On Saturday morning, March 4th, I went to the gym. After forty-five minutes on the elliptical machine, I sat down to stretch, and thought for a moment that it felt good to take time out to tend to my health. As I did sit-ups, I listened to music by The Band, whom I’ve loved since my father first introduced them to me as a teenager. Time. Movement. Music. Reflection. Nostalgia. These things were swiftly taken away from Terry DiFalco just hours later.
I started writing this on Sunday, March 5th, when it was confirmed that Terry did not survive a horrific car accident the night before. I didn’t feel like I could breathe, my chest alternately squeezed tight and hollowed out.
I’m not a frequent Facebook visitor, but I wanted to see a recent picture of Terry, who was in my younger son’s Kindergarten, first and second grade classes at Jefferson School. I found her, and was blown away at the sight of this stunning young woman. How grown up and self-assured she looked, trading the long hair I knew for a sophisticated shorter cut.
I didn’t know Terry well, and in the short time since she’s left us, I realize how I’ve missed out. Whatever threadbare connections I had to her came immediately rushing forth. As I said, she and my son had the wonderful Miss Bussey at Jefferson for two years of elementary school. He just told me that he had a crush on Terry in second grade, and that he wasn’t the only one. I also remember another outstanding Jefferson teacher, Mrs. Vierschilling, telling me years ago, à propos of I don’t know what, that she had a student named Terry DiFalco who was the best writer she’d ever seen. Not just good for a child, other-worldly good. Something else that came to mind was her mother’s kindness. In response to my online columns, on several occasions, Maureen took the time to send me thoughtful reactions full of insight and encouragement. I suspect that the apple of Terry fell very close to its tree. These are surely tangential entanglements. However, our families break bread every day just blocks from each other.
I’ve heard people talk about how impossible loss is to process, absorb, digest, and comprehend. It makes me think of a wicked stomach virus where you’re doubled over. You think you’ll find relief when you empty yourself, but then another nausea wave comes, and then, another. It’s just days since Terry died. In that time, I’ve thought about the parts of her that were left active - her backpack full of binders, her bedroom full of clothes, her cell phone full of texts. Then, the second wave…I think of her teachers’ minds full of impressions, the high school production of Carrie she was about to star in, upcoming doctor’s appointments in her parents’ calendars, spring break plans. For a matter of hours, she hasn’t been with us, but for a decade and a half, she has. Judging by the estimated 1,000+ people who came to pay their respects at her wake, her influence has been extraordinary.
The pain of Terry’s sudden death is real to people like me who merely shared space in her village, but it’s not anything like what her family is enduring. Unable to give the DiFalcos what they yearn for most, I wish I could shoulder some of their devastation because I don’t think anyone was created to handle suffering like this.
G and I often talk about our differences, but Terry’s passing has brought to the forefront our sameness. She and I ache deeply, as we all do. Terry reminds us that we are fragile, our lives fleeting. We are less than we were for her absence, and we are also more. The outpouring of love and the communal heartache in our town have been staggering.
I wrote this partially for selfish reasons, in an attempt to process, absorb, digest, and comprehend this terrible loss. It’s how I feel my way through. I never had the opportunity to read Terry’s writing, but I imagine that if this beautiful girl, as her father so lovingly describes her, were trying to make sense out of something so senseless, she might have done the same.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she teaches Special Education and Basic Skills at a local elementary school, writes poetry and columns about her family, and directs The Writers Studio. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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