It was the wrong thing to say

When I was in high school, I lost a friend to a freak car accident. The news traveled fast. Seth was one of those guys you loved regardless of who you were, what group you were in, or how you knew him. I don’t have the statistics, but I’d say that 3/4 of my high school knew within hours. This, mind you, was before cell phones, text messages, and Facebook.  We just used a regular old land line.

I don’t remember the person who called to tell me. I remember running downstairs, hysterically crying, and screaming to my mother, “Seth’s dead!” Not expecting to hear anything like this, my mother initially looked at me as though I were speaking in foreign tongues.

I tried again. “Seth. Benedict. Died. In a car accident. He died. He’s dead.”

She shook her head. “But you didn’t know him all that well Katie.”

Seriously? A friend of mine, someone I knew, someone I sat near in class, someone with whom I had shared laughs and jokes and chemistry notes is now not on this earth anymore, and that is all? I didn’t KNOW him that well?

My response to her comment was throwing myself against the refrigerator and landing in a heap of tears on the cold laminated kitchen floor.

It was November. The burnt orange and vibrant red leaves had fallen. They were now drying up on the ground, slowly decaying before winter’s wretched bite could get to them. It must have rained that day, because those same leaves were plastered to the road in a slick collage of faded autumn remnants. There was no way for the vehicle to stop that day, but I’ll tell you one thing, the world did.

Inside our little small town school we struggled that following day to make sense of the truth. Most of us hadn’t previously been acquainted with death or loss-many of us were privileged, even if we didn’t know it then. Our parents had done a good job of making sure that we didn’t experience this kind of pain and disbelief. But you simply cannot control the world around your children after a certain point. At some time, the outside forces are going to impact your children and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You’re also going to get to a point where your children are forming relationships and having experiences without you-experiences that you don’t recognize, friendships that might not register on that radar of yours.

My mom was right in one sense-Seth didn’t come over to my house every day. I didn’t call him on the phone at night and tell him my deepest secrets. But every day, he stood outside our chemistry classroom until the bell rang, hands behind his back, smiling and greeting everyone in the hallway. How could she have known how funny he was? How chemistry was all of a sudden not boring with him there? How he was so kind to absolutely everyone, restoring our faith in humanity through those brutally cruel high school years?

That next day, we ran our fingers along the lockers, with their peeling paint, wondering about the  meaning of it all. We huddled in small groups, talking quietly amidst puffy eyes and soggy overused tissues. The teachers and guidance counselors wandered the halls and cried over the loss of one of their students. They mourned at the loss of innocence in all of our faces. We knew now, all of us knew it…we were no longer immortal.

My mom worked really hard throughout my childhood to shelter me from everything she could possibly hide me from. I sometimes wonder if her comment was meant to help me rationalize the experience. She, as a parent, was obviously not ready (who would ever be) to metabolize the loss of a young community member. Legitimately, she also was not prepared to comfort me. But still, it was not the right thing to say.

As a parent now, I see how parenting is 50% trying to prepare yourself for the next thing to come, and 50% admitting that you’ll never actually be prepared for anything. As an adult, I actually find comfort in knowing that I can’t prepare myself for so many of the experiences that will tumble down my road. Rather, I must find the tools I need to cope with different circumstances.

Seth’s death still affects me on almost a daily basis. Most often, however, I choose to remember him, and not the loss of him, so that I can start the day with a smile on my face, and with a little more compassion for those around me.

Author: livefromtimeout

When I'm not refereeing my two children, I like to workout and drink wine. But not at the same time. Teaching happens to be my vocation and my passion.

17 thoughts on “It was the wrong thing to say”

  1. Your mom definitely didn’t say the right thing, but I wonder if the moment replayed in her mind over and again, each time with her saying something different, showing more understanding. It definitely is a tragedy when someone passes, no matter how close you are to them. Sorry for your loss, even if it was a while ago. 😦


  2. …what a tragic way for the edges of your own life to become visible. Thank you for sharing. I have no doubt your friend would be proud and grateful for these poignant words.


  3. Having experienced death when I was very young, it was still a shock that sent my entire HS (including me) reeling when a classmate was killed in a car accident. It is extra troubling when a contemporary dies- if it can happen to them it can happen to me, any day. YIKES.


  4. Yeah, definitely not the right thing to say! It sounds like you trusted your own truth, though, about Seth’s presence in your life, which is a brave and powerful thing. Some great images in this piece, like the leaves sticking to the road and the soggy tissue. Well done. Thanks for sharing.


  5. How does your mom remember this day and your conversation? While she didn’t say what you were needing to hear, I’m sure she was working out in her head what she thought needed to be done to help you. She has always been your staunch and steady cheerleader. Different people react in different ways, and in your writings you show beautifully how others’ reactions to life are so varied and interesting, that’s why I like to read your work. The title of this piece, however, bothers me.While your mom’s reply may not have been what you wanted to hear, it wasn’t necessarily “wrong”. Just my two cents.


    1. I agree with you, Kim. As a matter of fact, the second to last paragraph illustrates my knowledge that she couldn’t possibly have known how to deal with the situation, especially as it was presented to her in a completely shocking manner. Thank you for your constructive criticism regarding my title. I am always looking for ways to improve.


  6. If one of my kids brought up something I said to them 20 years ago and posted it on facebook I would be so upset. No parent is perfect, I am sure my kids remember something I said or didn’t say when they needed me. Talking about it is way better than posting it..


    1. I sincerely feel that you missed the entire point of the post, Sue. Again, I will refer you to the second to last paragraph that illustrates that I NOW KNOW AS AN ADULT AND MOTHER that my mother had no way of preparing for that tragic day. Please remember that you are reading a blog that I write, not my Facebook feed. I would hate to offend anyone, because that is not my goal here. Rest assured that when I talked to Mom about the post, she told me she understood that it wasn’t about her, it was about the experience and how I learned to cope with death that day. As a parent I’m sure I say the wrong thing all the time to my kids and this post is a reminder that self reflection is very important when parenting.


  7. Actually Katie I am sorry that I sounded so judgmental. You know your Mom is one of my best friends and I was just being defensive. I do realize now what your point was and it wasn’t disrespecting your Mom, just relating a time in your life that was difficult. Your Mom and Dad were here at my house last night
    on their way to NY and she made me understand the point of your your memory. Sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

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