On September 20, 2003, Kim Wencl‘s worst nightmare came true—her 20-year-old daughter, Liz, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, died of smoke inhalation from an early morning fire at the Dinkytown duplex where she lived just a few blocks from the U. Two of her roommates also perished. Kim shared her healing journey with me in a previous post.
Two years ago, on a particularly difficult day, Kim miraculously received a remarkable gift from Liz that transformed her grief into inner peace and joy. In Kim’s words, here is an account of that memorable day.
It was August 30th, 2006, and there it was. The article on fatal off-campus house fires was on the front page of USA TODAY. I had been so pleased to receive a call from a reporter working on the story. They had done extensive research on all fatal off-campus fires across the U.S. since 2000, and the article was running just in time for students who were moving into off-campus housing for the upcoming year.
It was everyone’s hope that this article would keep other college kids from making the same mistakes of not only my daughter Liz, but also the sixty-some other college kids who died in a similar manner. Prevention was key and I was happy to play a very small part in doing whatever I could to keep other families from experiencing the devastating loss of a vibrant young adult.
I stopped at the store on my way to work and bought three copies of the paper. I couldn’t wait to get to my desk to read it. But, once I did, it made me so sad. The senselessness of Liz’s death hit me again in such a powerful way. It felt like 9-20-03 all over again.
I should have expected that kind of reaction, but it had taken me by surprise and I was very mad at myself. How could I have possibly thought this article would make me happy?
I threw it on the back credenza in my office and tried to put it out of my mind, but I couldn’t because all day long I had a steady stream of co-workers stopping by to see it. It was all I could do to keep my composure.
Late that morning, I got an email from Liz’s high school French teacher. Jan had been Liz’s favorite teacher and we had kept in touch after her death.
I assumed her email was about the article, but it wasn’t. It read:
Kim, you are just going to treasure this. I was in my classroom yesterday, cleaning out my files, getting ready for a new school year. A lone file folder fell on the floor. I picked it up and on the outside I read LIZ WENCL ESSAY. I opened it up and discovered an assignment I had given out over four years ago. The assignment was to write a letter to one of your parents in French, telling them what they represent in your life. Kim, this is a letter Liz wrote to you!
Now, I don’t speak French, so Jan translated it for me. That letter was a mother’s dream. In it, Liz told me how much she loved and missed me in so many different ways. And even though it was written while she was in high school, it made perfect sense for our lives after 9-20-03.
I know that you love me. You show me each day that it is true. Don’t think you are a bad mother. It isn’t true! When I look at you, I realize how much I am loved.
When you are feeling bad, don’t forget I truly love you. I would like to be a better daughter. We argue sometimes and that makes me sad. I feel bad and unhappy if you cry.
I remember when I was little and you would hug me and say, “I love you so much, Lizzie! Sweetheart, sit here with me for just a little while.” Those times were so special for me and you made me so happy. I used to wish those times would never end. To be cuddled up next to you like that today would be like a dream come true.
Mom, I feel sad when you feel sad, and when you are happy I am happy! You are my mother and I would never choose anyone else. Without you, I would never be who I am.
I love you with all my heart.
What had been a very difficult day, suddenly became an amazing one. I was once again emailing family and friends to share this wonderful letter with them.
That night, Jan brought the folder and letter to my house. She put it in my hands, looked at me and said, “You have to know, this was no accident.”
I said, “Oh, Jan, believe me, I do know that.” She went on to tell me that she remembered telling Liz what a beautiful letter it was and she had encouraged her to share it with me. She even remembered what Liz’s comment had been: “I will, when the time is right.”
That letter is now framed and hanging in my living room, with the French version on one side, a picture of Liz in the middle, and the English translation on the other.
Whenever I have a bad day, all I have to do is read that letter and I can once again feel the bond of love that we will always share. Some bonds can never be broken, not even by death!
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, is a road map for living a more peaceful, beautiful life. It’s the one book that explains how dozens of spiritual principles interact, how to weave them together into a cohesive worldview, and how to practically apply this spiritual wisdom to daily life.
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