I closed the door quietly, not wanting to wake my parents as I knew they’d be asleep. As I walked toward the basement door I thought it was odd that the light was on – my parents were so good at turning off lights when not needed. I headed down the stairs and looked up with a start at the tear-stained face of my mother. My stomach dropped.
“Is it Grandpa?”
She shook her head, unable to speak.
“What’s going on?” I said, fear pervading my insides.
“It’s Sue. She was killed in a car accident.”
“No! No! No!” I screamed as my mom tried to comfort and quiet me.
In that instant, my world changed forever.
Today is the thirty-year anniversary of the death of Susan Carol Weavers. That October I was in my sophomore year at Bethel College and living back at my parents’ house after living on campus my freshman year. I was taking a required class that explored the arts, if I remember right, and I had been to the Minnesota Orchestra that night as part of the class. I left for Orchestra Hall a carefree young person but upon my return felt the weight of the unexpected – and unwelcome – death of one of my best friends. Besides the sheer horribleness of grief, in the coming months I would undergo a crisis of faith about how a good God could allow someone so young, smart, caring, and wonderful to die.
I met Sue Weavers when she returned from living in Japan with her family. We became fast friends, and soon I knew I could always depend on her as one who would listen when I was down and who was always up for a new adventure. Though she had traveled and lived abroad, she never lauded her cosmopolitan understanding over us who had never left the country – or even the Midwest. She accepted me for who I was and loved me all the same.
She had gone to the University of Minnesota at Duluth while I stayed in the Cities, and on that fateful night had been out driving with a guy, sitting next to him without wearing a car seat. On her desk back in her room was a letter I had sent her, which would remain forever unopened. I’ve kept her letters, and now when I see her handwriting I’m instantly transported back, hearing her voice and seeing her smile.
This summer when I was back in Minnesota, some of my high-school friends and I went to visit her grave. But we went on a Saturday when the office was closed and none of us could remember exactly where she’s buried. We walked along the rows of gravestones, searching in vain for our friend. “How can I not remember?” I wondered, thinking of the many times I would visit her grave, bringing a sandwich from Arby’s during my lunchbreak from the law office where I worked the summer after she died. After an hour or so, we gave up, feeling the poignancy of what we’d lost by the fruitless search in the cemetery. She was there, but she wasn’t.
Those of us in our high-school group have remained lifelong friends, perhaps because the shock and horror of losing Sue bonded us together as nothing else would. Of course I would rather she lived, but I’m grateful that we have this gift of friendship over the years of people who know us, warts and all. With each other we can descend into shorthand (“I’m spent!”) or pose the normally unaskable questions of each other.
Our life can change in a moment, as mine did thirty years ago. Sue, I miss you.