On a cold and rainy Friday night just before Christmas, about seventeen years ago, my husband and I enjoyed an unexpected evening out without kids. Both – about six and eight years old at the time – ended up going on sleepovers, so we enjoyed a quiet dinner and a movie.
We returned home to a disturbing message on the answering machine. The anonymous voice asked my husband to call the chaplain at the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. Fearing the worst, he immediately called the number that was provided. While we were relieved to learn that our kids were fine, a tragedy had occurred nonetheless.
A business associate of my husband’s was on vacation with his wife and fourteen-year-old son. They were traveling through Georgia on their way to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. On their way, however, they got into a car accident on a major interstate. The father was thrown through the windshield of the minivan and died at the scene; the mother and son sustained minor injuries and were taken to the hospital. My husband was called because we were the only people the poor woman knew in Atlanta.
We rushed to the hospital and did our best to comfort two inconsolable people we hardly knew. We brought them to our home, put the boy to bed, and – into the wee hours of the morning – helped the wife in every way possible to make the necessary plans to get her and her son back home, and transport her husband’s body back to Florida.
The experience changed me. It caused me to take stock. It made me get real. It gave me a reason to rush over to a local cemetery and funeral parlor to buy plots, learn about coffins, and pick out a grave marker. It made me buy life insurance and write out a will. It made me accept the inevitable. Now, if something happens and my number is unexpectedly called (God forbid), my husband won’t be in a panic. (Honey, just call the funeral home, insurance agent, my brother-the-rabbi, and post something on Facebook.)
More importantly, dealing with death taught me much about love, compassion, faith, and the fragility of life. I’ve learned the importance of appreciating each and every day, not wasting time, and living life to the fullest.
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Every year since then, at this time of year, I can’t help but remember the too many young lives I’ve known of that were suddenly cut short. These losses were caused by car accidents, shootings, freak accidents, illnesses, and even suicides. Just this week, the twenty-three-year-old son of a different high school friend unexpectedly passed away. And though I did not know the young man personally, and do not know the cause of death, I do know his untimely departure has left family and friends grieving. May all their memories be for a blessing.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of shopping, decorating, gift giving, family celebrations, and vacations, it’s too easy to forget that many are sad, suffering, lonely, or feeling the deep pain of missing loved ones.
Take a moment. Look around. Remember. Reach out. Listen. Give lots of hugs.