Remembering Sandy Widener

In journalism, "30" means the end. But after thirty years, it's not easy to let somebody go.

On December 22, Sandy, John and their two daughters were driving through Wyoming to be with Sandy's family for the holidays. The car skidded on ice, setting in motion a horrific crash that instantly took Sandy, John and nineteen-year-old Chase, and sent seventeen-year-old Katy and the family dog to the hospital. Katy is now with her relatives in Boise.

The family's friends in Colorado and across the country are left with an immense black hole, a bottomless sadness that sucks your spirit.

It's not easy to let somebody go. In fact, you hang on to every memory you can. Driving down Colfax, I see the Satire, where we first ate Mexican food — "This plate is hot!" — and the club where we went country dancing before it was cool. (In Boston, Sandy once pogo'd with I.F. Stone, an equally tiny and feisty journalist.) With each reminiscence — of the insane college capers, of those sleep-deprived and lunatic-laden early days of Westword, of a night just a few weeks ago when we laughed so hard that a friend passing by the restaurant swore he could hear us inside — I keep wanting to reach for the phone to call Sandy, to utter a few words and be rewarded with a shriek. I'll get several numerals into the call before I suddenly remember that she's gone. That John's gone. That Chase is gone, and that Katy will have to cope with what remains.

For all the conversations we had, Sandy and I never really talked about death — just those friends we'd lost. But she did talk about it with Jonathan, who left her his leather jackets — because she was the only person small enough to fit into them.

"The universe is a perfect system, from the smallest plants and animals to the structure of the Earth and the solar system," he told her. "Everything that happens is part of that perfection. Like Einstein said, 'God would not play dice with the world.' Death is enormous, but it's possible to be comfortable with it."

In some bitter, ironic way, Sandy concluded, his life and death almost seemed designed for the friends he left behind, to remind us that even someone like Jonathan could die, that we should pay attention to life because it is fragile.

It is impossible to imagine this town without Sandy and John and Chase. They represent the very best of Denver, a city where people are inspired to follow their dreams and make things happen — whether it's stopping the Olympics or starting a paper or electing a governor or electing a mayor. In 1982, John was instrumental in convincing Federico Peña to run for mayor. During one planning session, Sandy and Rob Simon were locked in a room until they came up with Peña's campaign slogan: Imagine a great city.

Sandy and John helped create that city. They are this city. And it will not be easy to let them go.

The day after the crash, as the news of the tragedy was streaking across the country, East High School students organized a candlelight vigil for Katy, a remembrance for Chase and her parents. There was a full moon over Cheesman that night, and right by it, a bright star I'd never seen before.

It sparkled.

There will be a service for Sandy, John and Chase in a few weeks in Denver, when Katy Parr is well enough to attend. In the meantime, a memorial site has been set up at http://johnsandychase.muchloved.com.

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