by Terri Winder
I first became acquainted with death when my Uncle Stanley was killed in a car accident, while on his way with friends to Cortez. He was 16. I had barely turned six.
He was a memorable presence in my life, almost more like a brother than an uncle. I remember things like the Mickey Mouse paper dolls he gave me for Christmas.
I remember walking with him and his friend, Doug Rasmussen – who was also killed in the accident – only I wasn’t walking, they were swinging me between them. One, two, three steps, then they would swing me high as I laughed delightedly.
On that particular day, we were on our way to the rabbit pens to feed the rabbits. As we went, we passed by an old car that they were trying to restore.
I am told that I called Doug “Guggie”. Then, on a beautiful spring day, everything changed. The car they were riding in went out of control and they were gone from our lives forever.
I remember my father lifting me up so I could see Stanley in his casket. He had a small scrape on his forehead and I thought if I were allowed to kiss that hurt better, he would come back to life.
I couldn’t bring him back to life with a touch, which seemed peculiar to me, for he had touched so many lives during his short time on Earth.
Why did he have to die? His death seemed a double tragedy because it came just a few years after the death of his older brother, Bob Barton, a high school student who was killed in the same accident that took the life of a young mother and Monticello High School teacher, Marge Redd.
When I was in seventh grade at MHS, yet another auto accident took the life of a girl just a few years older than myself. I did not know her personally, but her death affected me greatly.
I have become better acquainted with death in the ensuing years, but familiarity does not necessarily bring acceptance. Like others, I have questioned the recent tragedies that have occurred in our communities, and grieved for bereaved families.
Such senseless deaths. Such memorable deaths. The kind people dwell on, mourn over, and dispute. With every fiber of our being, we ask why, and find no satisfactory answers. Yet, in the asking we are drawn to the source of all answers, and while we may not understand His reasoning nor His plan, in the searching we lift ourselves to a higher level.
Is there purpose in death? Reason dictates that it must be so. If there is purpose in life – and that is unarguable – then there must also be purpose in death.
If nothing more, tragic death helps to teach us the value of life, how precious each day is. It is also a warning that there are no guarantees: no one is immune to death’s grasp.
Beyond that, on a much more personal level, is the influence of the people who we feel were taken from us before their time. There is no sadness for the way they lived; only sadness that they live no longer.
Yet, had they lived longer, would they have influenced us so profoundly? Would we have recommitted ourselves to making each day count; to live our lives in such a way that we would not only be more ready for our own deaths, but also more ready to help others truly live their lives?
Recently, I heard a man say, “If I live to be 105 years old, I will not influence as many people as Mike did.” He was speaking to a friend, who had just lost his 22-year-old son.
Life’s lessons are not learned in the presence of ease and comfort. Unbroken hearts cannot be enlarged. Hopefully, what we have experienced as a community will make us better, more compassionate people. Only then, can these losses be accepted and understood.