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At Thanksgiving, Juggling Thanks With Grief

The sudden death of a high school classmate clashes with a holiday created to express thanks for what we have.

I realize I'm getting older—I get slapped in the face with that hard, cold truth every time I pass a mirror.

And I realize that death is an inevitable part of life.

But I'm no more prepared to be losing members of my high school class at the age of 55 than I was at the age of 18, when Carol "Shelly" Schreiber became the Kenwood High School Class of 1975's first member to slip the surly bonds of earth.

Less than two weeks after the graduation speeches that included the typical "the world is your oyster, the sky's the limit, win one for the Gipper" sort of inspiration, Shelly was gone.

It was shocking and stunning to deal with the sudden death of a peer who, if we were to believe all of those speeches, faced only endless possibilities and the promise of a bright future—not imminent death.

To make matters worse on her friends and family members—if that's even possible— she died on a date that had been circled on her calendar for months, planned for equally as long and printed on invitations. Shelly Schreiber died on the June 1975 day she was to have been married.

It was no less shocking and stunning to wake up Wednesday morning to the news of the sudden death of another classmate.

Jeri Bradford Whited, a former Dundalk resident, was killed Tuesday night in a freak accident in West Virginia when a deer struck by another car was thrown through her windshield.

I knew Jeri in high school, but we weren't close friends. When you come from a class of more than 800 students, it's impossible to know a lot of people well.

Thanks to Facebook, Jeri and many class members have reconnected across the years and miles, and have been able to share anew life's milestones and smaller happenings with those we have known since childhood.

It's interesting that Facebook was created to help college students connect and stay in touch with each other, because I believe it has answered a higher calling by reconnecting folks who scattered across the world as the decades flew by.

When I was in college, if I wanted to connect with my peers, I went to the gym, the cafeteria, the library or—gasp—the twice-a-week pub nights sanctioned by the Student Government Association.

It's after you leave an artificial world like a high school or college that you need some assistance keeping in touch, and Facebook has done that for my high school class and countless others.

While classmates hold "real" reunions once every five years to catch up with the few people who can attend, Facebook provides online mini-reunions on a daily basis.

Through Facebook posts, I was able to see pictures of Jeri and her family, I knew when she was sick, when she was having a great day and when she had computer problems (which would then explain her extended absences from the social network).

She posted inspirational sayings, funny cartoons and videos of loved ones.

Through her many updates, I got just a small peek at the pride in and love for her family that she wore like a coveted piece of jewelry.

Just a couple of days before her death, Jeri wrote of her plans for Thanksgiving dinner and her wishes that everyone else have a wonderful holiday.

But now, with hearts that probably seem too heavy to carry, her beloved family members are planning a funeral for a vibrant, funny, loving, caring, generous woman gone suddenly and way too soon.

In acknowledgment of how Jeri Bradford loved and was loved in return, her Facebook page has become a living memorial filled with thoughts, memories, prayers, photographs and offers of help to her daughter and other family members.

Those words will, in the weeks and months to come, no doubt provide some solace to her loved ones.

And perhaps those words—spoken, written and felt after the sudden and tragic death of a vibrant friend, sister, mother, daughter and colleague—will remind the rest of us to say those words to a loved one while they're still alive to hear them.

Buzz Beeler November 23, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Losing the life of a loved one or close friend destroyed my faith. That's when I grew up and saw reality.
Karen Cole November 23, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Marge, beautifully written.
Kevin Moore November 23, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Marge, Thanks for articulating what we all are feeling.
Carol Leap November 23, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Margie, Beautifully written. I hope you never stop writing, you really know how to put in words what we are all feeling.
george massaker November 24, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Very well written. I will miss Jeri very much.We grew up on the same street in hawthorne but after many years of being gone. Everybody grew up and went in different directions. We reconnected through f/b.I can go on and on but on a closeing note.She truly loved her family and freinds.Jeri will b missed by everyone that had the pleasure of knowing her.
beth November 25, 2012 at 06:09 AM
Thank you for writing this, such truth. Jeri was my moms first cousin and best friend. Great women, dearly missed already
kathleen abdelhalim November 25, 2012 at 07:36 AM
Marge you've written a beautiful piece about what we are all feeling....FB brought my cousin and I back together...Luv FB!!

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