Jessica called me last night to tell me she'd just learned that a boy she knows had been killed in an accident. Wesley had delivered the news with the unnerving sentence, "Guess who died?" Remind me to teach him the meaning of "segue."
The news was disturbing, especially for Jessica.
"I don't know how to feel, Mom," she said. "I want to cry but I can't."
There was a good reason for this. This was not the nicest kid. In fact, he had regularly harassed my kids in his high school years. That was bad enough, but a few months ago Jessica had called me very shaken to say a carload of boys had pulled up beside her at a traffic light and the driver - this boy - had yelled insults at her. She described him as looking "crazy," and said he then tried to cut her off as she was driving back to her apartment. For days she worried that he might know where she lived.
But nothing came of it, and she hadn't heard of him again until she'd found out about the accident that took his life.
It's easy to mourn someone you love. It's harder to mourn someone you never liked. We spent some time talking about that, and later she called me back to say that she and Wesley had passed the memorial service at his high school. Lots of people were there, she said.
"I guess he did have friends," Jessica said, and started remembering how this boy always seemed to be fine his own, but at his worst in the company of others. The picture she painted wasn't of a monster, but of a follower who liked to look tough for his buddies. I could hear Jessica's voice - along with her perceptions - softening as she spoke.
I reminded her of my friend and editor who'd died of brain cancer. When I was a reporter, he and I locked horns over everything and it was easy to dismiss the sweet, fun side of him and just see him as an obnoxious boss. Now that he's dead all I remember is the sweet, fun side of him. And I miss him.
This is a good lesson, I told her, for how we should do life. Instead of waiting for the death of someone to see the good in them, maybe we should do it when they're alive. Seeing the good in people would lead to friendships, and no ambivalence upon passing. Every death deserves mourning.
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