Dying too young…

On a recent Saturday morning, I noticed a post on our neighborhood community board that my neighbor’s son was missing. He is a high school senior and had gone out with friends the previous evening to a restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday but didn’t come home.

Now, I am an author and have quite a good imagination, but I can’t even fathom the panic his parents must be feeling. (Even if I thought I could imagine it, I am sure the actual feeling is a hundred times worse.) It is every parents’ worse nightmare. He wasn’t answering his phone and none of his friends knew where he was. They had left at 10:30 p.m. – each in their own cars – to go home.

Even though we live in the eighth largest city in the United States, the surrounding neighborhoods are a pretty tight knit group. A photo of Kyle and his car were quickly posted on the community board as well as Facebook where everyone was sharing it to get the word out that Kyle was missing.

I’ve known this neighbor for many years but since we live several streets apart and our kids are different ages, we only see each other occasionally. When his children were younger (and mine mere babies), his wife was on our homeowner association’s activity committee with me. But I didn’t feel comfortable being in the group of neighbors and friends who gathered at their house to show their support.

In fact, my husband and I talked about it. If I was in their situation, I don’t know that I would want a huge crowd around. We both felt the same when another neighbor’s granddaughter drowned in their pool. Many people gathered at the hospital, but we felt that it would have been overwhelming or possibly distracting to the family. (She survived and is doing fine.)

So, we stayed up-to-date by texts (with friends who were with the family) and the occasional update post on Facebook. All day Saturday there was no word. The police were involved in the search. There was no note saying he ran away or was suicidal. There was no activity on his debt card, but the family couldn’t get his cell phone company to help them access the location of his cellphone. They even called in a private investigator to help.

I woke up Sunday to find Kyle was still missing. Then around noon, a jogger found his car at the bottom of a 20-foot deep drainage ditch. The wreck couldn’t be seen from the road. This was a road by the high school and one that Kyle probably had driven hundreds of time. Whether he was speeding and just lost control or was distracted by a text on his cellphone, we do not know at this point. And while this was not the result any of us wanted, after 36 agonizing hours, his parents at least knew what happened to him.

And as you would expect, his parents are crushed. Kyle was just seventeen, looking forward to high school graduation and had already enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He loved knife smithing and was involved in his church youth group and in mission work with his church. From the stories other tell, he was an exceptional young man and will be sorely missed.

I’ve tried to put myself in his parents’ place. I’ve tried to imagine not seeing my son again, to see his room but know he will never be there again, to never see his smiling face or hear his laugh. And it is impossible to imagine and something I hope I don’t have to deal with for many, many years. But the problem is you never know when a tragedy like this will happen. We never know when we say goodbye to someone if it will be for the last time.

And while I still have a few years before Jase is driving and I have to worry about car accidents, there are so many other dangers, ones you cannot even imagine, out there. The same weekend Kyle died there was a news article online about a 12-year-old girl who had a snow fort collapse on her, killing her. I remember reading once about a child who stepped onto the end of a bike rack that wasn’t secured properly to the ground. It flipped over, killing the child.

We can’t shelter and protect our children or loved ones all the time. But a death like Kyle’s reminds me to hug my kids a little tighter and give them one more kiss or “I love you” before they leave for school. I employ everyone to appreciate their friends and family now and hope that you have many more days together.

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