Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the death of someone I loved very dearly. His name was Brad Koehly and we were both 21, madly in love, and students at Chico State University, California. On this date in 1982, he was riding his bike home after classes, down a country highway, when a truck swerved onto the shoulder and hit him. He was taken off life support 20 hours later.
Brad was funny and sweet and just cocky enough to be endearing. He had a smile that would light up a room. He was an athlete-he loved to run and had a tall slim build with just gorgeous legs. He was extremely intelligent and was majoring in computer programming-trying to be in the 1st wave of computer technology. He was extremely passionate about it, as well as everything else he did.
I was Brad’s first serious girlfriend and he had planned to give me a ring for Christmas. His family gave it to me after his death. Was he planning to ask me to marry him? Or was it a promise ring? We’ll never know for sure. It’s all the unknowns that haunt-what kind of man would he have become? What would he have done with his life? Would he be working at Intel or Microsoft or would he have built his own company or invented something wonderful? Would we have made it as a couple? Would he have had children?
His death ended up being a defining point in my life. When you are forced to face such a painful loss at an early age it redefines your life in so many ways. When you know that a big part of life is LOSS–you can react in one of two ways. You can choose to hide from love and live in fear of getting hurt. There was a period in my life where I only dated men I knew I wouldn’t fall in love with, so they were safe. Over the years I have met quite a few men who suffer from this–they keep a huge wall up around their emotions–for fear of letting someone in who could hurt them, and they don’t let themselves feel too much. They want love and they fear love.
The second way to live is reflected in one of my favorite quotes from one of the best movies out there–Strictly Ballroom.
A LIFE LIVED IN FEAR IS A LIFE HALF LIVED.
I figured out that I had to face my fears so that I could allow love in my life and I have lived that way ever since. I have several friends who have lost their husbands–the true loves of their lives–and each one will tell you it’s worth it, the agonizing pain over their loss is well worth the love and joy they had with their wonderful husbands.
When you know the abyss is there–when you know that inevitably you will lose people you love–it adds a certain poignant richness to life. A depth and clarity to everyday life. You appreciate small moments and work to create them. You express your love well and often. You forgive easier and you try to find much joy and laughter even when life gets challenging.
Brad’s death affected my family deeply, as well. We were not a demonstrative family, although we always knew we were loved. The evening of his death I called each of my three brothers and told them that I loved them. I had never told any of them this before. And from that day forward, we reached out to each other and we are a much closer family as a result. We hug, tell each other we love each other, and work to stay in touch. It’s been a wonderful gift.
Brad–on this 30th anniversary, I want to thank you for your many wonderful gifts and for your love. You touched many lives in your 21 short years–and it’s a lesson all of us…about HOW MANY LIVES WE TOUCH, as well.
With love and gratitude,