By Patty Kruszewski
A broken vase and seven stitches brought George Throop into my life. But it was the death of my daughter a year earlier that set it all in motion — and that led me to create the cherished circle of individuals I call “Favorite People I Wish I’d Never Met.”
As I was to learn that May day when I met George, he had left Washington state three years earlier, bound for the East Coast — on foot. George’s 4,500-mile walk across America was a tribute to his mother, who died when he was only nine. So when he crossed the Huguenot Bridge into Richmond, and came to the ghost bike that marked the spot where my daughter lost her life, he felt compelled to pay his respects. He had heard about Lanie from a Richmond relative, and — having experienced close calls with drivers as a pedestrian — felt a bond with anyone who travels on foot or two wheels. As George wrote later in his blog [linked below], the few minutes that he meditated near the ghost bike affected him deeply. He was gripped by a powerful feeling of strength and well-being, and prepared to leave the site feeling renewed and invigorated. But as he stepped away from the bike, he felt a stabbing pain; part of a broken flower vase under the bike had sliced into his foot. As his shoe filled with blood, George called his Richmond host for a ride to the hospital. The cut was repaired with seven stitches — and he was told to stay off the foot for three weeks while the wound healed.
Suddenly, George had an unplanned layover in Richmond. So, while still at the hospital, he went online to search for the cyclist’s name and story. He was convinced that his “ghost bike gash” was no accident, and that he was meant to learn more about Lanie. When he came across a Thanksgiving column I had written for the Henrico Citizen, expressing gratitude for the community support that followed Lanie’s death, he wrote to the paper asking to meet me.
George ended up staying with me for a week, and staying additional weeks with Richmond-area teachers that he met along his route. (They spotted George’s sign “Walking Across America – enjoythewalk.com” and contacted him about speaking to their students.) My family and I shared meals with him — and shared a few miles of his walk with him once he recovered. And that’s how, in 2013, George came to head up my list of Favorite People I Wish I’d Never Met. He lives on the West Coast now with his wife (who he met on the cross-country walk) and family, but we’ve kept in touch.
Ten years later, there are many others who have been added to my Favorite People list — from the Richmond police officer who was first on the tragic scene, to the prosecutors who fought for Lanie (and won) in the driver’s criminal trial. Both the police officer and prosecutor have occasionally come to help light up the ghost bike on Lanie’s July 29 “angelversary.”
Lanie’s death at the hands of a distracted driver also led me to get involved with safe driving groups such as Drive Smart Virginia, and with advocacy groups such as Va. Bicycling Federation and Bike Walk RVA — groups that helped support and lobby for legislation like our hard-won hands-free law. All these groups have brought me friends that I would not have made if Lanie were alive.
Which brings me to those bittersweet friendships formed with fellow grievers — many of whom I’ve met through support groups like Compassionate Friends and Full Circle. Topping the list is Pat, whose daughter died just a few months after Lanie, and who is buried not far from Lanie in Hollywood Cemetery. I have read excerpts from Brenna’s journals, while Pat has read Lanie’s essay “Taste of Elephants” — and swears she feels a mystical connection with Lanie (though they never met) whenever she sniffs her milk. In our better moments, we can laugh and speculate that Lanie and Brenna (who also never met, but have a great deal in common) are taking heaven by storm and getting into mischief together. And in our worst moments — which sometimes follow right on the heels of the good ones — we can grasp the volumes of meaning behind the other’s plaintive sigh, or the quick duck of a head as a tsunami of emotion overwhelms. I know Pat can understands that — much as I cherish our friendship — I’d give it up in a heartbeat to have Lanie alive again.
And I suspect that every one of my Favorite People would understand that, however much I value our relationships, I’d trade them away in a second if it meant Lanie could live on. As Sheryl Sandburg writes in her grief memoir, “Option B,” having our loved ones back is Option A — and we can’t have Option A. On the other hand, Sandburg points out, “We can sure kick the sh-t out of Option B.” And as long as Favorite People I Wish I’d Never Met continue to enrich my life, I’m going to be sure and enjoy the heck out of them — welcoming new ones to the fold whenever I can, and doing my best to kick the sh-t out of Option B.
Seems to me that Lanie would want it that way.
Thanksgiving 2012 column: https://www.henricocitizen.com/articles/a-time-to-give-thanks-no-joke/
June 2013 Citizen column about George: https://www.henricocitizen.com/articles/cross-country-walker-hits-the-lucky-seven/
Lanie’s 2009 essay Taste of Elephants: https://writ250.wordpress.com/2009/07/29/the-taste-of-elephants-by-lanie-kruszewski/.