Through the tears and embraces shared among valley parents as they sought comfort in one another over the week, processing and mourning Kierra’s death and Caitlyn’s injuries, a prevailing sentiment aggrieving them was fear. As Nancy and Joe are now living a parent’s worst nightmare, fear has afflicted many.
The unwavering love and devotion we bestow to our children sets us up for anxiety when we begin to imagine the worst-case scenarios. The what-ifs. Survival guilt and depression are among the fears expressed. Coping with this fear in the wake of this devastation is something we all need to manage and in a community such as ours, we are lucky to be able to lean on one another.
Many parents turned towards each other on Wednesday and Thursday, once the terrible news spread and shock set in, and we started sharing stories of grief. We reflected on our own stories of loss, recalling the premature death of friends’ lives taken during our youth in similar accidents. Realizing we all have our own stories of tragedy imprinted in our souls and processing the aftermath of these incidents with one another has been a catharsis. For me, it was Sunny and Jon I remember the most, the details of their accidents came rushing back and sadness welled up.
The pain a parent feels of course is much deeper. It strikes a nerve so deeply primal; it can literally break a heart. Broken heart syndrome is a scientifically real phenomenon, resulting from acute emotional stress where the heart arteries become constricted. It’s temporary but it literally hurts the heart and can transform the muscles.
Reconciling the unfairness of it may be the most difficult element to wrestle with. Anger is a common response to this type of injustice. Faith and spirituality can offer some guidance here as we seek not to blame but to turn towards forgiveness. I take solace in the idea that the bright shining lights of youthful spirits lost to this unjust world are perhaps the stars we see at night, guiding us through the ultimate mystery.
Departing the vigil on Thursday evening, we offered condolences to Joe, Kierra’s father, under a bright and brilliant sliver of a crescent moon. Joe looked to the moon and said, “there she is, she’s up on the moon.” I noted privately “yes, that crescent looks just like her smile.”
I’ll remember Kierra as an enthusiastic, bright, shimmer of joy on the ski hill. Our son raced for two years at the Loup and Kierra helped younger racers like him build confidence in her final years on the team, assisting in coaching and offering a positive, fun attitude to encourage them. Her grace and speed on the hill were jaw-dropping as she flew down the slopes. I’ll remember her bright smile fondly, peeking out from below her ski goggles. Like the moon, it glowed.