Spend the night

LoriNine years ago today, 10-yr-old Lori was fatally killed in a car accident on Old Railroad Bed Road. Her memory still lives; her loss is still felt. To honor her today and to celebrate the continued friendship of the Four Corners, here's my column originally published in The Huntsville Times two years after Lori’s death. My thoughts remain the same...

It was another spend-the-night party. Once a year for the past 25 years, we play catch up for as many hours as our eyes will stay open. Four girls, now women, we giggle as close to dawn as our energy allows. No spouses, no kids allowed.

But this night was different. On this chilly November night, three of us were camping out on the 8th floor of Huntsville Hospital. Literally on the floor. And the fourth, in a hospital bed, was totally unaware of any of us.

Instead of a living room, the NICU waiting room held our sleeping bags. Instead of casually rehashing the previous year, we were praying with each breath that Kathy would be able to take her next one.

A few days earlier, on a clear Sunday afternoon, November 7, Kathy and her family were hit by a drunk driver who had careened past a stop sign and jammed his truck into her family. He killed her youngest daughter, 10-year-old Lori, critically injured Kathy, and forever altered the life of her husband, teenage daughter, and everyone else close to them.

Death prioritizes life. Seeing Kathy’s life rearranged instantaneously was an awakening to never take our friendship for granted.

How often do days turn into weeks, then into months, before we connect with friends? Oh, we’re all ambitious about staying in touch. But the clock disrespects our intentions. It methodically ticks on, indifferent to human relationships.

Nurturing friendships is complicated with our transient lifestyles. People move in and out of our lives with ease, across country or even continents, unlike ever before. Schedules tighten through more commitments to work and play, leaving intimacy among friends untended.

But that autumn night, distance and schedules were irrelevant. The waiting room crawled with people. We had already been initiated into the greater family that haunts the 8th floor. Parents, siblings, spouses, friends--all watchful for their special someone behind the heavy, barred doors of NICU.

And with each visit, reality jars anew. Each time we stepped behind the curtain to see Kathy, we were astounded again at how critical she was. Hooked up and down, in and out, her life hung by threads of electrical cords and plastic tubing.

We had been friends for an eternity, it seemed. As little girls, we sat on the same pew at church and passed notes through Mr. Wood’s sermons. All four of us made our faith commitments the same summer of ’73. We spent hours at each other’s houses, at Camp Ney-A-Ti, at Pizza Inn, and, of course, at slumber parties.

Now it came down to this night. Only three of the four of us could remember those times. And wonder about tomorrow. Would Kathy be the same, even if she survived? Would she remember that we put toothpaste on her nose for always being the first to go to sleep? Or that she had the darkest tan every summer? Or the emotions we all felt the night she was the first among us to get married? Would those live only in our memories, and be lost from hers?

After several months, Kathy did remember. Our playmate had been spared. Once again, there could be sleepovers held together by Mt. Dew and Cheese Nips.

At this year’s slumber party we exchanged friendship bracelets. As I slip my bracelet on, I’m reminded that there are friendships worth committing a lifetime to. And I’m grateful I’ve found mine.
~ Lisa
4 Corners
Nov ’08 Update: Kathy adapted well to life after a brain injury. But this February, a week after what would have been Lori’s 19th birthday, her husband developed his own brain injury due to a ruptured aneurysm. After many months of hard work and fervent prayers, he has made miraculous progress and, one step at a time, has relearned how to walk and, like Kathy, is learning to adapt to life after a brain injury, with a little help from his friends.

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