There are no words to describe the grief that hovers over the crowd. Friends, parents, community members, and all those devasted by the loss of a young life.
The tragic death of an eighteen-year-old senior football star in an automobile accident the day before has torn a gaping hole in the fabric of this close-knit community.
The pain is palpable. As local clergy weave their way through the crowd to offer their support, students embrace in muted sobs as parents and friends stand by in silent reflection. Tears flow freely, even among the fathers whose sons were the friends and teammates of this young man. Everyone is acutely aware it could have been them who received that horrific call at 3:00 am.
One of our children has died. There is nothing any of us can do to bring him back. My daughter said she just saw him at the senior show. “Everything was so normal, mom,” she said. “Now it seems all unreal again.”
They have all been through so much. Two years of this crazy Covid crisis. Missing dances, proms, and multiple social gatherings. But worst of all, missing each other. The extensive period of virtual classes has left students severely depressed and angry.
Returning to the classroom was long overdue. Just recently, the mask mandates were lifted for in-classroom learning. They could finally see each other’s faces again. The class of 2022 was supposed to be the return to normalcy.
The football team had an amazing undefeated season winning the state championship for the first time ever. The gals even pitched in with their own win over our archrivals in the traditional Thanksgiving Day flag football game.
They were all flying high into the last phase of their high school years. As well, they were looking so forward to a proper senior prom. Unfortunately, their experiences going forward will be overshadowed by this tremendous loss.
My heart aches so much I can barely breathe. We move from the shelter of the high school field house to the football field where he once played. A heavy mist rains down on our hearts and heads ~ the atmosphere a perfect fit for the mood. The students gather at mid-field, surrounded by the support of counselors, coaches, and administration. Brightly colored candles are placed lovingly by their peers in the shape of the football that lays nearby.
Our children are hurting, but they are also learning in the process of this unimaginable pain. They are learning the importance of community and being there for each other in times of crisis.
They will have their own children one day and will remember this moment forever. They will hold their children closely, love them deeply, and guide them through the challenging times life brings with the resilience they are learning today.
By the grace of God, life goes on and so will they. They will do remarkable things in the loving memory of their friend.
Hopefully, they will put themselves in powerful positions of service, like the counselors and coaches that offer them strength and support today.
A student approaches the circle of friends at mid-field, clutching a large cluster of white balloons above her head. She passes one to each member of the team as they all make their way to the center of the crowd.
A loud cheer arises deep from within the huddle as they release their balloons skyward. “We love you James,” echoes throughout the applause. Rest in peace dear one. You fly with the angels now.