By Eileen HawleyIn May of 1973 my future seemed bright. I was weeks away from graduating high school. I was thinking about college. On Saturday, May 19, I would wake up early to march in the annual Armed Forces Day Parade with my friends in the West High Band. A single phone call in the early morning hours of that day changed my life in ways that even 40 years later, resonate deeply.
The phone call was from the hospital telling my parents that their daughter, my older sister, had been in a car accident and they should get to the hospital as quickly as possible. My sister, Barbara Jo Keegan, was dead at 20 years old.
That night the decision by two teenagers to get drunk and get behind the wheel of a car, had deadly consequences. Their car slammed into the one in which my sister was riding, killing her instantly.
The days, weeks and months following Barbara’s death remain a blur for me. What does remain in the years that have followed – and there have been many – are the memories Barbara and I never made. There are things we should have shared as sisters: she should have been there to stand with me when I got married, but she was not; she should have had children on whom I could dote, but she did not; she should have been there to share the grief when our parents died, but she was not.
For most of my life, people act surprised when I mention my sister.
It’s not that they simply didn’t know Barbara. It’s that people I have known and loved for decades don’t know that she even existed. For as long as these friends have known me…there has been only me.
On rare occasions, someone who knew Barbara finds me on Facebook and I am hopeful we will become friends. We correspond for a while, but the truth is that they are seeking to rediscover Barbara much as I have been most of my life. They are looking for the little sister they remember. And that child is gone, replaced with an adult they don’t know. The thing that connected us – my sister – is gone.
When we’re young, we think of ourselves as immortal. We fail to think about the consequences of our actions, just as I’m sure that two boys who set out for a night of fun never thought for a moment they would end the life of one person and change forever the lives of all those who loved her.
Eileen Hawley is the Communications Director for Governor Sam Brownback.