Henrico County VA

Lessons from Lanie: Life lived aloud

I didn’t know Lanie Kruszewski. But I really wish I had.

A memorial service was held for her on Aug. 3; mourners packed the auditorium of Maggie Walker Governor’s School, where Lanie had attended high school. Even though I arrived just a few minutes late, I was obliged to stand in the lobby, for the seats and the standing room inside the auditorium had been occupied, I surmised, long before. Even so, I couldn’t miss the many stories told of a remarkable and memorable young woman.

I write fiction, and it occurred to me that her friends were describing a true heroine, someone culled from a vivid imagination. I already knew that Lanie was fiercely intelligent and a gifted athlete. But as I stood there listening, Lanie took shape before me, as an intriguing character of literature might.

She was a culinary school-trained foodie with a penchant for bacon, lavender ice cream, ear-shaped cookies and fresh ingredients, and moreover, she liked to share. She possessed a sassy spirit, with the wit to carry it off. She didn’t have a driver’s license or a car, preferring the freedom and earth-friendliness of a bike. She touched people of all walks of life with her positivity and joie de vivre. She had great legs. She knew who she was, even at the age of 24.

Lanie also enjoyed reading. And this doesn’t surprise me in the least, for I know her mother Patty. I’m not sure if it was when my firstborn was still in the womb or right after his birth when Patty gave me The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. The book touts the importance of reading aloud to children, basically from the moment of conception straight through the high school years. And knowing Patty and her mothering ways, I took it to heart, feeling guilty if I ever missed even one day of read-alouds.

I have always looked up to Patty, both as a mother and a writer. And these words that we both admire, the written thoughts that we endeavor to put to the page, have failed me in the face of this tragedy. There is only a gaping white silence in which words float as aimlessly as dandelion fluff.

Often in the face of grief, I turn to the escape of reading. During the memorial service, I learned that Lanie was a Harry Potter fan, to put it mildly. I too am quite the Harry Potter fan. Patty would be proud to know that I read all of the Harry Potter books to my firstborn. Years of his formative childhood were spent reading to him about the enduring friendships of child wizards, their school Hogwarts, and the battle between good and evil. When we finished the seventh and final installment, we both experienced a sort of mourning period. What book would ever match such brilliance?

Such grief isn’t an unusual emotion for me at the completion of novels. I get attached to the characters; I want them to live forever within the bound pages of the book, so that all I have to do is just pick it up again to find out what happens next. When I finished writing my first novel, I couldn’t let my characters go. And now, I am almost done with the sequel. What next? I ask myself. I hate to contemplate moving on, for I fear their stories aren’t yet finished.

But books aren’t meant to go on indefinitely. They are exquisitely brief, like lavender ice cream and chocolate-covered bacon, and unfortunately, life itself. And yet, the best heroines inspire us and bring out the best in us. They live on inside us, even after their stories end.

Lanie’s life was brutally taken from us. Unfairly, her story ended before its time. But it doesn’t matter to those whose lives she touched.

We will continue to turn her pages, because I, for one, have decided to embrace each day as Lanie did. And I will encourage everyone around me to do the same—to not be afraid to peel back life’s flimsy plastic covering and reveal the mysterious, to travel where their legs can take them, to enthusiastically sample the juicy and fresh and untried, to read, to be kind and share and make a difference.

I am now reading the Harry Potter books to my second-born, and much to my delight, my first-born insists on listening too.

Great stories find themselves repeated. Women like Lanie will live on.

Diann Ducharme is the author of The Outer Banks House the recently released e-book, Chasing Eternity, and is a wife, mother of three children and owner of one border collie. You can find her at http://www.diannducharme.com where, she blogs about the writing life.
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