BSM community remembers its losses
In order to honor those who have passed we offer this collection of remembrance. Each individual chapter was written by a member of the BSM community.
March 16, 2017
July 3 was the same as any other summer day. I woke up early in the morning, worked out, hung out with some friends, and had a nice family dinner. The seemingly normal day, however, quickly turned into a nightmare. As I was scrolling through Twitter, I began to see a common trend in hashtags popping up: #RIPKev. I had wondered who this was talking about, but as I kept scrolling, it quickly became apparent who it was talking about. On Friday, July 3rd, 2015, my neighbor and childhood friend, Kevin Messer, was killed in a car accident.
At first, all I could feel was the shock. Although death happens all the time, I wasn’t prepared. I don’t think anyone can ever be prepared. I just couldn’t believe that someone who was such an important part of my life was suddenly gone. I then felt incredibly guilty. Kevin and I had been friends growing up, but I had not actually talked to him since around the fifth grade. I was angry at myself for never getting to know him better and for not maintaining our friendship.
In the days following his death, many people who had known him told stories about their experiences with Kevin, which added to my guilt. Here was a guy that everyone had great words to say about, but I hadn’t talked to him in six years. I was angry at myself, I was angry at the situation, but mostly I was just wishing that he were still around.
My extreme emotions confused me. I hadn’t spoken to Kevin for years, yet I found myself constantly thinking about our times growing up and all the fun we had. He was like a brother to me. We had done so much together, that to have him ripped from the world, and from me, so suddenly was incredibly hard for me to handle.
Despite all the sadness and heartbreak, the road to recovery was made easier by the establishment of a fund in Kevin’s name. Growing up, he had noticed that many kids were unable to afford sports equipment, even basic things like shoes, so he had recently been working on a project that would allow young, underprivileged athletes easy access to sports shoes. Despite his passing, the Messer family kept his dream alive and were ultimately able to create Kevin’s Kicks, or the Kevin Messer Memorial Fund.
It was hard to lose such a close friend. Kevin was one of my best friends growing up and definitely played a huge part in my childhood. Even after the turmoil and struggles I went through after his death, I, along with many who knew him, have found a road to healing, aided by the joy the Kevin Messer Memorial Fund continues to bring.
Maria Van Hove
I’ll never forget the morning of August 11th, when I woke up to the sound of my older brother’s voice, “Maria quick get up, Grandpa is in the hospital. Let’s go!” I mumbled something back, like: “I don’t understand, Grandpa is fine,” but I shuffled out of bed into the car.
Upon arriving at North Memorial Hospital at 3 AM, I immediately knew something was awry. My mom was crying, and my big tough hunting uncle was there with tears in his eyes. My older brother told me that my grandpa was in emergency surgery because of an aneurysm (something I had never even heard of). We sat and waited for three or four hours. When the surgeon came into the waiting room, my heart sunk. She pulled my mom and my uncle aside, and I saw where the conversation was headed. My mom was sobbing; the surgeon started to cry, and my uncle’s face filled with grief. I sat there in shock: how could this happen? He was just fine yesterday! How could he die in a matter of minutes? Why did my grandpa have to die?
The doctors kept him on life support long enough for us to say goodbye while he was still “living.” All I remember about saying goodbye was crying. I couldn’t even find the words to tell him everything I wanted to say while I had my chance. All I could find in myself was to say “I love you” before I was overtaken by my sobs.
Each day after his death was slow and painful. Everything felt unnecessary and was a waste of energy. How could I live, when I realized all the people I took for granted? But in my deepest time of sorrow, I found a way to cope. Through all the tears and heartache, I decided to do a reading at his funeral, because I knew he wouldn’t want us to be sad. I knew that reading at his funeral would be so much to him and to my mom, and this was as close of a send-off I could muster.
Even though I found a way to say goodbye, it took years before I could even talk about losing my grandpa. He was such a genuinely good person; I struggled to face the reality of life without him. Everything had changed. No more going to Perkins with him on Sundays. No more riding in the back of his red truck with no seatbelt like a cool kid. No more bingo at McDonald’s on the Tuesdays I had off from school. And lastly, one less supporter of me in my activities. My grandpa was a huge fan of sports, and now I don’t get to see him cheering for me on the sidelines.
I’ve found that time and faith are what allows us to heal. For months, I kept thinking it wasn’t his time, it wasn’t fair for God to take him away. But what I have come to realize is that even though I wasn’t ready, my grandpa was. It was a true blessing because I will always have the best memories of my grandpa. He never suffered from a long or painful disease. He was a picture of physical and mental health up until the day he died. He took care of his house that he built, his family, and his yard for the wonderful 87 years he lived.
I know that everything happens for a reason. Just the year before, for my school interview project, I had interviewed my grandpa and all about his life. He gave me some fantastic words of wisdom that I will forever hold close to my heart. I couldn’t be more thankful that I got to learn so much about him.
It will always bring tears to my eyes to talk about my grandpa because he was and is so close to my heart. But as with all loss, eventually, you can start to see some light through the dark.
The grief I felt when my dad passed away last spring was far deeper than I ever imagined it would be. That feeling of loss is not as intense now, 9 months later, but every once in a while there will be something–a song, a smell, a phrase–that will hit me like a ton of bricks.
The best thing someone told me was – be gentle with yourself, and honor your grief.
It was a difficult summer. I started the fall with a serious medical concern, where I wasn’t sure whether I would ever be able to run again. As a cross country coach, this was not the vision I had for my life. Fortunately, my medical troubles were able to be solved, but in my recovery process, there were five people that were either close to me, my family, or friends that had left the earth for a better home. First was one of my students, a graduating senior from the class of 2016. One week later was my father’s unexpected death at age 56 while competing in a triathlon. 5 days later, the priest who said my dad’s funeral, a relative of mine, died peacefully. Over the rest of the summer, two close friends had one of their parents pass as well, one sudden and unexpected, one after a long fight with cancer.
Through all of this loss, I was able to see and appreciate the meaning of our lives on earth here with a bit more urgency and purpose. My dad was a great role model to me, and among the many things he taught by example was to live your life being the best person you can be to all those around you, including those who are often forgotten. For all of my friends and family members who have experienced loss, I now know what they feel, how they ache, and how even through that wretched sorrow, there can be hope and new light.
Through all of this, God has given me an amazing gift of peace. While I still break down in sorrow from time to time, I am comforted and reminded always that God is with me through this. While I may not have planned to lose my dad before he was able to see his first grandchild, I know that God’s plan for his life and for my life is greater than I can understand. I hope that through the loss of my father, someone can grow to become a better version of his or herself. I have chosen to make that my life’s goal as well, to honor my dad and to give the world the love and compassion that is so desperately needed.
I would love to be a resource for anyone who is going through loss or struggle in their lives. I have been through trials in my life, and I want to help others as they go through their own trials. My door is always open, and I feel that God is calling me to help others through situations of struggle and trial in their lives. You are not alone, both in spirit and in your relationships here at school. Our community is here to help, all you need to do is ask.
My mom, like a lot of women, was someone who watched her weight her entire life. When I was in second grade, she had a seizure on the steps of the courthouse downtown and discovered that she had an aggressive, inoperable, brain tumor. She immediately started chemotherapy and, unfortunately, gained all of the nasty side effects of the treatment. So, she made a promise — once she regained her strength (and appetite!), she would eat an entire coconut cream pie; her absolute favorite dessert. Life is too short to diet, right?
Yet, 7 months after her seizure, my mom passed away. When I went to college and met my best friend, I told her this story and since that day, she has helped me mourn and celebrate the life of my mom. Therefore, since that fateful friendship began in college, I have a group of friends that celebrates my mom on May 6 of every year by indulging in an overly decadent dessert. Sometimes the way we mourn those that we love can be in small ways that gradually teach us to look differently at large things in life.
Have you had a family member with Cancer? Well, I did. When I was old enough to understand, it was a story that made me cry and a story that made me stronger. My grandma Winni had breast cancer. Today, I want to share her story through my experience.
My grandma found out she had cancer in 1985 when my mom was in college. Her cancer started at stage 2. When it comes to breast cancer, there are different stages. The highest stage is stage 4 and the lowest stage is stage 1. Grandma Winni had a single mastectomy which means she had her breast and cancer removed. She took chemotherapy for a few months and finally went into remission in the year of 1986.
In 2002, the year I was born, my grandma’s fight against cancer started all over again. One day while on a walk, my grandma was having a hard time catching her breath. She made an appointment with her doctor and the diagnosis was not good. The cancer was back. Her cancer has come back and spread to her lungs and bones. This time the cancer was at stage 4, the highest stage. All the adults in our family met with the doctors and decided on a path for the treatment.
Over Memorial Day weekend 2010, my mom, my grandma, and I went to the movies. During the movie, my grandma was having a hard time catching her breath. My mom and my aunt took her to the hospital and it was discovered that the last round of chemo grandma Winni took caused her to have a heart failure. A family decision was made that my grandma would go live in a hospice. A hospice is a place where people can go die peacefully without medical interference.
Sadly, my grandma died on September 9th, 2010 at the age of 71. She was a survivor for 25 years. Today, I am proud to always remember how strong of a fighter she was and that she was there for the best 8 years of my life.
Sometimes you feel so lonely. Like it’s just yourself and that nobody will truly understand the pain you are living with. While others continue to live their lives, you’re trying to find your new normal. I had a routine down and my father was very much a part of it. And days after his death I remember trying to follow the same routine, yet not being able to because I didn’t have the same support as I did before. But through my father’s death, I try my best to turn my grief into gratitude.
The hardest part, since this happened unexpectedly in front of our family, is the PTSD that we all suffer from. The flashbacks of the whole day. Playing over and over again.
But to know that even on my saddest days, that I was loved and am surrounded by an outpouring of love makes this journey a little bit easier.
When I was eight,
I was scared,
And you knew that…
When I was eight,
I was waiting for my dad by the door,
And you saw me…
When I was eight,
I was embraced by you,
And you lead me…
When I was eight,
I had to say goodbye to grandma,
And you did too…
When I was eight,
I was alone,
And you stepped up and changed that…
When I was eight,
I had you,
And now at 15…
I am at a lost because you aren’t here anymore…
When I was eight,
I had you to guide me to her casket,
And now who’s gonna guide me to yours?
The speakers blasted the theme song of my favorite show, the oven beeped, but above this commotion, this odd rattling noise came from the back hall. Curiously getting up from the couch, not knowing if someone had broken into the house or if Max was just in the middle of one of his intense dreams, I walked to the source of the noise. I turned the corner to see Max shaking helplessly, violently, and uncontrollably in his crate. I froze. I thought I was watching my dog have a heart attack right in front of me. Sobbing, I called my mom over and over again until she picked up, putting her clients on hold. After I hung up the phone, I stuck my head into the crate and laid with Max, running my fingers through his smooth, black fur. It was the first of many seizures, but they were more than just seizures for Max and our family––this proved to be the beginning of the end for our beloved puppy.
* * *
Tired and hungry, but in a race against the clock, I ran around my house grabbing food, drinks, and supplies before bolting down the stairs to get to work on my gift for Max. I started planning out a design, scoring and sawing wood before this incredible idea slipped from my fingertips. Not knowing when his last day would be, I knew I had to finish this project as soon as possible. I had crafted a black wooden sign with white lettering and a note from my family for Max, to place in our yard.
* * *
My dad and I watched TV in the basement, my brother sat in his room doing homework, and my mom laid on the kitchen floor with Max. As she pet him, she noticed his breathing getting heavier and slower. She called us all to the family room and we watched him as he laid down in his doggie bed, his 75-pound frame curled into a ball. As a family, we talked about our baby’s illness and our options. Unanimously, we decided that we didn’t want our dog to suffer any longer than he had to, so we agreed it was time to bring him to the hospital.
I walked downstairs to the basement, grabbed the sign from under the stairwell and crawled stair by stair, back up to the family room. My mom asked, “What do you have, Bear?” No response from me; words weren’t needed. She read what was in my hands and lost every ounce of self-control she had in her as the tears streamed down her face.
By this time, my dad and brother had reentered the room where Max laid, and they too were unable to hold back their tears as they read the sign that I had placed beside Max. When we got to the hospital, Max paced around the lobby, waiting for our room to be ready. I remember him going to the end of the building and down a set of stairs. I followed him and found him laying on the floor around the corner; I laid with him there, talking to him and petting him during his final moments. When the doctor called us in, I lifted him up to his feet, gave him a treat I had brought and walked with him to the room where the rest of my family and the doctor waited. Inside the room, he walked in circles as we all sat and watched him, taking in every last bit that we could.
When the time came to inject him, my brother didn’t want to be there so he left the room with my dad. My mom and I stayed with Max, during a time I thought was only right as his life faded. I laid there with him, crying uncontrollably. My mom asked me why I stayed in the room with him. I had to type my answer because I couldn’t speak. “I was with him when this started; I want to be with him when it ends.”
It was July 23, 2013. He was only 6 years old.
That’s the amount of time I knew her for
after my 15th birthday when I lost her…
August 3, 12:45-
was when I found out…
4.45 hours after I asked to take a picture with her so that I could remember her… she was too sick
August 3, 12:45-
I sent a goodnight text
“goodnight mom, please tell grandma I love her so very much and I will come visit her again tomorrow”
and in turn received
“Oh honey, I am so very sorry,your grandma went to heaven at 12:30 am, she loved you so very much.”
My cheeks were red and hot, the tears pour down my face, my lungs start to burn as I screamed from the pain of loss
gasping for air.
My role model, grandmother, and best friend was gone.
All I remember now is what she said, the last thing she said, as she took off her mask and gasped for air she said, “you have such
a wonderful life to live.”
This is all I have left, no picture, no stories, no time left. She’s gone, and with her, she takes a piece of me. All I have now is
what she said, and the memories of her. The good, the bad, the pain, and the joy.
She left and took a piece of me…
The Little Knights
Little Knights Talk About Death
by Heidi Wolf
Last year, we had a classroom fish die. I believe that talking about these life events are important instead of just replacing the fish or hiding the event from the children. So we talked about what happens when something dies and read a few books about the topic. Some of the little knights experienced a death of a family member and some had lost a pet. We even found a dead cat and a dead mouse in our adventures out in the woods. With young children, processing death goes in stages and the topic comes up on occasion, in short bursts – a couple questions and then usually the topic ends.
My family lost our golden retriever, Molly, less than a month after Alton and Henry lost their beloved dog, Oscar. So the topic again returns to the discussion. Here is a recent discussion that I recorded as we read a book called Bug Cemetery and What Happens When our Loved Ones Die. The discussion started right after I read the title and opened to the first page—I don’t know if we even finished the book. On that day this discussion was much more important than finishing the book.
Oliver: “I know what happens! They die and go to heaven!”
Sylvia: “Their SOUL goes to heaven!”
Heidi: “What about animals?”
Sylvia: “A dog soul….oh they don’t go to heaven…they go somewhere in the back of the nurses and in the back of the hospital.”
Heidi: “Does anyone else have an idea?”
Alton: “My mom says there is a dog Heaven!”
Henry: “Yeah, there IS a dog heaven. The dog soul goes to heaven”
Sylvia: “Oh yeah. The dog goes to heaven but they don’t have their own cemetery. They stay in the back of the of the nurse’s office.”
Alton: “Dogs make comfy beds out of the clouds and God.”
Sylvia: “God sends the clouds down to lay on in the office.
Henry: “BUT they can not fall through the clouds!”
Heidi: “I think their soul is so light they float with the clouds!”
Heidi: “Do you know any people who have gone to heaven?”
Oliver: “My grandpa and my cousin Emerson, he is still little.”
Sylvia: “Ms. Heidi- I know someone, my grandma Esther died.”
Sylvia: “Hey, Alton! do you think Oscar’s soul and Tanner’s soul are in heaven TOGETHER?”
Alton: “YES! And Heidi’s Molly…I wonder if they are running around and playing?”
Heidi: “My Molly LOVED playing ball!”
Oliver: “Maybe Emerson can throw balls now for Molly and Oscar and Tanner and ALL the dogs!”
Alton: “Oscar likes fetch. He likes sticks not squeaky balls”
Sylvia: “Tanner would run to all the dogs”
Since I had tears at this point, I said, “We feel sad when someone we love dies and the tears sometimes bubble up. What can we do to help us feel better?”
Alton: “Look at pictures!”
Oliver: “I just remember him!”
Alton: “I have a picture of Oscar and a statue”
Amelia: “I have a picture of my Grandma Ann. She was sick. She died. It was so so sad.”
Heidi: “I am so glad we can have memories and pictures, and we get to see them again in heaven.”
Amelia: “Can we read another book?”