Monday, April 20, 2009

In Memoriam: processing the death of a friend.

Meagan Len Holder, 1991-2009, 17 yrs

Last Thursday morning, I was making breakfast for the kids when I got the phone call. One of my kids from Gorman (a youth group I'd worked with)had been in a car wreck. She'd died en route to the hospital, in a medi-flight helicopter. I was not able to really process the information. I thanked Mr. Laminack for calling and letting me know and then I went back to cooking eggs.


That is the process by which your brain protects you from emotions that threaten to overwhelm you. Learning of the death of a loved ones typically triggers it. Over the course of the day, I began to absorb the enormity of the information. Meagan is dead. I began to go over memories I had of her. To be quite honest, I hadn't seen her for a few years. My contact with her had been limited to a few online chats or instant messages on MySpace. I knew she was excited to be a senior and was looking forward to graduating. To learned she'd been killed in a car accident... wow...

Later that morning, I got a call from her father. Despite the past 4 years of working as a chaplain at the hospital and the hundreds of families I had walked with during the final hours of a loved one's life... I didn't have any words for him. Our conversation was short, he asked me if I would be willing to speak for her at the funeral. I agreed and he said he'd let me know the details as soon as they got her body back from Ft. Worth.

In the midst of all of this, I looked to my oldest daughter, Mary Hannah. 7 years old (almost 8!). In 10 years, she will be 17, on the cusp of adulthood, ready to strike out and blaze her own trail. The following day, Friday, I was sending her with her grandparents to California. They were going to meet up with their cousins for a day at the beach and a few days at Disneyland, the ultimate memory making trip. Nana and Poppa had been planning this for months and although we were initially reluctant (a bit jealous, maybe) to let her know, we knew she would have the time of her life. This day, though, my thoughts were only on picking her up from school and holding on to her with all my strength.

I think losing a child to illness or to some random tragedy is perhaps one of the most difficult things a parent can experience. It feels more acute if you lose a child when they are young, but losing a child at any age, infant to adulthood, just feels wrong.

The funeral was very well attended. It seemed like most of the town of Desdemona, where Meagan was born and grew up, and De Leon, where she attended high school, had turned out. Many of Meagan's friends honored her by duplicating one of her trademarks: boots with the leg of the pants tucked in. Stories were shared and memories affirmed. Meagan will be missed by her friends. She'll be mourned by her family. Nothing will ever be the same for them, but in time, it will be okay again. Death does that. Here are links to her obit: CLICK HERE and to the Eulogy I delivered: CLICK HERE.

After the interment, I was waiting patiently as people came by to shake my hand and thank me for speaking for Meagan on behalf of her family. My phone rang, vibrating impatiently in my pocket. Stepping away from the funeral crowd, I saw it was my daughter calling on Poppa's phone. "DADDY! I'M IN THE OCEAN!" Without waiting for me to say more than, "hi", she shouted at me over the roar of the surf. She's never been to a beach, much less the Pacific. She told me about seaweed as big as she was and sand castles and waves and getting saltwater in her mouth. I managed to get in a few questions and exclamations before she signed off, "I gotta go, Daddy. I can't hold the phone because I'm all WET!" And then she was gone. I was smiling again. Until I turned around and saw the coffin, waiting for the crowd to leave so it could deliver it's lone passenger to her grave.

I walked back over to the Holders and asked, "Are y'all about exhausted? I'll bet you're tired of everyone telling you how sorry they are. No matter how sincere and well meaning they are, there comes a point in your grief where you really just wish everyone would love you from over there." Donald Wayne nodded. Stephanie thanked me for the eulogy and I gave Jeremy a hug. Then I took my own advice and took my leave of the family.

The drive home took an hour or so and I listened to music on my iPod. I called a girl from my Enid youth group who is also 17 and about to graduate because I felt melancholy. We chatted for a few minutes until I lost the cell signal. When I got home, Ethan and Eleanor ran to greet me at the door. "Daddy! You're home!" I wrapped them up in a big bear hug and smiled.

Meagan is still dead.

I'll be okay again soon.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Beautiful tribute. She seems to have known herself pretty well and I am sure she'll make your grandmother laugh when they meet.