When Tragedy Strikes Your Community
Last month, our little community here in Marin County, California was just going about our business, immersed in the daily going-ons of life; work, kids, bills, errands, dinners, looking ahead to the future.
And then a text came in. “There’s been a tragedy in the community. Call me.”
My friend couldn’t get the words out, until finally, she whispered, “Jacquie died. They don’t know what happened.”
Here’s what everyone knew about Jacquie: She was going to be the last person to die of anyone we knew. Why? Because Jacquie was one of those people who was so alive that it was impossible to imagine that she would ever die.
How could she, when she was so busy living, laughing, loving and making richer and more wonderful the lives of kids and teens and everyone else in her path? When she was so busy fostering dogs and writing community plays, cooking Mexican feasts for oceans of people, using her law degree for the highest good, and generally being the glue and love that brought so much to those around her at every moment?
And yet, in spite of all rules of justice, karma and odds, in one night, she was gone.
It felt almost palpable, the way the shock and grief and sobs rippled through our community, clutching heart after heart as the texts and calls flew. Brain aneurysm out of the blue, what about Bruce, what about the kids. And then, two unthinkable words spoken together: Jacquie’s funeral.
At the services that followed, many were awed to learn just how much love Jacquie created in her life, how deep and far-reaching her impact was on so many, many circles of people. Her brilliance and generosity of spirit seemed only to equal her joie-de-vivre. She never stopped saying yes to life on a level that is rare as an adult.
Jacquie is the third young woman, mother and wife that our circle of friends has lost over these last few years, each of them decades before their time.
Like Jacquie, Sara and Jackie weren’t just good people. They were amazing people, some of the best people you would ever be lucky enough to know. All three women were luminous in their goodness, generosity and joyfulness. All three were beautiful in extreme amounts, absurd amounts.
“Mom, why is it always the best people?” Our daughter cried when she heard the news.
Tragedy blindsides us. It knocks the wind out of us and forces into question the day-to-day stability of our lives.
And, along with the heartbreak, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by anxiety and fear. What’s next? Who’s next? It makes me want to scoop all my family and friends into my pocket and somehow stitch them up in safety. If only.
Instead, there is no answer, no logic, no sense. But as our community once again walks heavy in loss, maybe there is one thing we can hold onto.
The flip side of loss is clarity. In this case, clarity of how precious life is, and how, at least to some extent, we choose where we put our most precious, personal resources — our time and attention.
"When someone asks me what they can do for me,” Jacquie’s husband, Bruce, said, “I tell them to book a vacation with their family and enjoy the time together.”
Jacquie was one of the most extraordinary life teachers I’ve ever known. Like Sara and Jackie, her priorities seemed effortlessly and constantly in line with how she chose to give her time, to whom and to what.
Maybe the best way we can honor the lives of those we have loved and lost is, going forward, to hold them as guides in the choices we make every day—to live better and love harder and be quicker to say yes to only what matters in our own lives.