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Death At A Young Age

Twenty-five years ago a college student lost five of her closest friends in a freak accident. We’ll look at what it means to lose someone when you’re young.

Police officials and others examine the wreckage of three-vehicle accident four miles west of Oxford, Mississippi on Thursday, March 26, 1987, that killed five University of Mississippi students who were participating in a sorority walk-a-thon. Several others were injured in the accident. (AP)

Police officials and others examine the wreckage of three-vehicle accident four miles west of Oxford, Mississippi on Thursday, March 26, 1987, that killed five University of Mississippi students who were participating in a sorority walk-a-thon. Several others were injured in the accident. (AP)

To everything there is a season, says the Bible.  A time for everything. But we know things happen out of season.  Even death.  When Paige Williams was 20, five of her college friends died on one terrible day in one terrible accident.

Five beautiful girls, full of life and hope, gone all at once.  Way out of season.  For them.  For her. Now, twenty-five years later, she’s looking back on that loss.  On how as a young person she dealt with the loss of peers.  Soldiers do it.  Sorority sisters do it.

This hour, On Point:  the life cycle of grief, and what it means to lose a peer when you are young.

-Tom Ashbrook



Paige Williams, teaches narrative writing at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Her essay in the May issue of O Magazine was, “We Thought the Sun Would Always Shine on Our Lives.”

Vanessa Jackson, clinical social worker, Healing Circles, Inc.

From Tom’s Reading List

O Magazine “The idea of sororities holds stronger in the Deep South than in the rest of the country, and at my alma mater, Ole Miss, in Oxford, Mississippi, the Greek letters on T-shirts foretold a person’s station in life. I belonged to XΩ, Chi Omega.”

Video: Chi Omega News Report

This news report aired on March 26, 1987 on WMC-Channel 5 in Memphis about the tragedy at nearby Ole Miss.

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  • Meghan

    One of my best friends that I had grown up with since the third grade passed away in a freak accident with something as innocuous as a slip and slide. He crashed into a bystander in such a way that one of his ribs lacerated his spleen and bled out with no one knowing the wiser. 22 years old. It never makes any sense. The hardest part about losing a close friend is the tragedy that you just lost the person who comforts you during times of tragedy.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      My sympathy at your loss.  You know that friend would help you through this, and how he would do it.  You will ALWAYS have him with you, from those experiences.
         Would he have reccommended someone else, if he was involved in something he couldn’t avoid, to help you?

  • Ed

    A sparrow does not fall to the ground without the knowledge of my Father in heaven. Jesus.

    Do not fear the first death, fear the second death. Jesus.

    It had to seem meaningless to have meaning. Robert Frost.

    • Brett

      Actually Ed, those ideas are about as silly a notion as the story of God sending down angels to hide the baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary from King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. If God were so omnipotent he/she/it would have given Herod a fatal heart attack rather than allow the killing of so many children. Your God is a vengeful, myopic, and narcissistic one. 

      • Irv West

        Most conventional religions begin we the premise that we are all sinners. I am Pagan, and we believe in the wholenss of the person. While I am also atheist (my G/god is Mother Earth which nurtures and protects us), I worked in Selma during the civil rights movement and watched how the belief in an afterlife gave nurture to sharecroppers who were terribly abused in this life. I respect that. In fact, an important Pagan belief is to never disparage another person’s ways… their religious choices. I am always made uncomfotable by the frequently expressed outrage of we atheists toward a believer. Whatever suits each of us, if it injures no one, should be respected.

        • Brett

          Your comment seems rather self-righteous. Do you read Ed’s regular comments about abortion? Or his fundamentalist views which serve to condemn any and all other belief systems? My reply was to Ed; you insinuated yourself into this…again, this seems opportunistically sanctimonious.

        • Brett

          One would hope you don’t do such finger wagging to those teens with whom you work. 

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Ed has promoted the actions of the ‘church’, that REWARDS Child-RAPING clergy, MANY times, while ignoring the Child-RAPING clergy issue!

        • Chris B

           Buddhism holds not that we are sinners but that we are ignorant.  How much respect does ignorance deserve?

    • Terry Tree Tree

      And those Child-RAPING clergy, of the religion you so often uphold?  THEIR VICTIMS?  YOUR actions about them?

      • Sam Walworth


        Just because people who follow God act in evil way does not mean that God is evil.

        There is a difference between God and his people.

        • Terry Tree Tree

          THAT is ‘following God’?

    • Chris B

      What does it matter who is or isn’t aware of it?  The sparrow still falls.  Or if you prefer, God allows the sparrow to fall.  Little comfort to the sparrow.

  • Perullamafarm

         I work with teens, and I am frustrated at the lack of listening skills of so many adults. Kids tell me all the time how they wish they could speak to their parents, but when they do all they get is a lecture.
         When a young person suffers a loss, it is critical for us to “be where they are,” hear them, empathize with their fears and depressions . . . but not sermonize them, or worse, try to minimize or belittle their pain.

    • Brett

      Excellent comment.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    It’s not easy to lose them, when you are trying to cut them out of the vehicle, either!
       Seeing the deaths of children, whether we could save them, or not, probably causes the most ‘burn-out’ of Volunteer Fire Fighters, and Rescue personnel!  Probably paid personnel, too!
       We don’t cause the accidents, we’re trying to help!  It still gets to us!
       People mis-understand, when we’re trying to help each other deal with death, or try to take each others’ minds off it, even for a bit.
       We see FAR more children deaths, than most people!

  • Gregg

    We are all lucky to have made it this far. Try to have a nice day.

  • Yar

    I lost a friend when I was in fourth grade, he fell off a cliff on while on a camping trip.  I realized that life is precious, its strange, I think about him several times a year.  It is as if he has followed me through out my entire life.  
    It is pretty risky to give a car to a teenager, especially in rural areas with narrow, high speed roads.  Cities don’t have near as many deaths from accidents as farm country when compared by population.  Just because everyone else gets a car at 16 doesn’t mean you should give one to your child.  Only a fool looks at statistics and doesn’t change their behavior.  A teen is less likely to die in your car as they are in their own.  Asking for the keys is not a decision to be taken lightly by a parent.  The first mistake is to want your children to like you.  Love your kids and they will understand, eventually.  Yes, losing a friend at a young age may have made more influence on my life than I know.  

    • Brett

      I grew up driving on back country roads, and I lost more than a few friends to car accidents in high school. Between those losses and a fiance getting killed in a car accident some years later, I never had the need for speed or driving aggressively. 

      • Terry Tree Tree

        My sympathy to you.  I lost school-mates, but not friends that I knew.
           I had a LOT of discussions and arguements with my children, about driving.
           For over 25 years, I have been helping save lives, when we can, and recovering the dead, when we can’t save them.  That’s about all I know to do.

  • Hidan

    Death happen and it’s something we all have in common.

    Be thing to do is give your regards and more on. focusing on a death of a love one or lost one is not healthy and it’s doubtful that such person would want another to do so. 

    • Hidan

      “Best thing”

    • Brett

      Yes, death, loss, these are things which bind us all together. We will all experience these in our lives. 

  • Brett

    My fiance was killed in a car accident in 1987. It took about two years to work through the grief and begin to really live again. I’d say, with such a loss, two years is a good timeframe for the process of grieving and healing. Also, remembering the five stages of grief is helpful, but it is also important to remember that one does not go cleanly through one before going to the next one. There’s a lot of moving back and forth among those stages. 

    On “the lord works in mysterious ways” nonsense…it’s just that. If there is a god, that entity/energy is not involved in anyone’s day to day lives. Why anyone would take any comfort in such a notion that a supreme being would cruelly kill a person to teach another some valuable lesson is beyond any form of reason; it’s completely absurd. If anything, what loss teaches us is the power of the randomness of the universe. 

  • Payola

    Young people die all the time in most of the world, and they have done so throughout recorded history. Most wars have been fought by young men to protect the wealth of older men and women. It’s perfectly normal and natural. For most of humanity, grieving for more than a few days for the overwhelming poor majority, would have been an inaccessible luxury.

    • Ayn Marx 666

       I disagree:  all indications are that the poor, the overwhelming majority as you rightly said, behaved with the range of human reaction you can see today:  some ‘got over it’ (an ugly term) quickly, others carried the pain to their deaths undimmed, and most were somewhere between the two. 

      There was probably less acting-out when such were squelched by social pressure, and persons who got too depressed died more frequently and more quickly than we do in these days and places…but, poor though we almost all were, any human settlement that endures long enough to be noticed in history has rooms for at least small luxuries (‘Our basest beggars/Are in the poorest thing superfluous,’) if time spent in grief were accounted such.

      There is no single, fixed, human, nature, but neither do we have an
      infinitely varied repetoire of behaviours and emotions, nor much choice
      in which we do and feel, though circumstance can indeed limit what we can get-away-with safely.

      In this case of the young’s dying for the wealthy old, I take the word ‘natural’ to mean ‘ugly, dirty, crude, poor, nasty, brutish’ as it often should, and hold that it is there for us to loathe and to overcome.

    • Brett

      It doesn’t matter whether you consider it a luxury or not; it just is what it is, no matter how one denies or attempts to suppress grieving from loss.

    • RChicago

      Totally disagree. Poor and disadvantaged people grieve  for long periods.

      Grief isn’t a luxury its a fact throughout the animal kingdom.

  • Gerald Fnord

    They live in our heads, and do not age, and remind us that we do.  The Japanese have a term, mono no awaré to describe the feeling of the perception of transience and of loss that such as the death of a youth brings.

  • Brett

    We tend to mythologize those close to us who’ve passed away too early. In a sense, we deprive them of their humanity when we do this.

  • Harlie

    On her way home from college for Thanksgiving, one of my best friends from high school and her sister were killed by a drunk driver. It’s been 36 years, and I still think about her, and mourn her loss. Since then, I have felt deeply sad and angry whenever I learn of yet another innocent life taken by an intoxicated or impaired driver, and re-experience the loss I felt at the age of 18 when my friend died.  

  • AJ

    I lost my father to cancer just before my 13th birthday. He was an attorney, and now that I am a few weeks away from my law school graduation I find myself wishing I had known him better. At the same time, I know he was far from perfect, and I’m not sure I would have liked him as much as I still do because I only have mostly positive memories of him while the bad stuff I’ve just heard about.

    • Brett

      I believe that is when genuine, permanent healing is complete: when we see our deceased loved ones as human and not perfect beings. 

  • Saramunrovt

    In Vermont, we have a camp to help families coping with loss: Camp Knock Knock. It is run by Junior League of Champlain Valley and VNA of Chittenden & Grand Isle Counties. We’re bending the trend of NOT talking about death and opening the door to healing.

  • Barbara

    Yes, Tom. It is called AIDS in the 1980′s.

  • RChicago

    I don’t believe there is a reason for everything. I believe humans find a reason so they can cope with an overwhelming event. Our minds can’t always deal with devastation – especially when it is sudden.

    • Brett

      I agree.

    • Simone

       one of the most painful sayings is “everything happens for a reason” or other b.s. about “God’s will”…..I lost my husband at a young age, and I found these comments especially irritating to me at the time of his death…..

      • Ironmom

         I agree. I am losing the vision in one of my eyes due to fallout from the chicken pox virus, of all things. Nothing I can do about it at this point. Not as dire as the death of a husband, but this blindness is “happening for a reason”? Now pray tell, what in “God’s will” would that reason be?

        Sorry for your loss.

        • Hope4you

          I’m sorry for your loss and for simone’s. I contracted polio at the age of ten months. My mom, who passed away prematurely almost 14 years ago, rejected the doctor’s prediction that if I lived I would be a “vegetable,” unable to use a wheelchair. I’m a piano technician, music teacher and songwriter. My thankfulness for the many blessings I’ve received puts in perspective the things I’ve lost, including a marriage. I believe God set up the laws of nature, but he wants to help us overcome their negative effects through a relationship with him. Jesus came to our world, validated our feelings, felt our pain, died for our sins, and lives to give us a rich life now and forever.

  • Jaxs1

    I am boarding a flight to go home to williamsburg, va, with my 9 year old from appointments @ St.Jude CRH. Having a brain tumor at age 2 and making friends at the hospital inevitably led his losing friends at a young age. He lost his close friend Sam at age 3, before even experiencing the death of a small pet. Learning to continue to open our hearts to more children we could as easily lose is something we find enriches our lives even as our hearts are broken again and again.

  • Ollulia

    My 19 year old son lost his best friend and roommate in a horrible car accident a month ago. As a parent, I am heartbroken at his loss, the other parents’ loss, and the woman who was innocently driving the car. Despite having lived through other deaths (grandparents, and a brother to cancer at 19) I have been unprepared to help my son with his grief. He was traumatized by being at the actual accident, further by it being his best friend, and largely the loss of his innocence. I’ve been encouraging him to talk about the accident, his feelings, and how sad the whole event is. This process is made more difficult by my young adults’ passage into adulthood. I have a parent’s strong urge to protect and help my child, and yet let him find his own way to cope and process. What a timely show for our family – and I’ll forward the podcast to the other boy’s parents. thank you…

    • Simone

       for some people. talking about the pain only reinforces it; every person grieves in his/her own way.

  • Scott B, NY

    This is probably not the first post, nor the last, here to say that there’s a added sense of tragedy to a death when a child dies before a parent. It’s not something anyone sees as natural, nor should they.

    My deepest sympathies always go to the parents that have lost their only child. Not to lessen the pain any parent losing a child has, but the silence in the home, at the table, during the holidays, are especially devastating. 

    Parents of a deceased child will not get to know what their child would have done in life. Who did they become?  Who did they fall in love with?  Would they have brought their own children into the world?  All they will have are memories and pictures of their child, forever young, while they watch their children’s friends and contemporaries grow up, working towards hopes and dreams that their child will never get to do.

  • Sheila

    I lost my fiancee, a Navy pilot, in a plane crash that killed 27 other men.  That was 21 years ago.  I felt like my heart was being physically squeezed while I finished Nursing School.  A few years after that, I joined the Navy Nurse Corps and his mother became my Mother.  During the last 20 years, I married and had 2 beautiful children. Coincidentally, my husband’s birthday is the same as my fiancees.  I think that I dealt with the death by doing what I could to feel close to my fiancee.  I felt that my husband’s birthday was a sign.  I know that my short time with my fiancee was as much for him as it was for me.  

  • Gretta

    This is an incredibly poignant topic for me. I had four friends die during high school, college, and graduate school: one died on a volunteer trip in Belize, one died of lung cancer, another from cystic fibrosis, and then a good friend from graduate school died just after graduation on a horrific balcony collapse in Chicago. I grieved deeply each time, and think of them often as I see my own children grow. Those losses have informed my professional life as a clinical social worker, and make me deeply aware of the preciousness of life.

  • Geoffvalleau

    My best friend in high school (two years older than me) died in a car crash driving home after being honorably discharged from the military.

    It was devastating, and I dealt with it, but it was so difficult.

    In my mind, he is still two years older than me, and always will be, even though I’m now 37 and he died when he was only 19.

    I think about him every day and miss him still.

    RIP Jon Freedland…

  • Bridget

    My sister died two years ago at 49 years old. She lived in Florida and some neighbors found her when she hadn’t come out of her condo in three days. The worst part is not knowing if she comitted suicide or just died of other causes.  There was no note so we will never know. Rest in peace my dear sister.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      With no note, or other REAL indications, it probably was NOT suicide!  
         Death un-attended, is reason for an autopsy, to check for wrongful death.

  • Terri

    I had a very similar experience in 1978 at William and Mary where we lost four fraternity brothers from Phi Kappa Tau in a horrible car accident. My friends and I had no resources at all to deal with this and we poured ourselves into music and drugs. Every year I think of those young men and how much I have lived since then. There was a scholarship set up in their names at the 30th anniversary of their death and they do live on in our hearts. Whenever I hear certain songs, that terrible spring comes right back to me. We didn’t deal with our grief very well but we did the best we could and it is amazing how many years later you can still feel the pain and confusion on losing such young friends. 

  • Sarah Nethercote

    My boyfriend died a year ago this month, 3 weeks before his planned proposal, at 39 years old from a car accident.  He has a 7 year old son and I have a 3 year old son, who already thought of each other as brothers.  We were planning to start a life together and it was incredibly painful to have him torn from me.  I still have his hockey jerseys and flowers from the funeral to remind me of how wonderful he was.  He taught me that it’s your response to difficult situations in life that counts the most.  Your response is what counts and your actions are what define you.

  • IsaacWalton

    My wife lost her father to medical complications when she was 13. She is now 30 and his still not at total peace with his passing. Her mother at the time didn’t allow her kids to grieve for her father openly…she was remarried when the father died. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    I wonder how different it is in places where young death is commonplace?  Is the issue approached differently?

  • susan

    I am from a large, italian catholic family.  my cousin laura, a lovely “good girl” who married her high school sweetheart, went to hawaii for her honeymoon.  she her her new husband were killed there instantly in a head on car crash. my family sat in the same church where we had celebrated the wedding, less than one week later, for their double funeral.  my aunt and uncle, as far as I know, never set foot in a catholic church again. they could not understand how “god” could let this happen.  I am still horrified by the images of laurie in her wedding dress to laurie in her closed coffin a week later.  this was about 35 years ago.

  • Carolchap

    My father drowned when I was 8 years old. My mother had to immediately find work to support three daughters. No one ever talked to us about his death. I never knew that his body was found so, in my mind, he was alive somewhere. I made up his life. He had amnesia, was living on Long Island (across the Sound from our home) and would someday remember and come home.
    When I was in my forties (!) a cousin called me to tell me they had found his body two weeks after he went missing. The phone fell out of my hand, my knees gave way and I collapsed. That’s when grieving began for me.

  • Ejs5invt

    My son died suddenly 10 months ago at the age of 20. What I have learned in the past few months is how complicated the grieving process is. Because of this complexity, I have not found the very common grieving cycle with it’s 5 stages very helpful.
    Liz in Williston VT

    • Simone

       I believe the “stages of grief” has been proven to be a lot of b.s.  My husband died young (I was a widow at age 36), and he died a long time ago (over 20 years ago), and I still mourn his untimely passing!

    • Brett

      I know what you mean. Later, in hindsight, we can perhaps appreciate the stages, and they are not linear; we go back and forth and dwell in one phase just when we think we’ve moved to another…Ten months is not a long time.

  • Edsteachings

    Any trauma, be it an unexpected death, suicide, abuse etc. needs a healing. The trauma creates an attachment and bond to it which is carried within us through our lives causing issues we are not even aware of. To heal from
    Trauma we need to break the emotional attachment and bond to the trauma, this does not mean we detach from the energy of the person who we lost, on the contrary we can keep that energy alive in our lives for it is always with us.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    My sympathy to ALL that have suffered these losses!  They’re piling up too fast for me to extend sympathy individually. 
        Remember that there are some of us, that try to prevent these losses of life.   We are few, and we suffer loss too.

  • Erin in Iowa

    I have a friend who was in the Marines in the first deployment to Iraq. He was killed in a car accident one month after coming home. I was so angry and distressed, but the strange thing was that his mother was very peaceful about it.

  • Heidi

    I keep thinking about the shooting in Norway last summer, and the bus accident in Switzerland with so many deaths of young people. It must be horrible for a mother to go through.
    My grandmother lost two of her children, her 17 year old son as a soldier for the Nazis less than 3 weeks before the war ended, and a daughter in her early 30s through a hunting accident. Two young people killed so early in live through guns. That’s why I am against guns in public.

  • Giffordjoyce

    I lost a close friend in 1983 at the age of 23. I was 22 at the time of his death, and his sudden loss due to a motorcycle accident changed my life in so many ways.  I became a better person after losing him, as I saw firsthand how short life is and that we need to do the most we can with what he have each and every day.  I made a pact with myself after absorbing his death that I would make a positive impact on at least one person’s life each and every day.  I want to share that I have honored that pact and it has been almost 30 years.  This friend was my older brother and he is still very much missed.

  • NE Shout Out

    Growing up in a small rural town we lost many teens to car accidents because there were few recreational activities for young kids except to pile into someone’s car and drive around. Far too often during my high school years someone or sometimes multiples of someones weren’t at school on Monday morning.  The ritual was to go to the garage where the mangled vehicle was stored and stare.  I’m not sure why this was that we felt compelled to see the vehicles.  Perhaps to verify it really happened?  I don’t know. It has never left me.  For years I used to recite silently the names – there were 13 – but now so many years later I’ve begun to forget the names but never the faces or the lost lives.  I understood dead but to this day I struggle to understand death.

  • simone

    My husband had a heart problem, and we agreed that if he died ahead of me, we would try to communicate through my calling for a visit from a great blue heron (favorite bird of ours); he died in 1989.  In the 23 years since then, I have called for the bird to come 15 or 16 times; every time but once I have seen it within 24 hours.  (I do have a brook in my yard, but have otherwise sighted such birds only about 3 times over the same period of time); I find this comforting, and so do our children.

  • Tim in Maine

    A good friend from high school killed himself during his sophmore year of college in 1988.  He did not leave a note and his suicide was a mystery to me and many others at the time.  Looking back on it now, it seems very possible that he killed himself because he was gay.  We grew up in a community where no one was openly gay and homosexuality had a tremendous stigma attached to it.  I have been haunted by his death for all these years because I wish I had kept in touch with him more than I did.  We had drifted apart after high school and I have often wondered if I could have prevented his death if I had been a better friend and paid more attention to his emotional state of mind.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Maybe, maybe NOT.  You’ll NEVER know, and CANNOT know.   You CAN live a better life, and try to be friends to others with possibly similiar circumstances, and MAYBE help prevent damage. 
          Remember that the best we can do, is the best we can do, at the time.

  • Whitney Savignano

    I lost my mother to a long battle with cancer when I was 19 and she was only 46.  I lost my father when he dropped dead of a heart attack when I was 30.  Both ways, the long goodbye and the sudden departure are heart-wrenching.  What I have learned is that i need to tell the people I love every day how special they are to me.  I almost look at the sadness as a gift in that it has inspired me to write down the story of my life and my parents’ lives and my 2 children’s lives so that my children will know our stories.  My kids ask me all the time to tell them stories of when I was a kid.  I only have about 20 to retell over and over.  By writing down my story and their stories I am giving them the gift of being able to pass on their stories to their children when I am gone.

  • Scott B, NY

    We used to be much more connected to death. We killed our own food, took care of the bodies of our loved ones in our own homes.  Now we buy packaged food and packaged death, with the body going from place to place without our involvement beyond what price? What packaging?

  • Judit

    I lost my cousin when I was 15. She was 10 and died of the same type of brain tumor that killed my closest classmate when I was 10 myself. I dreamt about my cousin Joanna many many times following her death. In these dreams she would be alive yet aware of her imminent death. I would ask her why wasn’t she mad at her situation, and she would always respond that I should accept the fact that she was going to die like she had already accepted, and that I should enjoy my remaining time with her. These dreams faded with time, but would always reappear in my adult life. And as I promised her right after she died, I named my first daughter Johanna so that Joanna would always be with us. 

  • Brett

    I just had an unexpected feeling in reading through some of these comments: I felt a tinge of guilt for my own lingering (every now and again) sense of loss compared to some of the other stories told today…I’ll have to work on that ;-)

    • Brett

      I guess that’s the thing. Our own grief is OUR very own pain and no one else’s to bear. We can only really let go when we can truly possess it for ourselves.

  • Valerie

    I had a short, but intense friendship back in college.  We had a falling out and never spoke again.  Just a few years later, I heard she had died of cancer.  I was shocked and saddened, but oddly – I felt insulted that she never tried to contact me as she was suffering and dying!  Her personality burned bright and I think she meant something more to me than I did to her in her short life.  I tracked down a childhood friend of hers who filled me in on the last moments of her life and we laughed as we recalled what a difficult, but worthy of knowing girl she was…I think of her often still.

  • Lisa

    I lost my best friend from college a month before my wedding in an accident where the details of her death were never completely clear.  Since that time and after other tragic losses in the following year  of my life I have had more thoughts about losing others in my life in tragic ways. These thoughts make sense to me, especially being a therapist and understanding how these things can play out, but it is hard for me to share them with people close to me because of their discomfort with death and loss. 

  • Mary

    My mother died when I was 12 and my father when I was 15. When I was in my twenties I got a call that my first boyfriend who was a musician had died in a car accident. I did not deal with this event at all. I did not attend the funeral…..nothing. A year later, John Lennon was murdered and I fell apart. Now when I hear John Lennon, I connect with all the people I’ve lost. Strange, huh?

  • Runner by Circumstance

    Three weeks after I got married (at 29) my college roomate, who had been battling cancer, died of a failed liver transplant.  She was supposed to be in my wedding, but instead she was battling for her life.  Within the next few years, several of my students (I’m a high school teacher) had shocking, horrible deaths related to undiagnosed diabetes, drowning, undiagnosed heart problems, and suicide.  In addition my grandmother and close family friend passed away.  For a long time I didn’t laugh, something my roomate and I did all the time.  My early days of marriage were pretty awful because I was grieving and couldn’t work on developing a relationship.  I became afraid of everything.  One day I got an email from the American Liver Foundation looking for people to run the Boston Marathon as a fundraiser.  Though I had never run in my life, I signed up and sure enough, completed the Boston Marathon.  The marathon route passes by her old apartment.  Everytime I did a training run I cried when I passed that building.  It was a powerful, healing kind of cry and though it didn’t take away the pain, it helped me to channel it and to manage it.  With the love of my husband and the power of my memories I have truly come to realize that life is precious and fleeting.  Those who are gone had life snatched from them.  For whatever reason, mine hasn’t been snatched. . . and though sometimes I still cry, I know that its up to me to hold them in my heart, take what I learned from them and  lead the fullest, most joyful life that I can. 

    • Runner By Circumstance

       I ran the marathon in memory of my roomate and ran by her building every week during group training runs.  Sorry – that’ll teach me not to proofread before posting.

  • Liisa Canalori

    I understand the twin’s connection with her brother’s death at the racetrack.  My father shot himself and it seems when I miss him the most or need him the most – he shows up.  This is something I cannot explain.  I’ll see his old gray Dodge pick-up (he sold years before he died) around around town or I’ll see a state trooper with a license plate (a trooper came to the house to tell us they had found my father and I’ll forever associate trooper cars with my father) that includes his initials or I’ll see someone that reminds me so much of him I do a double take.  22 was a special number for him & my mother and there are more coincidences thatn I can list around that number.  When my son (named after my father) was born my room number had 22 in it.  I understand the feeling of elation she described. 
    I will never completely understand why my father did what he did.  I have come to some sort of peace with it because I believe he hurt so badly he couldn’t imagine another day in that pain and is now at peace.  Wherever and however that is.  I’m not religious but I’m spiritual and he’s still around somehow.

    Death is never easy, even when it released the person from pain – be it physical or mental anquish.

  • http://www.facebook.com/demarcus.i.jackson Demarcus Ibdul Jackson

    Death has always been a part of my life. The earliest funeral I can remember going to was when I was 4-years-old, but my parents tell me I’ve been going since I was an infant. Moreover, my parents never tried to paint death in euphemisms. They were, for the most part, very frank and matter-of-fact about death.

    However, when I was 12-years-old, an event that would alter my life happened. In my neighborhood, there was this guy, who was known to be a prostitute, drug abuser, and generally low-level criminal. He was also thought to be gay. He was the guy that everyone knew, but no one talked to and parents warned their children to never associate with him in any way.

    Well, one Sunday, in church, this fella interrupted services. He was terribly disheveled and had appeared to be physically hurt. He was bloody and had scars on his face. It looked like he had been in some sort of violent, physical altercation. The man asked for help and requested if he could stay in the church during the services. To this day, I remember what the church preacher said, “No. You can not stay. Please leave…now!”

    You could hear a pin drop in that room. No one said a word. The fella was looking at the preacher with such sad, desperate eyes. He didn’t respond back to the preacher. He just left. The preacher apologized from the situation and continued delivering his sermon.

    The following Tuesday, the fella was discovered killed. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the killing, but everyone had reasoned that it must have been something criminally related to his “sinful” lifestyle. I don’t think anyone gave it a second thought…except for me. You see, during the dramatic scene in church, I can vaguely remember my mom staring at me as the fella was denied help. Years later, my mom would confess to me that she felt very guilty that she had not intervened and that she knew that I was greatly impacted by the events that took place that day.

    The next Sunday, when the family was getting ready for church (as had been the tradition for as long as I could remember) I was not preparing myself. My mom and dad told me several times to get ready, but I wasn’t doing anything. My mom came into my bedroom where I was playing my Atari game system and asked me if I was going to church. (Thinking back on it…I thought this was a strange question. She had never asked any of us if we were going to church before. We simply went. It was expected of us.) I told her “No. I’m not going to church. I don’t feel good. I feel sick.” She told me that if I was going to stay at home, I had to clean up the kitchen and bathroom. (My parents didn’t believe in recreation :-) …idle hands are the devil’s workshop!) I didn’t have a problem with cleaning up.

    That was the last time I ever stepped a foot into another church.

    I am now 33-years-old. I am openly Gay. I am not a Christian anymore. I’m not an agnostic or atheist either. I would say that I am “irreligious” and I adhere to principles of secular humanism.

    I have experienced a lot of death in my life, but the death of that fella has always affected me. I can’t really explain it. I suppose because at the time, I felt it was a death that could have probably been prevented. He asked for help, and he should have received it.

    Well…that’s my story. Thanks for reading it.   

    • Anne, NY

      So often we hear religious people ask, “What would Jesus do?”  The record shows clearly that Jesus would have responded to this man.  Too many of our religious leaders have forgotten, or never learned, what it means to behave in a truly Christlike manner.  That was what Jesus tried to remind the authorities in his day.  Too bad they still need to learn it.  I hope it was helpful to you that your mom was able to see this, even though it took her some time to be able to say it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/demarcus.i.jackson Demarcus Ibdul Jackson

        Hi Anne. Yes, it was helpful for my mom to admit this years later. My mom is an awesome and lovely person and she is one of my heroes. Thanks for reading my post.

    • Ted Sebern

       I feel very sorry for you…

      • http://www.facebook.com/demarcus.i.jackson Demarcus Ibdul Jackson

        Don’t feel sorry for me. I am doing very well and I am quite happy with my life. I have friends, I have a loving and supportive family, and I have a great and rewarding career in education. I didn’t ask for pity from you or anyone else. I just told my story. But, thanks for reading it :-) Have a great day!

    • Sraeps

      It clearly sounds like the preacher did wrong by telling him to leave.  The preacher and others in the Church should have immediately taken the man to safety.  However, we are all sinners and God is the only judge.  We should not judge others by their actions or mistakes. There is a time to live and a time to die. God decides when they are. Do not judge that preacher for his mistake, the church for what happened in it’s walls.  God will see that justice is done. Turn your heart to God our creator. Read his word and remember that nobody is perfect except him.  Do not judge me as someone sounding like I know everything. I do not, therefore I read our Father in Heaven’s word to try and do what is right. No man can take that away from us!   

      • http://www.facebook.com/demarcus.i.jackson Demarcus Ibdul Jackson

        I appreciate the advice, but I am happy. I’ve found peace and well-being in secular humanism, so I will continue to adhere to its tenants. I am no longer a Christian and I have been happily un-Christian for my entire adult life. Humanism has showed me that I do not need theism or supernatural beliefs to lead a good and moral life. It has taught me to have faith in humankind and to believe that humankind can be great, with hard work, conviction, and determination. Humanism has taught me to value science and empiricism and to utilize it to become a better person in all domains of my life.

        Thank you for reading my post.

  • penny

    I lost my mother at 21 after a long illness. At this time I was working out to town and did not make it back in time to say goodbye.  She, however found a way to complete the circle.  A week after the funeral I dropped some groceries off to my uncle (who was living in the home she was raised in).  No one was home, the phone rang, I answered only to hear, through a grab deal of static my mother’s voice and she said “Hi honey, I love you……Goodbye”.  I stood in the kitchen stunned, but at that moment I started to make the first steps to healing.  Can’t explain it, don’t really have to.

  • Mojo2854

    I’m 51 now and I lost my mother, father, and grandmother in a 5 year period starting when I was in my early twenties. I don’t mean to be the downer voice in the group, but the pain of losing all these people has fundamentally changed who I am. I have a son I adore but there has always been a slight melancholy that is not too far below the surface that I don’t think will ever go away. I still miss them every day.

    • http://twitter.com/mrmartye Marty E.

       I completely can relate.

  • Rose

    I lost my only sister very unexpectedly to suicide 5 years ago.  She was 20 years old.  At the time it felt like I had lost a limb.  It was a devastating loss.  Luckily I found a wonderful grief counselor to help me navigate the heart wrenching and confusing world of grief, which of course was complicated by the unique circumstances that accompany death by suicide.  Although the grief never leaves it does change and become easier to carry.  I always assumed my sister was the one person I was guaranteed to have around for the rest of my life, a partner to see me through the big life changes.  Now I am struck by the strangeness of continuing to get older, while she will eternally remain 20 years old.  

  • Carlyburton

    Thank you for this show.  I lost my father due to a sudden death and my sister to suicide within 2 years in my late twenties.  I, too, feel like I have an unhealthy obsession with death, especially suicide.  I also feel like these deaths were instrumental in removing my own fear of death.  In a lot of ways, though not morbidly, I look forward to it because I believe I will see them again. 

    • Terry Tree Tree

      I hope you will seek proper counselling, and get a competent counsellor.
         There’s a LOT to enjoy in life, even after the deaths of loved ones, and the trials and tribulations that come along.

  • http://twitter.com/mrmartye Marty E.

    I lost my father at age 7, and all of my grandparents by age 12.

    I miss and think of my dad every day, and sometimes think that I got cheated, and that he did as well.  But I feel better in knowing that he didn’t want to leave me and…at least we had each other for that short time.

    He was in a dream once, when I was in my teens.  He told me that I’d be ok.  He was right, I think.

    What I can say about it, all of these years later, is that my early experiences with loss made me a more resilient and adaptable person.

    It also puts me in a position where, when my friends lose someone, I can relate and offer an ear and a shoulder.

    For these things, I am grateful.

  • Joy

    I lost my best friend when I was 12. That was hard – I really felt it set me apart for a long time, though as the years go by, I think about it less, and more of my peers have lost someone dear to them.

    When I was 25, a friend of mine was killed when we serving in Iraq. We weren’t close, but it hit home. He was just 18.

    Not long after, my Dad passed away. It felt like the ground getting ripped out from under me. I was deployed for another tour to Iraq shortly thereafter. Stop lossed, with the tour extended to 15 months. That is no place to grieve – there’s no time, for one thing, and your emotions aren’t peacetime-normal for another. That was a very dark time, and I sincerely hope that if anyone else lands in a situation they can’t handle, that they seek out help like I did. There’s no shame, we all have our breaking point.

  • Stillin

    When you experience a death, part of you dies with them. Then you have to figure out what to put there in the remainder of your life. I have experienced the loss of my oldest brother, my mom , and my little brother. My caregive, great grandmother, when I was very young. I think it stays with you, regardless. Not a night goes by, when I don’t think of the people that have been taken out of my life because I want to see them so badly. That said, death in this country is treated so dysfunctionally it’s a terrible diservice to the living.

  • GreyTreed

    I lost two of my very best friends and grandmother (who was certainly more like a second mother to me than a grandma) all within 2 yrs of each other when I was 17-19. It was a very very trying time for me. At an already confusing time in your life (17-19) and at a point where you are searching to find out as much as possible about who “you” are, I had these 3 very important ‘guides’ in that quest for self, all die relatively suddenly. I truly learned a lot about myself in those two years! It definitely is a learning process! There is really no advice or proven formula that allows you ameliorate their pain or to even be able to sincerely console someone in this position. It is one of those meaningful times in virtually everyone’s life that can only be alleviated totally by your own process. Whether its a grieving process or a celebration of life or both It will surely help you build the character necessary for your continued journey!!

  • Windermere275

     Very difficult topic. Was personally touched by the death of an 8th
    grade classmate. Never easy to forget or move on from these tragedies.
    Thought Tom did a great job with callers, and one in particular that
    required understanding and support.  Always a great morning program. Thanks.

  • Frances Roushar

    I lost one brother to suicide at 39 and another at 52 to an freak accident.  I think of them everyday.  The loss of my brother to suicide to years to overcome.  I’ve never know such grief or pain.  It something that sticks with me and affects me still to this day, both positively and negatively.  It’s life.

  • Andy

    Dear Mr. Ashbrook,

    This was one of the best radio programs I have ever heard. No-one (especially in America) seems to want to discuss this subject. However, it is the minds of all who live. You are to be congratulated on a bold move.

    All the best,


  • Kknowlton

    I understand the need to cut call-ins short.  I would like to recommend that when you have a topic such as death and you purposely elicit utterly painful experiences from your audience, you allow more time for those guests to disconnect from your interview and in a more gentle manner.  At the least, acknowledge their courage and express condolences.  I was just stunned at the way some of the callers were literally just cut off after opening such woulds.  Other than that, this was an important conversation.  Thank you.

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Sep 3, 2014
This still image from an undated video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, purports to show journalist Steven Sotloff being held by the militant group. The Islamic State group has threatened to kill Sotloff if the United States doesn't stop its strikes against them in Iraq. Video released Tuesday, Sept. 02, 2014, purports to show Sotloff's murder by the same rebel group. (AP)

Another beheading claim and ISIS’s use of social media in its grab for power.

Sep 3, 2014
In this Fall 2013 photo provided by the University of Idaho, students in the University of Idaho’s first Semester in the Wild program take a class in the Frank Church-River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. (AP)

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Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

Nine weeks counting now to the midterm elections. We’ll look at the key races and the stakes.

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