Friday, April 12, 2013

Small town heartache

We crossed paths only a few times. The first was during a pickup soccer game out in Easton my first summer in New Hampshire. He was a kid then, a teenager nicknamed Chilly, with quick feet and a big smile. The last was this winter at the local bank during a snowstorm, and he was worried he’d miss his flight back to the West Coast where he was due to compete in a snowboarding event. I wouldn’t have known it was the same kid from the soccer field a decade earlier, this tall young guy in the bright snowboarder clothes, but the smile was the same – big and friendly and real.

By all accounts, that’s how Chelone Miller lived – big and friendly and real. Like his big brother, Bode, he liked to go fast. He liked to fly through the air flipping and twisting with a snowboard strapped to his feet. And he was good at it. Really good. He’d had his share of challenges, including a motorcycle wreck that left him in a coma for a couple of weeks, but he made hitting big airs on a mountain look easy – and really fun.

Chilly died this week, suddenly, unexpectedly. He was looking ahead to the Olympics next winter, striving for a spot on the snowboardcross team. He was looking ahead to a life well lived.

When somebody young and beautiful and full of life dies, we are anguished by the complete, heart-wrenching sadness of it. We look back, yes, at the happy times and adventures. But we also look forward at the empty years, time that should have been filled with that person’s dreams, struggles, celebrations, family, and the process of growing old one day at a time. The death of a young person seems maddeningly unfair.

When someone from a small community dies, the pain is acute. Even those who didn’t know Chelone know his sisters or his parents or his friends, and we are heartbroken for them. We feel helpless, and we are. We want to do something to make them feel better. But there is nothing to do, no words to say, that can make the sadness less real.

“I’m so sorry,” seems grossly inadequate. “What can I do?” becomes a rhetorical question. What can any of us do in the face of the sorrow that comes with the loss of a loved one? Perhaps the best we can do is say that we care, offer the kindness of compassion, and look to the example of living that Chilly provided – go big, smile often, enjoy every minute you can.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, at Writings from a full life and in the Record-Littleton.


  1. What a wonderful article. I had never had the pleasure of meeting this great kid but I now know him better thanks to this writing. You are right, "I'm sorry" seems so inadequate and redundant.

  2. So sad, and beautifully expressed Meghan.

  3. Thank you, Meghan. It is pretty hard to put that into words, but you did well. Many of us are wishing that was SOMETHING we could say or do.....

  4. Well said Bravo! God bless all the broken hearts....

  5. Very well said, I always feel at a time like this that it is hard to speak to someone close or someone in the family for fear of saying the wrong thing. Everyone means well but at a time like this no matter what is said it seems that it wasn't the right thing to say. My heart goes out to this family. Thanks for writing what we all wish to say.