Thursday, December 07, 2006

So Close to Home

Back in the days when I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life (as if I do now), I spent two quarters in an MA program for counseling psychology. At this university, psychology was part of the college of education, so I had an assistantship working in the dean's office. During my time there, one student, who had a sizable fellowship, abruptly quit school. The dean decided that the remaining funds would be held until another time.

Until she met Lily.

Lily was a determined Ed.D. student who'd heard about the other student and decided that she would apply, unsolicited, for the remainder of the fellowship funds. She came into our office everyday, polite but firm, insisting that the funds would be well-invested in her, that she would graduate. She also sent a letter (that I read while filing, of course) pointing out her academic and work records and how determined she was to get this degree. Everyday, while I sat behind the desk, she sat in a chair and talked to me, waiting for a glimpse of the dean, eager to plead her case in person. "I'm going to get this," she'd tell me. "They might as well put that money to good use." We'd chat until the dean surfaced, at which time Lily would pounce upon her with enviable agility, her voice full of equal parts southern sweetness and resolve. She was a steel magnolia in action, confident, capable, proud.

She got that fellowship. And I left the college of education. Three years later, at the same ceremony in which my sister received her B.A., Lily got her Ed.D. Good, I thought, and let her slip from my mind.

Some time after that, I saw her at a restaurant. She hugged me and I teased her, "You put that money to good use." "Mm-hmm," she said, "But I don't know how good!" We were from the same parish and she was now teaching there--an experience I'd already had, so I knew exactly what she meant.

A few minutes ago, best friend Louisiana called, bringing what I thought would be a welcome respite from typing and deleting, typing and deleting. Earlier tonight, some of the parish teachers met at a local restaurant for dinner. Lily's sister, also a teacher, was there (Lily stopped teaching for the parish last year). Best friend's principal had called to tell her, not ten minutes after best friend left the dinner, Lily's sister got a call to pick up her mom and go to the hospital.

Lily had had a car accident.

Lily died, y'all. Lily. Three years older than I, determined, smart, funny, mother-to-a-small-child, wonderful Lily. Lily, who probably had short-term Christmas plans. Lily, who I know had long-term professional plans.

Lily, Lily, Lily


Gwyneth Bolton said...

My heart goes out to her family. There are so many cliches that we say at times like this but none of them seem to really fit. The truth is we all need to live our lives going for what we want the way Lily clearly did and making it count and matter in way that really matter to us.

elle said...

gwyn, i have been sitting in front of this computer crying since I got that call. i don't know why i'm having such a reaction--i knew her but didn't know her.

but my best friend was crying, too. i think lily reminds of ourselves--a selfish, but real thought. and i keep thinking of her family, losing her at this time of year (as if any other time would somehow make it better).

and her child. that gets me the most, i think

Anonymous said...

i'm so sorry elle.

losing someone is always hard and nothing anyone says ever really helps, but time and God.

and you know what, it's normal to think of yourself if you were in lily's position, and what could have been etc...

lily sounds like a great person and even though you didn't "know her" know her, of course her death hurts you.

take care.

RageyOne said...

Oh, I'm sorry to hear this Elle. It is very hard to hear of someone's death whether we knew them personally or not. Take comfort in your family, friends, and son. Live each day to the fullest and cherish your memory of Lily and her determined spirit. Use it to inspire you to do your best and achieve your dreams.

thinking of you and Lily's family.

Julie said...

I am so sorry elle. News like this is always shocking. I think it especially hard when you can identify with them - close in age, parent of a small child, teacher, etc... It always seems to put our own lives in perspective.

Billie said...

Elle, I'm so sorry for your friend and for you. Please accept my condolences. {{{{ o }}}}

elle said...

thanks to everyone for the sentiments. lily will be deeply missed.

The History Enthusiast said...

I will be praying for her family and also for you.

Courtney said...

About relating the news to yourself... I think that's a common reaction. I don't know why, but I didn't have an overwhelming reaction to the news that a couple of guys (that I knew vaguely) from my hs class passed away, but when the first woman did, I was a mess! I think I related that to me more than the men. Selfish, but human nature? Or at least we are selfish together.

Hahni said...


No words are possible.

brownfemipower said...

i know elle--i get that way about people that i haven't even met. a blogger with cancer passes away a while back--I hadn't even read her site before she passed away. but when I found her site, I sat and went through it--and by the time I got to the end of the site, the very last post was from her best friend--and simply stated what the blogger's real name was. At which point I collapsed in a pool of tears and didn't stop crying for a long time. It wasn't so much that she died--but that this woman could now be remembered by hundreds of people who'd never met her by her real name--there wasn't anything else that she needed to protect herself from. death liberating a person from fear--a pure and beautiful moment that made me think about how much fear surrounds my life, about how much fear surrounds so many women's lives.

anyway--i'm sure that the death of lily touched at something in you that needed to be loved on and contemplated for a while--embrace that.


Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...