My sister's best friend Kathleen Jermyn died in the Lockerbie tragedy, along with 269 others. She was flying home from Heathrow Airport in London after a semester studying abroad. She was carrying Christmas gifts for her family, and a special gift for my sister, when the terrorist's bomb exploded on her plane, Pan Am Flight 103.
She couldn't wait to come home, and my sister couldn't wait to see her. They worked together as waitresses at The Ground Round restaurant at the Staten Island Mall, and had become very good friends. They made eachother laugh so hard and so often. The sound of their laughter permeated whichever room they occupied.
They were going to go out for drinks that night to exchange gifts and celebrate the holiday season. While my sister was getting ready, I happened to turn on the TV and heard the Channel 7 NYC Eyewitness News anchor Bill Beutel reporting about the plane crash. I heard the words "Heathrow Airport," and just froze with fear because I knew that Kathleen was flying in that day.
I could hear Bing Crosby singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" in the background. I ran to tell my sister about the crash and she looked very worried about her friend, but wasn't sure if she was on Flight 103. She was the first one to call Kathleen's parents to ask them her flight number. When they said Flight 103 she made the most awful gutteral sound, as she realized she was gone.
I cried with her on and off for days. I knew how kind and fun her friend was, and about how much she cared about her. My heart broke for my sister and for Kathleen's family. I didn't know Kathleen very well, but I knew that she had a smile that lit up a room. She was kind and warm and hilarious. Everyone who knew her loved her. She was unforgettable.
I remember one of my last encounters with her. She attended SUNY Oneonta and knew that I was applying to SUNY colleges at the time. I was excited about the prospect of going away to college, but was also very nervous about it. I had asked her advice about whether or not I should go so far away, and if she liked college. She emphatically said "Yes! Go away to a SUNY college, you will love it and you will do great!"
I took her advice and never forgot it. She gave me some of the strength that I needed to be able to leave home and follow in her footsteps. And she was right. I loved every minute of my time at SUNY Plattsburgh.
She was buried on her twenty first birthday and her funeral was at The Holy Child Church in Staten Island. It was my church, and I had never seen it so packed or so blanketed in sorrow.
She was very much loved and is very much missed.
It didn't matter what gift she had planned on giving my sister because she was the gift.
She gave my sister the gift of her time, her laughter, and her love. That is what mattered, and that is what my sister still carries with her to this day.
Material gifts are nice to receive, but what truly matters is the gifts we give to eachother by spending quality time together and making memories to cherish for all time.
Almost everyone we meet gives us a gift. Whether it be a smile, a bit of advice or wisdom, a kind word, a warm hug, or unconditional love.
The gifts may be fleeting or may last a lifetime. They may be all someone has to give, but they are what matters in this life.
Cherish your local waitress, grocery store worker, barista, teacher, nurse, UPS Driver, firefighter, or cop. Cherish all those who volunteer for charities and who are charitable. But most of all cherish your friends, neighbors and families.
They give you so many gifts that enrich your life more than diamonds or other material gifts ever could. Open your eyes and see all the gifts you are given on a daily basis. They are all around you, even amidst the pandemic, the tornadoes and difficulties of life in the 21st Century.
These gifts can brighten even the most awful and tragic day. A day like September 21, 1988 when an Angel like Kathleen, and 269 other Angels were taken from this Earth in an instant.
These gifts can turn a light on when you are surrounded in darkness.
We never know what tomorrow will bring. Enjoy those around you who you love while you still can. And give the gift of yourself and your time, while you enjoy the insurmountable gifts that surround you each and every day. Gifts that were given to you by those who are still here, and by those who are no longer with us.
I still get the chills and shed a tear when I hear Bing Crosby singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas," because I know Kathleen never was, and so many people never will be.