In Memoriam: UPHS Alum, this one’s for us

I just cried like a baby.

One of those deep cries that is borderline wailing. As I type this, I can still see the goosebumps on my arms, raising up from my pale, sunscreened skin. I am so sad.

Within the last week+, I learned about the death of two of my high school classmates. Two. And I’m not even forty. I didn’t know them well. I knew their faces, I remembered their mannerisms and their smiles in history class and in the halls of my very rural public high school.

Tonight I also learned about a third classmate, who past away months ago. And although I probably haven’t seen her in decades, or spoken with her in many years, she was one of the most cheerful people in school. I remember her cheering for me on the high school tennis team; her determination was fierce, but it took a close second only to her jovial sportsmanship. If I close my eyes, I can see her on the sidelines after she finished singles and I began my doubles match. She was wearing her white, polyester tennis skirt and a gold, collared team shirt. My win would be her win.

Tonight I caught myself crying, my head buried in my arms, hunched over the granite island in the middle of my close-quartered kitchen. I was dumbfounded as I thought to myself:

“These people all have young children! This is not fair! This is not the way that life should be.” When I think about these children being raised without these parents, Oh, God, I cannot bear the pain.

I immediately think of my own children, so grateful to be alive. At the same time, this horrific thought occurs to me: how would my kids get by without me?  I cry even more before realizing that my daughter asked me to leave her door open when she went to bed tonight. So I caught my breath, swallowed the cries, and tiptoed to her room, gingerly shutting the door so she could not hear me in tears. God, be with me and my children.

I grew up in a small town. We called it “the valley.” It was one of these “blue ribbon” school districts that won many awards. We prided ourselves – or perhaps our school administrators prided themselves – on it. But we’ve had our fair share of troubles: high school shootings, rampant drug addictions, and DUIs that made top-news in the local Town and Country paper. Some of us are still here. Many of us moved away.

But on nights like this, even those of us far away don’t feel so far away from home. Because the truth is, when stuff like this happens, I feel very close with my classmates. I feel connected to this place. I send random hug gifs to those in the valley. And I pray for someone who I haven’t seen or spoken with in years. Because…we have a past together; because their pain is our pain; because that moment, that touch, that look, that smile, that perhaps-even-tiny connection we made with them in homeroom class touched a deep part of our fleeting souls that we didn’t fully appreciate…until now.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy like this…or three tragedies…to have these feelings. As my father, of blessed memory, would say: “That ain’t right.” But that’s the way it is. We can’t label these feelings. We don’t know how to describe them. But they are there and they affect us. We are in this together; we are together – despite our distance.

I made myself a hot cup of tea before I sat down to write this. Echinacea-flavored Yogi tea, for immune support. I might need it after a day like this. If only we were immune from this stuff: these diseases, these tragedies, this pain. My Yogi tea bag message says it all: “Give love, get love.” And so we shall. And so we will.

Rest in peace, Bill.

Rest in peace, Jared.

Rest in peace, Rachel.

We, those who grew up with you, those who were raised and taught with you, those who cheered for you, even those of us who weren’t even friends with you, remember you and pray for you and love you. In your memory, we will spread love and random acts of kindness throughout the valley and beyond.

We’ve got your families in our prayers. We’ve got your children in our loving arms. We are going to get through this…together.