I’ve gotten accustomed in my 60s to having that phone call that a friend has become very ill or died. It’s not that I’m callused but I’m knocking on the door of the Golden Years. But it’s always a shock to the system — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — when a young person dies suddenly.

On spring break recently, four seniors at North Little Rock High School died in a one-car accident while traveling to Florida on spring break. None of the “if onlys” applied. If only they had been wearing seat belts. (They were.) If only they hadn’t been drinking. (They hadn’t.)

I knew one of the four–Terrance Joseph Duckworth. He was a rising star, a polite, out-going, religious young man of high standards. At visitation, I talked with one of his 10 younger siblings and told her how Duck opened my car door, walked me to and from my car, and demonstrated only the best of manners and upbringing. I hugged his father whose anguish is now permanently etched on his face. I sat with Duck’s friends as they cried and clung to each other for emotional support.

I put on my grief counselor face to help the high school students with their grief when they returned from spring break. For many, it was their first experience with death; for most, it was their first loss of a peer.

I have no answers, nothing that really consoles. “I know how you feel” doesn’t make sense. Their losses will be set in stone in their memory banks, as unique and individual as they are.

“Why? Why Duck?” There’s no answer for that one. None.

“This will make you a better person.” With pain so deep, these are hollow words.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” With pain so raw, these words don’t penetrate.

The students have now graduated without their four classmates. They have mostly consoled each other. For teenagers, that seems to work better than trained counselors or even family.

I am grateful for having met Duck. Even with his early death, he influenced more lives in a positive way than most people do in a lifetime.

As the young adults console and encourage each other, I see them healing themselves. As James Miller said, “Remember that as you help another toward healing and wholeness, you are helping yourself toward that same goal.”

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Kay Clowney

Kay Clowney

Kay Clowney is a Certified Grief Counselor in Arkansas. She served as primary care-giver in her home with hospice support for the deaths of her husband, father, and female best friend. She is co-author (with Dr. Larry Cole) of the book, "The TeamWork Dictionary," (LifeSkills Publishers, 1997). She has written many articles and has degrees in Human Resource Development, Business Education and English. She is a certified facilitator for What Matters Most for the Covey Leadership Center, and been director of the VA Regional Office in Little Rock, Arkansas. Reach her at clowney199@comcast.net.

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