Editor's note: Russ Crespolini is a 1996 graduate of Mt. Olive High School who spent the first 18 years of his life in Flanders.
I saw the short text to my work account of a possibly fatal accident in Budd Lake while I was at a council meeting in Chester on Tuesday night. Wolfe Road, or the library road as I called it growing up, wasn’t all that far from where I was and I wondered whether or not I should swing by to cover it.
As further updates came, I was saddened to hear that not one, but two lives were lost. One on the verge of graduating. One already out in the world. At a time when your entire future was laid out in front of you, to have it cut short is nothing short of the overused term tragic.
But it is nothing new for us Marauders. We have had our share of heartache before this. It is impossible for me not to think of my friend Jonathan Messina who died in a car accident not far from Wolfe Road. Right at Route 46.
I met Jonathan playing soccer as a kid. He was so talented. In the days before Turkey Brook Park there was one lumpy set of fields we all played on and Jonathan was the king. He was quick, he was agile and he was fun. He loved to laugh and his dimpled smile always reached his eyes.
Jonathan’s car accident happened after graduation. And much like Neil Solanki, was working on building his life and going on his own path. Jonathan left behind family and friends and a fiancée when he passed.
I remember at the time, and when I think about it now I still wonder why. As cliché a notion as that is, Jonathan never hurt anyone. He was kind. He was funny. He was my friend. He was my friend when other kids were too cool to be my friend. And this gentle soul is the one that was taken?
The driver of the car in Tuesday's accident, Nicholas Novaky, should have graduated with his class Thursday night. And there are few people who went to Mt. Olive High School from 1992-1996 (before it was a monstrous superdome like it is now) who don't remember the sudden loss of Chris Nielsen.
Chris died of an asthma attack my senior year. No, we were not close. We were friendly, but I wouldn’t have called us friends. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t shaken up by his death. And it didn’t make watching mutual friends we shared suffer through the mourning process any easier.
The feelings of sadness and shock for the loss of both Jonathan and Chris are still right below the surface, all these years later. Just hearing about this latest loss brought it roaring back to the surface.
I know that those who knew and loved Nick and Neil will not find solace in the words of anyone. Their loss is indescribable. The damage it inflicts on the lives of those who are left, incalculable.
And there are those who didn’t know them well, but still grieve. They still mourn.
And there is no right way to handle a tragedy of this magnitude. You have every right to be angry. Every right to be sad. Every right to want to blame someone. You want to curse the universe, make bargains with God. You want to find meaning in the meaningless.
But there are some of you who will want to laugh. You will want to remember the good times. You will want to focus on the living the life these two young men were denied. And there are some who will feel guilty for wanting to laugh at jokes again. Or for not feeling as devastated as others do.
And all of that is OK.
At a time when nothing seems OK, it is.
You can laugh, you can cry, you can curse the universe and skip graduation if that is what you need. You can rationalize, you can feel guilt and you can search for a place to expend all of your displaced love.
Because you are mourning. You are grieving. And no one can tell you what the right or wrong way to do that is.
But take care of each other. Be tolerant of each other. Be there for each other. You are Marauders. You will always be Marauders.
We are Marauders.
And I mourn and I grieve with you.