A Heartfelt Farewell

Life is a fragile gift that’s too often taken for granted.

My high school class of 2002 isn’t meeting for our 10-year reunion for another two years, but this morning dozens of my classmates met to celebrate the loss of one of our own. One person described the scene outside the church as “A Shakespeare tragedy meets High School Musical.” Exactly.

I’m not going to claim that I knew Ben and that we were even close friends, we were acquaintances at best. Ben was part of the “popular” group and was the captain of the soccer team (and at our school that was the sport to watch and play…while he was captain, the soccer team was ranked #1 in the nation). So while his social status practically allowed him to be snobby and too-cool for everyone, Ben disregarded his popularity and treated everyone like they were old friends.

His generosity, respectfulness, outlook on life, and overwhelming passion for his friends, school, and team were seen by everyone. I don’t know how many people besides those I see on a day-to-day basis that I could say that about. Like I said, he and I really weren’t friends, he was just a guy I knew of and maybe talked to occasionally, but the fact that I saw those traits in him—and from afar—let me know the kind of man he was.

The news of his passing hit me hard, and I’m still not entirely sure why. Today, at the funeral service, I overheard two older gentlemen talking. One of them reflected, “A lot of his high school friends are here. Most of them haven’t had to go through the death of a friend yet, maybe their grandparents or older relatives, but never anyone this young before.” And he’s exactly right.

I’ve been to funerals for two grandparents, one uncle, and countless extended relatives, but never for someone my own age. When you’re in your 80s and 90s and pass away it’s more of a celebration of life than a time to mourn. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a time to be sad, but you almost want to celebrate the long life they had and all the wonderful things they did. But when someone dies at 26 years old? That’s just too young to die. He had a fantastic 26 years, but what else could he have accomplished?

I think the reason this death shook me up so much is because it could have been any one of my friends in that car. A friend of mine started a Facebook group for friends to leave messages to and about Ben, and I’ve found myself drawn to reading what people have to say. I may not have seen these people for more than eight years, but I strangely feel closer to them now than I did when we were in high school.

I don’t really know how to close this post, because this is still very heavy on my heart, but I’ll leave you with this: I debated going to the service this morning, because I wasn’t close to him. But then I thought about it and decided to attend because if I were in his shoes—if I had died in that car accident and not him—I would want my parents, family, and friends to know that I touched the lives of people I wasn’t even close to and that people can leave an impression in your life with a simple smile.

R.I.P. Ben.

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6 Comments

  1. 🙁 Sorry dear.

    These things are awkward. When I was in high school, a lot of kids my age died. Many suicides, many car accidents. MOST of them I wasn't great friends with, and I think that makes it even more awkward. It's kind of like you'd rather have been great friends with them or not known who they were at all–it's easier to know what to do.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about this. I think the older we get the more we band together with people that we went through things with. Even if you weren't super close to everyone in your h.s. I think the fact that you went there with them and went through the same things at the same time it bonds you.

  3. This post made me cry at my desk, and although I didn't know Ben personally (his sister was married to a friend of mine from high school), it is still so hard to lose people that are important to so many others.

    When I was a freshman, I went to the funeral of a friend from high school who died in a car accident while driving home from Juarez. This guy was probably one of the most popular kids in school, like Ben, and similar to him, never let that go to his head, instead being nice to everyone he met…even the nerdy kids. He was quiet and respectful, and when I went to his funeral and saw so many people from high school that respected the man he was, it was clear, too, that he would be missed.

    I'm sorry you're hurting. Know there are others that feel this way at any given moment. And truly, only the good die young.

  4. Hi Jessica,

    I've been reading your blog today and was stunned to read this post. The funeral was hard and a shock, but I'm glad that you went. I'm glad I went, too.

    Like you, I wasn't very close to Ben. And like you, every time I spoke with him he was friendly and warm and nice.

    I wasn't sure if I should go to the funeral, either. I told myself that it was about Ben, and that there was a level of comfort to the ceremony. I told myself that a tradegdy like this is another rite of passage into adulthood.

    In the end, I'm glad I went. I saw many people I hadn't seen in eight years and we hugged and cried and spoke in hushed voices. There was a sense of healing in that and now, two weeks later, I can look back and tell myself that I'm glad I was there.

    I'm thrilled for your wedding. Keep up the writing and all the good work.

    See you in eleven days. 🙂

    -Abel

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