Simple telephone calls rings home mortality lesson

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 3, 2003

Sending flowers to a woman is never without a little trepidation -- especially when you know she'll never see the flowers.

As I clicked the "send" button on the computer screen, my head began filling with memories from nearly 15 years ago.

We were all so young back then. Nothing could ever convince us that life was fleeting.

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She was a smart and beautiful young woman, a girl really. She caught the eye of every young man at my school. I can remember clearly the first day I met her. We were in the seventh grade, and I was not unlike most seventh-grade boys, a goofy creature. She was, as most girls are at the age, more mature than boys of the same age.

For the next five years we sat in the same classrooms talking, studying and growing up. I always thought she was special. She was beautiful and she knew it, but she wasn't like many of the high school girls who were all looks and no brains. This girl had brains and plenty of spunk, too. She seemed to be destined for greatness.

Unfortunately, she had higher goals for herself than to be interested in that goofy, soon-to-be balding future newspaper guy.

But you know what? I didn't care, I liked her as a friend, and more important, respected her.

We never dated or anything, I'd never been over to her house or even met her parents. In short, we weren't that close. Just classmates stuck with one another until graduation.

And after graduation, we drifted apart. I saw her only a handful of times after we both headed for college. I kept up enough with her to know that she earned a master's degree in accounting and got married. Beyond that she was a distant memory of a time long past.

Perhaps that familiar, but distant relationship is why news of her untimely death surprised me so.

The telephone call came last week.

"Coop?" the voice asked. "This is Hansen."

Instantly I knew the voice was that of a childhood friend of mine.

"I wish I was calling with good news," he said. "Mitzi is dead."

He proceeded to tell me the details -- at least what he knew.

Her death came, apparently, of her own choosing. Something apparently troubled her later in life.

I don't know the details, but you can imagine what sort of pressure forces someone to make that ultimate decision.

Her death was unexpected; the circumstances were shocking.

Dealing with death is not something entirely unfamiliar to me. Having been witness to quite a number of deadly news scenes and having experienced the loss of several relatives was not enough to prepare me for an important lesson of life.

The realization of one's own mortality comes suddenly. It hit me right in face last week.

And all I could do to combat it was to send flowers to one of the best girls I knew.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Tribune. He may be reached at (740) 532-1445 ext. 12 or by e-mail to