This weekend was the prom in a little town in Iowa. A time of excitement and joy, for the prom-goers and for their families.
But for my friend Sara, it was a time of grief and longing and loss. Because Anna was missing.
Last August, Anna went for a ride with a friend. That’s all. But what she didn’t do is put on her seat belt. And a sheriff’s deputy came knocking on Sara’s door, with the worst possible news, news that ushered Sara and her family into a storm of grief and pain.
Anna was on the cusp of her senior year in high school, had turned 17 only a couple of weeks before. She was thriving and full of life and no one could have imagined life without her.
When I talk to her mama, she remembers the good and weeps in her pain. Her life is a mixture of the mundane and the impossible, a life of missing what was and what never will be, now.
No college, marriage, children.
No growing into that special mother and adult-daughter relationship that I take for granted and she can never experience.
Anna and Sara
Because no seat belt.
A seat belt could have saved her life and the life of the friend she was with.
A few weeks ago, Sara wrote me a long letter detailing the events of last summer. Her oldest son graduated from Air Force boot camp on July 23rd, Anna celebrated her 17th birthday on July 28th by going out bowling with her friends. She was on the fast track to her senior year in high school.
She died a week later. At the scene. Because no seat belt.
With Sara’s letter came a box full of beautiful things, cool stuff that I love, a gift that I was expecting but yet one that I could never have expected.
“I have started this letter several times, get started and decide NO too much info and throw it away, throw it away and start over.”
I couldn’t have been more honored to read that letter. Although I never met her Anna, Sara shared the essence of this sweet girl with me, and I am grateful.
She goes on with an account of the summer, the high of seeing her son Nathan graduate from high school and boot camp. The celebrations, the birthdays, the joy, the promise. And the devastation of August.
Then she says this:
“Anna and I always liked to play with junk type stuff … we went to several shows to sell it … so this is my/our stuff that I am sending you. I don’t have the heart right now to continue with that so I am hoping that it will be useful to you and your husband!”
You see, my hubby and I have a little booth at an antique store, and she was sending me some cool stuff that we might be able to use. But I was stunned at the magnitude of the gift.
She gave me a piece of herself, and a piece of Anna. She entrusted me with memories, memories of joy and memories of pain.
I was overwhelmed and I wept desperately for her loss. I called her, and inexplicably, she comforted me.
When we talk, now, she explains how alone she feels, how it’s hard to accept that life has just gone on. That the sun keeps shining and other people have moved back into their own worlds and she is left longing, wanting what she can’t have.
She goes to concerts that are dedicated to Anna.
She went to the prom march that Anna’s friends were in.
She has planned a gathering on graduation weekend.
And yet, she realizes that even in her own grief, others are also grieving.
Marshall and Nathan
Anna’s friends “shouldn’t have to go through this. It’s too hard.” And so she continues to reach out to them, ministering to them with a strength I can’t begin to understand.
And we agree that our only hope is heaven. Outside of the great sacrifice of Jesus, outside of the resurrection that ushers us into eternal life when we believe, there is no hope at all.
Even still, she regrets not having a chance to say goodbye. Not painting Anna’s fingernails before the funeral. Sometimes she’s angry. Often she’s overwhelmed.
Because no seat belt.
A seat belt could have saved her life.
I’m begging you. Kids, don’t put the car in gear without your seat belt. Parents, watch to be sure. Friends, don’t let your friends move an inch without snapping it into place.
Please, buckle up for Anna. Always. The time is now.
Please, get to know Jesus. The time is now.