Tears for a teen

They walked into the church’s sanctuary with a friend, or two, or three.

They wanted to be there, but they didn’t want to be alone at a time like this.

They wanted someone close in case they needed support, and they wanted to be close in case someone else needed support.

By the time the funeral service for Paula Southwell, the 18-year-old Warren Area High School senior who died tragically in a traffic accident, began at 11 a.m. last Thursday at First Lutheran Church, well over 150 high school students who knew her had come to say goodbye.

They cried together, they embraced and held onto friends who, at moments, sobbed uncontrollably.

They quietly spoke comforting words to those seated nearby and, I’m sure, their collective presence gave unspoken comfort to the Southwell family.

It was the right thing to do, and the right place to be.

These young adults, as they reflect upon the day, will realize they walked out of the church having learned several important lessons, chiefly to treasure life and everyone in your life.

And they’ll learn, as I learned many years ago, that the pain felt by the death of a friend will diminish over time, but it will never go away.

I know, because the funeral service, unexpectedly, reawakened my memory of being one of four 19-year-old sophomores sharing a dorm room in Merrill Hall at Central Michigan University.

One of my roommates was Bob Campbell. I can still picture that skinny, jovial kid from Ferndale who had a knack for making friends, and making good grades.

I remember the late fall day Bob decided he had spent enough time searching unsuccessfully for his wallet which, most importantly, contained his driver’s license and student ID. The only solution, he concluded, was to cut classes on Friday and go back home to get a new license … and to get his clothes washed and enjoy some home cooking.

He never made it.

We learned about the fatal traffic accident when the resident assistant for our wing of the dorm knocked on our door.

In the following days, there were plenty of tears and hugs and thoughts of Bob by so many students, and plans to make the more than two-hour drive to attend his funeral in Ferndale. We knew we needed to be there for Bob, for Bob’s family, and somewhat selfishly, for ourselves.

We filled three cars.

Before the funeral, we had left everything of Bob’s untouched in the dorm room. Afterwards, we were told Bob’s parents would be coming to pick up his belongings, so we were asked to put everything in boxes.

Textbooks, pens, papers, photos, clothes and more were boxed up as carefully as three 19-year-olds could do it.

And as we began pulling the bed spread, blanket and sheets off the bed there was the muffled sound of something falling on the linoleum floor under the bed.

That’s right … it was Bob’s wallet.

It was, as you can imagine, a very sad and disturbing discovery.

So was there one of those important life lessons mentioned earlier to share with the young adults who attended the funeral service for Paula Southwell?

In retrospect, I believe there was, and that is to embrace the memory of a sad time because along with it comes many, many more happy memories.