Death in a small town

So far, I’ve been approaching turning 30 in my typical fashion, which is to mercilessly make fun of growing older.

But this past weekend, I realized it’s all fun and games until someone your age dies.

It all happened so fast. One minute I’m out having drinks with friends and the next, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with “R.I.P.” messages and I’m frantically calling friends on the phone to figure out what happened.

Yes, it’s true. Motorcycle accident. Late Friday/early Saturday. That’s all we know right now.

His name was Benji. Classmate. Neighbor. Third-grade crush.

Only 29-years-old.

This is the dark side of getting older (and social networking…nothing is quite as jolting as finding out about someone’s death via a “R.I.P.” message on your newsfeed). Suddenly, you are no longer invincible. Nor is anyone else.

By Sunday, friends were calling me to see if I was OK. I kept giving the same answer. “Yeah…I think…I just feel…I don’t know…weird.”

From the outside, his death probably doesn’t seem like something that should affect me this much. Sure, we ran around in the same circles, used to live on the same street and the last time I visited home this spring, I ran into him and we had made tentative plans to meet up later with those aforementioned same circle of friends.

Not exactly the stuff BFF’s are made of.

But for those of us closer to the inside, those of us who, just like me, spent 13 years going to the same school together, it makes more sense to be shaken by this tragedy.

My graduating high school class was comprised of barely 70 people. And 90 percent of that 70 had gone to kindergarten together. And with that comes an intimacy that only a small town can provide. Regardless of whether you had ever actually talked to Benji, chances are you knew his parents, siblings, where he lived, his dating history and his preferred brand of beer.

And only in a small town like that can you have anecdotes like the time I mowed down his mom’s mailbox while driving home late one night (something which became neighborhood lore and something which he never let me live down).

So, I’m not really sure how to grieve. I haven’t cried. But am I supposed to? I’m sad and confused in that way that only a senseless tragedy can make you feel. But am I sad and confused because Benji died or more because we’re the same age and this could just have easily have happened to me? Or a combination of both?

Should I be sadder? Less sad?

It’s the same way I feel anytime someone from our close-knit community passes away, including parents. These people are intricately linked to my past. And even though I haven’t actually lived in Ohio in over five years, I still feel that connection.

But at the same time, its been over a decade since I saw any of them on a regular basis.

I think what it comes down to is that we lost one of our own. That’s how it is in a small town. No matter how close you were or weren’t, no matter the last time you talked, no matter whether you got along in school or not, the overwhelming feeling is that this person belonged to us. We all belong to each other.

And losing one means losing a small part of ourselves.

8 responses to “Death in a small town

  1. Aprill… this is so true. Be true and kind to yourself and keep the faith. We will all hold a special place for Benji in our hearts. Great work describing our “small town” lives.

  2. it’s always sad when you get this type of wake up call. It’s unfortunately happened to me twice. The first time was about five years ago. I think it was about 6 months after graduating law school, one of my good friends died in a motorcycle accident. She was 26. Then, this morning, I found out that a friend and former co-worker ODed after being clean for a year. He just turned 28 two weeks ago.

    There’s really no one way to react. I cried a lot when my first friend passed. The second I’ve been rather numb. I’m not sure which way is right, but I’m also not sure if there is a ‘right’ in these situations.

  3. Aprill,

    I know how you feel, I mean I can say that Benji was a friend of mine I guess…. We both had mutual friends, we always spoke when we saw each other, and he even made it to a party or two of mine. I do feel sad that we as a class have lost him. He was just such a nice guy. It goes to show that not a moment of life should be wasted. We are young but not exempt from tragedy.

  4. I understand how you feel. We all had eachother over those 13 years and then we move apart but we still have those memories in our hearts. When you hear a tragedy like that, your heart aches in pain. Then you start getting the what ifs… and that can really tear you up inside. Benji will be greatly missed!

    I lost my sister-in-law in Sept. from cancer. She was only 22, the worst time of my life and I remember every tear, ache and sadness that I felt going through that situation. Now whenever I hear of someone dying especially young it just hurts all over again because I know what the family is going through.

  5. You wrote a beautiful and eloquent column expressing and explaining the feelings that come up when someone from your history dies. It took me back to my high school and the small town sense of connectedness. Thanks.

  6. Everyone who leaves asks me why I stay. Thank you for providing me the words to express why I could never leave. “Small town” can mean gossip, nosiness, and an overt interest in your business, but when things happen as they always do, we pull together for our own. That, for me, is priceless and worth every minute of the gossip, nosiness, and interest in my very boring business.

  7. I too am from a small town and can totally understand your feelings. Benji however was my cousin and more so like a little brother growing up. Whether you knew him as a close friend or just someone you met at a party his smile and kindness was just something that stuck with you. He had a heart of gold and would do anything for anybody. He was a great, great guy that was taken from our lives way to soon. He is missed deeply by all and loved so much. He will live on in our hearts and memories forever.

  8. MaLinda (Susie) Teboe

    Thank you for sharing this blog!!! It is awesome…Benji was my nephew…and he was my favorite…don’t take this wrong, I love all of my nieces and nephews, but Benji had a special place in my heart!! One of his friends mom always called him “Twinkle Eyes” and she was so right, every picture I have of him…no matter what was going on in his life, his eyes always twinkled!!! He will be greatly missed by all. But I feel you should know the rest of the story…He has the greatest friends a person could ever want. Benji had no insurance, we had to make funeral arrangements and his mom did not know how it would be paid but we would make it work…These friends stepped up to the plate and have done fund raisers, made donations, etc. and raised the money to pay the entire funeral bill…we have one more benefit on August 13th, we hope to raise enough money to pay for the grave marker. I cannot say enough about these guys they have been a rock of support for my sister in her time of loss…she lost one son but she gained 10 plus sons through this tragedy.

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