Last Wednesday, after teaching my violin lesson, I happily returned home and found one of my neighbors parked in my driveway. It was one of my grandpa’s best friends, May, and her son Marty. I hadn’t seen them since the winter at a volunteer party at church. May had her white hair set in ringlets that night. She was the belle of the ball.
I waved hello to Marty, his smile spread wide across his face, and leaned in the passenger side window to give May a kiss on the cheek. She was pleasantly surprised that I played the violin. In her lyrical Irish accent, she asked if I would come to her house one day over the summer with my grandma and sister for dinner. And of course, I agreed.
As I walked back into my house, I heard May’s voice. “She’s such a sweet girl…” I couldn’t help but smile.
Monday morning, I sat in my Jeep before heading home from Nina’s after getting my wisdom tooth pulled below the dark sky threatening rain. I pulled my cell phone out.
“Hello,” my grandpa answered. His voice sounded deeper than usual.
“Hey Grandpa, I’m just calling to—“
“Hold on.” Click. He switched over to the other line to finish a call with someone else. He always does this. I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated. I only had to say “–I’m coming home now.” Nevertheless, I listened to the silence and waited for his voice to sound in my ear.
“Yea, hi.” I heard him shifting in his seat. I could picture him sitting at the wooden kitchen table, in a plaid button up t-shirt, his FDNY mug filled with coffee, still deciding on what to have for breakfast.
“I was just calling to let you know that I’m coming home now. That’s all.”
“Oh, okay…well, drive safe okay?”
“Because we had a big tragedy here today…” My heart dropped. The world stopped. All that existed was my grandpa’s breath on the other line and the water that had begun streaming down the windshield.
My mind raced. Someone had died. But it couldn’t have been anyone in our family. He would’ve told me immediately. Or maybe he would have waited until I got home? My thoughts raced to my grandma who had been sick with a cold the last few days. What would I do without her?
“My friend May Loftus is dead.”
What? I just spoke to her a few days ago. I can still hear her voice in my head. “She’s such a sweet girl.”
“Oh my gosh…Grandpa, I’m so sorry. What happened?”
“Her and Marty got into a car accident. We just found out this morning…” his voice trailed to a whisper and I could see his lip quivering, fighting to maintain composure, his blue eyes squinting against the tears that would be pooling in his eyes. “Here…talk to Grandma.” His voice cracked.
“Hi Abigail.” Her voice calm and steady as usual, if only a little scratchy from her cold.
“Grandma, what happened?”
Shocked, I hung up the phone promising to drive especially careful in the downpour. I sat in silence while I drove—something I never do—and let my mind wander.
I knew that this was not my loss and I shouldn’t let it consume me the way the death of my father had. But I couldn’t help but feel like the world was once again reminding me how quickly things can change. Literally, here today—gone tomorrow. And so easily. What are the odds that it was our neighbor driving at that exact moment? What if they had left five minutes later?
I couldn’t help but contemplate my own mortality as well. Will I die suddenly without feeling satisfied with my life? This is a fear I battle all too frequently. I’m not sure if other people my age think about this. For me, I think it’s the result of having been exposed to such a close loss so early in my life. But then again, I know this question rests in everyone’s minds.
There are so many things I’ve yet to do. So many people I want to meet and places I want to see (cliché I know, but who cares at a time like this). And after being reminded of how easily this beautiful life can be taken away—just in a matter of seconds—I realized how much I take for granted. I need to be more appreciative of what I have now instead of what I could have in the future.
You might be thinking I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. And you would be right. Mark Twain said, “A man [or woman] who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” I want to be prepared.
I don’t think May’s death happened to teach me a lesson. That would be narcissistic to think. But I do think that when tragedies happen, there is a lesson to be learned. It may not be a lesson we learn today, tomorrow, a month from now, or even years. But there is something to be learned from loss. Even if it is just to value our own lives and the lives of those around us just a little bit more.