An advertisement for a writer's retreat.

I skipped church on Easter … at least the regular sort, which is not to say I didn’t experience some sense of church and community.

While driving home from a visit with my parents, I stopped along a stretch of the Carolina Sandhills Wildlife Preserve in a nondescript community called “Middendorf.” U.S. 1 wanders through that stretch of northern South Carolina like a long roll of duct tape unwound and stuck to the hills.

The road has long, monotonous straightaways with occasional curves that become dangerous by their rarity, like the one at the top of the Middendorf hill where my daughter Bethany was killed.

That’s why I stopped there, of course, on Easter morning. It’s the one geographical spot in the world where I’ve felt closest to eternity: after an explosive collision with a drunk driver on a cold morning in January 1994, Bethany and I both lost consciousness in an instant.

A minute or so later, I reawakened, still in this world. Bethany awoke to whatever lies beyond. That’s why Easter hope is so important to me — not that I worry that much about my own future, but that I can’t bear the thought of a loved one’s light going out of the universe. The hope of heaven, of a life with God where souls are not only cherished but safe, is what makes resurrection Sunday the holiest day of the year.

We nailed a white cross to a tree near the site shortly after Bethany’s death, and it stayed until the forest service did some clearing some time later, but I’d noticed in recent years that two other memorials had been added to the site: Bethany is not the only one to have died there. I walked the road and paused at each memorial on Sunday, both decorated for Easter, and was surprised to find a wreath between them, apparently erected by some thoughtful person from the area, in Bethany’s memory.

Ribbons beneath a ring of colorful flowers drifted in the breeze. A handwritten sign protected by a plastic bag said “Killed by Drunk Driver. Please Don’t D.U.I. She was 7 years old.”

And I cried, of course.

I hope with all my heart that Bethany lives on in a better place. Easter gives me that.

I know that she lives in memory, even among folks who don’t know her name. A homemade sign gave me that, and I was grateful.

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