Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembering Wendy Sunderlin

Wendy Sunderlin, had she lived, would have been 32. But she is, as her memorial page describes "forever 19".

It was a slightly chilly November day in 1996 on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. I went into a my history class in Elliot Hall with Dr. Bill Walker. He informed us that a classmate, Wendy Sunderlin, had committed suicide.

He wept, long and loudly.

It was a small university -- just 2,000 students. So Wendy's death had an impact. But I didn't know her, even though she was in my class.

Still, every now and then, I think about Wendy.

Her friends mourned for a time, but the grief passed, and they moved on. We all moved on. And that's good, but it's also sad, in a way. For it seems that we die twice: when our heart stops beating and then later, when we are forgotten -- when no one thinks of us anymore.

And it is sad that this girl, who could be alive today, could be forgotten to all but her family.

I think about Wendy, and I think about her parents. About the hole in their hearts that continues to hurt, long after people have stopped bringing over casseroles and asking (and really mean it) "How are you doing?"

There comes a point when your grief can no longer be public; when you're expected to move on, suck it up, and not lean on others or express your agony.

It must be very hard for Wendy's parents to continue, to remain silent when they still hurt but are no longer allowed to grieve.

I heard stories about Wendy's sorority sisters. Sometimes dark stories about the revenge they sought against the man they blamed for her suicide. But I can also imagine that they supported Wendy's parents, expressing compassion and empathy to them, for a time.

For a time.

And then, gradually they moved on, finished school, went their separate ways, and moved forward with their own hopes and dreams. But Wendy and her parents did not. They were stuck in time, forever 19; in a time, a place, and a life that her mother refers to simply as "after November 12th." And her parents may have wondered if people were forgetting who Wendy was; if, over time, Wendy would cease to be even a memory.

No, Mr. and Mrs. Sunderlin. She won't be forgotten.


gavin richardson said...

i believe it to, that if someone is remembered, they are never dead.

it is always saddening to hear of someone who felt there wasn't going to be enough for tomorrow. thanks for sharing john

paul said...

Great post.

doodlebugmom said...

Sadly, there are a lot of families out there, just like Wendy's. thanks for the reminder.

John said...

Thank you, all.

Anonymous said...


I had recently been thinking about Wendy as well, although I confess indirectly. Like you, I did not know her at all; one of my roommates at OWU that year had gone out with her some, and he obviously took it very hard. I had been thinking last week about my roommate and wondering how well he had managed to move on in his life over the last many years. I recall attending Wendy's memorial service on campus, some of Chaplain Jon Power's words, and struggling with how to comfort my roommate - any words I considered saying to him I never got out, because they seemed useless.

I moved on to study abroad the next semester and never really saw how the campus community was affected, but I do appreciate this post very much. Thank you for remembering and helping me to remember too.

The Thief said...

My freshman year roommate never made it out of college - early in his sophomore year, he fell from a window. 1 1/2 years later he died, having been in a coma all that time.

No, he is not forgotten either. Thanks for the reminder, though, because it is easy for those of us out on the periphery to forget.

JediPastorKen said...

I just did a funeral for one of our families whose daughter who took her own life at 15.

Thanks for giving some thoughts to consider and reflect on. I'm still struggling through all of what I saw and experienced.

One of the reasons I've not been posting much has come from this and a few other things happening in and around my life. It is a rough and rugged road to truly travel with those who know this pain. Blessings to you John for not forgetting.