The death of a friend leaves unfillable void

What would you be doing right now if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? Haven’t you asked yourself that many times? What if you knew your best friend was going to die?

Morbid thoughts, yes, but the possibilities became a reality early Sunday morning. When NIU student Christine Billmyer died, a lot of people both on and off this campus lost a good friend.

And they aren’t alone. Christine was the second NIU student to die within the past month. In September, John J. Fenzel bled to death after he fell on a glass he was carrying in his pocket.

By now most of you have either heard or read about the accident that resulted in Christine’s death and the injuries of her two friends, Ann Smith and Eric Johnson. They were rear-ended while they were stopped on Lincoln Highway for a red light.

The other driver has been charged with, among other things, DUI and driving on a revoked license.

I can’t help thinking about Christine’s family in Florida. And about her roommates, her friends at work, the people she knew in her classes. There’s something very unnatural about the death of someone so young.

As always, losing someone you love causes you to ask a lot of “what ifs.” And the closer you are to that person, the more questions you’re likely to ask.

Even if you never knew John or Christine, the death of someone your own age makes you very aware of your own mortality. Suddenly you understand the horror your parents have been feeling for years every time a relative dies.

When someone dies so suddenly, it’s not him or her who suffers but the people they leave behind. There are so many things you wish you could have done or said, and your life seems at a standstill. To say it’s a shock is not only trite, it’s inadequate.

There aren’t really any words to describe what the friends and family of these two people must be feeling. There was nothing Christine or John could have done to prevent their tragic deaths.

But it certainly makes you think about your own life and the people you share it with—which I guess is the point of this column.

I wish there was a way I could make everyone, regardless of their association with these two people, stop and think seriously for a minute about the people we take for granted on a daily basis.

Of course life goes on, as they say, and no one’s going to go around being wonderful to everyone else all the time for fear they might die.

But under the circumstances, it seems unavoidable to consider the possibilities and to do something to let people close to us know how we feel. If it’s 10 minutes of one day that we stop to make a phone call home for no particular reason, that’s 10 minutes less of “what ifs” later.

Right now there are a lot of angry people on campus, and I guess I’m one of them. There was no reason Christine had to die.

I suppose it’s irrational to have such hatred for the young man driving the other car. After all, his life is pretty screwed up right now. But at least he has it.

The bottom line is that all the DUI laws in the world wouldn’t have prevented Sunday morning’s accident. The man was driving on a revoked license as it was. And the anger and the bitterness aren’t going to do much good.

What’s left is what we have. What the friends and family of these two young people have right now is a big void.