The last time I saw Betty was the day the charred skeleton of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was imploded — May 24, 1995. Terrorists had bombed the building April 19, 1995, leaving 168 dead, 800+ injured, and a nation stunned at what some of our own citizens could do to each other. After a month of investigation, it was time for the remains of the Federal Building to come down.
The night before the implosion we stayed with Betty. (It was her turn to meet the boyfriend. J) Betty asked if we’d like to visit the site. In truth, I wasn’t sure I did. I worried I would become overwhelmed. But it was Mrs. Woodward—my teacher—who asked. So we went.
We drove into Oklahoma City from Shawnee, shared a meal together, then made our way to the Federal Building. Just a month out from the bombing, the entire area still resembled a war zone—dozens of buildings around the Federal Building were damaged. Shattered glass blanketed the streets. The building itself—such sorrow, such silence, evidence of such evil.
Twenty years later, I confess that I don’t have a visual in my mind of what the building looked like that night. What I do remember is the crunch of broken glass as we walked, the gaping hole in the ground created by the blast, and the chain link fence circling the building that mourners had turned into a memorial.
I also remember having to take my turn to peek through the chain link fence at the ruins. Hundreds of people had gathered—hundreds of live people, standing together mourning the dead. And somehow in the midst of it, among those other quiet, reverent human beings, I felt something I hadn’t expected to feel—hope. I felt hope.
I don’t know why Betty invited us to visit the Federal Building its last night standing. I suspect part of it was to share with us what so many of my friends had been experiencing, what she had been experiencing, the last month. Or maybe she wanted to visit the site herself and simply wanted company.
Or maybe it was the last of many lessons she taught me—the lesson about how, when life falls apart, when nothing remains but shards of glass and burned wreckage, it might not be the end. The lesson about how sometimes dead structures need to come down to make way for new life. The lesson about how visiting the devastating places with friends makes the journey easier.
As I type this, my heart aches with the loss of Betty. But as the learnings continue unfolding from this last lesson she taught me, I know her death isn’t the end. Life goes on…and the journey through loss—even the loss of Betty Woodward—will be eased by inviting friends along for the journey.