There are no words for the tragic death of Katie Palmer, a Denison middle school science teacher, a couple of weeks ago. I was stunned by the news as well as by the reason it happened. At first, I didn’t understand who she was because I never knew her last name. Then, the pictures came…’Oh, that Katie! No!’
I didn’t know her that well, but I did know her. It had been a few years since we spoke; just a few words here and there. Yet, I got the feeling she was a special person. You hear it all the time: ‘You can just tell when you meet someone like that.’ This is how my minimal interaction with Katie was; and that was fine. We were never to be friends; just acquaintances who remembered each other’s name.
But in those few instances, I knew what a special person Katie was. It showed in how she held herself; in what she talked about; in how she was in awe of Bella, her daughter; in her outlook; simply in her manner. I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I smiled when I saw her; happiness seemed to follow.
I saw Katie a few weeks ago, but because it had been so long since seeing her, I didn’t recognize her. But it stuck with me: ‘Who was that woman I just saw earlier tonight (or ‘yesterday’ during that next day)?’ Then, I realized who she was. It was only a fleeting moment that we shared; and I think we both had that same ‘partial recognition’ thought. I now know it was our unknowing ‘Good-bye.’ I hadn’t seen her in years; hadn’t thought of her either; and suddenly, there she was…just long enough to remember.
As I tried to understand the tragedy, I thought of all the loss (for her husband, her children, Bella and Brandon and for her students). Why do the very best of us get taken early?
It’s a question I can’t answer. All I know is my experience and what I’ve heard from others in their experiences. Why does a person who is doing good in this world have to be taken away? Why do children have to lose their mother in a horrible accident? Why do people benefiting from that good work have to suddenly do without it—in some cases, for a lifetime?
I have lived long enough to know that Katie isn’t the only ‘best’ person tragically taken from Life. The first one I remember was ‘Coco,’ my elementary school friend, who was shunned by many but who made an effort to be my friend. She stood up to the negativity; and she stood for what was right. Even to my six year old brain, I could see Coco was someone special. I was devastated when she succumbed to Encephalitis during that minor epidemic in the DFW Metroplex in the 1960s. I had lost my best friend; I had lost one of the ‘best’ of us.
There have been others in my life, but a more recent one is Nathan Halfmann, a Pottsboro High School student who drowned in a tragic accident in 2018. I was on the staff at PHS when it happened. Nathan, a member of the golf team, had just been a part of Pottsboro’s State Championship. The boys were celebrating at Lake Texoma; and the rest is tragic history. I had some interaction with Nathan; and we knew each other. He was a younger student, but I could tell he was different than most.
Nathan’s priorities were with others; not himself. In watching his interactions with others, I could tell he cared for the people around him. He gave them thought; most teenagers are more interested in themselves, but not Nathan. Even before the accident, I could tell he stood out among his peers (and it wasn’t because he was tall!). Afterwards, in hearing what everyone said about Nathan, I realized he, too, was the ‘best’ of us.
The question hurts too much sometimes: “Why do people like Katie, Coco and Nathan die so soon; and murderers and thieves live to be 100 years old?!! Why do the best of us get taken so early?
All I know is that we should notice them and cherish them. And perhaps most importantly of all, we should emulate them every day of our lives. We should take their example and make it one we live. I wonder what type of world we would have if we all became the ‘best’ of us…?!
Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.