Eight days ago I was awoken by one of those ever dreaded pre-dawn phone calls, the ones that always portent tragedy. My 22 year old youngest cousin, Ian, and his 26 year old friend Jeremy had been killed in a car accident. Ian had been driving too fast for conditions, with balding tires, and hit a patch of ice rounding a curve on a local country road. The truck jumped a guard rail, striking trees, and both young men died on impact.
Initially, I could not comprehend what I was hearing. It wasn’t possible. This beautiful boy, full of life, a bright spirit with his whole future ahead of him, was gone. Simply unimaginable. And to make the incomprehensible even more unbearable was the knowledge that another family was receiving the same news as we were. Utter shock, profound loss, and overwhelming sadness surrounded my family. It was inescapable and heavy, the reality becoming harder to bear with each passing day until Tuesday’s wake and Wednesday’s funeral. The fact that Ian was the answer to 19 families prayers through organ donation was a comfort, but not nearly enough to erase the pain of our loss.
Ian was a hard working, happy, generous, warm, respectful, loving young man. He lived hard and fast, always a worry to his parents and our grandmother, but his smile and charm would light up a room. I knew how much we loved him, but I did not know the incredible impact he had on the lives around him until Tuesday.
The wake was scheduled from 4-8pm. His family received the last of the visitors at 11:30pm. The line of mourners for this beautiful man extended around the building and up the street. People waited outside in below zero temperatures for two hours, only to have another two hour wait once they entered the building. The sight was breathtaking. Hundreds of young men in their Carhartts and workboots, sobbing on their knees…heartbreaking, yet so comforting to know that he meant so much to so many people, and that he had such a profound impact in his 22 short years, as to leave a lasting impression on so many lives.
On Wednesday, we said goodbye to Ian in a standing room only Church, the sea of black silent, except for the softly echoing sobs. We mourn for ourselves, and for those closest to him that have to continue to walk the path of life without him by their side.
However, I am reminded of a Truth as we navigate through his loss.
It is not what we do that matters…it is who we are.
So often I have been guilty of wanting to DO something that makes an impact. I want to do more, be more, make my life count. What Ian has taught me, not only through his life, but also his death, is that the way to make an impact in this world is to simply be present in the lives of those around me.
Love, generosity, kindness, joy, sharing…that is the legacy Ian leaves behind, and that is the legacy I hope to achieve in his honor.
“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”
― Shauna Niequist