Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Remembering a friend

One year ago today, my friend -- and Austin, Mason, Joshua, and Sienna's mommy -- lost her life in a car accident.

I think of Tristen and her family, of those four children and her husband Patrick, so often. But she's especially been on my mind this week -- and every hour of today -- as this first anniversary touches us.

It's a hard day -- and I cannot imagine how Tristen's family must be feeling today and everyday. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

In remembrance of my friend, I'm posting the "Jen's World" column I wrote about her last year. It comforts me to put these stories out in the world, helping to keep Tristen's spirit alive in this small way.

* * *

Last weekend, I was supposed to visit my friend Karmen in Manhattan. We were going to catch an off-Broadway play, attend a reception for a new Monet exhibit, take a jog around Central Park. But plans change.

Instead of landing at LaGuardia on Friday afternoon, I was in northern Minnesota, saying goodbye to my friend Tristen.

One brisk morning last week, after a night of freezing rain, Tristen lost control of her minivan on an icy bridge and suffered a head-on collision. She died instantly. Of her four young children, two were buckled into the car with her. They survived.
The news hit me like a full-body slam. Since then, memories have played back as movie shorts and snapshots.

It’s seventh grade and Tristen and I are at the roller rink, where our tight-knit group of friends has gathered over Christmas break. Tristen has a permed, V-shaped bob that sways in front of me under the disco lights.

We’re in high school and Tristen’s standing in front of the mirror in her bedroom, spraying her bangs with AquaNet as we sing along to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Her mom yells from the bottom of the stairs, “Trissy! Do you need a ride to the game?”
It’s 6:15 a.m. on senior skip day. We’ve all spent the night at Sarah’s parents’ hunting cabin, where we wake to Tristen’s video camera in our faces. “There are my sleeping beauties!” she laughs. “Rise and shine!”

We’re at one of our first college parties, where Tristen flirts with that cute RA from 3B Oak Hall. On the way back to the dorms, we blare Kiss songs in Sarah’s orange Granada.

I throw a Frisbee to Patrick — that former RA who has become the love of Tristen’s life — outside their new house. My husband stands at the grill and the sun peeks through the trees and we say it’s a perfect day.

We old friends share a 10-bedroom cabin at Itasca State Park and there are husbands and children and dogs in every corner. At night, after the kids go to sleep, we sit on the screen porch and laugh at our teenage selves.

Tristen’s in my kitchen, doling out juice boxes and PB&Js to her sons as I hold her baby daughter, whose cheeks I must literally restrain myself from pinching. After lunch, Tristen’s three boys pile on top of their mom on the couch and she calls them her “pumpkins.”

I’m reading an e-mail she sent just days ago. She writes about wanting the H1N1 vaccination for her oldest son, her seven-year-old, who hasn’t been struck by the virus yet. About the school referendum that just failed. About how she, Patrick and the kids are heading to our hometown for Thanksgiving. “Anyone else?” she writes.
And, now, the most recent snapshot: I’m sitting in a church holding hands with my old friends and watching Tristen’s grieving husband and their children — her suddenly grown-up Austin, her impish Mason, her sleepy Joshua, her pink-tighted baby Sienna — gather around that wooden coffin and listen to the pastor talk about how “’til death do us part” doesn’t mean “happily ever after.”

In her life, Tristen modeled love and loyalty and humor. In her death, Tristen teaches me that life can change with every breath we take. That we should live each day like it’s our last. That nothing’s more important than hugging our kids and saying “I love you” like we mean it.

These are life-changing lessons. But the price for them is too high.

It’s too high.

I would give up the enlightenment Tristen’s death brings — this newfound appreciation for life, this renewed closeness I feel to my old friends, this palpable connection I feel with Tristen’s family — to reverse what happened to my friend last week. I would trade it all if those four children could just have their mommy back.

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