The Comfort of Strangers

Death sucks." Five years ago this was the opening of a eulogy by a minister for a mutual friend who died tragically. Spoken loudly and fiercely, then followed by a hollow silence, it was a slap in the face. Nonetheless, it was a fair assessment of how many of us felt.

Death still sucks. It has not gotten easier as I have gotten older, or more experienced, or on more intimate terms with it. The pain of separation is agonizing.

On July 17, 1996, five days shy of her 16th birthday, Larissa Uzupis died. She was one of the victims of the TWA Flight 800 explosion. She was also the daughter of my best friend, Michele. Larissa was a beautiful girl, on the brink of womanhood, full of promise, life, and the energy of youth- fearless, passionate.

Extremely independent and focused, Larissa was an honor student, an athlete, a musician. Being the only girl in her computer programming class was not enough for Larissa; she was also the top student. A cheerleader, a math whiz, a vegetarian, Larissa was a complex and interesting individual. She had a thoughtful and introspective nature, but she possessed a wonderfully dramatic flair. Larissa self-confidently claimed she would be the first woman president-and maybe she would have been.

Michele Uzupis and I have known each other for 24 years. We went to the same small Catholic high school together in Oil City, Pennsylvania. The weekend before the crash, we were looking forward to attending our 20-year reunion. Instead I joined Michele in a New York hotel, and waited as divers worked to recover bodies from the ocean.

THE HOTEL WAS a sea of grief and pain. As the shock wore off and people tried to cope, it became a roller coaster of emotions. The same face laughing at some sweet or silly memory five minutes earlier would convulse into heartbreaking sobs with no warning. Anger and frustration mounted as we spent hours upon hours waiting to hear nothing new.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1996
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