The Year I Stopped Asking Why

Since I was in middle school, the middle of April has gotten worse and worse.

It started when my cousin and my uncle passed away in a plane crash when I was in 6th grade. April 12, 1999. That was my first experience with death, and considering how horrific it was and how young I was, it was really difficult to process. The worst part wasn't even the accident itself, but how it changed my whole family, but especially my mom. Both sides of my family are small; my parents each have 1 sibling and I have 5 cousins total. My cousin who died was the only one I had on my mom's side. My mom and her brother were especially close since they'd grown up moving all around the country every year or two thanks to the Air Force.

For a long time I wanted to know what happened. My uncle was an experienced and careful pilot and while there was some solace knowing that both he and his son died doing something they were both so passionate about, it didn't explain how or why it could have happened to them. When I was in college I finally got the nerve to ask my mom about it and to look up the accident report issued by the FAA. They both told me that there was no conclusive answer, no explanation. My grandfather, an Air Force veteran, said he thinks they hit a perfect storm of turbulence, something he personally had experienced only once and was able to maneuver out of. It was a freak accident, something no one could have seen coming or prevented. That never made sense to me. It didn't when I was 11 and it doesn't now, 17 years later.

Eight years later, another black mark on the calendar: April 16, 2007. The day that will forever divide my college years, the day when nothing was the same ever again. The day that I was driving back to campus from a weekend at home when I started getting phone calls and hearing news reports about an early morning shooting on campus. The day that my heart ached like never before as I asked, "Why?" 32 times. A day that still elicits raw emotion almost a decade later. A day that will never, ever make sense as long as I live.

Two years after that, on April 14, 2009, we had to put down one of our ferrets at the tender age of 2. He had recently been diagnosed with a form of leukemia that can, but doesn't usually affect young ferrets. We were living in Florida at the time - moving back to Virginia a few days later, actually - and we really hadn't had luck finding a good, knowledgable vet there. He couldn't give us a solid answer about what was wrong with Bandit and what we could do about it. We made an appointment with an exotic vet in Virginia Beach, a leader in his field, the next week. Bandit didn't make it to that appointment, and I don't know why. I don't know why he couldn't have held on a few more days until we could get him to a vet who would know how to treat him. I don't know why he went downhill as fast as he did. I just don't know.

At that point I started expecting some of the gaps to be filled in. Every April filled me with anxiety and dread, both because I was anticipating all the emotions that were going to come to the surface remembering these events, and because I was afraid of new ones being added to the list. I know it sounds morbid, but it's true. I didn't want anything new to happen, but it was just a feeling. I was always on guard, wondering what was next.

In 2013, April 12, 14, and 16 were taken, and on Marathon Monday that year, the 15th got filled in as well. The day before I had run my 3rd half marathon and had taken that Monday off from work to recover. That was the first year I was aware of what a big deal the Boston Marathon was, and it was only the day before, after I crossed my 3rd 13.1 finish line that I let myself dream that one day, maybe I could run a marathon. Of course, I wasn't dreaming of Boston, but just having made the realization that a marathon might be something I could do made watching it that morning even more special for me. I watched the livestream from my couch all morning, and later I had some errands to run so I turned it off around noon. My errands were across the river, and it was a nice day so I took the ferry. As I was heading home, I got a text from my dad asking me if I had heard about Boston. I can't remember if he told me any details, but I remember having no idea what he was talking about - I had just turned it off a couple hours prior. I knew there were still plenty of runners finishing, but by that point I had figured it was about over and couldn't even imagine what could possibly have happened. I tried Googling the news for more information, but I had no cell service in the middle of the river and the articles were only coming through in bits and pieces. My heart sank when I finally learned about the bombings. I couldn't believe it. Who would do such a thing to this sport, this community of people I'd grown to love and be a part of over the last 2 years? Why would this happen?

And that brings us to 2016. Like I said, I usually anticipate this week in April and try to emotionally prepare myself for the depression that inevitably sets in every year, but this year was different. I don't know if I was just too busy too notice, or too excited by preparing for the next chapter of my life, but the middle of April snuck up on me this year. For the first time since April 11, 1999, this year that date didn't fill me with anxiety or dread. In fact, last Monday I had a good day at school, completed the first workout of a new training plan, and, after staying up all hours of the night working the week before, had resolved to start the week off right by going to bed early. I was in bed by 9:30pm and was listening to a motivational TED Talk as I was trying to fall asleep. After a couple of insanely busy weeks that left me running on empty, I felt like I was finally in control again, and things were looking up.

Fifteen minutes later, I was holding my almost-7-year old cat in my arms, rushing him to the emergency vet and pleading for him to start breathing.

I didn't want to go into too much detail, but the truth of the matter is there really isn't much, and that's what makes it even more confusing. One second he was playing with our other cat, and literally the next second he was on the floor completely unresponsive. We took him to the emergency vet 5 minutes away but he was gone by the time we got there. I think he was gone before we left the house, before we even knew anything was wrong. It really all happened that fast. The vet told us he most likely had a heart condition but exhibited no symptoms, something that isn't entirely uncommon in cats and is usually the cause of sudden death.

After the vet took him away and we were left standing in the exam room, completely shocked and stunned, the only word I could get to come out was, "Why?" I couldn't understand. He had been diagnosed with asthma a few months ago but was on medication for it. Otherwise he was a perfectly normal, healthy cat. It didn't make sense how this could have happened, and how there was nothing we could have done differently.

And then I put the pieces together.

"It's April 11," I said to Ben.

"What does that mean?"

"It's April 11. I should have known. It's April 11."

And suddenly, in some weird way, it made sense.

Five days later, on the 9th anniversary of April 16, I wasn't in Blacksburg honoring and celebrating the lives of 32 of my fellow Hokies. I was in Charleston, SC honoring and celebrating another important life: my grandfather's. He passed away in February after an 8-year battle with cancer, and last Saturday was his memorial service. I sat in the church where I was baptized, a place I hadn't been in in nearly 20 years. The week leading up to that service had been filled with a lot of reminders of death and evil and is always a hard week, especially for someone who is seriously freaked out by death. 

But as I sat in the pew, I felt peace rather than uneasiness. I don't have the answers and I won't ever have them and suddenly, for the first time since death became a very real and tragic part of my life, I accepted that. I stopped asking why these things happen because all of the events of the week before prove that sometimes things just happen. They couldn't and can't be explained. It's been 17 years since my uncle and my cousin passed and there is still no reason. It's been 9 years since my campus was shattered by a troubled young man with a gun and there is no reason that should have ever happened. No amount of time will make that make sense. This year, on the anniversary of that day, at my grandfather's memorial service, I stopped looking for the answers. I'm never going to find them and looking for them year after year keeps opening a wound they'd never going to heal. It's not in my nature to stop wondering, stop questioning, and just accept that things are the way they are, and I think that's at the root of why I struggle with this bombardment of reminders every April. I don't know what changed or how or why, but this year I stopped carrying that burden. This year I stopped asking why.


  1. Oh my goodness! I feel like I have no words because I literally haven't dealt with like any real hard death, human or animal, but I am so sorry! Especially about your cat! That is heartbreaking. I think asking and begging why is normal but you're right, you have to let it go (obviously not completely) and unburden yourself with it all. Hopefully April won't always been this way for you. Xx

  2. oh Tracy. I wish I had better words. I am so sorry for everything you have gone through. It is so unfair. I am sorry you've had to ask why so many times and have lost loved ones. I hate April for you. I am also ridiculously freaked out/scared by death but I am absurdly lucky to have never lost anyone that I was actually close to. I know the day is coming and I know I'll never be ready for it and I know I'll ask why because I like reasons and logic. I truly hope this wound is able to heal and you are able to let go and stop asking why, but above all I hope for a ridiculously simple, easy, absolutely nothing happens for the rest of your Aprils. hugs xoxox

  3. I am sorry to hear about this middle of April curse for you. I fully believe in patterns in life and things happening at certain times. April is a bad month for our family too. April 27th, 2011 was a Wednesday as it is again this year. That is the day that my sister lost her house and her mother-in-law and father-in-law in a tornado. I am looking at the weather for next week and storms are predicted for next Wednesday, the five year anniversary.

    I hope that May brings you more happiness. I am so sorry to hear about your sweet kitty cat that you lost. Losing family and pets is always hard. I hate that it seems to happen in a pattern for you. It makes it hard to not have anxiety about certain times of year. Sending you all the hugs.

  4. I'm so sorry for all of your loss and can't even begin to imagine how you must have felt every single year around the middle of april. Even though I felt so much sadness reading this once I got to the end I really feel happy for you and that you're starting to let go of all of the heaviness that surrounds the question of 'why?'. I don't know if you are religious, so hopefully this isn't weird but this post made me think of john 13:7, which basically says you don't understand now, but someday you will. Thinking of you.

  5. I'm so sorry for all the horrible things that have happened. I wish I had something more useful to say, but I am glad you've found some peace amidst the chaos.

  6. Oh Tracy. I can't even imagine what pain this month holds for you. I'm really glad that you're finding peace now. Big BIG hugs.

  7. Oh Tracy. I can't even imagine what pain this month holds for you. I'm really glad that you're finding peace now. Big BIG hugs.


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