Last week started out for me with the excitement of summer camp, last minute preparations, set-up for registration… but then the news came... there was a car accident and three girls were in the hospital! Questions -- how, who, where, is it serious?
An hour later during the intro activity -- more news -- Daniela died in the accident!
- · First, shock and disbelief…
- · Second, a question -- “What are we going to do?”
- For the family…
- For the team and team leaders
- For the campers
- For the parents
The whole evening swirled with bits and pieces of information and activity… trying to gather the team to tell them the news… Meanwhile, a call came in from the mortuary -- how did they get my name and cell number??? Then a glance out the window reveals camera crews taking shots of our house. I run downstairs to find out what was happening.
The hardest part was breaking the news to the leaders -- no words seemed appropriate -- it all just sounded so abrupt and harsh. The reaction -- shock, sadness, tears. The candidates stepped in to lead night prayers and night activity. Thank you, Lord!
Then, Daniela’s Guatemalan friends. After a call to the hospital for Ana Paola, their consecrated chaperone, we arranged for the chaplain to tell the girls in Spanish. Fr. James broke the news and we saw tears streaming the faces of each girl. It was heartbreaking… all we could do was be there for them and try to comfort them. Some amazing leaders made that their special mission throughout the week.
Calls were coming in -- it was already on the news! We decided to wait until morning to tell the campers but spoke to the majority of the parents that night and the rest the following morning.
A press release had to happen. Daniela’s parents flew in from Guatemala, the other girls returned from the hospital and we set up a special dorm for them to sleep in… or should I say, try to sleep. Needless to say, it was a late night for me.
By the time I woke up for mass at 7:30 am, the Heredia family had arrived. I greeted them and my heart brimmed with the pain they were experiencing. There was nothing I could do or say to take that away. They spent that day mourning and dealing with a thousand and one implications for the funeral and the transfer of Daniela’s body back to Guatemala.
During the memorial mass that evening, Mrs. Heredia spoke to the congregation about her gratitude for the support they felt since arriving. Fr. James shared that one of the girls received a text from back home, saying “today is not a day to wear black, but white because Daniela is now in heaven as an angel.”
The support from the community was inspiring. Calls came in from the bishop, the local parishes, members of the community, Regnum Christi members from all over the country and the world. People were offering prayers, masses, Eucharistic hours, and spiritual bouquets.
A local high school student who met the girls while shopping came by with bracelets that she and her friend made.
A rescue worker from the scene of the accident came to offer condolences and give the girls a gift certificate for ice cream at Newport Creamery.
Family members of the driver who hit Daniela came several times to offer their sympathy and share the pain caused by this terrible accident.
Members of the community witnessed the accident, some accompanied the girls to the police station, and others came to tell us what happened. They participated in the memorial masses.
A bilingual psychologist came to speak with the Guatemalan girls and offered grief counseling for those who wanted it.
I was flabbergasted by the overwhelming support- the lesson of the week was one of great faith.
A Guatemalan camper said, “I definitely forgive the man who drove the car because he was an instrument.”
“This week was different than any other camp because of Daniela. We lived it more intensely because we believed that she really did get to know Christ better,” says Kasey Babbitt, a 9th grade camper.
I must say that as I drove down the road past the scene of the accident, I felt the weight of pain and the peace of God’s providence and mercy. He brought good out of this tragedy and I witnessed it in the faith of the community, the positive messages of the news media, and in every single person that came to camp this week.
When all is said and done, it seems as if this was God’s moment for Daniela. “Oh, definitely,” Ana Paola confirmed, “it has been obvious by the way all the circumstances took place.”
I remember that when Daniela arrived she told me her suitcase was didn’t come. She never needed it. The camp’s theme was Live IT to bring your friends to heaven. Daniela’s friends believe she is in heaven with her Best Friend. The lesson- we must all seek to understand God’s ways- the pain of loss and the hope of eternal life.