I was fifteen when it started, when my eyes were opened to the fact that death is real. That any day could be your last with someone. That people die without fully living life. That it affects everyone. Even me.
It was the end of my freshman year of high school, the beginning of June. I was on my way to school around 6:50 AM, when I heard the news on the radio. There had been a fatal motorcycle accident, and those involved were my best friend’s Dad and his girlfriend. The announcement did not say if one or both of them were gone. All I knew was that I didn’t want it to be true. I picked up my phone and called home crying. My mom could barely make out what I was saying. After finally putting my mumbled words together, she said, “Go to the library, and wait for me. I will be there in twenty minutes.” There I sat, on the curb of the library parking lot, praying that all of this was some big joke, some misunderstanding. I was just with Frank and Leslie two nights ago. There was no way they could be gone. Twenty minutes later, it became a reality. Leslie was gone. I had no clue how to handle it, and even worse, had no clue if my best friend was going to be okay.
Leslie’s death was an eye opener. My best friend and I got through it together. When I wanted to be weak, I had to be strong for my best friend who saw her second mom’s life flash before her. Together—and with the support of our family and friends—we learned that the pain from death was great, but we knew life would go on. While I had become aware of the realities of death, I still lived in denial like everyone else does. It won’t happen to me.
But, two months later, it did. One of my best friends from freshman year, Lance, went into cardiac arrest during a fun run, and after two days of fighting, passed away. He was just fifteen years old, and he was gone. Without even having a sip of alcohol, having sex, graduating, going to college, getting married, having children, he was gone. I could not wrap my head around the idea. Luckily, we had an amazing teacher who got a group of 30+ of Lance’s friends together and helped us to pass two laws in Connecticut, requiring Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) at sporting events, to help save lives of other people like Lance. AEDs are a portable electronic device that is capable of treating cardiac arrest through the application of electrical therapy to allow the heart to reestablish effective rhythm. After two years of working together to not only pass these laws, but also raise thousands of dollars to help schools in need purchase AEDs to increase the chances of saving lives, and putting on an annual fun run, I was learning to accept Lance’s loss. And two years later when my friend Richard died of cardiac arrest at a wrestling match, it was much easier to cope. I felt like I had made something good come out of their deaths. Maybe this was God’s way of motivating me to help others, and save thousands of lives along the way?
Two years later, I was on a run with my cross-country friend, discussing tattoos we wanted to get in honor of Lance . Margaret, my friend since age 5, had been in a texting and driving accident—something I do all the time—and was hospitalized in critical condition, not likely to make it. I called my best friend Alexandra, who confirmed the news: “Yes, it’s true, we have to say goodbye to her tonight. She isn’t going to make it.” I sat at home until Alexandra was back from the hospital and went to her house where we spent the next 24 hours huddled on the couch with our best friends, trying to cope with the fact that our friend was gone. The pain was greater than anything I had ever felt before. Texting and driving, a quarter mile from her house without wearing her seat belt Why couldn’t I go back and tell her to stop? Why had this happened to her—the most hardworking, caring, and outgoing person I had ever met? None of it made sense.
The next morning we got a call from Jane, Margaret’s mother, that she was making progress and could potentially survive. Alexandra, her mother, and I packed up the car and headed to Yale Hospital’s critical care unit. We were able to discuss the road we had ahead with her boyfriend, family and friends: months or years of hospital and rehab trips to try and get her back to as “normal” as we possibly could. It was going to be hard, but we knew that together we could get through this hard time together.
The next day I was at Richard’s older brother’s 30th birthday party allowing myself to escape the thoughts of Margaret, when I got the call. “She’s gone. She’s gone. She didn’t make it…” Alexandra said from the other side of the phone. I fell to the floor in the middle of the party and broke into tears. My dad quickly put me in the car and drove me to Alexandra’s with his hand in mine the whole way. The next two weeks of my life seem like one big blur. Going through the motions, but not being mentally present for anything. But my five best friends and I got through it together. We talked about all of our amazing memories of her, all the great things she did, and all the amazing ways she had impacted us. We slowly shifted back into our lives, and made sure Margaret’s memory would never fade. This had been the worst death I had ever experienced. She wasn’t just a friend; she was someone I had known all my life, and someone who I admired. But I knew that, after 4 deaths in 2 years, this had to be the end.