An unlearnable lesson?

The first time I came face to face with senseless, completely incomprehensible loss on a personal level was when I was 13 years old.

Until that time, death had been something that happened to really old people I didn't know very well. Then came a warm Saturday evening in June, and my view of the world changed forever.

It started with someone coming to the house and speaking quietly to my parents. I don't recall who it was. I remember my parents speaking in low voices and then telling me that they had to go somewhere. They wouldn't say where, but I knew something really, really bad had happened.

I later learned that they were going to the Ohio River, to a house that sat near the banks, to watch as rescue crews searched the river water for my classmate and friend, Jim Hall. They returned at dark, when the rescue efforts stopped, and that was when they told me that Jim had drowned.

I, of course, could not even begin to comprehend the reality of what had happened, and part of me refused to believe what the adults already knew. I held on tightly to the tiniest strands of hope until the next day, when the body was recovered.

To this day, nearly 47 years later, I remember the details of what followed, vivid pictures permanently etched in my memory that are still capable of eliciting a myriad of emotions.

In those days, we did not have counselors or therapy dogs or any of the programs adults now see are so important to help children -- even teenage children -- deal with an event that has shattered their perceptions of themselves and the world they live in. Perhaps there was a lesson to be learned there that would have made life a bit easier. I'm not sure I ever learned it.

I watched for more than 16 months as my father slowly lost his battle with cancer. My teenage power of denial had been lost many years before on a bank of the Ohio River. Knowing what is coming does not make it any easier.

This past spring, I experienced another massively life-changing event. Shortly after I posted a blog about how difficult it was for a close-knit community to deal with the loss of a Bellevue family in a fire, I had a heart attack. My heart stopped three different times, it taking 20 minutes to get back a pulse after I coded the third time. I still do not remember how it happened, something that continues to bother me. The doctors induced a coma to reduce my organs' need for oxygen while they rushed me into surgery. Days later I awoke long enough to ask the CICU nurse to call my mother one night. She tells me that, in a voice barely audible after days of intubation, I kept repeating, "Mom, I don't know what happened. I don't know how I got here."

The doctors had no answers. Every physician who has seen my medical records has said it is a miracle that I survived, and an even greater miracle that my brain function is intact. The part of my brain that seeks explanations still has not found the answer I apparently need.

Many in our community, I'm sure, find themselves in a similar state of mind right now as we attempt to process the loss of a young girl. We ask why, we imagine how, and we feel the intensity of the pain suffered by her family and friends.

The reality is that we may never know why these things happen to shatter the lives of so many. Various philosophers and theologians offer theories that may help console us for a time. I have benefitted greatly from the support of my own loved ones, both family and friends, and focusing on how I might bring some kindness and light into the world. I don't know if this will work for you, but I pray that you find comfort and peace. That is the lesson we all struggle to learn, and learn again.