2nd death makes no more sense than first

October 10, 2005|By MILTON KENT

"The pain and ache

A heart can take

No one really knows"

THE ABOVE LYRICS, from a Michael McDonald song called "I Can Let Go Now," is a universal feeling, usually associated with the end of a relationship, but for now, the heartbreak is acutely felt in one place.

How much more pain and ache are the hearts in the Westminster High School community supposed to take this year? Before the leaves have fallen, before the real chill of fall has set in, the students have seen two of their own die.

On Labor Day, Zachary Ondrish, a 16-year-old junior who had wrestled as a freshman, was killed when the Jeep Wrangler he was riding in with three friends veered off a Finksburg road and crashed into a tree.

And on Wednesday night, just after playing in a volleyball match at the school gym, Beth Green, a 16-year-old junior, was driving a Honda Civic on Gorsuch Road near the school when the vehicle missed a curve, veered off the right side of the road and hit a utility pole, trapping her inside.

Her parents, who are members of the Gamber & Community Volunteer Fire Company, were driving a few cars behind and attempted to rescue their daughter, with the father helping to cut her out of the car, while her mother administered CPR.

Beth, who was also a member of the fire company, was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she died after emergency surgery. Funeral services were to be held today.

Her death added to the pall over the Westminster campus, which had just struggled to come to terms with Zach Ondrish's death a month to the day before.

"I don't think they [the students] have been able to make any sense of it at all," said Terry Molloy, the school's athletic director. "It's a senseless tragedy. There have been no indications made by the kids or anyone else as to why this might have happened."

Even if the kids could make sense of it, what difference would it make? A girl who was popular across the board, including in athletic circles, as a member of the varsity volleyball team and as a point guard on the JV basketball team last year, is gone for no apparent reason other than it was her time - if that concept has any meaning or validity.

"Our athletic family is pretty tight," Molloy said. "It [the death] doesn't just affect one sports team here; it affected multiple student-athletes, as well as multiple students who were friends and acquaintances of Beth. She was a good kid, very well-rounded. She left a lot of friends."

Surely, in the days to come, the recriminations will come. The road where the accident took place, as Molloy describes it, is well-traveled, but surrounded by woods and not well-lit, with turns and twists that could perhaps be better handled by more-experienced drivers.

And someone will probably make a link to the fact that Beth was a young driver and new laws have just taken effect in Maryland to severely restrict when neophyte drivers can operate and who can ride with them.

In the end, neither of those things will matter because they won't change the fact that a young person who had a world of promise and potential is gone.

We, who are older, tell our children that things were so much tougher in our day than now, but if we are honest, brutally honest, we know that that is so much malarkey.

The fact is, our kids have it so much harder now than we ever did. Add all the things that we dealt with - acne, after-school jobs, getting good grades and the like - to today's problems - AIDS, peer pressure ramped to the nth degree and widespread violence - and it's amazing that more children don't buckle under the weight.

And now, the Westminster kids are asked to ponder death. Granted, we all do, but if we're lucky, we don't have to confront it until years down the road at a point where we can place it in perspective, and balance sadness and sorrow with happy memories of what was lost.

Only the most well-adjusted of youths can process the loss of life, but even then, that usually comes through a deceased parent or grandparent. How do kids who are predisposed to think of themselves and peers they see and know as invulnerable cope with the untimely departure of one of their own, especially one as beloved as Beth?

The answer is they move on. The Westminster volleyball team will return to the gym Wednesday afternoon in a match against Linganore that will no doubt be as difficult a task as any in their young lives.

But they, and the rest of their schoolmates will find that the concentric circle of pain that tightly grips them now will eventually loosen and allow space and healing and solace, so that, at some point, they'll be able, not to forget Beth Green, but to let go.

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