On grief and neighbors

May 14, 2012 | 78 comments

Two weeks ago, I was scheming about moving. I was tired of trying to fit seven people into three bedrooms, tired of the fact that issues with our back yard mean that the kids won’t play out there for long periods of time, tired of scorpions stinging my children in the face. Also, a few weeks ago my seven-year-old son and a boy his age who lives nearby had been involved in what they thought were humorous pranks on our neighbors, but turned out to cause serious property damage. After the humiliating experience of having to knock on doors, introduce ourselves, apologize, and write checks, I was ready to get out of here. We can’t exactly afford to run out and get a bigger house, but I was determined to make something work. I picked up flyers from local houses that had just gone on the market, and trolled real estate websites, hoping against hope to find a spectacularly good deal.

Then, a week ago last Saturday, I was driving home from my mom’s house at 8:45 at night after dropping the kids off for a special spend-the-night with her and a visiting aunt. Her house is within the same connected network of subdivisions that we’re in, and so I was winding through neighborhood streets. Shortly after I turned onto the main drive of our own subdivision, I saw a motorcycle zoom past me, headed the opposite direction. I had just come around a corner, and when I looked at his trajectory and considered how the street curved, my heart sunk. He’s not going to make it,  I thought. I hit the brakes and looked in my rear-view mirror. The darkness erupted in a spray of sparks, and I heard a terrible crash.

I turned the car around as I dialed 911. I parked by the accident site and jumped out to check on the rider. I could never have been prepared for the horror of what I would see. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that it was like something you’d see in a war zone. One officer commented that it was one of the worst scenes he’d come across in 20 years. I had trouble breathing, and immediately started going into a state of shock.

After I got off the phone, there was a surreal silence. I was standing next to this horrendous scene, with no authorities having yet arrived. It was just me and this deceased young man, with a couple of other stunned witnesses across the street. For a brief moment, I was pulled out of my shock and given a specific, very clear message: I was supposed to be there, on behalf of this kid’s mother. I was her envoy, there to look after him, to pray for him, and to send him off on to his journey in the next life. A feeling of calm, as thick and palpable as a fog, enshrouded the scene, and I was given the words to say a short prayer for him and his family — specifically, for his mother.

Police sirens broke the silence, and within minutes the street was filled with police, paramedics, neighbors, all walking around in the glare of headlights and flashing red and blue lights. I fell back into my state of shock, and was told by officers to go home.

At my house, I sat with my husband on our back porch and told him everything that happened. As I spoke, I felt a connection with the victim’s mother. “I feel like I know her, ” I said. It was an irrational thought: The drive on which the accident happened was one of the main arteries into a large network of neighborhoods that contains hundreds of houses. I don’t know that many people around here. Also, the victim could have been here to visit friends for a Saturday night get-together; he may not have lived anywhere nearby. And yet I felt this sense of connection so strongly that I ran out the front door and stood in the middle of the road and looked down the street toward the house of my neighbor friend who has a teenage son. Her house was dark, and so I went inside.

The next morning after Mass, I got the call. We did know him. It was Cameron, the gregarious 21-year-old son of my neighbor a couple of doors down. When I was standing in the road the night before, I was turned the wrong direction; if I had turned around, I would have seen his mother’s house bustling with grief-stricken visitors, and I would have known.

As more details came out in the following days, it seemed that everyone on our street was involved in this tragedy in some way. Cameron had stopped by one neighbor’s house just minutes before the accident. Another neighbor was the first person he’d shown his brand new motorcycle to. Another neighbor had gone with him when he bought it. I was the first person to find him. Another neighbor was just arriving back from a night out when I came home from the scene, and cried with me as I told her what happened. Other neighbors had been outside because of all the sirens, and were with his mother when the police arrived to deliver the news. Still others were good friends of his.

All last week, I spent most of my time with the people on my street. I wasn’t online at all, and directed all of my energy to interacting with the people whose lives play out just yards away from mine. We stopped and hugged one another on the way to the mailbox, stood and cried on the sidewalks, sometimes right in the middle of the street. When we gathered to walk to the candlelight vigil at the accident site, the first person to greet me was one of the women whose property my son and his friend had damaged. The last time I had seen her I was standing on her doorstep, humiliated and chagrined, thinking that we’d probably never speak again. She walked up to me with tears in her eyes and asked if I was okay, we embraced, we cried, and we walked to the candlelight vigil together.

The night of the funeral a bunch of us gathered outside, sitting on the curb and talking until past 1 AM. We toasted to Cameron, we prayed, we laughed those raw and intense laughs that don’t quite cover over the grief, we cried, and we asked ourselves why we never got to know each other before now. The next day another person approached my house with the biggest bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. I could tell it was a neighbor since there was no car in front of my house, but couldn’t see the person’s face because of the size of this tremendous gift. I opened the door to see Cameron’s mother, accompanied by his sister and step-father. In an act of graciousness almost too shocking to comprehend, she had come by to give me this gift as a token of thanks.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the day before the accident, my husband and I stumbled across an idea for creating some more space in our house that took a lot of pressure off of our overcrowding situation. I had been so fixated on my plans that I had never paused to consider whether it was God’s plan for us to move on from this place. That time may come one day, but this week it was as clear to me as few things have ever been clear to me in my life, that that time is not now. I knew that God sends us to just the right time period in human history, that he sends us our families, but I don’t think that it clicked until this past week that he sends us our neighbors too.

As I talked with Cameron’s family, his mother and I in tears as we spoke, I noticed that his sister was sitting in the same place in my living room that she sat almost four years ago to the day, that afternoon when I first met her and my other little friends. And I had the same feeling that moment last week that I had those years before: this is exactly where I need to be.


  1. Beth/Mom2TwoVikings

    Speechless. Beautiful piece. May God comfort you all.

  2. Theresa in Alberta

    Dear Jen and Cameron’s mother and family…..
    I’am so very very sorry for your loss!! Eternal rest grant unto Cameron….

  3. Becky

    This has me in tears. I’m so sorry for what you have been through. So sorry for the victim and his family. But you’re right–God uses us to help each other and puts it all together in His perfect timing.

    I’ve been praying for the repose of the soul of Cameron, by the way. Just thought you would like to know.

  4. RosieB

    I don’t often comment, but I have chills going up and down my back with your experience. Most importantly, with the message …. God has us where we need to be. As I look at my life, that is lot to ponder on.
    God Bless you and those grieving. Specially his mom who has been in my prayers.

  5. Thomas

    This is a beautiful post Jen. This was a terrible accident, how wonderful the grace is that you’re able to see God at work in th emidst of it and to report back to us what you see. You and you’re neighbors remain in my prayers.

  6. The Girl from New York

    I can only imagine what you witnessed, and have no doubt because of your faith, you were meant to be there to pray for his soul and his family.

    But, I will ask you to consider getting counseling. Even though you have your husband, friends and neighbors to talk to you, the effects of this might take a while to hit, especially since you witnessed the death of someone you knew and for whom you cared. Please, please consider a “preemptive strike” if you will, for your mental health and find a counselor. God bless you.

  7. Elizabeth

    The only word I can think of is “wow,” because I can’t explain the chills this gave me. I pray God guides this into the hands of all of the people who need to read it, so I’m commenting on it to boost it in Google-ability and spreading it around.

  8. Christine

    Having 3 sons of my own, this is hard to imagine. My children our my precious gems. As I am sure Cameron was to his mother. Looking at his picture he was very handsome.

    Praying for his soul.

    Your story was very touching.

  9. Gina

    Oh, Jen, I am so sorry for the loss that you and your community have experienced. The passage about how you were meant to be there on behalf of his mother brought tears to my eyes.

  10. Laura

    Thank you Jen. Lifting up prayers.

  11. Jen G

    What a blessing you were there to help!! I’ve been praying for you and your neighbors, and will continue to do so!

  12. Joy

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Jennifer, even though the grief is still so fresh. It is a good reminder to all of us to act where we are until God moves us. Praying for Cameron’s family…

  13. Andi @ oncallrn

    oh my heart breaks for you and everyone involved…especially the family. I will pray for peace and comfort. I have been the first on scene to many fatal accidents and I know how completely traumatic it can be. Take care of yourself and get lots of time with your family.

  14. Michelle

    This is beautiful and a reminder I needed today to try to remember God’s plan first.

  15. ceciliamaria

    You are in my every thought and prayer.

  16. Jennifer

    Oh Jennifer, tears are brimming my eyes reading this. I have been praying for that family and you since Hallie Lord tweeted a prayer request. What a beautiful testimony you have given. We will continue to keep your neighbourhood in our prayers, this is just a terrible tragedy. No matter how much we see the hand of God in our lives & accept or even embrace our cross, it still doesn’t take away the horror and heartbreak of so many situations. God help that poor family in the loss of their son who was so very young.

  17. Kimberlie

    As someone who lives in a neighborhood where no one seems to know each other, I especially appreciate the poignancy of your post. We are meant to live in community, to share each others joys, griefs, and challenges. Your words are a gentle reminder. Thank you.

  18. MIchelle

    Oh Jen, my heart is so heavy for you but so happy for you at the same time. Heavy that you and your neighbors have had to endure such pain but happy that you have been made aware of God’s plans for you and your family at this time. Such a terrible way to come to understanding but it is the light in the darkness of all of this… that his life and his passing could draw a bond between neighbors and friends as never before. We will be praying for Cameron, for his family, and for you and all those who are suffering right now because of this. (((HUGS))) and love from Georgia.

  19. Lizzie

    I am so so sorry to hear about this young man’s death. I have been praying for his soul, his family and for you. God bless your faithfulness and courage. He really does have you in exactly the right place.

  20. soulja

    *tears*… neighbours! like family…usually cant be chosen,must be accepted … from the hands of God.I’m such an introvert,I don’t go meet my neighbours at all 🙁

  21. Matilda Novak

    Encouraging words amidst a tragic situation….God brings good even out of those things that are so difficult. Praying for this family, you, and all the neighbors. God is very much in control of all the details of our lives.

  22. JC

    C.S. Lewis tells us that suffering is God’s bullhorn to the heart; your post is a beautiful exposition of that reflection.

  23. Bridget

    Your openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit are truly inspiring. You were certainly right where you were supposed to be.
    What a blessing that your children were with your mom.

    May Cameron rest in peace, and may you and all who have been brought together by this tragedy grow ever closer to our Lord, and to one another. Divine Providence is clearly at work in this moment of your lives.

    A dear friend of mine died this same way at age 19 or 20. He was the passenger and his life-long best friend was the driver; they were also very close to home… Such unspeakable grief and loss.

    May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

    With love and prayers,

  24. Claudia Volkman

    Jenn – truly speechless… heart pounding… this is real life, real truth. Thank you for being real and sharing!

  25. Marie

    Thank you for sharing. Prayers to you and Cameron’s family. I agree with the comment about counseling. Being the first bystander coming upon an accident is life-changing and traumatic.

  26. carmen sophia ocds

    I and my community will remember cameron and all of you touched by grief at his passing in our prayers

  27. Marco

    Wow! What a moving account. I have often times found myself questioning the logic of God’s will in my current job situation. Without getting into too much details I am not happy with my job. I am underpaid, I have incompetent managers, and my educational training doesn’t match. But each time that I decide to leave, something happens which causes me to stay. I don’t know for how much longer, but God wants me there now. I will keep praying for you and your house situation. God Bless.

  28. Pat Gohn

    Praying for all the intentions mixed up in this. May God have mercy on Cameron, and give peace to all who him.

  29. LPatter

    beautiful…praying for you all. Thank you for sharing these poignant moments.

  30. Debbie

    During this time, God reconciled you with your neighbors. Prayer for everyone in your neighborhood.

  31. Kris

    I’ve been praying for all of you since you first posted about the accident. I can only imagine what you have all suffered. How beautiful that God brought some grace and meaning out of this horrible tragedy, as only He can do. And thank you for sharing the story with all of us.

  32. Marie

    What a beautiful post. I just wanted you to know that I have been praying and will continue to pray for you and that young man’s family. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord. And may your perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.

  33. TracyE

    Heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing and what a tremendous blessing to Cameron’s family and his soul as he left this earth. God’s peace to you in your own healing and continued prayers for Cameron’s family in theirs.

  34. Ashley

    ((HUGS)) and prayers for peace. You did a good thing.

  35. LeAnn

    My heart goes out to you and Cameron’s mother and family. Praying for all of you during this difficult time.

  36. Amanda

    I have been praying for you and Cameron’s family, as well as his soul, since you posted about the accident and will continue to do so. This is a beautiful piece, and as I was re-reading the post from when you met his sister and friends, the line that struck me the most from it was “I have no idea where God is going with this, why he sent them my way, or where it’s going from here.” God has blessed this little girl’s life with your presence in ways we may never understand this side of heaven. Praying for peace for all of you.

  37. Julie Whelan

    God is with you Jen and it shows. Thank you. My prayers are with you, Cameron’s family and all your neighbors.

    When you are ready, there is a book by Lorna Byrne, called “Angels in My Hair” which provides a very comforting perspective on death and the soul’s movement towards God and heaven.

  38. giarose

    Oh Jen, you are so strong in the Lord! I witnessed a motorcycle accident several years ago in San Antonio where the man lived but it was still so terrifying to me and the others who witnessed it and were involved. Prayers for you and Cameron and his family! God Bless you!

  39. Nancy Bridwell

    Out of every tragedy comes a moment that brings us closer to God; my prayers are with you, your neighbors, Cameron and his family. Thanks for sharing at such a difficult time. Nancy Bridwell

  40. Paul Forgette

    I write with tears in my eyes. This was beautifully written.
    You and the Cameron family have been in my prayers.

  41. Amy@Diapeepees

    Thinking about you this past week…the tragedy that played out in your life. I’m glad you have people there to connect with…we so need other people. It’s these kinds of incidents that make us realize just how much.

  42. Rhonda

    Thank you for sharing this, Jennifer. God bless you all.

  43. Elisa | blissfulE

    How gracious of God to send His presence so powerfully as you stepped into the difficult task He had for you just then. He makes a way for us, even in the valley of the shadow of death.

  44. Renee

    Thank you for sharing your story. You writing is so touching and thought provoking.. You made me pause and reflect on my own relationship with our neighbors. You also brought back to mind my good friend who lost her husband in a motorcycle accident 16 years ago. It was so shocking and so devastating as he not only left his wife behind but his daughter who was 5, his son who was almost 3 and his baby daughter who was almost 1. It sounds like you’re surrounded by a very loving community. I think most of us are, but we just don’t know it until we are shocked out of our normal routine and share our time with people and in places we wouldn’t in normal circumstances. The gift you gave to this young man’s mother, to be with her son and pray and care for him as his soul left him, is beautiful.

  45. Kari

    What a tragic, beautiful, inspired post. It’s not every day that we are given the chance to be with a person in their last moments as their soul leaves this world (especially in a manor so violent) but when given the chance to be there, pray for them, offer some comfort God’s hand of mercy is truly there. I am so sorry for the pain you all are experiencing right now. I pray you will find peace and comfort, as will Cameron’s family. Please be kind to yourself during this time. You need time to grieve and process it all. {hugs}

    • Margaret Mary Myers

      I want to say something and yet I’m not sure what to say. Having been a motorcyclist in my youth…and then, having recently lost a 26 yr. old son (who died unexpectedly in his sleep), your story hits hard. God provided for you to be there to call the police, to pray for the boy and his family, especially his mother. What a blessing for his family and perhaps for his soul. At the same time, please understand that your own grief won’t just go away when the community activity slows down, even if you didn’t know the young man personally. Allow yourself to grieve, let up a bit on your expectations, and nurture yourself. All of you, his family and yours, are in my prayers. Hugs. Margaret Mary

  46. Colleen Martin

    My grandmother and mother have always taught me to pray for a happy death. I always thought it was a little strange and morbid, but reading this story, and how you interceded for his mother at his death, makes me understand why it is something we should all be praying for. God Bless you and your neihbors and the devestated family!

  47. Cathy

    beautiful…God has a plan, praying for you and all involved.

  48. Nancy

    This such a redemptive story — it is so in keeping with the nature of God to turn tragedy into something beautiful. I pray that you will keep on healing from what you saw, and that Cameron’s family will weather this storm well together.

  49. BettySue

    Prayers for your neighborhood.

    If it makes you feel any better, we have 11 living in 3 bedrooms (about 1400′) and we are ok. A little crowded and I certainly would like something bigger, but this actually allows me to better supervise the dc.

  50. Rosemary

    This post made me cry.

    Thank you for being there for Cameron.

    I will pray for the repose of his soul.

    Please take good care of yourself. You’ve been through a huge trauma.

  51. Louise

    Jen, I am so sorry to hear about this horrible loss, and what you had to experience. I pray that God will ease your pain and the grief of Cameron’s family. I will also pray for the repose of Cameron’s soul.

  52. Sarah Webber

    Prayers for you, Jen, and for everyone concerned.

  53. Tienne McKenzie

    This post brought me to tears. God Bless you, Jen.

  54. Kate Wicker

    Beautiful and what a powerful reminder that we are many parts but all one body in Christ.

    I’ll be praying for peace and healing for all those involved.

  55. Emily Woodhouse

    Hi Jeniffer. That was real touchy. Bear my condolences to the family of Jen and Cameron.

  56. Brianna

    Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. Your words are beautiful, I have tears in my eyes, and your sweet family, as well as Cameron’s family, will be in my prayers.

  57. Aubree

    Jennifer – this was beautiful. I was talking to my mom on my way home telling her this story and I commented that I was convicted on the fact that I didn’t know any of my neighbors as I, like you, like to be an introvert. I’m happy in my shell.

    Then, last night as I was working out with my husband our doorbell rang. We went to see who it was and no one was there. My husband laughed as he was reminded of his “dingdong and ditch” days. I was disturbed. Who could it be? Why would they want to do this? Then the irony hit me – wasn’t I asking God to show me ways to connect with my neighbors? No one had ever rang our doorbell and ran before; and here I am, the day I read this post (and the ones about your littles) the same initiating action happened to me. Oh, the irony. So, I told myself they are probably kids needing attention and I went back to my workout.

    ding. dong.

    It happened again. This time we went straight for the window. But, to our surprise, kids actually WERE at our door. I answered and the little girl said, “Can I ask you a survey for my school?” “Um, sure.” “Do you think our neighborhood is a good environment for kids?” “I don’t have any kids. I don’t know. Do YOU think it’s a good environment?” “Well, there are a lot of kids to play with… so yes.” “Okay then.” “Did you successfully graduate from high school?” “Yes.” “Do you think if I graduate I can live in a neighborhood like this, too?” “Sure.” (I thought to myself “You can probably live in a better one. Lol) – and then the girls ran off giggling. Not really sure if the “survey” was legitimate or not – such random questions!

    Anyway, all this to say: Your openness about what happened left me with the ability to not get angry as fast and actually open my door to my neighbors and have a real conversation.

    Oh, the irony of how God works. It makes me laugh sometimes.

    So, thanks Jennifer!

  58. Tina

    Oh Jen. What a heartbreaking story.
    I thank you though, for being God’s vessel – not only for Cameron and his family and your neighbors – but also for all of us. What a powerful witness this is.

  59. Melissa AtLee

    Dear Jen, I’m so sorry that you had to witness such a terrible tragedy. I pray for the soul of that young man, for his family, and for you. Thank you for reminding us all that God is always with us.

  60. Martianne

    I have had comptuer issues lately and have been trying to catch upw ith things. As my children began to need me this morning, I was about to shut down when I saw the feed for this post. I decided to pause and read before shutting down and am so glad I did.

    Quiet tears are rolling down my face. Prayers are going straight from my heart without time to stop by my brain for words to attach to them. Confirmation and an impetus for action of some things I have been pondering perosnally are forming in my mind…

    God used you to carry his plan out so well the night you wrote of and in the days that followed and he continues to do in your sharing — more than you can imagine.

    Thank you.

    Prayers to you, Cameron and all …

  61. Lisa

    What a heartbreaking story. My son informed me last night that today he’s going to the DMV to get his motorcycle license. His father says that he’ll likely ride when he’s older, and it’s better if he is educated on street riding (they’ve dirt biked since he was little).
    What am I supposed to do with this?
    Thanks for writing the story. Please God, don’t let it happen to us.

  62. Born27

    I was so touched by this post. I am so sorry for the lost.. I know God is always been there to you guys and I know you can recover soon. Prayers is the strongest tool this time.

  63. jen

    I’m glad the Lord put you in a place where you could be His hands to someone else. Blessings to you as you continue to process and work through the horror of the situation.

  64. Elizabeth Mahlou

    God sends Angels to help our children when we are not there. You were clearly His choice of angel for Cameron’s mother!

  65. LT

    I’ve been fortunate enough to walk away from a motorcycle accident so my heart truly hurts for Cameron and his family. God chose you for a reason to be there, as you said.

    Prayers to you all

  66. Laura E.

    Blessed be the Lord that puts us where he needs us to be. I pray for Cameron and his family. May he be in the Lord´s hands cuddling into true love for eternity until we meet again.

  67. Judy Dudich

    I had just recently read the story of your meeting Cameron’s sister and her friends. I was struck by your tangible awareness that you were SUPPOSED to be friends with those little girls. And, now that I have also read THIS beautiful, heartrending account of what your neighborhood has gone through, I can so-clearly see the hand of God, which took hold of this tragic situation FOUR years ago; for He knew that’s how long it would take to prepare YOU and THEM…why, it’s almost too much to bear for the LOVE and MERCY is so completely and unfathomably great and infinite that my poor, wretched mind simply can not grasp it. GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD FOR HE IS GOOD AND HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER. Rest in His comfort, Jennifer; and know, that all of you are in my prayers. And, one more thing: THANK YOU, for sharing this with us; though I know how difficult it must have been to write…for it reminds us NEVER to doubt that whatever is happening in our lives, where ever we are, whoever comes our way, whatever we are going through…it is meant to be and is a gift from God.
    I needed to read this post. You are a good friend to us all for having the courage to share it.

  68. bobbi

    I am in tears. Thank you for sharing this with us, Jen. It has allowed the Holy Spirit to whisper his own lesson in my heart. Prayers to you and all involved.

  69. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, the daughter of someone from our parish was the unintended killer of a motorcyclist several years ago. She was not at fault but she was obviously very affected and shaken, and a new driver, still a teen. The image from what I heard about the accident scene still haunts me, as does your story, and yet, both times, the hand of God also was evident. That moment of grace when you prayed over him, and the ones that followed, were undoubtedly divine led. But what a horrible thing to go through. Thank God you have God. 🙂

  70. Caroline

    Lovely story, Jennifer. It’s just like God to make you feel virtuous by making other people suffer so you can be there in their grief. An atheist wouldn’t think that way–you must have felt really useless to people before your conversion.

  71. Heidi19

    I am so so sorry to hear about this, my prayers to you and Cameron’s family. Thanks for sharing this with us and keep the faith.

  72. Doris Rodriguez

    Beautiful witness … thank you so much for sharing! <3

  73. Art King

    What a powerful message from God you have passed on to us. Thank you.

  74. Heather @ That Uncomfortable Itch

    This is one of the most touching posts I’ve ever read. So much beauty here.

    It is amazing when we stop and listen how much the plan is present.

  75. Winnie

    I am sorry to hear about the horrific accident and loss. I know good neighbors and friends are so comforting in times like these. I am contemplating moving as I don’t have a community in my neighborhood and miss having one. I tried delivering mail to my neighbor on Sat that was put in my mailbox and was yelled at for having her mail.UGH. I am glad you have a great place to live. So sorry for the loss you had to witness..Take care of yourself. I am sure that was hard to see and process. All the best to the family of the loved one.

  76. A Rodriguez

    I live in this subdivision and have passed the plaque where he passed away. I am beyond touched by what was written. Gods plan was to have you be with him to pray over him into his arms. I can’t imagine loosing such a wonderful young man. Thank you for sharing and the next time I will make it a point to stop and pay my respects. I know the one year of his passing is in less then two months and I will continue to pray for Gods peace over his family and friends.

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