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