She was 24 with long wavy chestnut hair and a smile that lit up every room she entered. She was riding in a UTV driven by her boyfriend in a field in western Iowa. He didn’t see where the earth had given way to all the recent rain. The UTV hit that invisible rut, threw her out and rolled.
She was 11 with long straight golden brown hair and bright, wondrous eyes. She was riding a dark black horse on a trail in Yellowstone National Park. At the top of a cliff, the horse veered off the trail, threw her off and both tumbled down the near vertical face of a 300 foot high canyon.
One of them died.
One of them didn’t.
This was the question running through my mind during the funeral. This was a question I could not answer. Nobody could answer it but God. It was fate, determined by God, that I was at the funeral of the 24-year-old daughter of our friends and had not, six years earlier, been at my own 11-year-old daughter’s funeral.
When I first saw Anna lying motionless on the face of a cliff in Yellowstone, I assumed she was seriously injured, possibly dying. With my eyes, I could draw a straight line from the point where the horse left the trail to Anna glued to the canyon face about halfway down to the horse, dead, in the creek at the bottom. There was no way the horse didn’t land on her on the way down or at least hit her with one of its hooves.
But the horse didn’t even touch her. She had a bruised lung, a few scrapes and nothing else. It should have been worse.
I was thinking of this as I listened to the service of our friend’s daughter. I was imagining myself in the front pew, my beautiful daughter silent in a casket a few feet in front of me, my wife inconsolable next to me. It was surreal, devastating. Our family and our lives, irreparably changed like theirs now was.
After the funeral, we chatted briefly with our friends. Actually, my wife spoke to them, I was silent. There were no words I could imagine saying that would be of any comfort. One day their daughter was alive, full of life. Then they were burying her. What can you say?
All I could do was be there, hug them and let them know we would support them as much as we could.
In a few months, Anna will be heading off to college. She has grown into a kind, caring and confident woman. I can’t wait to see what comes next for her. I’m grateful I get to see it.
Father of 4, Husband, Catholic, Historian, published author, LGBTQ+ ally, runner, sports fan (he/him/his)