You died While I Was Making Ponytails

You died while I was making ponytails. Not too tight, just the right amount of fine, wispy locks swept up in each. Perfect. Pretty as a picture. I never even knew you.

Saturday morning, while I was happily tying up my almost two year-old daughter’s golden ringlets into two perfect bundles, finely cascading in little swirls from her petite head, you were taken from this earth.

While I wondered how much longer my husband and two of my three sons would be before they returned from their “boy bonding outing” of shooting for target practice, you would never see yours again.

I don’t know why I can’t stop thinking about you. We’ve never met, nor will we ever now, but I feel like your death has affected me in a deeply personal way.

Maybe it’s because I feel like I could have been you. Maybe it’s because you were from Tigard, and I’m from Beaverton, which means we could have easily been neighbors or have some friends in common or passed each other in a store while growing up.

Maybe it’s because I too am a wife, a wife who also saw the importance and took the time to work on my marriage because it matters to me like yours must have mattered to you as you headed to that marriage retreat.

Maybe it’s because you were younger than me. And when I think back on being twenty seven, I realize that is the same age I was when I first moved from Portland over that very same Pass to start my new journey. A new life for me that would lead to so many more memories. I still had so much more about this life to discover at twenty seven. It took choices and lessons and reaching my thirties to finally feel comfortable with who I am. But yours have all been made, and now your memories will live on in those who love you and will keep your memory alive. I hope you weren’t waiting until your thirties to find yourself.

Maybe it’s because I’ve traveled the Santiam Pass more times than I can count, gripping the wheel and praying to God I make it safely. Maybe it’s because I know you must have too.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mother just like you, who also has a little old boy, who’s also had his heart ripped out, but not like yours now has. And maybe because my biggest fear for my children, just became your son’s reality. I pray he knows your love through the family and friends left behind to share it with him.

Maybe it’s because we both got to experience the joy of a precious baby girl as our last child, but after only seven months on earth, your little angel has joined you and her daddy in heaven. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because I wonder all the time if I’ve told my babies enough, no, if I’ve showed them enough, just how much I love them. How much they are my whole heart. Have I said enough how much they are the world to me? And how I would die for them in a heartbeat, if it meant that they would live. And Maybe it’s because I have to think that you must have felt the very same way, especially in those final moments.

Maybe it’s because as soon as I read your story I found your pictures and saw a glimpse of your life, and it looked like mine; smiling happy faces of a life full of love. And maybe it’s because I saw myself in you. You even looked a little like me with your dark hair and kind eyes, and that similar way you looked at your children, wishing for the whole world to see what you see in them. That they are beyond amazing. But mostly, your life looked normal and happy, and your love for your husband and your children looked strong. You looked blessed. That’s exactly what I want people to see in my pictures, and moreso in my life, especially should a stranger ever run across it in such a tragic way. I find myself asking God how could this happen to this young family? I keep asking myself how easily it could have happened to mine.

It’s not fair that you are gone. It’s not fair that your mom wants to know why. It’s not fair that your young son will forever feel the longing of a mommy and a daddy and sister he won’t ever be able to forget. It’s not fair.

As I read about your death tonight, and I thought about how mundane my life was yesterday, I realized something. I thought about how you spent your last day. Traveling along a stunning slice of Oregon scenery, heading to a marriage retreat with your husband and baby daughter, a getaway to strengthen your marriage, enjoy some time together, and enrich your life. To learn and to grow and to leave, better than you came. It’s so unfair.

You didn’t see this coming. Nobody can ever guess when they rise on the day they die, that today will be the day their life is taken from this earth. I find myself hoping you kissed your son goodbye and told him how much you loved him and squeezed him tight. I hope you were holding hands with your husband as you headed towards your destination, and tighter as you reached your resting place. I hope you saw the beautiful rays of sunlight through the trees as you drove along that picturesque stretch of winding Oregon road. I hope you saw the breathtaking mountain tops, with the first dusting of snow. There is nothing quite like those Oregon autumn colors along the pass on a sunny day. Rich golds, reds and yellows mixed between the never-ending rows of evergreens. I hope you saw the river that follows alongside the road like a trusty companion. I hope your daughter was peacefully asleep in the backseat when she gained her wings. I hope you three were wrapped in the loving arms of our Lord before you ever felt a second of pain.

You died while I was making ponytails. My daughter, who will turn two this week, has just started recognizing clothes she wants to wear and styles she’d like to try, no matter whether they go together, or whether they make much sense at all. Somedays its mismatched socks and sandals, other days it T-shirts worn as skirts. Somedays I get frustrated with these moments I see more as a hassle, when in typical two year old style, I know she will change her mind in another two seconds. Yesterday, it was “mommy, ponies!” To the drawer in my bathroom we went to fetch two small rubber bands. I was so proud of my handiwork and making her little head of curls so perfectly scooped up, that I stopped to take a picture of them. Thinking of how fleeting these moments with her really are, and how soon she will do her own hair, and then before I know it, she will be making ponytails for her own little girl. 9:50am. I kept looking at my phone to check the time because I knew my husband and our boys planned to be back shortly after 11am. They’d been gone all morning and my daughter and I had spent a leisurely couple of hours together in an unusually quiet house, and we were just heading out the door to get some shopping done for her birthday before everyone returned and the house resumed to it’s lively chaos once again.

You must have died before I got her shoes on. I can’t stop thinking about how you will never get to make ponytails out of your daughter’s golden hair. She was beautiful, you know. Which I know you do. So were you. I’m so sorry you will never get to rock your baby again or hold your son’s hand. I’m so sorry your husband has lost the love of his life, and you have lost yours. I’m so sorry your daughter only had seven months to love you, and show you how amazingly different and wonderful it is to raise a daughter. I’m so sorry your precious son has lost everyone and everything he knows. I’m so sorry those who knew you and loved you are mourning your deaths.

I can’t stop reminding myself how you and your family could have just as easily been me and mine. My family could have just as easily been in that car, down that same, stunning drive that we’ve taken so many times, blissfully singing along to the radio and talking about life and dreams. My baby girl in her carseat fast asleep. My Husband gripping the wheel and making me feel safe. My life cut short because God had other plans for me, as he had other plans for your family.

And so, sweet stranger, I want to make a promise to you; a perfect stranger to me whose life and death have imprinted on my heart. I will not squander the days I have left with my family here on this earth. I will never forget you and your story. I will never forget that you woke up yesterday just as you had every day for your twenty seven years, looking forward to another day of being alive and wondering what the day might bring. I will never forget that we are both mothers. That your son will never get to have his back, or his dad, and that mine will only have theirs today, and then hopefully again, God willing, tomorrow. But I promise to never forget that there may not be a tomorrow, because your life has shown me that. Your story has touched me in a way different than any tragic loss I’ve heard or read about that wasn’t a personal loss. Your life, your husband’s life and your daughter’s life mean something profound to my own. God has used your death to teach me about gratitude for this short life.

Perhaps that’s because I see what closely parallel lives we lived. In fact, it’s very possible at some time, our paths may have even crossed. Your husband and I born the same year. You and I both Oregon mothers who grew up very near each other, raising children, growing strong marriages, and trying to be good people.

What I also see as I stare at the photo in the news story of your tragic end is that you don’t have a second chance to fix your mistakes, or do that one more thing you wished you’d always done. And then it occurs to me that that I still do. For as long as I am still here with another day ahead of me, for however long that may be, I do. And so I will. I will live every day from here on as if it’s been given to me as a gift. I understand that it’s a gift you didn’t get. And I will be reminded of your story forever.

I will live each day for today, and I will live in the moment. Not for tomorrow, or for “someday,” because I see now through your life being cut short, that nothing but today has been promised me, and none of us can ever know in the morning when we rise, what that day holds for us.

I am so sorry you are are gone from this earth. I am so sorry for the heartache your loss leaves, but I want you to know that your death and your husband and daughter’s deaths were not in vain. The loss of your lives has reminded me of the most valuable gift each of us has in this life, but none of us know for how long- time. I promise to make the most of mine.

Rest in peace Tiffany, Fred and Mila Fefelov, may God bless your souls. And may God wrap your son in guidance, protection and peace. While he must wait, he will surely see you all again someday.

I may not have known you, but your lives meant something to me that I will take with me for every day that I have left.

I took the picture of this sunset on Saturday evening. I wish you could have seen it, but I have a feeling you and your family are what made it so beautiful.