March 7, 2014 the city of Sleepy Eye mourned tragedy.

Five years ago today, March 7 a car accident sent the entire city of Sleepy Eye into shock. Icy conditions took the lives of Tyler Hadley, John Mangen, Payton Adams, and Caleb Quesenberry.

How does something that happened five years ago feel like it just happened? The combination of distress takes over. The sadness, anger, despair, confusion, loneliness, etc. It all hits.

Tyler and John were my best friends. My absolute two best friends. I had probably spent more time with them and their families more than I did anybody else. I knew Payton a bit through coaching him in summer baseball for a few months and seeing him around occasionally with his older brother Kansas.

I had never dealt with death in my life. The trauma that hit that night and the following days, weeks, months, etc is a crushing feeling. I know I am not alone. This group of boys was so tight knit with the community. You always hear about accidents like these on the news, thinking that will never happen to us, not around here in Sleepy Eye.

I often find myself staring down at my 3/7/14 bracelet quite a bit. The first year was difficult. So difficult. The annual anniversary hasn’t gotten easier, per se. Often I try to keep myself busy, attending a high school playoff game, or coaching basketball or even baseball. But every year it takes me by surprise. A building irritable feeling combined with tension in the joints and brain in the weeks leading up to it. It is implanted into the back of my head. You try not to think of it, but you do.

It is those who have loved and lost that understand it is not “just a day.” March 7 will never be just a day to any of us, it will always be a day we lost a son, a brother, a friend, an uncle, etc. The hurt is still there. The deep cut of having somebody taken away from you is still there when you sit and pause. Grief sucks, but at the same time the tears and sadness, the pain just reaffirms how much they meant to us.

I, like many others’ love, has gracefully evolved into an everyday love. A love that is comforting in sorrow, bringing you strength when you’re afraid. My love has not tempered for those boys. I wish I could accurately describe how I feel, but there is an entire galaxy of feelings that I cannot put into words. One I often find myself thinking of is having a permanent hole in your heart. Or a piece of an emotional puzzle missing.

True happiness is something I seldomly feel. Grief has changed me. The accident changed my perspective so much on life. After that night, everything changed. For better or worse. Nothing changes a person more than losing someone you love. There is the constant seesaw battle between being incredibly grateful they were in your life and incredibly hurt that they are gone. That is a battle I struggle with constantly, damn near everyday.

One thing I am sure of, is my love for those boys and their families. They’ve shown me strength and gratitude in ways I cannot thank them for enough. They’ve showed me everything. Everything that I was missing, the person I want to become or ought to be. They bring me out of a darkness I have no business being a part of. They shake me up and start me over, get me right.

March 7, 2014 taught me many things. Life is short. Break the rules, love truly, laugh at the silly stuff, and never ever regret anything that makes you smile. Always, tell the people that you love that you do love them, because you never know when it will be your last chance. In combination with that, the greatest weakness of most humans is the hesitancy they show to tell others they love them while they’re alive.