Tragedy of the worst kind
Our hands recoil from the newspaper – two young men dead, horribly, tragically. The news is a punch in the gut, a wrenching ache.
One of those men was one of Tahoe’s own, a child of this lake and mountains. Chip Williams was a young man who sought a wider world but came back often to touch base with his childhood. His family is part of the fabric of this town, regarded for their hospitality and generosity. His friends are our sons and daughters, the next generation of Tahoe. And his life was filled with the special adventures unique to an amazing place he called home.
What is it about the foreshortening of youth that rips at the emotional foundations of all parents? It’s almost incomprehensible. Children are suppose to outlive us. Children are suppose to out achieve us. They are supposed to transform through wonderful childhoods into adulthood filled with promise and possibilities. They are our legacy, unique in their dreams but joined in our heritage.
We look anxiously at our own children – such vitality, such recklessness, testing the limits, pushing the boundaries. And yet we, as parents, see so clearly the vulnerability, the utter frailty of youth.
Youth is risk, youth is chance. Youth is questioning. Youth is bumps and bruises.
Then one day, youth gives way to fear. We see danger everywhere, and we worry ceaselessly.
For now we hold youth in our arms, nurturing and cradling the next generation.
The bond of parent to child is inexplicable. Tied by blood or chance, we are linked with someone whose life becomes even more important than our own.
Such a love seems impossible. Such a treasure as a child too rich a blessing. Our world ceases to function as it once did. Time stops, and then zooms faster than ever before.
We change irrevocably. All too suddenly these tiny creatures grow, constantly seeking something just out of their grasps.
Then it becomes our job to slay dragons, stop traffic, walk on water, or do whatever it takes to keep our children safe.
And when we can’t, we are shattered.
Our babies, our children. They are life itself. They are our souls, our dreams. Without them, we are left with an aching void.
Paul and Sue Hrbacek will never forget the utter despair a decade ago when they were told their 15-year-old son Rory and two other teen-agers were killed in a late night car crash. On Feb. 2, 1991, the car with four teen-agers slide on black ice along Pioneer Trail and smashed into a tree.
Three years later, the Hrbacek and others fought to establish a memorial for children lost too young. The stark monument – part of the tree that cost the lives of Rory and his friends – draws other parents who have lost their sons and daughters. The strangely beautiful memorial along Highway 50 near Wildwood Avenue now has 165 plaques – silent expressions of parental grief from people around the world.
The memorial was the only way “to handle the insanity we were handed,” said Sue Hrbacek. That insanity has been felt by far too many parents at Lake Tahoe.
To Candice and Evan Williams, the family and friends of Chip Williams, as well as all the other parents who have endured sorrow beyond description, our hearts are heavy for you.
While we cannot understand the depths of your grief, we can feel the horror of losing that which is most precious. There is no greater tragedy.
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