In a single second you can cross a street, you can whisper I love you, you can take off in an airplane, you can feel your stomach drop, you can smile, or you can watch someone you love take his last breath. In a second, a tragic, slow-moving, catastrophic second, a friend of mine experienced the latter. She sat powerless as her best friend, her other half, her fiancé, her whole life breathed air for the last time then disappeared underwater.
Her fiancé was in a boat when it overturned. Two hours later, he was pulled from 12ft deep water. This accident occurred just a month prior to his graduation from college.
It breaks my heart, not knowing what to say, not having the words to heal or even begin to mend my friend’s heart in the wake of such an enormous loss. But as I watched her, this beautiful girl with a smile that managed to find its way across her face, a laugh that still surfaced somehow, and a heart that was so pure and gold, I realized that this story, her story, is not a tragic story. It will never be a tragic story.
This story is not about loss, but about the incredible power of love. How love can lift us up when we’re shattered into millions of tiny pieces, when we’re struggling and gasping for a chance to survive in the aftermath of losing someone we’ve built a life, a future with. How love can heal and mend and smooth over the cracked pieces. How love changes us and our hearts and the world because it doesn’t stop when a life does.
This beautiful friend of mine could have given up at any moment. And everyone expected her to. It wasn’t because they doubted the person she was, but they couldn’t see how she could pick up the bits of brokenness and make them whole again. How could she possibly continue when this was the only life she had known? How could she push on when the entire direction of who she was had suddenly changed? How could she look forward when there was nothing to focus on or trust?
But she did. Somehow she gathered the fragments of herself and put them back together. She pushed and pressed and forged on, all the while loving. Never forgetting. See, this isn’t a story of death or a story of loss. It is a story of new beginnings. How this strong woman could pick herself up, how her love could create something beautiful despite her loss.
This young woman never gave up. When she had mended herself enough to talk, she talked. She cried. She opened herself to others and let them in. She shared her story, and shared it again and again and again until her story brought awareness. But she didn’t stop there. She continued. She talked to friends and adults, she made phone calls to the college, to companies, to foundations, to people in high places that could make a difference. And she did.
She raised money for diving gear for the town, enough for two diving suits so that the emergency/rescue teams could be prepared if there ever was another emergency. She raised enough money for equipment, to help people respond to this type of crisis. She could have been bitter. She could have been angry that the world was unprepared for her situation, her tragedy. But she wasn’t. She focused only on the good that could come out of it, the difference that she could make for the future.
See, that’s why this isn’t a sad story. It is not about loss, but about love. How love can turn loss into a gift, how something terrible and tragic can be molded into something beautiful, and how we somehow find ways to continue on, to break through the surface and start again, because we know that’s what the people we lose would want us to do. And we love them, so we do just that.