In March of this year, my dad called me and told me his friend’s daughter was looking for an internship in television, and asked might my company be interested in her? He told me who the friend was, and he asked me if I knew the daughter and I remembered that I had babysat her when she was a little girl. He told me she was now 20 years old and going to Ohio University, majoring in journalism. I gave my dad my work email and told him to have her email me her resume, and I would pass it on to whoever needed to see it, although I couldn’t make any promises as to the help I would be in her securing an internship. A resume was mailed, and I passed it on. I’m always excited to help a fellow Ohioan.
My memories of babysitting her were pretty foggy, so I myspaced her to see what she looked like nowadays, and to make sure I was thinking of the same kid. My dad had also told me to look her up on You Tube, as she apparently had a few videos up there she took of herself singing and playing the guitar. I never got around to the You Tube portion, but I did see her on myspace, and she actually had pictures posted of when she was little, and sure enough, it was the girl I was thinking of. She had grown into a perfect mix of her mom and dad, with her dad’s small brown eyes and her mom’s angular chin.
She emailed me and thanked me for helping her out in the internship hunt. She also asked for some advice on finding a place to live for the summer, and also informed me that she googled me and found my blog and had enjoyed it. She said it had been her dream to live in LA her whole life and she was thrilled she was going to get the opportunity. (The last I heard, my company had offered her an internship but regretfully had to rescind it because she has a bad back, and being a PA requires a lot of heavy lifting. But luckily, she had found another internship somewhere else in LA and was still able to come out for the summer). She had told me she was looking forward to meeting me. I gave her some advice on living in LA, and told her to let me know when she got here. I ultimately never heard from her, but my dad did tell me she was interning somewhere in Sherman Oaks. I told him that was a good part of town, and he said his friend would be glad to hear that. I assume she finished out the summer internship and headed back to continue school at OU.
My dad called me this past weekend to let me know that she had been taken to the hospital last week complaining of back pains. The doctors gave her an epidural and a shot in one of her shoulders. She had an allergic reaction to either the epidural or the shot, went into cardiac arrest, and slipped into a coma. My dad called me again yesterday to let me know she had died. She was their only child.
I had not thought of this girl in 18 years. I hadn’t seen her, hadn’t heard anything about her. I’m sure her dad came to my college graduation party, and probably even my sisters’ graduation parties, but she never came with him, and he was just another one my dad’s friends. And yet, seeing her pictures on myspace gave me a bit of nostalgia, and wonderment of just how much time had passed, and just how much older we had both become.
I can’t comprehend what this must be like for this family. With the news of this girl’s death, I realized with terrifying clarity that I have no real understanding of death and its finality. I have been incredibly lucky in my life to experience death in a very normal way – grandparents died when I was in middle school and high school. Both of my dad’s brothers died within the past year – one was sick, the other wasn’t. The one that wasn’t sick, it came as a shock, and it was tragic, and I still am in disbelief, but somewhere in my head I told myself this is normal. Uncles will die. This is what happens. But this isn’t supposed to happen. An otherwise healthy 20-year-old girl is not supposed to die in a hospital complaining of back pain. And it’s overwhelming for me to think of it as a reality, that this is something that does happen, and it’s something that did happen.
And even now, this death is on the outer fringe of my world. I have no emotional ties to this girl. The last time I saw her, I was feeding her and changing her diaper and probably reading her a story and putting her to bed. I don’t know anything about her as an adult – how tall she was, what her voice sounded like, if she laughed a lot. I am sad, certainly. I am sad for her parents. I am sad for my father, who is devastated by this, undoubtedly because he too has a 20-year-old daughter. But more than anything else, my mind is consumed with the question, how does someone deal with this? How does this happen, and how do her parents move on? How can we, as humans, possibly be equipped to deal with such a shattering, unending grief?
I don’t know the answer to this, but I know that we are. We are equipped to deal with this. Tragedies like this strike families all the time, and more often than not, they find a way to deal with it. It must be one of those things that you think you can’t possibly have the strength for until it happens to you. Only then does the strength come.
Years ago, I told my friend Donna I felt bad that I had been lucky enough in my life to never experience such a tragedy, and that I felt like I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Donna lost her mom when she was still a teenager. Donna said something like, “I don’t think you should feel bad. I think you should just feel grateful. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
I am. I am so grateful. My life has certainly not turned out the way I imagined. I have encountered things and dealt with things I never thought I would have to. On a much smaller scale, strength has come to me in waves to deal with the things that have arisen. The ultimate question is, I suppose, is it worth it? It is a trite question with a trite answer. All I can do is try to remember that life indeed is fleeting and fragile, and as long as I keep loving, there will always be love coming back. That makes it worth it.
**UPDATE: I just found out a few things about this situation and I wanted to correct myself. She was actually 22, and I'm gathering that she had fibromyalgia, as her obituary calls for donations to a fibromyalgia institute. No less tragic, but I just wanted to be as accurate as possible.