding her own business, living a normal life? I toiled over these questions for most of the week, crying randomly, then feeling foolish for doing so over someone I hadn’t seen in sixteen years, then feeling selfish for thinking about my own mortality and the fear it instills in me on a regular basis.
After a few days, as the shock lessened and I had the opportunity to think about all the good times, I also came to realize that maybe things like this happen to simply provide a wake up call and put things into perspective. Because after JG passed, her Facebook wall was filled with messages about how funny she was, how bright, how kind, and what a good mother, sister, and daughter she was. No one commended her for her recent weight loss, no one congratulated her on whatever her salary may have been, and no one rejoiced in what a clean house she may have had. When someone dies, we all pause for a moment and think about what really matters in life.
So while I normally would have spent the week obsessing over the dust bunnies in my house, the toothpaste in my bathroom sink, and the size of my jeans, instead I took time to read, to write, to hug my husband extra tight, and take a long, slow swim.
I also took time to reflect on how thankful I am for the recent changes I’ve made to my life over the last year and a half, not only with my anxiety, but with my writing and general productivity. Two blog posts ago, I complained about feeling like an inadequate writer. And while frustration is certainly very real, I should still be grateful that I’m doing what I love again at all. Sadly, it takes a tragedy like this to make us realize what truly matters.
My good friend K and I went to the funeral home visitation, and it was horribly surreal and bizarre seeing a woman our age – a few weeks short of her 33rd birthday — lying in a coffin. But as we hugged her family and friends and mingled tears with laughter, we spent more time talking about the funny and crazy moments in JG’s life as opposed to the last few that stole her from this world.
So thanks for the memories, JG. Thanks for a few moments of nostalgia, and for the wake up call that brought us back to realizing what’s really important in this life.
And as my friend K said in a memoriam posted on Facebook in honor of her good friend, goodbye (for now) to Sandra Dee.