One of my former students passed away on February 28; she was 29 when her car was struck by a dump truck that skidded on the ice. I'm still struggling with this loss. One of her classmates just found out today about Bess' death, and he remarked about how we forget about how fragile life is and how much we take it for granted. Sitting at Bess' funeral, I vowed that I would never take my life, or the people in it, for granted, ever again, but reading Pete's message, I realized how easy it is to fall into our old habits...to complain about the little things rather than appreciate the wonder of our lives.
I was very lucky. I had only seen Bess once since she graduated (I think it was 1997), but in October, she felt a yearning to be back in the northeast and made a trip home to Connecticut to see her parents. She made a day trip to Kildonan and took my friend B.J. and I out for lunch. It was so lovely to see Bess. She was not an easy adolescent. I enjoyed teaching her, but she was really in a lot of pain as she struggled to find her place in the world. When she first came to Kildonan, her mom had recently passed away, and she was angry and lost; add some dyslexia to the mix, and you have the makings of a tricky teenager. She learned to trust school again and learned to trust adults. She graduated, went to college, and decided college wasn't her thing. For a few years, she didn't know what to do with herself, and then she went to Colorado to live with her cousin.
Bess flourished in Colorado. She learned to snowboard and went to work at Breckinridge Resort as a snowboarding instructor. When she died, she had just been nominated employee of the month. In the off season, she worked for the parks and recreation department, mostly planting flowers for the town. I met some of her Colorado friends and listened to them talk about her; she built a new family out there.
She told B.J. and I all about her job and her friends and showed us her pictures of the mountains. She paid for lunch because she wanted to repay us for what we had done for her, but we slipped the money back in her purse when she wasn't looking. We went back to school so she could talk to a few more people. I told her to come say good-bye when she left. About an hour later, I got a call from her "I forgot to say good-bye, so I called to say good-bye." And that was it.
I was lucky. I got to meet this new, grown up, happy, peaceful, and settled incarnation of Bess. I was able to go to her funeral to say good-bye and share my memories with her father and step-mother. Many of her friends were not so lucky. Pete said "I liked her so much...although in high school I was a jerk to her." I reassured him that she had only good things to say about him, which was true, but I can imagine it would have been difficult for him to believe it. So tonight, I hurt for Pete who not only didn't have the chance to meet the Bess I saw in October but who also has to carry the burden of feeling he didn't get the chance to tell her how he really felt.
Life is fleeting. Live it.