I woke up this morning to fog outside. I don’t live in a valley or near a body of water, and yet from time to time we wake up to fog. The sun is now out and has burned it all away, but the fog of the morning sticks with me. It reminds me of that foggy day 10 years ago today when Holly died.
I can’t believe that it’s been 10 years. In some ways, it seems like just yesterday since everything about that day is so vivid in my memory. And yet, it seems like a whole lifetime has happened in the decade since Holly died. It was the Monday morning after the Super Bowl and Leslee, Danny and I had just come from Responsibilities for the Future, a capstone class for graduating seniors that we had affectionately dubbed “Death Class” since we had spent the first 3 weeks of class talking about death and dying. We had just read Tuesdays With Morrie and discussed what it meant to die well. As we were walking down the hill back to our apartment in Reid, Martin met us on the hill and told us that he needed to tell us some bad news. The world was spinning as he told us about Holly’s accident on the way to work that morning in Wichita. Leslee cried, Danny supported her on the walk back to our room, and I tried to tell Martin all the reasons why I was sure that she was not really dead.
I didn’t know what to say to people. I remember when they gradually started flooding our room. First, Amy came and told us that Dawn had told her in the stairwell in the Student Center. Then Kellie came. Then Amber. Gradually all our roommates and neighbors gathered in Reid 204. All our roommates except for Holly. She was notably absent. Her stuff was everywhere in the room, reminding us at every turn that she would never come home again. We still didn’t believe it, but we knew that it was true, expecially after we went to the funeral home and saw her with our own eyes. Someone had come by our room earlier and gotten some of her sweats and a t-shirt so that they could dress her in her own clothes as they sent her body back to Colorado. When we saw her in the funeral home, she was wearing her high school track t-shirt, had her eyes closed, her hair slightly damp. She looked asleep. And that’s when we realized that she wasn’t just asleep.
Over 100 people came by our room that day to mourn with us. I didn’t even realize that I knew 100 people. And yet, they came–some of them to talk to us, some of them to sit on Holly’s bed, some of them to just say that they had “heard” and Holly would be missed. We looked through a HUGE box of pictures and began a memorial for her. Pictures of her laughing, her Homecoming Queen portrait (which she HATED because one of her eyes was squinty!), pictures of us girls going out, and of her boyfriend and her. We laughed, we cried. We felt guilty because we were able to laugh and cry and she wasn’t. And then, the memorial wall outside our room began to appear, like what happens with celebrities when they die unexpectedly. First, our posterboard filled with pictures, then notes we left for Holly, then flowers, cards, signs, pictures and gifts left by others. We all wanted to say something to Holly. Things that had been unsaid when she was still alive. Things that needed to be unsaid now that she was gone. Things that would bring us peace and solace during this time of grief and sadness. It was almost unbearable, and yet, in the awfulness of it, we began to heal.
The room that Leslee and Holly shared felt cold. We didn’t want to abandon that room where Holly had slept and we didn’t want Leslee to stay in there alone, so Amber and I moved our beds into that bedroom. Somehow we felt reconnected again, all 4 of us. We began to be able to talk about Holly without crying, then felt guilty for that, then realized that she was the first to flash a smile and we should not let her smile alone, so we laughed–at her, with her, at ourselves, now without her. We didn’t want to forget about her, so we talked about her. I still think that she got the last laugh on that one as two years later I was finally able to find the beeping noise that went off every afternoon at 2:20. It was the alarm on her sports watch that had fallen deep inside my couch. The watch still works and I never have shut off the alarm. I don’t hear it often due to my schedule, but it reminds me of Holly’s presence.
The last decade has brought laughter, tears, joy, pain, marriages, babies, and careers. Our friends and our neighbors join in our celebrations and our pains, and yet, one is absent. Holly remains in our hearts and in our minds as we “carry on” with our lives. The foggy weather appears every now and then, hanging heavy, reminding me that I am surrounded by something that I often cannot see or feel. Like the air that always surrounds me, so does Christ’s presence surround me. There are many days, like the one 10 years ago when Holly died, that you wonder where he is. Some mornings, however, the air becomes visible, and in the midst of the fog, the Son comes out.
Holly Jo Mitchek, ’98
We will never forget you
Wow……Ashlee, thank you for so eloquently remembering that day…for so beautifully remembering our dear, sweet friend. I can see Holly’s smile in my mind and I can hear her laugh. She was such an amazing person filled with such joy. Thank you for helping me to remember. I miss her.Love,Amber
Hmmm…it seems so long ago, yet still very fresh. Holly was simply one of those people that time won’t forget. Thanks for the sweet remembrance. amy
That is a very beautiful tribute to Holly. I am a 1st cousin of Holly’s and came across your blog as I was searching through some family information online. Large families (like ours with numerous members) end up growing apart with age and geographic distance, so it had been years since I had last seen Holly before she died. It was very touching to read an account from someone who knew her well in her final years.April (Mitchek) Bikis
That was a sweet rememberance of Holly. I am also a 1st cousin of Holly’s. I am so thankful that her friends loved her and love her still. Thank you for this tribute to her.Rachel Mitchek
Ashlee, thank you for sharing your remembrance of Holly Jo. You put it so beautifully. I am also a 1st cousin of Holly’s. In fact, there are over 40 of us, and I am the oldest. Holly was a very fun loving girl. She was a ton of fun at all the family gatherings, if you wanted to see a little fire come out of her, all you had to do was get a good game of pitch going!She is greatly missed by us and we appreciate your remembrance of her and sharing it with others.Angie (Mitchek) Stone
I am also a first cousin of Holly Jo. Yes, there are a lot of us. I am only sixteen now, so i was very young when Holly passed away. I used to see her everday because we are from the same home town, Cheyenne Wells. Holly was my hero, and she is now my angel. I have a beautiful picture of her and I in my room, it’s something to remind me of my best friend. I will always miss her and I can’t wait to see her again. Thank you for this article, it was touching and proves what a great person was and shows all the hearts and lives she touched.Casey Mitchek
I remember this…how nice for you to remember her in this way.
It is crazy that she was taken away from us 10 years ago and yet it feels like yesterday. I am her sister and want to thank you for remembering her!!! She was a wonderful person and will continue being missed by everyone who knew her. I will hold her close to my heart until the day I see her again.Hillary Jo
Ashlee, that was nice to read. How sweet of you to post it. It is also nice to read the other comments. I really enjoyed the story about her stop watch! I remember when she got this cute puppy from a house not far from campus and was determined not to get caught in Broadhurst with it. Eventually, the puppy made it home to Cheyenne Wells with her mom. I do not know how many times we made trips to Maurices to shop :). Holly’s dedication to her family and friends were awesome! She touched many lives with her sweet, loving personality and great smile! I know she touched mine in many ways and I thank her for that! Thank you, Ashlee, again for allowing me to write some memories down!Tiffany (Granzow) HallCollege friend of Holly
Ashlee, wow this brings back so many memories. That was a great tribute to a wonderful girl. I shared many laughs with Holly as a Freshman as did many of you. She was a beautiful person inside and out. It is nice to know how many people smile when they think about her. She will always be in our hearts and always be missed.Kristie (Nold) Hill
I am Holly’s mom and I still have her little dog Sparky he is now 12 and is an amazing lovable dog. He has helped me through all the tragedies our family occured, nursing school and then we moved to FL. Holly Jo touched so many lives in her short 22 years. It means so much to me to know so many people still keep her memory alive. It has been 10 years and there is still not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. I keep her spirit close to my heart until the day we are reunited.Holly Jo’s Mom Marla
Holly was so special to so many people. I think about her often and will never forget the good that she brought into this world. Thank you for remembering her. Klara (1st cousin)
I’m so glad that so many of Holly’s family and friends have found this little tribute! I didn’t know if anyone would find it when I wrote it, but I wanted Holly to be remembered! Thanks to the others who have shared your remembrances, too! We love you and miss you, Holly!
Ashlee-I was hoping to find the website that was created specifically for Holly, and found yours instead. I wanted Holly’s family and friends to know that to this day, a group of her Winfield High School cheerleading squad, still gathers together to remember her. Holly was their coach for two short years, but made an impact on their lives for eternity. Most of them are now married, and some of them have started their own families, yet they still take time to remember. They are doing so this weekend.I had two children on the squad at the time, Seth and Sarah, and a neice, Natalie. I will be forever grateful for the positive influence Holly had on my family, and I just wanted those who knew her best to know that there are others who felt blessed to have known her. Respectfully,Cindy Manske
I don’t know why…but I googled her name tonight…and found this blog…and can’t stop the tears…I want to sincerely thank the person who wrote so beautifully about her…Holly was my childhood friend and neighbor. She was someone I always, always looked up to. Even through my negativity and downward spirals in High School…she never judged me and always tried to keep me positive. She was ALWAYS, ALWAYS…making all of us laugh…like many of you said, I cannot wait to see her beatiful smile again!! :)Wendy (gibbs) Vest
Wow I am so saddened to hear that someone I knew so closely as a child has passed. I attended middle school in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado and built a strong friendship with many in the local community before moving to Southern California. This evening I decided to google some names of friends from what I remember as the good old days and became immediately saddened to hear that one of life's most amazing individuals has left us. I will always remember Holly for her smile which would always light up the room and her amazing presence both in the classroom and in the realm of sports. She was always courageous, determined and a strong leader. She has left an indelible mark in my psyche as a friend and I am thankful to have met such an amazing human being during my younger years. My sincere condolences to her family and my prayers for continued strength. Keep smiling Holly, i know you are…
I was just thinking of my niece today, as the anniversary of her passing is coming up. I did a search for her name just to see, and this is what I found. It is such an awesome posting! Thank you all so much!Love and miss you Holly Jo!Aunt Marty