Gone but never forgotten
Friends, family mourn death of popular Basehor-Linwood graduate
"If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident or we die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan."
-- Thornton Wilder
"The Bridge of San Luis Rey" circa 1927
Erin Massing didn't wrestle with the same existential questions as Wilder's protagonist, Brother Juniper, did centuries ago. Her private thoughts, some written just weeks before her death, reveal as much.
"I believe everything happens for a reason," Massing wrote in quick, neat prose scratched on a slip of paper she carried with her. "I believe everybody is here for a reason. God is with us always. God will help us always.
"I'm special. God wants me to do something extraordinary for him."
And indeed Massing was extraordinary.
Beyond the intelligence and creativity that former teachers praise her for, and past the smile that friends and family say shined brighter than a thousand nighttime stars, lies a gravitational pull that Massing's death has had on peers.
Massing, 18, died last Thursday, Sept. 22, as result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident at 130th Street and U.S. Highway 24-40 in Bonner Springs.
She was heading toward her Basehor-area home from a dental appointment when she collided with a vehicle in front of her that was turning left onto 130th Street. Her vehicle then crossed into a different lane and crashed into another oncoming vehicle.
Massing, who was enrolled in the honors program at Kansas City Kansas Community College, is a 2005 graduate of Basehor-Linwood High School.
While still grappling with the loss of her child, her mother, Sandra Carpenter, said meaning has been given to Erin's death. At least three of Massing's closest friends have been lifted toward the spiritual side since she died a week ago.
And while the pain family members feel from the loss is searing, her mother said it's tempered by knowledge that Erin has gone home and that she's fulfilling the works of the Lord.
"We all feel a comfort in our hearts knowing that this happened for a reason," Sandra said. "We accept that God chose to take her now. We're just having trouble dealing with our own selfish loss."
He giveth and taketh away
So scripture tell us and so believes the Massing family today when thinking about Erin.
On March 4, 1987, He gave Jeff Massing, Basehor, and Sandra, a daughter. The name listed on her birth certificate was Erin, but her mother and father referred to her as their "angel." The couple had lost a previous child; their son, Christopher survived briefly before succumbing from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
They weren't expecting to have another child, but were soon blessed with Erin.
"Our plans were just to have two children, a boy and a girl," Sandra said. "Christopher died, and the grief was overwhelming. I wanted a baby so bad. ... I just believe she was sent to us by God. That's why we always refer to her as our angel."
Erin joined older sister, Ashlee, in the family, and years later, the girls welcomed another sibling, Kellie. Sandra said Erin's sisters were always Erin's best friends.
Today, though they grieve, memories of Erin's qualities outweigh the sadness her sisters feel over her abrupt departure. They said Erin was a valued confidant and offered support whenever she could.
"She was very outgoing," Ashlee said. "She was very free, a great friend and trustworthy. ... Everybody cared and loved her."
"She lit up the room when she walked in it," Kellie added. "Her smile was so white and beautiful."
Erin, who wanted to go to Kansas University following her stint at the community college, had aspirations to become a plastic surgeon one day. Her reason for choosing the profession? Simple, her sisters said.
"She wanted to make people feel better about themselves," Kellie said.
Eighteen years after she was born, family members believe He took as He had given and returned Erin home to the kingdom. They said her soul was prepared.
Four months before her death, family members said Erin had given her life to God. Sandra, and her sisters, Robbie Paul and Lillus McAllister, had pleaded with Erin to find faith, and upon a crossroads in her life, she found it by looking upward.
McAllister remembers being with Erin when she knelt before an alter inside a nearby chapel.
"Before we were through, she was praying," McAllister said. "She told the Lord what was in her heart. Her head was bent and tears were flowing. It's just like this whole door just opened up. Her whole demeanor changed."
Ashlee said her and her sisters are still reeling from the loss of their loved one.
"It's a pretty empty feeling," she said. "It just hasn't hit me yet. I don't know, what are you supposed to do? It's not one day at a time, it's one minute at a time."
News that Massing was involved in a car crash didn't reach high school administrators until late Thursday afternoon. An announcement that Massing -- who'd graduated from the school in May and was popular among students -- had died was made the following morning.
Crisis counselors from throughout the district were brought to the school Friday, said principal Steve Blankenship, who described the mood of the building as "solemn, very, very solemn."
Assistant principal Sandy Guidry, who like many faculty members, attended a heavy-hearted memorial service for Massing on Monday at Elm Grove Baptist Church, said people gravitated toward the former student.
"She just had one of those personalities," Guidry said. "It was real easy for anyone to connect with her. ... It's difficult. You never want to this to happen to anyone, especially a young person. She's one you'll never forget."
In her tenure as an educator, Guidry has attended services for numerous former students who have tragically lost their lives.
"The (last one) is no easier than the first," she said. "They're all hard to deal with."
Bruce Courtney, a science teacher at the high school, had Massing in his seminar class -- roughly the equivalent of home room -- throughout her high school years. Massing came back to the school recently to visit with her former teacher, a move that all teachers treasure and one that denotes a connection has been forged between educator and pupil.
"Erin was one of those that always had a smile on her face," Courtney said. "She was very creative, always happy. She was a bright, bright girl. You could tell she enjoyed her friends a lot."
According to Massing's friends and family, she possessed a creative mind and had a "special gift" for writing and designing.
BLHS English teacher Jaclyn Naster said she and Massing shared a zest for the written word and often discussed writing and their favorite books. Like Courtney and other teachers indicated, Naster reiterated that it was easy to connect with students like Massing.
"She was a very good writer, extremely talented and creative," Naster said. "She was a good kid, fun and always made me laugh."
The words of praise showered upon Massing by former teachers are relatively muffled compared to the screaming tributes initiated by some of her friends and classmates.
Since her death, approximately 15 of her friends have gotten tattoos dedicated to Massing. The blood oaths, inked on the necks, backs, arms and chests of those peers who loved her, read with phrases such as "in loving memory," "gone but not forgotten," and "I'll love you always."
A candlelight vigil for Massing took place Friday night at the intersection of 130th and 24-40, and poignant phrases, photos, quotes and trinkets decorate a makeshift memorial there.
Between 400 and 500 people packed into Elm Grove Church Monday to pay their final respects. Those mourning her sat in the aisles, the basement or wherever they could find room because the church's pews filled so quickly.
The attendance underscored that Massing had an impact on others, which was reinforced in a prayer written on the funeral's memorial folder.
"Some people come into our lives and quickly go," it reads. "Some people stay for a while and leave. Footprints on our hearts; and we are never quite the same."
At the west end of Deer Track road in the Ginger Creek subdivision, sits the Carpenter family home, where Erin lived with Sandra and her stepfather, Bob. Inside, in the family's living room, rests hundreds of photos of Erin smiling her typical brilliant smile while posing with friends.
The photos, propped up on cardboard mounts, are gifts from Erin's closest friends to her family, reminders to them how deeply she was loved. The caring from the surrounding community doesn't end there: The photo boards are flanked by a forestry of flowers sent to the family in the days since Erin's death.
In times of sadness those who loved her are able to review a litany of journals, poems and other writings she left behind. Her aunt, McAllister, said her niece's writings offer family members a glimpse into her soul.
"God has given Sandra all these writings and how comforting it is," McAllister said.
And while many mourn Erin, and will continue to do so in coming days, weeks and months, her family asks them to take solace in knowing her final destination is more splendid than the world she left behind.
Her place is now with God, family members said.
A glance at some of Massing's favorite prayers reinforces her family's belief that Massing now holds audience with her Lord:
"Lord, make me a channel of thy peace -- that where there is hatred, I may bring love -- that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness -- that where there is discord, I may bring harmony ... that where there is doubt I may bring faith.
"For it is by self-forgetting that one may find it is forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life."
- Erin was preceded in death by her brother, Christopher Massing; a paternal grandfather, Bernard Massing; and a maternal grandfather, Dr. Robert Frost. Erin is survived by her father, Jeff Massing, Basehor; her mother and stepfather, Sandra and Bob Carpenter, Basehor; two sisters, Ashlee Massing, Shawnee, and Kellie Massing, Basehor; a step-sister, Ashlee Carpenter, Basehor; a maternal grandmother, Pat Frost, Kansas City, Kan.; a maternal great-grandmother, Beulah McCaskill, Antioch, Okla.; a paternal grandmother, Jeanne Massing, Overland Park.
She was buried in Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Kansas City, Kan. Her family suggests memorial contributions to Basehor-Linwood High School.