Have you noticed? May is the new December!
With the school year winding up, weddings around the corner and days celebrating everything from mothers to teachers (May 4), kites (May 12) and tulips (May 13), this spring month is rivaling the holiday madness that gears up at Thanksgiving. Like that frenzied four-week onslaught, much of May’s madness hovers around shopping: for moms, for teachers, for grads, brides and year-end parties, performances and picnics.
And you know what comes with all these special occasions: missing the people who are no longer here to share them.
Nowhere has this been more visible, this year, on a national and very public basis, than in Virginia and Maryland where the media have focused so much attention on the family and friends of murder victim Yeardley Love, a lacrosse player who was to have graduated from the University of Virginia next week. But there are countless others – who really knows how many? – suffering the same empty chair, unused gown, motherless existence or absent escort down the aisle.
It’s all heartbreaking.
How people deal with this loss can be very private or it can be shared widely. If enough time has elapsed, many are able to honor a missing person with an overt sign – flowers on the wedding altar, a name on a 10-K race T-shirt, an original piece of art commemorating a person’s favorite phrases (for example, see Boomershine Art & Lifestyle) or the rear window of a car (I spotted one recently: Ernest J. Maddox, July 12, 1946-Jan. 8, 2007).
In a blog I follow regularly (written by Betty Londergan who is giving away $100 a day for a worthy cause and blogging about it), a post appeared earlier this month that illustrates a particularly brave and generous way to keep someone’s memory alive at a particularly difficult time. Especially when you consider that the “missing person” was a total stranger. I happen to work with the gentle man the blog post is written about, so I can speak first hand about his courage, caring and integrity. It’s a story worth sharing widely and publicly:
Today is Graduation Day at Oglethorpe University. Of all the graduates that I adore, the one I am most proud of is David Dixon. This is his story.
On November 21, 2001 David Dixon’s world changed forever, and Chisa Dunn’s life ended. A young man of terrific athletic abilities and scholastic promise, David had stayed up for over 38 straight hours, working, studying and traveling home from the University of Miami. After reuniting with friends at the Waffle House in Atlanta, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car on the way to an ATM machine and plunged into Chisa’s car, killing her immediately.
In the ensuing trial, David and his mother met Chisa’s parents and fell into a sobbing embrace with them. In an incredible act of forgiveness, Chisa's parents made only two requests of David: to honor their daughter by finishing school, and to make a difference with his life. David promised, but over the next five years he dropped out of school and found himself almost unable to get out of bed, racked by terrible guilt and depression. His mother tried everything she could think of to get him back on track, but nothing seemed to connect.
Glimmers of hope emerged when David met Dosia (whom he will marry a week from today), a girl from New Orleans who knew something about tough times and wasn’t about to let David sit around doing nothing. She dragged him through two malls before persuading him to take a job at Cole-Hahn, his first real activity in years. As David slowly came back to life, his mom persuaded him to apply to Oglethorpe University in the Evening Degree Program, with a little friendly encouragement from my husband. David got another boost when Larry recommended him for an entry-level position in the Admissions office, and soon he was promoted, working full time, taking a full load, making the Dean’s List, and earning a 3.1 GPA. But all along the way, Chisa Dunn has never been far from his mind. In fact, he has the date of the accident tattooed on his back.
Here is what he wrote two days ago to my husband:
"Last week, I spoke (for the first time since my trial) to the mother and father of the girl in my car accident. I let them know that not only did I keep my promise to graduate, but I earned 2 degrees (one for me and one for her). When I told them that on top of that I was in Admissions at Oglethorpe, Chisa’s mother started crying and said 'I’ve been asking God, where’s the silver lining? And then you called…thank you.' With every student I talk to, a piece of Chisa Dunn comes out of my mouth. If it were not for your belief in me in both work and school, I would not have been able to tell her that.”
Today when the graduates walk down the aisle, I know that David’s mom is going to be sobbing and I probably will be, too – for Chisa Dunn who never got the chance to graduate, and for David who has kept his promise and is striving every day to honor her memory at this wonderful little college in Atlanta.
(David asked me to make my $100 donation today to The Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna, GA, where he was treated for depression during the dark days after the accident.)
Read Betty's blog, What Gives: 365 Days of Putting My Money Where M...
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.
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