The reaction I have to the emails I’m getting to both my personal account and my less personal Gmail account begins with me getting teary-eyed all over again because I can’t stop thinking that the only reason why people are writing to me is because Kelly’s dead. I think that’s just something I’m going to have to get used to, I’m afraid. (Who knows; maybe it will even help.)
Then I start to remember how life felt almost four years ago (her “deathiversary” is on September 22, two days after my birthday) and I go back through my personal online journal. Today, I found particular meaning in this excerpt, written the week before Kelly’s wake in California:
Yesterday, I went to my former high school to visit one of my favorite teachers, Ms. Oliver. When she called to confirm our lunch appointment a week or so ago, she asked me why I was flying back to California from New York and I told her about Kielle. She consoled me and said that she was eager to see me again. Her enthusiasm was confirmed when she gave me a huge, two-armed hug that I returned with just as much gusto. Apparently, she still talks about me to her International Baccalaureate candidate students as the cautionary tale of what happens when you miss an I.B. test due to extraordinary circumstances, like being in the hospital for a kidney infection. She finished counseling one of the students (who I think was having a problem with another teacher) and then closed the door.
The first thing she asked me was how she looked, if she’d changed. I honestly told her that I thought she looked the same, and she dropped the bomb on me that she asked that question because her husband died of leukemia five years ago. That did it. Tears welled up in my eyes. We talked about Kielle and the total unfairness of it all. She told me that when I told her that my friend died, it must have been fate or kismet that lead me to think about getting back in touch with her because she wanted to be able to help me. I told her about how angry I was, and she told me that I shouldn’t be angry. I shouldn’t be angry at people like the guy on the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” show that my sister had on her TiVo who survived his bout with a very rare form of cancer just because he survived. But I am. It’s petty of me to be angry at survivors. But as [my friend Neva] and I said last night, life is just not fair. Or just. Or pretty. She gave me a book recommendation that I’m going to pass along to [Kelly's husband] and will likely pick up myself. But I doubt it’s going to help.
Sadly, I don’t remember the name of the book that Ms. Oliver recommended to me, and I don’t remember passing it along to Kelly’s husband because one of the pieces that didn’t make it to the air on the radio show was a part where I read to Coach Hogan what Kelly’s husband wrote to tell the hundreds of us who were Kelly’s friends about how she died. How one very specific sentence stood out to me as summing up precisely how unjust God was, or at least the God I grew up with.
After I read that passage with tears and snot running down my face, that was when Coach Hogan finally understood that I didn’t want to be preached to, but that I wanted comfort and consolation, and to understand the exact nature of God and faith and—more importantly—how people can still believe in God when reality contradicts so many things that we who were raised in religious homes are taught.
I know that I’m not satisfied with Coach Hogan’s answer that we live in a fallen world because that’s not enough for me anymore. I’m definitely more satisfied with what Kelly’s best friend (a devout member of the Russian Orthodox church) said when I spoke to her the Sunday after the show aired, and even a dear friend of mine who’s atheist said that he couldn’t argue (too much) with it.
In closing, all I can say is that if you are ever comforting someone who is grieving who doesn’t really believe in God, never say that they’re in a better place or that it’s all according to God’s plan because that is the last thing someone who has lost someone they loved wants to hear.