I learned to Rollerblade in high school. Spring of my senior year, to be exact. I'm not sure why I never learned as a kid (maybe I couldn't put down the latest "Babysitter's Club" book or maybe I had to practice the piano, or maybe I was just too chicken shit...) but I knew I couldn't attend college in the 90's without Rollerblades. So I headed out to Dunham's and used a friend's employee discount to purchase my sweet new wheels. Then, I strapped them on and went searching for a place to learn-- this before "recreation trails" were found criss-crossing most towns. I wound up at our town cemetery where smooth concrete paths and small gradual hills created the perfect place for me to practice my new hobby.
I always parked my Reliant near my grandpa's headstone and thought of him as I buckled up my blades. While I'm still not sold on the idea of an afterlife (and wasn't back then either), I've always believed in a continued energy that extends beyond us when life ends. I always felt my grandfather's presence during those times and as I skated around the park, I enjoyed the peace that seemed to have settled all around me. Perhaps it was the result of the smooth and methodic sound of my wheels gliding against the pavement, or the slightly meditative state that comes from performing repetitive and comforting movements. Or maybe that peace came from the energy of the souls laid to rest in the park.
As I glided through the cemetery paths, I often wondered about the people who had gone before me-- I studied their names and reflected on their birth and death dates. I noted special symbols, pictures, or tidbits engraved on the headstones-- and wondered what specifically influenced their survivors to choose them. Angels and puppies, butterflies and flowers, golf courses and even college mascots. They all told a story, did they not? Even now, when I visit a cemetery I find myself wondering, who were these people? What was their story? Why did they die so young? How did they live so long? What happened that they died so close together? How did they touch other lives? Who did they leave behind? Were they happy? Were they lonely? And how is this world different because they were here?
Last week, we returned from the funeral of my aunt and uncle. They died suddenly as the result of a tragic and senseless car accident. And while people are killed in auto accidents every day, a person never really believes it is going to affect them. Rationally, I understand that my tribe is just as vulnerable to accidents as yours, but nothing prepared me for the shock of hearing this news.
In 2015, we said goodbye to my grandma Viv on Charlie's birthday. We mourned her death, but truly celebrated her long 92 year life. We shared stories about her life, reminisced about the wisdom and truth she brought to us, and felt grateful to have had her in our lives so long. Later that year, my uncle died suddenly from an aggressive form of cancer. We were shocked and stunned. We mourned his death but couldn't quite celebrate-- as it didn't seem fair for someone to have been taken from us so quickly and without reason. My heart broke for my cousins-- all of whom are my age-- with young children who now were missing their grandfather. Now, with the deaths of Mary and Mike, my heart feels like it has been broken wide open again. This time, I'm mourning for them, but more so because of the pain my cousins must be feeling.
I wish there was a way to carry their pain, to ease the weight upon their shoulders for just a few moments. Long enough for them to play with their children, eat a nice dinner, or get a full night's sleep, without remembering the nightmare that has become reality right now. But of course, this is not possible-- as much as we wish it could be. So instead, I remember these people we've lost and answer those questions about the life they lived:
* Mary & Mike were amazing people, who really connected with their family, friends, and community.
* Their story is decades old-- a love story, a family story, an Iowa State Cyclones story, a community-volunteers story, a 'faith-filled' people story, a 'people you want to know' story.
* They were taken suddenly in a tragic accident
* This couple that seldom left each other's side also died side-by-side
* They touched many other lives-- probably more so than they ever even knew-- lives of their children, their grandchildren, siblings and nieces and nephews, friends, students, and community members
* They leave all these people behind, mourning their absence but remembering their presence
* This world is different because they were here. They connected to people, they found time for others. They truly said 'yes' to the life they were living
We all know how fragile life is, but when we are dealt cards like this, it's impossible not to think about our own mortality, the choices we're making, the life we're living, at this moment. And as we grieve those we've lost, we discover gems of comfort by taking time to remember stories and anecdotes, and honor the legacy that they leave behind.