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Tony W. Cartledge | Blog

Entries in Bethany Cartledge (4)


Of calendars and light ...

The calendar is an amazing thing. From antiquity, when time was measured by the cycles of the moon, until the present, when years are measured to the fraction of a second, humans have wanted a system that allows them to organize time, plan for the future, and remember the past.

I spent some time this morning working on calendar dates several months in advance, but also remembering years in the past: my calendar tells me that today is the 20th anniversary of my daughter Bethany's death.

Twenty years. It's amazing how sharp memories can be, even after two decades -- and how full the heart can be in reflecting on all the things we've missed over these years. Bethany would have turned 28 on March 9 -- you can imagine how many significant events typically occur during those years. To this day, when attending weddings, I can't stay in the same room when the bride and her father have the first dance.

But there's more to memory and imagination than being maudlin. A lot of joy was packed into the almost eight years of Bethany's life on earth, and though her death changed other lives forever, life has continued and brought other unexpected joys with it.

My son Samuel was born two years after Bethany's death, and brings joy of his own. He knows Bethany only from stories and pictures, and yet he remembers, too. For a project in Latin class this year, he used clay to create a memorial inscription for his sister "Bethaniae." He patterned it after those of early Christians in the Roman empire, which typically expressed the hope of a reunion in Jesus. His teacher liked it so much that she kept it, but not before I took a picture, knowing I'd want to use it today.

I continue to be amazed at others who remember this day, and who send kind words year after year. For a time after Bethany's death, I became fixated on heaven, realizing that if my religious tradition didn't already include some sort of life beyond death, I would have created one on my own. I couldn't bear the thought that Bethany's light had gone out of the universe.

I have no idea if the New Testament's metaphorical images of heaven are anything like what we can really expect after death, but I know this: every memory of Bethany and every person who remembers is testimony to a life and a light that will not be extinguished.


[For more memories and lessons learned, see this post from Bethany's mom.]


Someone remembered

I skipped church on Easter ... at least the regular sort, which is not to say I didn't experience some sense of church and community.

While driving home from a visit with my parents, I stopped along a stretch of the Carolina Sandhills Wildlife Preserve in a nondescript community called "Middendorf." U.S. 1 wanders through that stretch of northern South Carolina like a long roll of duct tape unwound and stuck to the hills.

The road has long, monotonous straightaways with occasional curves that become dangerous by their rarity, like the one at the top of the Middendorf hill where my daughter Bethany was killed.

That's why I stopped there, of course, on Easter morning. It's the one geographical spot in the world where I've felt closest to eternity: after an explosive collision with a drunk driver on a cold morning in January 1994, Bethany and I both lost consciousness in an instant.

A minute or so later, I reawakened, still in this world. Bethany awoke to whatever lies beyond. That's why Easter hope is so important to me -- not that I worry that much about my own future, but that I can't bear the thought of a loved one's light going out of the universe. The hope of heaven, of a life with God where souls are not only cherished but safe, is what makes resurrection Sunday the holiest day of the year.

We nailed a white cross to a tree near the site shortly after Bethany's death, and it stayed until the forest service did some clearing some time later, but I'd noticed in recent years that two other memorials had been added to the site: Bethany is not the only one to have died there. I walked the road and paused at each memorial on Sunday, both decorated for Easter, and was surprised to find a wreath between them, apparently erected by some thoughtful person from the area, in Bethany's memory.

Ribbons beneath a ring of colorful flowers drifted in the breeze. A handwritten sign protected by a plastic bag said "Killed by Drunk Driver. Please Don't D.U.I. She was 7 years old."

And I cried, of course.

I hope with all my heart that Bethany lives on in a better place. Easter gives me that.

I know that she lives in memory, even among folks who don't know her name. A homemade sign gave me that, and I was grateful.


They remembered

Yesterday (January 18) was my daughter Bethany's 19th "deathday" (following seven birthdays).

Nineteen years is a long time, and it doesn't sting so much any more, so I didn't spend the day being maudlin.

I spent much of it being amazed.

Amazed at how many people remember, even 19 years later, and who care enough to say so. Through phone calls, e-mails, Facebook messages, and texts, a dozen people or more took the time to say, in so many words, "I remember."

Some were Bethany's childhood friends, now all grown up. Some were her teachers. Some are closer to Jan or me. Some never knew Bethany at all, but they know her story.

And they remembered, and offered words of comfort, and thanked God for a sweet girl who brightened our world for as long as she lived.

I felt (and feel) so humbled by that, so pleased that others still cherish her memory, and are thoughtful enough to reach out, in various ways, to remember her parents, too.

That kind of care may not be responsible for making the world stay in orbit, but it certainly makes it a better place.



Fifteen years

I'm writing this post on January 18, and remembering.

Remembering that, 15 years ago, January 18 was a cold, clear Tuesday.

Remembering the first three hours of a road trip, driving our daughter Bethany back from a year-round-school January break visit to my parents, her grandparents, down in Georgia.

Remembering the last glimpse I had of her alive, just a flicker in the corner of my eye as I focused on a speeding black pickup that had suddenly crossed the center line.

She was looking up.

In the space of a heartbeat, she was looking down.

Parents in the "I've lost a child club" can't help but wonder what their child's life would be like if he or she had had the chance to live it. Jan was also wondering today.

Bethany was seven years old when she died, about seven weeks short of eight. Second grade. Loved by her classmates, who liked her jokes, and by her teachers, and by her friends at church.

Would she have kept her blond hair and her sense of humor and her bubbly spirit through high school? Would she have finished college in four years and be settled in her first real job by now? Would she have found someone special to love? Would she have remained close to her parents?

I don't know.

What would she think of the world these days? Would she be in full postmodern mode, or more traditional? Would she be focused on making money and having fun, or making the world a better place? Would she have wanted to join the Peace Corps or be a missionary?

I don't know.

But, I've learned it's okay not to know. Questions about what might have been, in the end, are all moot.

What I know is that Bethany lived a full life for those seven years and ten months or so that she was here. She brought great warmth and joy to her family and her friends and her God -- who offers hope that we will see her again.

No one can take that away.

I write these words, remembering ...