There comes a moment in every person’s life where the everything seems to crash down. Moments like these are more frequent then we’d like to admit. One minute your life is all good and normal and you feel like “Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie is your theme song. Then all of a sudden…
It. Just. Stops.
I’m talking about that level of Earth shattering news that leaves you so shaken that nothing else seems to matter and you feel like you are walking in a fog. No, this isn’t about one of those huge national events that shock the entire world. Everyone is affected by those, or at least they should be. No, I’m talking about the kinds of things that affect only your microcosm of this globe, as the world around seems to just continue spinning on.
For me, it was five years ago. I had been on Facebook, and saw a friend of mine, Kari, on line and was about to ask her a question about something, that now seems pretty pointless. I can’t even really remember what it was. That’s when I noticed very bizarre messages appearing on her Facebook wall. Among the first was “sleep well.”
A previous status read “Ooo, thunderstorms!” Logically, I assumed maybe she had a paranoia of storms and her friends were hoping she would “sleep well.” Then the messages started to pile on. Prayers for her family and husband, John, who was also a good friend of mine. Then came the kicker “Rest In Peace, Kari”.
I did a quick Google search and felt my heart stop. The usual early news stories were already hitting the web, with more info to follow. Not that more information was needed. The brief sentences said all that was needed. Kari had been killed in a car accident coming back from her first ultrasound appointment.
I shook my head. It had to be wrong. It had to be someone else. Anyone else. I sent an e-mail to John, just to see how he was doing and see if this was for real. The following morning, John had replied and, had hit the “send” button on his response a total of 15 times, with a quick simple message:“I just wish this was all a bad dream.”
That day, everything felt numb, as though a canon ball blew a hole in my gut, and minor irritations seemed much worse. The kid in the checkout line at the gas station complaining about how not getting ice cream made that day “the worst day ever” and how his dad was the “worst person ever” was more annoying than usual. The irate customer who was tearing into me at work over company policy of checking ID when paying with a credit card seemed more hostile. The cursor flashing over a blank word document took down no new thoughts or ideas. A good friend was dead, and none of it made any sense.
Three months earlier. That is how long ago it had been since I had last seen John and Kari. We caught up briefly during intermission at a band concert back at our old college. All we had talked about was just the same old same old. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, if I had known it would be the last time I’d talk to Kari, I’d have thought of something better to say.
The weekend came, and my one of my best friends, Josephine, picked me up. It was an hour and a half car ride to the funeral but it felt so much longer. I’ve been on car rides that were long due to distance, such as several family car trips from Minnesota to the Oregon coast. I’ve also been on rides that were long because of awkwardness. The one where my sister had left her purse at a McDonalds near the Washington-Oregon border when we are only miles away from our final destination and my dad snaps off the radio in frustration and none of us in the car wants to say anything. The trip back to the zoo with Josephine to try and find her missing engagement ring in the parking lot when her fiancé Nick had given it to her only a week or so earlier, and she is worried he’ll be angry and saying something seemed like it would only make her more upset.
This was different. Josephine and I talked on the trip down to the funeral, but our hearts were heavy by the loss. To add to it, Josephine and I had driven down that same stretch of highway to that same church to witness John and Kari’s wedding three years before. We never imagined we’d be driving down for Kari’s funeral. Then again, no one ever expects to go to a funeral for a friend while they are still so young. We expect that our friends will all be by our side when we have to bury our parents, and while you know that inevitably you will have to say goodbye to each other one day, but you hope to be old and grey and moving around like Yoda.
There was also that lingering specter of the first stage of grief, denial, that remained in our hearts. I don’t think anyone else in our circle for friends will admit to this, but I know for a fact that up until walking into that church there was still some glimmering embers of false hope that Kari wasn’t gone. Once we took our seats in the sanctuary, there was no more room for denial.
I barely made it through the first song without crying and the whole service was a blur of heavy emotions as we remembered our friend and said farewell. There was a luncheon but no one felt like eating, we mostly just talked and enjoyed being with old friends again and expressed our condolences to John and the family. Josephine and I made a quick stop at McDonalds on the way back for a snack and to just hang out a little longer as in moments like that, while you know you have to get back to reality, you want to cherish the time you do have with those who are still with you.
The ride to Kari’s funeral was the longest ride I ever took. I hope that I won’t have to make that kind of ride again for a long time. However, no one knows how long we have. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. One minute you’re on Facebook, thinking of old friends, the next you learn they’re gone. All that can be done is to cherish the time you do have with them, and hope that they will be with you on those long rides. If they are, then you will find that longest ride so much more bearable.