We all cope with grief differently. We cope with different types of grief differently. Generally for me, I dwell for a while. I simmer in my stew of despair. I allow myself to live in the pain for as long as I need to process the feelings and then I cry, I pray, I accept that this is going to be okay and I press on.
When I was 18, however, I experienced a loss that I was definately not mature enough to handle. I had experienced death before, just not unexplained death. My grandfather passed away because he was in kidney failure, it wasn't fair but there was a reason. In the 8th grade, a close friend committed suicide, it was devastating, but I knew him, I knew his depression, while unexpected, I could convince myself that there was a reason and continue forward. My grandmother and I spent hours, and I finally came to the understanding that he was just too wonderful and gentle for this harsh world and God somehow allowed him to be free of it. That was a good enough explanation for a 12 year old.
But Katy, our sweet Katy with so much unmet potential, there was no reason. That solemn and wise soul, that silly hearted girl was not ill, was not suicidal, there was no reason for her death. I sobbed ad grieved for days, our other friend and I sat with her mother and mourned but I never lived through that pain, I never let go of my anger, I never processed my sadness. I am not sure I have ever accepted that Katy is really gone.
Katy, Jocelyn and I ran together. Like the Three Amigos we were birds of a feather. Each with our own personality to add to the mix, we were a gaggle of creativity, intellect and teenage laughter. I was newspaper, they were yearbook. Those were hard years in my life and when I look back, the times with those girls seem to be the rare moments when I was happiest.
Jocelyn and I had just graduated and Katy was about to begin her senior year. She told us she was headed to a leadership experience for the summer, that it would get her some college credit. Only now do I know that I wasn't the only one who asked her not to go. Not only did we not want to be apart from her, but it just didn't feel right. The three of us attended a Brooks and Dunn Concert where Katy and I pretended to hate a song just because Jocelyn hated it, only to confess that we truly liked it the next day. Then she was off.
We had no way to know that the concert was to be our last experiece together. We had no way to know that 24 days into her experience, on June 26,1996, the cold Wyoming river would rip that young life from our little world.
We were told some small details, but I don't know that we ever really understood. I know I didn't. Because I didn't understand, I never processed, I just got angry and I think I've lived there for the last 18 years. Her mother gave me her car and I drove it until the engine locked up and it was beyond repair. I missed the times we drove around Amarillo together.
Two nights ago, my Jocelyn sent me a link from the National Geographic. In 2009, Andrew McCarthy, the actor and a travel writer for the magazine, wrote an article about our Katy. He happened to be an instructor on that trip and was with Katy that tragic day. His recalling of that day devastated me and tortured me...but it answered questions. There is still no "reason" why our Katy never grew up, got married, wrote award winning articles and surpassed all of our dreams for her, but finally there are answers.
At every special moment in my life, I have pictured my Katy. When I got married, I imagined the man she would have chosen. I saw her bright smile in the smile of my own infant daughter. I see her curiosity and tenacity in the learning eyes of the children I teach. I see her in the coffee shop, driving down the road, and walking through the grocery. Jocelyn and I often wonder who she would be now, and finally we have answers to almost two decades of questions. There is some healing in that.
I spent the last two days processing, journaling, and living in my grief. Today I was finally ready to share this with you. Finally, today, I am coping.
If you would like to read Mr. McCathy's story, it is here http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/2009/08/going-back-in-andrew-mccarthy-text/1
To celebrate our Katy, Jocelyn and I are trying to plan a way to visit that place for the 20 year anniversary. We will leave something there so that others may know that she was there. Plant a tree, a cross or a plaque of some kind. Some small token of evidence of her sweet life. I know this, I am a better person for having had her in my life, though only for a moment. I still miss her, every single day.