It has now been one year since you died. I’m not sure we’ll ever know what happened to you, only that you were alone when your car left the road late at night, hit something at high speed, and you weren’t wearing a seatbelt. You didn’t survive. You were only a little more than a year older than me.
In some ways I’m surprised it’s only been one year since the accident; so much has happened in the past twelve months it feels like your death happened in a whole different world than where we are now. But emtionally, this anniversary is touching something raw within me, this first loop around the calendar back to a date I had pushed away from my mind. I think it was the suddenness of it, the shock, the seeming randomness of your accident that knocked me off balance.
Only a year this week since I first got that text message from my sister, and saw the sadness and stories and photos from your family and friends spill out over your Facebook page in a cascade of grief. They’re all still there, and probably even more today I suppose—for some reason, I can’t bring myself to look. I realize now that I’ve been averse to Facebook all year because of this experience, visiting that site as little as possible as if I’m afraid of the next sad news I may read. And I don’t think I’ve really missed anything.
Besides, I never really knew what to contribute to that thread of digital rememberance in that endless blue-framed box—I hadn’t even seen you or your family in over a decade, but like a lot of your childhood friends I have great memories of hanging out with you, and the way you made me feel accepted and smart and cool. You were one of the most confident kids I’ve ever known, unafraid to learn and try something new. You seemed to have learned very early how to live a fulfilling life, never taking without also giving back. I wasn’t surprised to learn after your death that you were an organ donor, literally giving parts of yourself to save the lives of strangers.
Your death reminded me of just how important it is to make every day count, because our last day may come before we’re ready. It has taken me until middle age to see this, but I think you were aware of it for a long time. Your accident reframed my values, helped me understand the value of living and sharing the time we have with the world and the people we love every day. I’ve shared my memories of you over the past year with people who never knew you, inspiring others to share their best. Remembering you reminded me to enjoy the experience of the life we’re living, and to live on human time, learn about the world, and share what we learn every day.
I am so sorry for what happened to you, Eric. You were a great person, and you are missed. Even though it was over a decade since last saw you, I will never forget you and your friendship.
I still find myself thinking of you when I sort through my own fears and stress about life and death, and strangely I’ve found some dark solace in confronting all of that through you. I’ve imagined what you must have experienced in your final moment: not the horrorfying slowing of time, the loss of control, the sounds of metal and glass, but really those final miliseconds of awareness, the instant of recognizing this unexpected and unwanted ending for what it is with a simultaneous shudder of anger, pain, and fear. And with your final heartbeats, I know there was a wave of love, of gratitude, of smiling faces and eyes and hands holding you close, bundling you up off the ground, a pulling and pushing upward, a wave of calm release as you were lifted up into the night, and the last thing you knew was that everything was going to be okay, and you were flying up and up and up into the dark sky of full of stars.