I work in the same general area in which I grew up. This has allowed, on many occasions, for me to see patients with whom I crossed paths years earlier: former classmates, instructors, bosses, parents of friends. It can be awkward, but is usually pleasant and sometimes even funny. Always eye opening. Last week I found myself face to face with the father of a girl who died back in 1984, someone I met in kindergarten.
She was the sweetest. Fact, I remember chasing her (and being chased) around the church playground, ending with her planting a kiss on my cheek, possibly the first given to me by someone who wasn't a relative. She loved Disney and all its characters. She often wore a blue checkered dress with her name stitched in next to Winnie the Pooh.
We went to different high schools, but I still saw her at church. While most had become insufferable brats during junior high (myself included), she remained a light. Truly Christlike. She was a tremendous influence on her cheerleading squad. But then, on the way back from an out of town game, the van in which she and several others were riding flipped over. The news was chilling and numbing. The funeral was held at my church. I can still see the parking lot, painted lines ignored as hundreds came out to mourn.
I was confused and ultimately, angry. I lamented the way many before and since have when such a sweet person is taken away. It did not make sense, someone with so much to offer. Why couldn't it have been me, or one of my bitter friends? A bunch of miscreants who only offered the world sarcasm and disrespect?
As I sat her father down for a hearing test, I did my usual case history. Something he said made me realize who he was. I was reluctant to ask, unsure if it would open an old hurt. He was instead very willing to discuss his daughter, how in her only 15 years had brought joy that continues to this day. How many others still around still think about her as I still do. She had a brother who now has children of his own.
Dad never left the area. He relayed more details of the accident, one that may have been avoided if not for poor urban planning. The discussion spring boarded. He told me that he and his wife unofficially adopted a young girl in the late 80s. A girl who married one of my high school buds who now lives in North Carolina. The ol' small world thing. We both smiled now. We talked so long it threw the morning schedule into a tizzy.
My grandfather died the same year as Debbie. I still think about both frequently. I talk to them, explaining to my grandfather (who would've been 107 this year) that his bride is still with us, about to celebrate her century mark. I tell Debbie about this insane vortex of tech in which we live, and wonder what she would've been like had she joined the rest of us as we approach middle age. Would she be married, with a minivan filled with kids? Or still single, trolling Match.com or ChristianMingle.com? Would she still be a devoted, Scripture-quoting Christian? Or would she have all but turned her back on her childhood faith like so many of our class and church-mates have?
I did not share these inquiries with her dad, but I'll bet he's wondered on all of that. Thoughts that haunt and fascinate. To go along with those unanswerable "why" questions. Perhaps there will be an explanation when our times come. Maybe she'll be the one to explain.....