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The only lesson may be that there is no lesson

op frOne of my wife’s childhood friends lives near Wilmington. Her daughter, a senior at Appalachian State, died last week in a tragic car accident. We went to the service two days after Christmas. 

One of the young lady’s sorority sisters had the courage and strength to speak, but could only do so with six or seven of her friends surrounding her, literally helping her keep standing and keep talking at times when she was overcome. When they got to the podium — most of them in tears — it was as if the grief, already overwhelming, was multiplied by 10.

Drawing strength from that sorrow, the young lady delivered one of the most eloquent eulogies I’ve ever heard. My own 19-year-old daughter, a sophomore at the same college, was seated between Lori and me. Throughout the service, the urge to keep my arm around Hannah while also resting my hand on Lori’s shoulder was overwhelming. 

Her eulogy was nearly 15 minutes long, and the speaker wandered back and forth between grief and celebrating the life of a very special young woman. As she described Mandie, what struck me was how she talked again and again about someone who was all out in everything she did. Whether it was working on a political campaign, helping others study, singing very loud and often off-key, or just being a friend, they described someone who always seemed to live in the moment and didn’t care what others thought. She spoke her mind. She loved to laugh and loved the people around her.

Afterward, back in our car and continuing a 1,000-mile Christmas road trip visiting family in a couple of different states, I thought about those character traits. I also thought about how as a parent we try to cultivate and nurture that attitude toward life in our children. We want them to be daring and outgoing, but how do you temper those traits by encouraging them not to take undue risks? It’s a delicate balance all parents face.

I thought of my other daughter, Megan, who wasn’t safely in the car with Lori and my other two children on this holiday trip. She’s spending the year in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, teaching kindergarten and first grade. Many of our friends outwardly cringed when they heard she was going to an Arab country to live and work. Then a few weeks ago a foreign teacher was killed in a shopping mall in Abu Dhabi, a city in the same country. When I heard that, my frantic Internet searching confirmed a fear I didn’t really know was there.

Another jetliner crashed in Malaysia a couple of days ago. Right now, Megan is traveling in Thailand, which borders Malaysia. She’ll be flying out of Bangkok and back to Dubai this week.

As parents, most times we never give voice to that nagging fear inside as your children explore the world and look for adventure. But my friends just lost their daughter, a young lady who was about to graduate from college and embark on her own life of adventure and exploration, a life that would have likely taken her to exotic locales and likely required some degree of risk-taking. That makes me very conscious of the risks my own children take in their day-to-day life. Those without children may not understand what I’m talking about, but every parent knows.

This young lady lost her life on a rural highway that she had driven for years. My daughter may be off seeing the world, but she is a seasoned traveler and keeps her wits about her. I trust her judgment. Perhaps I should worry more about my 16-year-old son when he is out driving around Haywood County and I haven’t heard from him in a couple of hours. I’m not sure what the lesson is here, or if there is one. 

The truth, I guess, is that tragedy usually strikes without warning. Take life in big gulps rather than measured sips, and every chance you get tell those you love exactly how you feel.  

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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