Parts of that night are so clear in my mind, they could have just as easily happened five days ago instead of five years ago. Other parts have been blocked; still other parts have simply faded because that’s what happens to memories when five entire years have passed.
How can it have already been five years?
Five years ago tonight, my parents interrupted my viewing of “What I Like About You.” Five years ago, “What I Like About You” still had reruns showing on multiple channels and Amanda Bynes wasn’t crazy. Five years ago, my parents sat down on the couch next to me which was awkward because I had been lying down, and this action forced me to halfway sit up with an elbow wedged into the cushion to hold my weight. I was annoyed.
Five years ago tonight, my parents looked at me with pity mixed with sadness and a little bit of fear and told me that my best friend had died in a car accident.
I screamed. I cried on the couch. I cried in my room. I cried alone. I cried while hugging my mom, my sisters, my best friends, my boyfriend, people I had never considered friends before but who now wanted to hug me while I cried.
Days passed, the funeral passed, her family moved away, school started, somehow life kept going. I thought I knew the impact that Makenzie Stocker had made on me. I thought I could already see how her life and death had affected my life and the lives of the people around me. I had learned to not take life for granted. (That’s true, but not all.) I had learned that the only hope I had came from knowing Kenzie was in heaven. (That is true, but not all.)
But in five years, a lot can change. To be honest, I don’t think about Makenzie as much as I used to. There used to be a time when a day couldn’t pass without me thinking about her, but now they do. Now many days can pass without a thought. There are less pictures with her face next to mine as high school memories fade and are replaced with college, travels, and graduations.
But when I do think about her…when a song or a phrase comes up, when Katie brings up an old memory or I stumble across an old photo, I think about her with more gratitude and understanding than I ever did before.
Makenzie influenced me in ways I never could have seen so close to the accident.
Makenzie taught me:
1.) To hug people. You don’t know them well? That’s okay, you might later. They probably would appreciate a hug now. I know fifteen year old Emilie with the glasses and the pigtails really appreciated her hugs as the new kid in school. With Makenzie gone, I’ve made it my own personal responsibility to hug more and hug well.
2.) To love people. Put judgments aside. She didn’t think lowly of people who were different from her, but what I learned most from Kenzie is that she also wasn’t intimidated by people who may have seemed cooler than her. We’re all people. We all need to love and be loved. She put that into practice – no one was too good to be loved by Kenzie.
3.) To laugh. She laughed at her own jokes. She laughed at other people’s jokes. She was weird and dorky. She found humor and enjoyment in life that other people envied. Life was her playground. She had a joyful spirit that people noticed and loved immediately and a quiet confidence that came from knowing she was a daughter of the King.
In short, Makenzie taught me joy, spirit, confidence, and life. How could I have seen it then, when every time I thought of her I felt fierce, fierce sorrow?
I knew Kenzie during a time when I had less spirit and joy than I have had in any other time of my life. She was an example to me of a person with life: life I used to have but I had lost. When we lost her in the accident, I had to cling to the Giver of Life in a way I hadn’t had to before. He gave Kenzie a joyful spirit, and in the midst of tragedy, began to remind me that that life and spirit and joy could be mine as well.
Thank you, Kenzie, for loving us. Thank you for showing us how beautiful life can be. Thank you for unashamedly shining the joy that Christ gave you.
I am a different person than the girl sobbing on the couch five years ago. I’m glad that I can finally see that.
Thanks for everything, Kenzie. We miss you.

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