After receiving the startling news of Melanie’s unexpected death, I quickly booked a flight to Oregon. Her mother, my Auntie Lilly is very dear to me. Of course, I also wanted to be there for Melanie’s husband Khurram and their baby daughter Aalia. In a situation like this, I really didn’t know what I could do or say to help. What can you say or do for someone who has lost their wife or daughter so suddenly? This should have been the happiest time of their lives. Instead, they were planning a funeral. I just knew that I wanted to be there.
My brother Nate and I arrived in Eugene, Oregon at 9:30 on Wednesday night. We were fortunate enough to have flights that arrived at roughly the same time. Poor Nate had 3 layovers on his way to Eugene. In the process, the airlines lost his bag. We also ran into some problems with our rental car reservation. What’s a trip with me without a few snafus?
After much stress and anxiety, we were on our way to Florence, Oregon. We had no idea what to expect. According to Google Maps, this small, coastal town was 61 miles from Eugene and a 1.5-hour drive. We were a little perplexed as to why it would take so long to travel such a short distance. Then, we got on Route 126. It was dark and winding. We were in for a long ride. So, we talked. We chatted about how our cousin’s unexpected passing really shook us up. How could someone so young die just after having a baby? Our cousin’s death was the sort of thing that happened during our Great-grandparents era. We reminisced about Melanie and her time in Virginia with our parents. We also just caught up with life in general.
After getting lost in the dark, we finally arrived at Melanie & Khurram’s house. Despite all that they were going through, Auntie Lilly and Khurram were in relatively good spirits. We were welcomed and told that we could stay at the neighbors Ed and Marge’s house. We had originally planned on staying at a hotel, but after all the hiccups we previously encountered we took them up on the offer. At the time, I just assumed this was because Ed and Marge were Melanie and Khurram’s next-door neighbors. As it turns out, I was very mistaken.
At breakfast the next day, I discovered that nearly every out-of-town guest was being hosted at a neighbor’s home. 4 households had welcomed Melanie and Khurram’s friends and family with open arms. Some other neighbors had offered to stay at their vacation home so that their entire home would be available for out-of-town guests. The generosity of their neighbors was surprising, but did not stop there. When the news of Melanie’s death initially reached their small neighborhood, their neighbors quickly organized and mobilized efforts to help. A group cooked enough food to feed an army, bought groceries and snuck into Melanie and Khurram’s house to stock all this food. Others offered to shuttle people to and from the Eugene and Portland airports – both of which were several hours away. Many did whatever could be done to help without hesitation or anyone’s request.
This spirit of community continued at Melanie’s funeral service on Thursday afternoon. The funeral mass was held at Our Lady of the Dunes. Both Khurram and Melanie’s families were seated at the front of the church. We occupied two pews and were unaware of what was doing on behind us. The church had a seating capacity of 670. Extra chairs were brought in to accommodate people. With the addition of chairs, the funeral service was still standing room only. By many estimates, nearly 1000 people attended the funeral service. This is especially remarkable because Florence only has a population of 8,328. The funeral mass was thoughtful and heartfelt. The priest who presided over the service wrote a moving eulogy despite being a visiting priest from another parish. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church when Khurram thanked the congregation and the community for their love and support.
After the funeral service, there was a reception for family and friends. Again, members of the community volunteered and cooked a seemingly endless amount of food. I had read a short passage during the funeral mass. That coupled with my slight resemblance to my cousin, caused many people to mistake me for Melanie’s sister Marnie. I didn’t have the opportunity or the time to correct them. So, throughout the reception people shared with me how Melanie had been their doctor and how she had impacted their lives. From the many stories I heard that afternoon, Melanie had touched many lives in the 4 years she lived in Florence. Auntie Lilly and Khurram were also inundated with stories and offers to help with Baby Aalia. Melanie and Khurram’s neighbors also reaffirmed that they would continue to check on him long after everyone leaves.
Everywhere we turned, people were reaching out to help. None of us have ever seen this kind of community outreach. Although it does not fill the void that Melanie leaves behind, this overwhelming community support has been a great comfort to Auntie Lilly, Khurram, and the rest of our family. We know without a doubt that Melanie’s life, though short, made a difference and that she was well-loved. Sometimes, that is enough.