This isn’t ever how it should be – a high school senior gone in an instant.
No matter how many news stories you hear about teens at other schools dying suddenly, you’re never prepared when it hits close to home.
It hit our community last week.
Bubbly, talented, respected and loved, Kenzie Ruston died Jan. 4, along with a family friend. Their small plane crashed in Wyoming. It was the day before her 18th birthday, and she was doing something that she loved – flying. Those who know her or her family are reeling, looking for any way they can to make sense of it.
There is no way to make sense of it.
My classmates and I discovered that truth exactly 30 years ago, when as seniors at a nearby high school, we found ourselves trying to wrap our minds around a classmate’s tragic death. The circumstances were very different, but the shock and deep heartache were not.
When a teenager dies, that’s the day childhood ends for their friends. We realize we are not invincible, and that this thing called life is real and sometimes painful. Truths are revealed in the days and months after such a death, some of which can only come from time and distance from such a tragedy.
It’s difficult to know how to respond, or to even come up with words, after such a loss. Maybe these 5 suggestions for maneuvering through it, based on what we learned, can help someone who’s hurting today.
- Talk it out. Maybe this is the first time you’ve known this kind of grief. Talk about it until you don’t need to talk about it anymore. Everyone grieves differently. If someone says they’re tired of hearing you talk about it, find someone else who will listen.
- Cry when you need to. Just when you think you can’t possibly cry any more, you may cry again. It’s ok to be sad, angry, afraid, jaded, or depressed – as long as you feel. We can become desensitized so easily today, but pay attention to your emotions. It can take a long time for your heart to mend, and that’s OK.
- Remember your friend at every opportunity. Observe birthdays and remember anniversaries. Remember her at class reunions. It will keep her alive in your hearts, and if you occasionally share those remembrances with her family, it will give them support and comfort, too.
- Live each day to the fullest. You’ll always remember where you were when you heard the news. It’s a defining moment in your life, and you will replay this in your mind through the years. Use every opportunity to tell people how much they mean to you. One of my friends and fellow classmates said it best, “Treasure every breath you take while on this Earth and treasure the people God has placed in your life.”
- Turn your question of “why?” into a question of “what now?” The answers to why don’t come easily, but we have control over the “what now.” What can you take from this experience and use to make the world a better place?
Not surprisingly to us, Kenzie’s family shifted quickly to a “what now” stance, creating a gofundme.com page to honor her legacy as they attempted to raise $100,000 to support the Bouncing Bulldogs jump rope program that helped shape her life.
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