Courtney Benningfield Groves: 1986-2008

I’m the oldest of the grandkids on my dad’s side, named after the oldest kid, who died at 16 when a car he was working on slipped off the blocks that were holding it up. I always felt weird about that. Growing up, I was pretty sure my dad, his brothers and sister, and my grandmother had never gotten over Roger’s death. Feeling like a replacement is… odd.

On Wednesday, the youngest daughter of my youngest uncle died when her motorcycle collided with an oncoming car. I hope no one tries to replace her, ’cause I can tell ’em right now: they can’t.

She was 21 years old, married for three years (becoming Courtney Groves), and apparently as sweet as all get-out. I say “apparently” because I didn’t know her. The last time I spoke to her, she was eight years old, sprawled in a chair and intensely bored by the work I was doing on her dad’s new office network. One of her older sisters was more engaged… she was anxious to try playing one of those new-fangled 3D games. Not Courtney. Completely unimpressed.

Right around that time, dual issues in my life were converging… I had moved out on my own with my wife-to-be, and my social anxiety was ramping up to previously unseen levels. I was physically out-of-the-loop, and emotionally determined to stay that way. So I completely lost track of my dozens of cousins on both sides of the family, and said “fuck it.”

That all came crashing back on me yesterday, when I made my first appearance at a family gathering in– shit, possibly two decades. Here was someone I was related to, who I’m told was quite worth knowing… being memorialized. I’m 99% sure we would have had nothing in common beyond blood, so I doubt we would have been friends, but now we’ll never find out. And that’s on me.

The service was a bit strange, but it was a church with which Courtney and her family were intimately involved… so I guess it was what she would have wanted. All I’ll say is that I wish they had spent more time telling me about my cousin and less time on the standard “life goes on” platitudes. I mean, eventually, life will go on. But on this day, why not let everyone spend some time thinking about what they’ve lost?

(FOR THE RECORD: At my funeral, I ask for these four songs: Good Riddance (Green Day), Come As You Are (Nirvana), The Other Side (David Grey), and Born for Love (David Baerwald). Absolutely no religious music unless it’s some kick-ass oldie like Amazing Grace. No fucking suits. And if at all practical, a couple strippers and/or someone at the door passing out hits of X. I can think of no higher compliment to my life than the notion that my last wish got someone laid.)

Fortunately, they did have a really nice photo of her displayed on two giant, overhead screens, and I spent the bulk of the service just looking at it. Who was this person who shared some of my DNA, who had such a pretty smile, who was able to half-fill a huge auditorium with only twenty-one short years under her belt?

I’m sorry I didn’t make an effort to know you, Courtney. It was my loss.

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