I hope you guys don't mind a bit of a rewind post today, but a friend reminded me the significance of what yesterday was, and I'd like to re-post this in honor of my friends who also still mourn this friend, but also for her family. It has now been 24 years since our friends' death, this post is my homage to her and her affect on me, and on everyone in our community. We miss you Laura Jo!
Today is a special day, but also a sad day for me and for many of my old friends. 24 years ago yesterday, I was a senior in high school....and 24 years ago yesterday, we all lost one of our most special friends and classmates. I wanted to share the story of that day with you, and some of how it affected me.
October 20th, 1989 was a Teacher Workday and, as I said earlier, I was a senior in high school. I went to Eastern Guilford in Gibsonville, NC. My parents were at work, and I believe it was a Friday. Saturday was cleaning day at our house normally, but because I was home I was working on getting it done a day early, as I had some other things to do on Saturday. It was sometime around or after lunchtime I think, and I was vacumming the living room when the phone rang. It was my best friend at the time, Tracy on the other line. She told me that Laura Jo was dead. I think I floated up out of my body when I heard that, and I asked her to repeat what she said. Through tears, she again told me "Laura Jo died, it was a car accident." I don't remember much after that except that I melted down onto the floor and just cried. I immediately called my Mom at work to tell her the news when I was able to speak again. I was - and still am, very close to my Mom and I share everything with her. I didn't know much about the details, only that it was a head-on collision with a truck at a back curve on Mt. Hope Church Road here in McLeansville.
I discovered later, probably Sunday at church that she had been down at the haunted house working for most of the day. See, our youth group had a haunted house we put on every year at this old abandoned house (it has since been torn down), it was our big fundraiser for our summer mission trip. We worked for months before Halloween getting things ready for 3 days of long lines of people parading through. My plan was to go work there on Saturday. Anyway, she worked there with some of the guys all morning and then left to go home when the accident happened. To this day, I don't know if she veered over or if the truck driver did...I guess it doesn't matter.
Monday arrived and we all went to school. I don't know about everyone else but I was numb. I had cried all weekend and was exhausted emotionally. They had grief counsellors at the school available for us to talk to, I remember just sitting in the library talking with classmates, reminiscing and remembering Laura Jo.
The funeral was brutal, and huge. We went to a rather large church and it was standing room only that day. I don't remember much about it, or the graveside service. It was emotional, I know that and I do remember visiting her gravesite many times over the years.
After her death, our class grew very close. We were a small group, and we clung to each other to cope with her death. She was a popular girl, everyone loved her. She was involved in several sports and organizations, she was posthumously voted Best All Around in our superlatives for the yearbook.
I knew Laura Jo from the time we were both in preschool at the daycare at our church. We went to kindergarten together, and basically grew up together. We weren't very close friends when she died, something I regretted. We didn't have a lot in common - she was very athletic and I wasn't, we just had completely different personalities I think.
Regardless, I had a really difficult time with her death. This was the first time I had experienced such a loss, especially of someone my own age. I was forced to consider my own mortality, and realize that life is short. When you are 18 as I was then, your whole life is ahead of you and you think that you have all the time in the world. That was the first time it really hit me that things can change in the blink of an eye. It really took me awhile to work through the grief and all the feelings I was having about her death. I started writing to deal with it - first journalling, then poetry, then I started hearing a melody in my head...which turned into a song.
I was playing in a band with some musicians from my church at the time, outside of the youth group I was in. We played at a few locales around town and rehearsed in a basement. I shared with them my song and finally in the Spring of 1990 we had the opportunity to share it with the community. The school had an event, a sort of "battle of the bands" type thing and we performed a set. I debuted my song at this event....and received my first and only standing ovation. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life, to share a song that was so personal to me and that had provided me with such healing.
Graduation was sad for us, we all had to say goodbye to each other after a very difficult year together. We all went our separate ways, I didn't run into any of my former classmates anywhere until we started reconnecting on Facebook. There have been a couple of reunions, but I have had to miss them.
What's the takeaway from this post? I'm not sure I know. Just that everyone experiences loss and grieves in different ways. What is the story of your first experience with death? How did you deal with it?