When Death Comes

Posted on March 26, 2011

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Randy Ludlow of the Columbus Dispatch tweeted it first at about noon Thursday: A 24-year-old woman named Meredith Wilkie died when she was struck by a tree while camping.

A tragic story by any measure. But I took notice for a different reason: I knew that name.

Meredith had been a student of mine in a 2008 Ohio State University Comm 602 (magazine writing) class. I have about 40 students per quarter in that class, but I promise them I will remember them whenever they need help in the future, and I surely remember Meredith. She was a strong writer with good story ideas. I remember she loved music. She was bright and forthcoming with comments, constructive to her classmates and seeking to learn. She and I met a few times during class–she wasn’t  just worried about her grade; she wanted to learn and get better.  We also met once when she neared graduation to talk about what future opportunities she might seek with her journalism degree. She  pondered graduate school.

I read in the paper today that Meredith did go on for more learning, seeking a master’s degree in library science at University of Pittsburgh. She was on the cusp of life when, in a freak March storm, all that promise was cut short by being in the wrong place at the absolute worst time. She was camping with a male friend in Shawnee State Forest. The storm blew up around them, quick and violent. He went to check out noises for potential danger. She no doubt believed herself safe within her tent–until an apparently healthy tree caught the wind and was uprooted from the rain-softened earth.

How do parents–who have no doubt tucked their daughter in safe to bed thousands of times, held her hand in parking lots, bandaged and kissed away skinned knees, sat white-knuckled as she learned to drive, sat up waiting when she came home from dates, packed her for college and stood proudly snapped photos upon graduation–cope with such a senseless and random tragedy? How can any grand spiritual plan, no matter what your belief, include something so horrifyingly unbelievable?

May they only take comfort in knowing that in her brief life, Meredith did touch the world. She no doubt lived her life well and as fully as was possible in such a limited time frame. And she lives on still in so many places, including the heart of one teacher, who will never forget the moment in time they shared.

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Posted in: General, Journalism