A little more than a week ago, I was back in Michigan for some college football camps with my son Alex.
On Saturday morning, after dropping him off at the U-M camp, I went to Our Lady of Good Hope Cemetery (I think it is in Wyandotte?), where my grandparents and Scott Mattern are buried. I stopped first to pick up flowers to place at their gravsesites (and this took me a good bit longer than anticipated, because the florist that used to be right near the cemetery is no longer there). I know the general location for the headstones, but after searching fruitlessly for awhile, I had to go back to the office to ask for the exact location. They gave me a map and out I went again. After more searching, I finally found my grandparents graves, spent some time trying to clean up the overgrown grass around their headstones, and then placed the flowers.
I was not so lucky in finding Scott’s gravesite. I had the general coordinates from the office, but no matter how much I searched the area, I couldn’t find the stone. I just went around and around in circles – frustrated knowing that it was right there and somehow I was too blind to see it.
After 15 minutes or so, I looked down at my phone and realized that my time was up. I went back to the office, explained my predicament, and asked the very nice lady there if she would be able to have someone bring the flowers out to Scott’s gravesite. She said she would be happy to take them out there personally and offered to go back out with me if I want to take them myself.
Unfortunately, I had already wasted too much time searching on my own and didn’t have another minute to spare. I thanked her for taking care of it and, as I turned to leave, I literally started sobbing – as I’ve explained before, it doesn’t really take much to generate that kind of reaction.
I felt that not finishing the job myself, I was letting Scott down. And all the pain and sadness of that cold January day 34 years ago dropped down on me like it was yesterday. I quickly walked to my car, hoping the nice lady hadn’t noticed my convulsions as I walked out the door. And then I dried my eyes as best I could and went on my way.
That is the thing about this kind of loss – it NEVER goes away. The hole in your heart will NEVER be filled. You learn to live with it, and you go on – because that’s what we do. But your life is never, EVER, the same again.
I’m reposting this today, in memory of my wife’s sister Dana Blair Allen, who passed away 27 years ago today. She will never be forgotten. May she Rest in Peace.
Never The Same Again (Originally posted January 28, 2014)
I woke up today, not really any differently than any day I can remember in the recent past. Thankful for all that I have been blessed with and thankful for another opportunity to cherish those blessings.
And then I was reminded of the date – January 28. Like many other dates in my life that have a certain specific meaning, for one reason or another, it is a date that often creeps up on me, unexpectedly. And then it arrives and smacks me in the face. Or punches me in the gut. Or kicks me in the balls.
We all have dates like these in our lives. Markers that signify important points in our life’s journey. Some are happy dates – a wedding anniversary for example. Some are unhappy dates – like the death of a grandparent. Some of these dates rise to yet another level altogether, because they remind us of a moment in time when our lives were profoundly changed, never to be the same again.
I woke up on January 28, 1983 probably not much differently than any day before it. Still lying in bed, not fully awake, a friend came into my room to tell me the unimaginable news that two of our classmates had been killed in a tragic car accident. And the world was forever changed.
Many people don’t get the clean slate to write their own stories. Their life starts with other people’s bad decisions having an impact on their journey. Through no fault of their own they live with consequences of someone else’s shitty decisions and their lives are forever altered. Bad things happen to good people.
There is no doubt that this is true. I thought about that comment this morning, when the calendar assaulted me. My two friends, Mike and Scott, were killed “through no fault of their own” when someone else made the VERY shitty decisions to 1) get drunk, 2) get behind the wheel of a van and 3) get on the interstate highway going the wrong way. As a consequence of those awful decisions, three people died and the lives of everyone else they touched were forever altered.
I’m not a theologian, and I’m not going to attempt to explain why I think bad things happen to good people (at least not today). As I’ve said before, I believe that God has a purpose and a plan for each of us. But it’s cold comfort to those who lost brothers to say that there was a “higher purpose” in the death of their loved ones.
My wife (girlfriend at the time) suffered a similar loss with the death of her younger sister Dana in a car accident in 1990. Not a day goes by that she isn’t remembered. The dates of June 21 (the day she died) and July 12 (her birthday) are especially difficult for my wife and those who knew and loved Dana.
It’s different for me, because I never met her myself (my wife and I had only been dating for a couple months when the accident occurred). I feel sadness for the sorrow of my wife and her family (now part of my family) and I feel sadness for the loss of a life cut short, with so much still ahead of it. But it’s hard to personalize a death, when you don’t actually know the person who died.
I do, however, understand the pain. It’s a pain that I have felt these past 31 years. A pain that I am reminded of EVERY time I see the Number 22 (Scott’s football number, but I can’t help but think of both Mike and Scott when I see it), whether it is another athlete wearing that jersey or the parking space of my rental car or my order number at a fast food restaurant. A pain that you learn to live with as time goes by, but that never leaves your heart.
On some days, that heart feels a just little bit heavier. You look at the calendar and you are reminded of a day that changed you forever. When things would never be the same again.
Rest in Peace Mike and Scotty. Rest in Peace Dana. Gone, but NEVER forgotten.