I associate the month of April with grief. The first few weeks are bookended with the anniversaries of two tragic events that occurred while I was studying at IU, though neither involved anyone I was intimately close to. The first is on April 7, the day that Madeline (Maddie) Spohr died in 2009. Her parents are friends of my brother and his wife – Maddie’s dad, Mike, and my brother were friends in college and each was best man for the other at their respective weddings. Maddie was born premature and with many health complications to come, the result of under-developed lungs, if I understand it correctly. During her short life, I followed her parents’ blogs about her story and their experiences raising her, from the NICU to their home. Maddie’s passing was tragic. I consider it a privilege to read Mike and Heather’s accounts of their experience with grief and the process of raising two more adorable and hilarious children.
Heather and Mike started a charity - Friends of Maddie - to support families of children like Maddie. Together with their family and friends, they also raise a ton of money for the March of Dimes each year.
The second tragic event that I associate with April happened on April 20, 2006, the morning that five IU music students were killed in a plane crash on their way back to Bloomington from a rehearsal in another town. The five of them – all singers - were well known in the music school and their deaths utterly transformed the school for the rest of the term. Several courses canceled their finals, no one went to class the day after it happened, and especially since I was a singer, most of my friends and I spent the whole next week going to a different memorial service every day. It was rough, but it was also a remarkable time at IU. It felt so personal. It felt like everyone actually cared about each other. And it reminded us all that our grades and our recital dresses weren’t the most important things.
I mark both of these deaths each year in various private ways. I always donate to Heather and Mike’s March of Dimes team and I usually spend a few minutes on the 20th reflecting on each of the five IU students. I’m now older than they were when they died, which is hard to believe. From Heather’s writing, I gather that one of the most important things is to simply remember them. I think of these two events similarly, as they both involved children – even though the IU students were in their 20s – whose parents now live without them. Heather has written that the scariest thing now is that we’ll all forget Maddie, that no one will talk to her about Maddie, that we’ll all let April 7th pass without thinking about her. Truthfully, I think of Maddie and the victims of the plane crash often, not just in April, but I make a special effort on those days to remember what it was like then.
It’s always struck me that I associate April with grief, because I also associate April with life. It’s the time of year when the snow actually starts to melt and we see the first green shoots around campus. It’s the time of year when a lot of wildlife starts to return to Ontario (or pass through on the way further north). In our area, it’s the time when we regain hope that winter will truly end. More frequent sunny and warm days mean we all shake off our collective SADs and spend more time outside. I associate April with feeling alive again, and I try to remember that as I grieve and mark the premature passings of these people who were too young and so talented. I’m not grateful for their deaths, but I try to be grateful for the things I’ve learned from grieving them: finals aren’t the most important thing, grades don’t determine human worth. My sanity and health are worth more than a clean paper draft. This year, 5 years after Maddie’s passing and 8 years since the plane crash, I want to focus on the feeling of being alive and remember that it, too, is a privilege.