Little Legacies – Reflections on People Lost Too Soon

This week, I have decided to take a break from reflecting on memories of my late mum.

Dad was saying a few months ago about how life has changed through social networking. In the old days, you might hear of the passing of a former school peer years after the event. These days, you get to know quickly via Facebook.

This week saw the funeral of a girl from my year at primary and secondary school. I don’t remember much about her except what she looked like and a vague sense that she was kind to me once. I don’t even remember what happened or what she said but I remember kindness presumably around 35 years after the actual event. A tiny legacy but an important one as it shows how we can all impact on people for good or for ill.

Our year has lost so many people far too young. To my shame, the boys who have died I remember little about. The girls were diverse characters and I want to honour them quietly here.

There was the beautiful girl who committed suicide in her twenties or thirties. She was a wonderful girl, gentle and lovely. I remember her always seeing the best in people and trying to facilitate peace when there were girlish arguments. The last time I saw her was in a supermarket car park. I had returned from a nasty relationship breakdown doing the traditional scurrying home to my parents in a crisis. I was so raw emotionally and when she spoke to me in a friendly fashion, I remember being quite off-hand. I felt embarrassed that my dazzling life has collapsed so monumentally. The reality was she was just pleased to see me and not judgemental at all. I don’t know anything of her life once we left school and I wish I had stopped that day for a chat.

Then there was the red-haired beauty whose passing led to me finding a very old friend who I treasure. This girl and I were like chalk and cheese. I was the boring swotty one and she was the party animal or that is how I saw here. I never got to know her properly. Once, she came when I was babysitting for some boys and her brother got injured. We could have talked but we did not do so. At core, I don’t think we understood each other. Now, as a mother, I feel for her so much having heard how she chose her daughter’s prom dress knowing she would not see the actual prom. How poignant and how scary to any of us with young daughters.

There was the girl who you should all know the name of but won’t. She was a child actress who had already appeared in major tv roles and films by the time of her death and was going onto very great things I am sure. We did not get on well at all at school. I think both of us aspired to great things and we were not old or wise enough to allow each other glory without resenting it. Or perhaps it was just me with a big problem. Recently, a student has found out about this girl and set up a Facebook page and website about her. It has troubled many of my former school peers. It is a difficult one as none of us can get in the mind and heart of this person to work out their motives. How many of us have had posters of Marilyn Monroe or James Dean? Perhaps this is just a modern version of someone identifying with or moved by a talent who died too young. It is important to think of the feelings of bereaved though.

I was a university when I heard about this girl’s death. Dad walked in with a newspaper and her photograph was on the front of it. I did not investigate further as to what the story was about assuming that she must be in another tv role or that there was some acting-related story about her. I said something disparaging and within minutes had the biggest wake-up call when I realised that she had died in a car accident. I have never forgotten that moment and still regret my harsh words based on secondary school rubbish. I could run away from exposing this truth but if I do that, I am telling only half a story.

It is only this week that I worked soemthing out. I did French A-Level with this girl and due to shyness was absolutely rubbish at speaking French although I did well with written work. I turned up for the oral part of the A-Level and it was only down to the back-up and sense spoken by this girl and another that I went and did the exam. That actually means that without those girls one of whom is no longer with us, I would not have got into university. For me, that is quite a big legacy as my university experience has contributed so much to the woman I am today.

So here’s to some very special women who were lost way too soon. You all left your mark.

What can I learn from all this?

That life is fragile and to be cherished

That I have the capacity to be nasty

That it is important to stop and acknowledge people properly

That sometimes people change your lives radically and you don’t even realise till many years later

Yes, I was at college with Oscar-winning actress, Rachel Weisz. So what? I was at school with, well I won’t name her, but if you met her, you wouldn’t forget her. I hope she got that Oscar in Heaven.

2 thoughts on “Little Legacies – Reflections on People Lost Too Soon”

  1. What a beautifully written piece. During the past few years in teaching a number of my students have passed and it makes me hold my own three that much closer. I often wonder how their parents keep going.

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