Five years ago, my friend Jesus took his bride to be to a New Year’s family event. His intention was to present Kate to his family and little did they all know it would become the last meal they would all share together. His uncle, in a fit of madness, decided to burn the family in an attempt to murder his kin and keep the inheritance. Not the kind of news you want to hear after celebrating with friends and family the beginning of what was shaping up to be a really cool year.
I will never forget that on New Year’s Day 2011, and the week that followed, I was forced to part ways with two of my dearest and loving friends. You never think that going back home is going to cost you your life, much less that a family member would set all your dreams up in flames, literally. Her family, blessed be their souls, did everything they could to keep calm and help their future son in law and daughter to fight for their lives.
We all hoped they would make it but with third degree burns, it was going to be hell to recover. I was preparing myself for the worst. Being strong for the sake of others is never easy.
When we got the call that they had died, my husband and I felt betrayed, robbed of all the future plans we had together. I could barely bring myself to do certain things without asking what K&J would have done. Just two nights before the attack, we had been with them at a wedding where they had been discussing their future plans, their reception’s particulars and the song they were going to dance as man and wife. When the song played during the memorial my friends and I created for them we couldn’t contain the tears. We felt them dancing, swaying happily and full of life. There is a quote from Mark Twain that days that there are two important days in your life, the day you are born and the day you find out why (your mission if you chose to accept it). That memorial was a mission, totally necessary for us to mourn and I can tell you it took every part of my soul and all of my strength to see it through. The world needed people like K&J and now we were at a loss.
Between the counseling sessions and our own brand of community support, we were able to put back the pieces of our broken hearts. Survivor’s guilt is a strange master because it makes you feel sad about being alive even when you weren’t a part of the event. The part of you that identified with them feels guilty that you get to enjoy life, have kids, and be excited about the future. The same future that was taken away from them.
Our pain was so strong that even though their wedding was scheduled for the following summer, and the event should have been cancelled, their parents decided to keep the venue and party going to honor their love. They figured that the date was going to be tough on all of us so we might as well spend it together. Even though they were married in spirit that first week of January when we lost then, we celebrated their union as they had desired, honoring the life they shared, and the one taken from them. We promised ourselves to keep them alive by sharing their devotion and story, by remembering the good times and continue to emulate their kindness. Learning to live without Kate and Jesus has been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do because I share this pain with a vast community that knows that regardless of the passage of time, we will always carry this torch with us.
K&J shine brighter in my thoughts as the years go by even though the shock of their abrupt departure still lives in me. When someone full of promise is taken from us we always wonder about what could have been. On my worst days I am glad that they didn’t get to tarnish their reputations or not live up to the hype but knowing them, they would have surpassed all the expectations. This wasn’t fair for us nor for them and it made me question if there was a reason that could make our pain bearable. There isn’t. No one should have to bury a child, not see her get married or not see him become a dad. Without a doubt I can say that they deserved a chance to make their own mark on the world, to live and screw up just like the rest of us have been doing since we last saw them.
I will always remember their invitation to continue to party after our friend’s wedding was over. Their smiles as they walked hand in hand towards the exit and into the great unknown. If I ever build that time machine I’d go back and save them. I know we all would love to hear what they thought about our lives, our choices, and how many facepalms they gave themselves watching over us. We love you guys. We will never forget your friendship and love.
Happy New Year K&J!