Saying Goodbye, Death’s Lasting Effects


Erin Holve

Graphic by Erin Holve

On Saturday at 12:30 a.m. a horrible car accident happened on Highway 99. Five big rigs and five cars were involved. 

There have been three confirmed deaths. One of those deaths was a friend and coworker of mine. Her name was Camille Bent and she was a Chico State student who was a part of the child development program. 

To me, she was as radiant as a sunflower amidst a sun-soaked field in the middle of June. Her bright yellow petals out-stretched as far as possible to spread her brilliance and compassion for others to see. 

She had the ability to be an old soul and ineffably young at the same time. She had what felt like an unending supply of warmheartedness. Giving kindness to those who may not have always deserved it.

There was something about her soul that reminded you of a cozy cottage hearth. When she smiled it warmed the room, the bitter cold of the world evaporated by the heat of her heart.

Conversation was always open between us no matter the topic. Her presence made you feel safe to confide in her your worries and woes. 

A candlelight vigil was held for Camille on Wednesday Nov. 18th outside her old apartment. Coworkers, friends and old roommates gathered together to honor the memory of Camille.

Her laughter would surround you like a warm hug, inviting you in to take some of her joy for yourself. Her squawk of a laugh often haunts the recesses of my mind. 

It had for several years been a constant companion to my loud, witch’s cackle. It’s strange to realize I will never hear it outside of my mind’s eye ever again.  

She was kind yet also a spitfire who never let the boys get away with their locker room talk or mansplaining. Her side-eyed glare filled with enough heat to silence them for fear of burning. 

She had a sassiness I wanted to soak into my skin. My timid nature wanted to have the fire and tenacity her soul seemed to contain. 

Yet there was a stubbornness that most certainly got her into trouble from time to time. A foolhardy nature that may have led her on adventures despite the recklessness that may abound. 

In my mind I see her there, ready for work armed with her smile and a laugh not too far behind, my eyes begin to become blurry. I’ll turn my eyes skyward, blink as if an errant eyelash has made its home there and take a deep breath endeavoring to stop the tears from falling. 

Like a child, I make up rules to a universe I want some semblance of control over. If I can keep my tears from falling I can somehow unmake this tragedy. 

A desperate attempt of telling the universe no, she isn’t dead. Demanding that she be OK and this is all some hellish nightmare. The universe will not comply with my child-like will.

It will move as it always does, the earth will continue to rotate, the sun will rise and set and she will still be dead. These are the moments when the questions you’ve dared not ask yet make themselves known. 

Cast in the warm light the candles produced, twenty people gave short speeches about how Camille impacted their lives. Homemade cards with her photos were passed around, allowing people to leave messages of love and loss.

Why seems like such a simple question to answer, but I’m finding it harder and harder to do. Why did she have to die? Why was she out driving at that time? Why wasn’t she more careful?

I’ll likely never have all the answers, she will keep some of them with her death. I may ask her a million times, but her ghost will not answer.

In the dark spaces of my mind she haunts me in the worst ways possible. Gruesome images come to my mind. How the accident looked — or even worse how she looked hidden within the mangled metal of the car.

In these moments the questions I don’t want to ask come forward unbidden. Was she scared in those final moments? Did she suffer?

I often feel like I’ve entered a void I don’t know how to exit from. I grab hopelessly at the black void, finding no comfort or possible way out. She’s gone and I’m not sure how to process that fact. 

I’ve been trying to recollect what our last conversation was about. Did I tell her goodbye? 

My memory fails me now, but I hope it was a joyous farwell. One where we smiled and laughed before parting from one another. God I hope she knew how much she was loved.

Every night I fall asleep forgetting she is gone and every morning I am reminded of the truth. As Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

Over time my wounds will heal, but the scar will remain. Camille’s death will live with me for a long time to come. 

It will be painful to live with, but there is comfort in knowing her memory will not be lost to time so quickly. For now, she sits nestled near my heart, safe from the harsh realities of the world we live in. 

Erin Holve can be reached at [email protected] and @Erin_Holve on Twitter.