11 years ago today my cousin Kim died in a car accident. I wouldn't know this until a few days later. It's not a fun story, it's not a very long story… but since this blog is all about reflecting on the past I suppose I have to take the good and the bad.
In 2003 I was at the peak of my church involvement. I was on the missions trip to Tennessee as I had done basically every year since 7th grade. It was always a sad time leaving at the end of the week. My week long visit to S.o.S. (Service Over Self) was the closest thing I had to attending summer camp. Each year you'd meet new people, develop friendships and then promptly leave to never see them again. This year was no different.
I rode back home sad to have said goodbye to another group of new friends, proud of the work I had done on someone's house and excited to curl back into my own bed. There was another level of sadness as this was my last year going on the trip as a high school student. I was about to begin my senior year a month and a half later.
It had been the rule every year that when you got home no one could leave until everyone's luggage was removed from the back of all the vans. When we arrived at the church we opened up the church van and my luggage was the first ones you saw. I helped pull them out and started helping other people. That's when I was told I could leave. I was confused and reminded them of the rule and they said "It's really important that you leave now, your parents need you."
So I walked over to my parents car, put my luggage in and got into the car. My mom asked me if I had any clean clothes (I said I did) and asked if I still fit in my suit (which I had noticed at that moment was in their car). I told her as far as I knew I still fit into my suit (I wore it just two months earlier for Junior Prom). Thats when I noticed we weren't heading home. That's when they told me "We're heading to Aunt Marge's house, Kim died while you were gone".
My dad has always been known for his sick sense of humor so I laughed. But then I caught his eye in the mirror, there was no humor on his face. For the next hour or so we rode to my aunt's house as I prepared myself to face a woman who had just lost her 18 year old daughter. It was a surreal night having to piece together information.
I'd be a liar if I were to say that I was always really close to my cousin. Despite her only being a year or so older than me we never had much in common. That didn't make it any less sad, if anything it made it sadder. I remember hearing my other cousins sharing memories and I had nothing. It really hit my sister the hardest (much like my grandfathers death two years prior hurt me in ways I'm still piecing together today).
I hate that 11 years later I'm sitting at this computer and I still don't have the words to formulate my emotions. But this is what I do (and will always) remember. Kim was this wonderful loving person, full of talents and who had more friends in 18 years than I could collect if you gave me all eternity. More importantly, despite the little we had in common she loved me and I loved her in return. She was supposed to attend Neumann College (just a stones throw from my house). When I mourn the loss of my cousin I also mourn the loss possibilities. She would have been living right in my backyard, she would have probably been over my house all the time. I can't help but wonder how close we would have become over those next four years.
This tragedy taught me a lesson, don't take your life (or anyone who's in your life) for granted. That senior year was easily the most involved I was in High School. If it wasn't for me stepping out of my box I would have ended high school with one or two people that I was friends with in my grade. Instead I have a dozen or so people that I still speak to on a regular basis.
Life is to be lived to the fullest. While her life was cut tragically short it's impossible to say that Kim didn't live her life to it's absolute fullest. I miss you Kim.
Matt Kelly is the host of the popular podcast The Saint Mort Show, a frequent contributor to Geekscape.net, the founder of Chords for Cures and the co-writer/co-director of the upcoming comedy Describing the Moon.