They say that tragedy brings out the best and the worst of people. Now, 15 years after the deaths of my parents in an automobile accident, I have a hard time remembering most of the “worsts.” One of the “bests” is still crystal clear: the realization of the healing power of love and friendship.
My memory of the days immediately following the news of parents’ deaths ebbs, flows, and skips. Some moments are like an old filmstrip, haphazardly spliced together. Other moments are preserved in re-playable 3-D, vibrant color, and fresh as if they occurred yesterday. In these memories, I can still feel the air temperature, the rawness in my throat, and hear my own voice.
We quickly returned to Spartanburg, S.C., where my parents lived, and where I had attended Wofford College. I remember passing the campus, on my way to the funeral home, yearning for the innocence of my time there. That innocence had started to erode a two years before, when my dear friend Laura was killed by a drunk driver.
I could almost see Old Main, the historic building at the center, both figuratively and geographically, of the campus. The memories of happy-go-lucky days suddenly seemed forbidden and inaccessible. I was about to bury both of my parents. I averted my face as we drove by, forcing all thoughts of those days when my classmates and I were blithely full of hope and invulnerability.
The visitation at the funeral home was overwhelming, with friends of my parents filing in by the hundreds. I felt as if I were an observer in someone else’s bad dream.
Many people with their kind words and their own grief are lost in the bad splicing of my memory, but one moment in particular, stands out clearly. In fact, tears of gratitude still well in my eyes when I think back on it. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and pointed in the adjacent room.
There, saddled together on a couch, were three of my suite-mates from Wofford College. They had traveled from Mississippi, North Carolina and nearby Greenville. They were there to lend support throughout the evening and the funeral the following day. True to their word, though I was busy with other visitors and heavy responsibilities, they were close by, watching me—willing me, by pure force of love and friendship, to be all right.
Their presence supported me as steadfastly as the columns of Old Main brace that timeless façade. The love of these friends, Helen, Janet, and Ann-Marie, was a palpable force, keeping me upright, enabling me to greet my parents’ friends and help them through their grief.
Though the innocence of my college days had, in fact, been stripped away, I think fondly on those times and the place where I found life-long friends—and my roots. A beautiful print of “Old Main” graces my hallway. It doesn’t show the columns, but, like my friends who live far away, I know they are there, providing support through the years.
Laura Hedgecock is a freelance writer passionate about the sharing of memories. Her website, www.TreasureChestOfMemories.com contains resources and articles about preserving memories, and her upcoming book Treasure Chest Memories provides a guide for anyone wanting to share their stories. She also blogs about her own memories at Memoriesinthewind.wordpress.com. Laura welcomes connections via her website, Twitter, or Facebook.