Last week a boy at EJD’s high school died while riding his bike to class. EJD and I must have passed him on our way to school that morning because he died on the same road we’d just traveled.
I can’t encapsulate the magnitude of screaming, aching, ragged pain his death brought to this town, and to his family and friends. He’d missed the bus that morning. It was garbage day in the lovely town of Charlotte so naturally garbage bins clogged sidewalks on the heavily trafficked roadway, on which there is no bike lane. This 14-year-old boy, Drew, rode swiftly while maneuvering the smelly obstacle course. Police surmised one handlebar clipped a bin and Drew fell into the street then a tractor-trailer instantly captured his life.
The next day EJD and I again drove down the same street. A lone boy walked away from the small impromptu memorial set up on Sharon Road where Drew died. From my passing vantage point on the other side of the street the boy’s lanky gate looked lethargic and dejected. My son sat passenger’s side. He whipped his head around and exclaimed, “That’s Drew’s best friend!”
That’s right sweet boy, I thought, your buddy is gone. It was unmistakable and untouchable, that boy’s pain. I hoped a mom or dad would hold him tight that night.
I don’t know what happened the morning Drew woke up to go to school, a news story said he’d missed his bus, hence the bike ride. I told my 15-year-old son I hoped Drew’s mother hadn’t said “You ride your bike to school!” I hope some version of that didn’t happen.
I imagine almost every death of a loved one leaves second guessing in its wake. Perhaps that excludes some illnesses. My own sister killed herself about 14 years ago and I still think of the “what ifs.” At this late date I am finally learning to relinquish some responsibility. The tide of life moves in and moves out, slowly filling in our painful crags. But the tide for some people consists of tears, and the unexpected death of a loved one is the death of trust and possibility; sadness becomes part of the rhythm of life.
That is why we all need swimming lessons, so the undertow can’t claim the survivors.