She was probably seven or eight.
I literally know nothing about this little girl other than that she was at the viewing I was at on Friday night for a seven-year old boy who died suddenly early last week. We’ll get back to the young girl in a minute, but first, some backstory.
The boy who died was named Harper Adams. He was six months younger than my son. When we lived in North Carolina, they would play together at church and at other places. Our families went to the fair together. None of us had family there, so we were kind of like each other’s family away from home. Harper spent the night at our house on a couple of occasions. We had Easter dinner together. We visited them in the hospital when his brother was born. We moved away when Harper was almost three, but we still kept in touch with his family, though like many
And then, one day last week, Harper suddenly died.
And that tragedy is, unfortunately, where this story begins. It’s not a long story because, as I said, I know nothing about the little girl. She was there with whom I presume to be her dad. Maybe she was a classmate or a friend from church. Maybe they played together in the apartment complex they both lived in. I don’t know.
But I kept watching her during the visitation. Harper’s casket was in the front of a chapel, but his family was in the back when you walked in. We were about halfway up the aisle as I couldn’t bring myself to actually go up to see Harper. I didn’t want my final memory of him to be that. It’s the same way I couldn’t bring myself to go up to my grandmother’s casket when she passed. Others need that, and I get that, but it’s not for me.
So after speaking to the parents and other family members, this dad asks his daughter something. My guess, from her reaction, is that he asked if she wanted to go see Harper. She obviously did not. She took a few steps towards the back of the chapel and sat in the back row while her father went to say his goodbyes and give his final respects.
It was in that moment that I think the finality of everything hit me. Not only is this a terrible loss for the family in which their life will never be the same, but it’s a loss for countless others.
We’ll never get to find out what kind of impact Harper would have had on this girl. Would they be classmates all through school, playing on the playground at recess and friends who would trade desserts at lunch? Would they have gone on to encourage and challenge each other in school and have unofficial contests to see who would get the highest grades on their tests? Would Harper have introduced her to some interest of his that sparked her imagination and interest for years to come?
In that moment where she didn’t go up front, whether from fear or sadness or whatever the reason, I realized that Harper’s passing wasn’t just devastating for the family and friends who knew him and the unfulfilled potential of his life, but the unfulfilled potential of his impact on others’ lives as well.
I think that may be the hardest part for me. I’ve given up trying to understand why something like this would happen. Far smarter people than me have grappled with that question for years and haven’t come up with a good answer. There are times when there aren’t answers, and as much as I want them, I’m learning to be ok with knowing there are no answers.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped wondering “why?” It just means I’ve stopped hoping to find an answer.
And when I think of that little girl in the back of the chapel, not wanting to go say goodbye to her friend, I hope that as she tries to move on with her life, with visits from Santa Claus and running around on the playground to at some point learning the quadratic equation and more, that she will occasionally remember her friend Harper and strive to reach her full potential not just for herself, but for her friend who didn’t have the chance.