A friend of my son's died in a car wreck yesterday. He didn't find out about it until late in the day because he was working when it happened and didn't find out until he got home. After he found out, he kept saying the things you say:
"I just saw him not long ago."
"He just sat across from me at a table."
"He was the nicest guy."
His name was Brian. I told him that I, too, had a friend named Bryan who died when I was about his age. This Bryan was also killed in a car accident. This Bryan was also the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. Like my son, I also thought a lot about the last time I saw him. And how I would never see him again.
My son said, "Mom, you don't have to tell me that just to make me feel better. It's not going to work." The truth is, I wasn't telling him that to make him feel better. I was telling him that because I wanted him to know that losing someone is traumatic. That just because they died when you were young doesn't mean you forget them when you are older. While I don't think of Bryan every day, there are certain songs, certain sights, that trigger my memory of him, and what we all lost when he died.
Here is what I remember about Bryan: he could not wait to drive. We rode the bus together and every day he would get on the bus and tell me how many days until he got his driver's license. He always rubbed it in that he would have his before me. What neither of us knew then is that he would ultimately cause me to delay getting my driver's license until I was over 17 years old. Bryan's zeal to drive ultimately ended his life-- a fact that wasn't lost on me. I couldn't get over how something he wanted to do so badly was the thing that killed him.
The irony in Bryan's death is that his car accident occurred in front of my old house. We had just moved from there a few months before the accident and I was so thankful that I wasn't around for that. I know God protected me from seeing that as his loss was traumatic enough. My friend Ann called me late that night to tell me about the accident in front of my old house and said for me to pray for Bryan, that he was in surgery for massive internal bleeding. Because I had changed schools when we moved, I had no way of hearing what was going on the next day. So, I prayed all day for Bryan-- never knowing he had not made it out of surgery. (This was in the days before cell phones and text messaging kept us all connected.) Ann called when I got home, letting me know that he was gone. I cried and cried-- not just for the loss of my friend, but also for the grief of being so disconnected from the other people who knew him. No one at my new school even knew who he was.
During that time, I listened to this song a lot. The opening lines, "Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone," really spoke to me. I understood the sadness that ran like a vein through James Taylor's song. It helped me heal and made me feel somehow connected to Bryan and to the friends from my old school who were able to grieve together.
This morning, as we were pulling out of our neighborhood, that song came on the radio, like a gift. I resisted the urge to tell my son about why that song was important to me and how it will always remind me of Bryan. Instead I let the song speak to both of us-- me remembering an old loss and him dealing with a new one. When the song was over, I told him I would take him to the funeral or the visitation if he wanted to go. I told him that my mom took me to Bryan's funeral, and how that always meant a lot to me. He said he would think about it and looked out the window. I hope that from now on, when he hears that song, he will remember his friend. And that both Bryans will live on in our hearts, a common bond we never wanted to share.