Past loss, present loss

A friend’s death doesn’t mean the end of the friendship

The author and her husband were among the four people who, while fishing Sunday (Sept. 9), discovered the body of the missing tuber, Brett Olson, in the Sacramento River. She wrote this piece on Monday. She asked that their names be withheld out of respect.

It’s 4:30 in the morning Monday and I have been awake for an hour and a half playing the events of yesterday over in my mind. I have also been thinking about all the people who loved Brett Olson. His parents—obviously—have been in the forefront of my thoughts, and my husband and I extend to them our most respectful sympathies. You are in our prayers. We hope you are given grace and that the last few days have provided you with some closure.

What compelled me to get up and put pencil to paper were thoughts of Brett’s closest friends, who are now grappling with feelings I know all too well. Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 17, I too was trying to wrap head and heart around the senselessness of losing a much beloved friend. I wasn’t prepared for what was suddenly happening to me. None of us were.

I have been wishing that I had had the presence of mind yesterday to say a few things to a friend of Brett’s: My husband and I saw you very briefly when relaying our information but, because we were trying to respect the space of family and friends, didn’t stay. I now find myself—one foot in the events of my own past and one foot in the present—wanting to reach out to tell you that I have such deep respect for you and all that you have been through. I am so sorry this happened.

I wish I had told you that what I came to understand through all of the incredible pain, anger, guilt, shock and deep grief of losing someone I loved dearly was this: You are the link that still keeps your friendship vital. You will never lose it. Never. I have learned that you can respect your friendship by treating yourself with respect. You can honor Brett’s memory by recognizing that you are honorable. Give yourself as much love as you possibly can. Share that love with those who will cherish and return it. This is what Brett would choose for you—and for all those he loved.

As for my husband and me, we will never forget him. Yesterday, our anniversary, Brett gave us a gift: He helped us remember that we are all connected. That the only thing that truly matters—love—is universal and inviolate.

Thank you, Brett. Rest in peace.