It’s 2015 and I’m surrounded by my family and six of my best friends in the entire world. I’m celebrating my 16th birthday in the heat of June, and three months worth of planning couldn’t have prepared my celebration for the words about to come out of my friend’s mouth.
“Guys...Morgan is dead,” she uttered in disbelief.
From that moment, time stood still. Looking back on it now, the emotions rolled in as quickly as the thunderstorm that flooded the party within the next 15 minutes. The air became thick and reality quickly set in.
There are certain things that we know to be true: Mothers shouldn’t bury their children. Teenagers should grow up to be adults. High schoolers should be worried about tests, not about what they’re going to wear to their classmate’s funeral.
In a swift punch of reality, though, we discovered that life doesn’t always play by the rules. While you’re young, it feels as if there’s a special protection over you. Some invisible force-field covers you and says, “Stay away!” In the worst way possible, a combination of speeding, texting, and no seatbelt reminded us that we were not invincible.
During the next few weeks, a cloud of fog settled over our small town and dictated our lives into the well-known cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although acceptance ends the technical understanding of the cycle, the pain that accompanies every other emotion settles into the darkest corner of your heart and comes up to remind you of the hole that can never be filled.
It’s not naïve to expect a glowing memorial full of their best moments when someone passes. Reconciling the good with the bad, though, is what sent me spiraling on a journey of forgiveness that I know I will never forget.
Her memorial read something along the lines of “beloved daughter” and “a girl with a strong Faith.” The glowing memorial she received was true to those who knew her well. To others whom she chose to victimize within the walls of our school, though, the memorial failed to match up to the character we witnessed. Her parents knew her as their sweet, charismatic, and funny girl who cared for everyone. We knew her as the girl we grew up with, but also as the girl to encourage others to point and laugh at you in the locker room and write cruel posts online. I want to make it clear that none of this is written to slander her. In fact, she taught me more about life than any mentor could have. I remind you, this is a story of forgiveness and reconciliation.
It’s 2017 and we’re gearing up to graduate. I now know what it means to be overwhelmed with college applications and the search for scholarships, and I have also witnessed beauty grow straight out of ashes. The years following Morgan’s death inspired my class to cling to each other in hopes of preserving what innocence was left. Every new first brought tears and allowed us to revisit the emotions that sprung up that night at my birthday party. While revisiting the feelings of grief, confusion, bitterness, and guilt that manifested that night, I realized something valuable.
I now understand that there is a lesson to be learned from Morgan’s death. We receive a finite amount of time on this Earth. Because life makes no exceptions to age or character, we are called to live in unscripted truth and love. Morgan wasn’t gifted the opportunity to make amends with those she wronged. Instead, we learned to forgive easier and to look out for each other because we never knew when which moment would be our last. Understanding this was the final step to letting go of any residual resentment and reviving the memory of a girl whose life ended at a tragically young age. It will forever be a reminder to love above all things and to appreciate each waking moment.