Driving past West High School the other day, a little sparkle caught my eye.

Balloons. Star-shaped, purple, beautiful balloons.

“What’s up with that?” I asked my daughter.

“Chloe. They’re for Chloe.”

“Oh ...”

Awkward silence.

As is the case with many horrible things, the human brain tends to put bad things to the back of our mind. That’s not always a bad thing, of course. It’s the brain’s way of staying efficient, focusing on the now, prioritizing. But as is the case with any horrible tragedy, there will be those in the community who can’t possibly forget.

The loss of a child is about as bad as it gets. I can’t begin to understand what it was like for Chloe’s mom. But I’m quite certain that not an hour goes by that she doesn’t think of her.

Let me remind you who Chloe was.

A junior at West at the time of her death, Chloe was a good kid. She loved animals, loved art, loved her mother. But in February of 2014 she made the kind of bad judgment so many kids make. She experimented with drugs, and in her case the drugs were something other than what she thought. It was actually a highly potent newer, synthetic drug with the name 25C-NBOMe. In her case, it caused a fatal seizure.

Her boyfriend at the time, of course, was charged with and pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and third-degree drug possession. At sentencing, he received one of those sentences where, provided he remains law-abiding, the manslaughter will disappear from his permanent record.

But I’m not here to talk about her boyfriend. Or even the idiots who sold them the synthetic drug with the stupid name.

I’m here to remind you about the value of being reminded.

It may seem counter intuitive, but it’s actually good to be reminded of horrible tragedies. We all need to be reminded how fragile life is, how everything you love and hold dear can be snatched away. It can go in an instant via a head-on collision during a quick text to a friend. It can go slowly, after a long battle with a fatal disease. Or it can go over the course of three days in the hospital surrounded by loved ones after a bad drug prompts a fatal seizure.

For me that reminder, in the form of a bunch of purple star balloons, made me look at my daughter and realize this: I’m just so thankful she’s made it through the obstacle course of life in one beautiful, sarcastic, clumsy piece.

A few days after seeing the balloons, I decided to write a column about Chloe. I went back to them, but they were gone ... and replaced by new balloons. A variety of colors this time, tied to the tree that was planted in her honor.

I thought about all the roadside monuments dedicated to people killed in car accidents, about the memorial at Minnesota State University dedicated to the engineering students killed on their way to a competition in Michigan, about the tree planted on Warren Street near the MSU campus for the girl who was killed there while on a morning run, and about Cally Jo Larson, murdered in 1998 after surprising a burglar in her home, whose life remains memorialized on her locker at Waseca Junior High School.

These reminders are grim, but they’re good for us. Life can be brutal and fragile, you guys. Hold your kids tight today for no other reason than they’re here, healthy and, hopefully, happy. And if you see Chloe’s mom, give her a hug, too. She might need one.

Robb Murray is features editor at The Free Press. Contact him at rmurray@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6386.

Robb Murray is the Features Editor for The Free Press. He can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com

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