Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On A Dark Day, Celebrating a Good Life

This tribute by Alan Prendergast appeared in Westword on March 23, 2009.

Once a year for several years, I sat across a table from a slender, graceful girl named Whitney DeMoraes Hendrickson. This happened during my annual pilgrimage to Colorado Springs, when I would have dinner with my old college friends, Dave and Clelia Hendrickson. Dave is a political science professor at Colorado College and the author of several essential books on American history and foreign policy. He and Clelia also authored three very fine offspring: Whitney, her twin brother Wesley and their younger sister Marina.

As an annual visitor, I never had more than snapshot-type impressions of the kids as they grew. I do know the house was perpetually filled with children and laughter, their friends moving easily in and out of the place, always on the move. Whitney was a particularly calm presence amid the occasional chaos, with a sly smile, impeccable manners and a great deal of sensitivity about other people's feelings beneath the usual adolescent silliness. I had no idea of the kind of impact she had on so many people until last week, and now I am both saddened and amazed.

Whitney died on March 17, a month shy of her nineteenth birthday.

She perished in a strange, horrific accident outside a convenience store three blocks from her house, when an out-of-control SUV rammed a pickup, forcing it into the gas pumps and causing a fire. The details of this, if you can endure them, can be found in this article from the Gazette. It's the kind of cruel, sudden snatching of an innocent life that makes you question the possibility of anything like justice in this universe.

I went to the service for Whitney at a packed Shove Chapel on the Colorado College campus on Friday, March 20. I expected to find her family and friends devastated and angry. They were all hurting, all right, but the mood was quite different than anticipated. And it said a lot about Whitney and the people in her short, happy life.

It is a truism at funerals of young people to talk about how special they were, how gifted, how precious. Surely every child is, as Garrison Keillor has intimated, above average, but the specialness of Whitney was special indeed. I knew she was popular -- her father had related to me some of her delicate navigations amid different groups at Palmer High School, all of whom had some claim on her -- but I had no idea how loved she was, or how much love she was capable of doling out. Ten of her friends came to the pulpit and spoke eloquently, amid sobs, of how much she had meant to them. They all considered her their very best friend. And they all had treasured memories of her artistic and adventurous spirit, her loyalty and humor, her joy in simple things and lack of pretension.

She never had a mean-girl phase, her friends and family insisted. The absolute worst thing she ever did, apparently, was to fake a series of love letters in the sixth grade between her best friend and her brother Wesley, convincing each that the other was madly in love -- which strikes me as sheer genius.

She loved photography and lacrosse and travel and the Colorado mountains, the lack of which had been a strong lament during the past few months, her freshman year at Grinnell College in Iowa. "To me, she was the mountains," one of her friend declared. "When no one else was around, she was. When no one else listened, she did."

Whitney's friends had descended on the Hendrickson house over the past few days, dragging her parents and siblings out of their despair. It was a phenomenon David Hendrickson acknowledged when it was his turn to reminisce about his daughter. "In the extraordinary love and affection we have received in the last few days from so many, we have felt Whitney's spirit wafting in amongst us and through us," he said. "It has offered glad tidings for the grief-stricken; consolation for the inconsolable; an intimation of true immortality for we of mortal flesh. Thank you all so very much for being the carriers these last few days of that redemptive spirit."

It's an old lesson, but one worth repeating. Sometimes there is no escape from sorrow. Only the possibility of sharing it with others, and thereby making it a little more bearable. The tributes to Whitney were like that. They didn't make the loss any less terrible, but they made me realize the kind of joy in the moment that this young woman shared with so many, and why those moments count for so much.

Now, more than ever.


This amazing picture is of the Sombrero Galaxy (officially called M104), 28 million light years from Earth. Taken by the Hubble telescope, it shows a galaxy of 800 billion suns that is 50,000 light years across. The ordinary person, I am sure, is made to feel quite puny by this spectacular visage, but I am thinking that Whitney would have taken this hat in hand and worn it with aplomb.

Other extraordinary photographs from the Hubble telescope are gathered in this piece from the Daily Mail.

Eulogy by Bruce Coriell

One purpose of our gathering today is to remember what it means to have known Whitney Hendrickson and to commit ourselves to carrying on those human qualities which she embodied.

Here I offer special thanks to all for doing such a beautiful job bringing Whitney to us with your words and stories, music and images.

Those of you who have joined me at Shove for a memorial celebration know that often I offer a short list of qualities, which inspire our own living. But today I want to do something a bit different. I don’t want to offer a list. Instead I want to highlight the one thing that to me makes Whitney so special.

Whitney lived an integrated life. She lived so many dimensions of the human experience and yet felt so whole. To listen to her family and friends tell stories about her – one thing is clear – they adored her.

The word, “elegance” is used to describe her over and over. She loved the majesty and grandeur of the tradition of which she was a part. She took delight in the hymns of church-the ones we sing today. But alongside her elegance was an equal fondness for silliness. Along with the classical Whitney was the rock n’ roll superfreak. And she loved to laugh. It didn’t matter whether it was a hike that lost its way or travel gone absurd. She could take the most serious crisis and turn it into an occasion for frivolity. She never took herself or others too seriously. She laughed at herself and those she loved in a way only possible by someone who understands the universe is a good place.

She loved beauty. You can see her eye for it in her art. But she could also excel as a slob. Beauty and order, messiness and chaos were equally good ways to be a human being for Whitney.

In her family, Whitney is famous for asking to be pampered. Asking a sibling to bring her a drink, for a jacket keeping someone else warm or being catered to in some over the top way. A child comically ordering her parents around or pretending to be sassy. She was carried up to bed, by her father – as a 15 year old. But NO ONE thinks of Whitney as selfish. She never uttered an unkind word about a soul. She always had time for anyone in her life. Everyone could relate to Whitney, because she made it a point to care for all around her.

Whitney had a generosity of spirit that was unparalleled. Sometimes people excel at enjoying life and others focus on loving family and friends, but very few integrate both so seamlessly. One way to show her specialness is to turn the phrases around. Whitney enjoyed her family and friends and she loved life.

We have not gathered today only to remember Whitney, as right and important as that is. We are here to care for one another. Whitney’s loss hurts. When elegance and beauty and silliness and messiness and spirit and grace move on a huge hole remains.

Now is the time to come together as Whitney’s family and friends and community to care for one another. It is not only appropriate, but healthy to give voice to our pain. Our sadness, our loss, our exhaustion, and our anger are real. We don’t pretend that Whitney’s death is anything but a tragedy.

Confronting death always brings us face to face with loss of control. Too often we are lulled into the mistaken notion that we are in control. The same impression finds its way into our beliefs--that God controls every detail of our lives. But just because we are control freaks, doesn’t mean God is as well. Faith isn’t pretending everything is under control. Nor is faith ignoring our questions and doubts. We certainly need not shield God from the intensity of our suffering. For no one feels the pain as deeply as God.

God’s shoulders are broad enough
to bear our grief
God’s tears are real enough
to feel our pain
God’s hands are gentle enough
to offer us comfort

I spoke of Whitney’s life of integrity and wholeness. To me, it helps to pay attention to the wisdom that is spoken so clearly by her life. We celebrate Whitney in the context of a service that Whitney knew and loved. It is a liturgy that is hundreds of years old, which celebrates our relationship to the divine. All too often we are tempted to reduce the message and life of Jesus to a set of beliefs we hope will save us. Or we want to boil down the teachings to a moral code we use to guide us. But Whitney knew the secret --that finally it's not about what we believe or how we behave. Finally – it’s about who we love.

*Whitney knew who she was and she loved herself wholly.
*Whitney experienced the wonder of our universe and she loved the world completely.
*Whitney adored people and she loved each of you passionately.

Don’t get me wrong -
I’m not trying to erase the reality that Whitney’s death is very dark – that it feels senseless and numbing and sad beyond words.
But Whitney’s life and our lives are full of love.
We loved Whitney. Whitney loved us. We love each other.

For now – it is enough – it has to be.
And I pray that each of you will find your way, experience the goodness of life, and know the gentle touch of spirit even in your darkest moments.

To know Whitney is to recognize the vibrancy of life, which she carried and to warm ourselves in the glow of her luminosity.

Indeed to have known Whitney is to have known a true human being and to know a true human being is to see a refection of the divine. By teaching us to be human, Whitney taught us (perhaps unknowingly) how to be sacred. We celebrate that.

The Church Father St. John Chrysostom
said the same thing in a different way;

She whom we love
and lose
is no longer
where she was before.
She is now
wherever we are.

March 20, 2009, Shove Chapel

Her Father's Reminiscence

I am Whitney’s father and would first like to thank all those gathered here and in the community for the extraordinary outpouring of kindnesses that my family has received from those who have shared in our grief. To the friends of Whitney, Wesley, and Marina, who have filled our house these last few days, I express my profound appreciation. One of the greatest gifts of having children is meeting their friends, watching them grow to maturity, taking pride and pleasure in their accomplishments. Clelia and I feel especially blessed in the wonderful people we have gotten to know through our children. Mando, Dani, Tessa, Ciarra, and so many others are part of our big extended family.

We also wish to thank our dear friends at Colorado College, at Grinnell College, Grace Episcopal, Palmer High School, and in the larger Colorado Springs community for the generosity of spirit and love that we have received from them. Not only old friends, long out of touch, but perfect strangers, have consoled us in the darkest days of our lives. Seeking to make sense of the incomprehensible, we have been awakened from our despair by the light and love you have brought to us.

Of Whitney, I can add little to what has already been said. One of my fondest memories is of Wesley and Whitney, then about two and half, walking down the aisle of an airplane, with me following behind, and watching the faces of the passengers, in row after row, light up as they caught sight of the delightful duo. All through her life, Whitney had that kind of effect on the people she met. Her father, who has a certain tendency to take a dark view of human nature and to accentuate the negative, was often brought back to a much more hopeful view by the great good fortune of living in Whitney’s midst.

When she was seven or eight, we had much fun acting out the following sequence: Whitney would ask sweetly for some little thing, like a glass of water or to be carried upstairs to bed, then look sternly at me and say, with mock seriousness: “Do it! Now!” This would be followed by gales of laughter by the two of us, and then by me doing pretty much as she requested—right away.

So I was putty in her hands; she could have taken advantage of that, but didn’t. Perhaps that was owing to the careful direction of her loving mother. Whatever the reason, Clelia and I were blessed with a child who gave endless joy but zero trouble. She didn’t follow the stereotypical script of the girl moving through life—sweetness itself until about age thirteen, then hell on wheels for the next six years. She just got better and better.

Parents love their children; they are formed by nature to do that. But it helps when the object of their affection is so eminently lovable. Her wit, her gentleness of spirit, her acute powers of observation, her artistic sensibility, her vibrant beauty—she was a heavenly gift to all of us, but especially to her family, especially to her father.

My idea of the immortality of the soul is that it exists not up in heaven but here on earth. When the body dies, the soul lives on only if we listen to it and make of it an example and an inspiration for our own lives. It is like Bishop Berkeley’s tree that falls in the forest; unless we hear it, it does not make a noise.

In the extraordinary love and affection we have received in the last few days from so many, and in the recollection of her life, we have felt Whitney’s spirit wafting in amongst us and through us. It has offered glad tidings for the grief stricken; consolation for the inconsolable; an intimation of true immortality for we of mortal flesh. Thank you all so very much for being the carriers these last few days of that redemptive spirit.

March 20, 2009
Shove Chapel, Colorado College

The Wisdom of Solomon

"Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases."

The Wisdom of Solomon, 7: 7-10.

This appeared as the benediction of Whitney's memorial service at Colorado College.

The Soul of Whitney

My sister Christy gave these verses at Whitney's memorial service in Shove Chapel.

* * *

At these times we feel at a loss for words to express the depths of our feeling and sorrow, so I have taken the liberty to draw liberally from the work of Kahil Gibran in composing this memorial poem to Whitney.

* * *

And the God of Gods created the soul of Whitney,
Fashioning it for beauty. He gave unto Whitney the
Gentleness of a breeze at dawn, the scent of Colorado Mountain Wildflowers, and the Loveliness of moonlight.

He gave unto Whitney, also, the cup of Joy;
That she could drink fully from this cup, and so that
She could share this joy with David, Clelia, Wes, Marina, and all who touched her life.

He also gave unto Whitney, and now to us, the cup of sorrow, saying Drink, that you may understand the meaning of Joy.

But God also bestowed within the soul of Whitney a
Love so immense and enduring that no sorrow could ever diminish it, and a Sweetness, that would flee from the first word of arrogance.

He made a heavenly sign to guide her in the path of Truth.

He placed in her depths an eye that would behold the unseen.

He created within her a fancy to flow like a river with phantoms and angels.

He clothed her in the garments of
Longing and inquisitiveness,
Kindness and generosity,
And a serenity and gentle humility.

This He had the angels weave for her from the rainbow.

And God gave her Life, which is the shadow of Death.
And the God of Gods looked down, smiled and

For He knew he had created in Whitney a Soul so eternal and so enduring that cradled within it was a boundless love that would encircle Clelia, David, Marina and Wes endlessly throughout time.

We gather today to give thanks, that we were able to share this gift, on loan to us for too short a time from the Heavens, of Whitney deMoraes Hendrickson.

Jewish Memorial Prayer

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember her.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember her.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember her.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember her.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember her.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember her.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember her.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember her.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember her.
So long as we live, she too shall live,
for she is now a part of us, as
we remember her.

This lovely prayer, suggested by Bruce Coriell, opened Whitney's memorial service on March 20 in Shove Chapel at Colorado College.

A Gift

Where was she before her first day?
Some questions cannot be answered.

Where is she now? That one's easy.
She is in thoughts, a protected place.

To receive the gift of life,
we must accept that the gift ends.

But what we were does not end;
what we did with the gift is permanent.

Before life, there is only darkness:
Good riddance to that.

After life, there is the sweetness
of sunlight sparkling on water.

For Whitney deMoraes Hendrickson, 1990-2009

Gregg Easterbrook sent me this beautiful poem on March 20, 2009.

A Funeral Ode

At the suggestion of my friend Joe Pickle, the Colorado Springs Chorale dedicated its performance of Nänie to Whitney and her family on Friday evening, March 20, 2009, at the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts. It was sung in German, with text by Friedrich Schiller and music by Johannes Brahms (op. 82). The program explains:

A "Nänie," a classical Roman term, was a memorial, funeral ode, or anthem mourning the death of an admired or beloved person. The references here are to Euridice, Adonis, and Achilles, whose stories are examples of the death of beauty, youth, and perfection. The power of love is poignantly presented in the composition's final lines, in the thought that "to be a lament on the lips of a loved one is glorious."

* * *

Even the beautiful must die. That which subdues mortals and gods does not touch the unyielding heart of the Stygian Zeus.

Only once did love soften the ruler of the shades, and yet, at the threshhold, sternly he recalled his gift.

Aphrodite does not soothe the wounds of the beautiful boy whose delicate body the boar cruelly tore.

The immortal mother does not rescue the divine hero, when, at the Scaean gate, falling, he fulfills his destiny.

But she rises out of the sea with all the daughters of Nereus and begins the lament for her glorified son.

Behold, the gods weep, the goddesses weep, because the beautiful perishes, the perfect dies.

Even to be a lament on the lips of a loved one is glorious, for the common ones go down to Orcus unsung.

* * *

To listen to “Nänie,” go here.

Death by Mistake

This piece appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on the evening of Whitney's death, March 17, 2009.

It was supposed to be just a quick trip

by Lance Benzel and Carlyn Ray Mitchell

Whitney Hendrickson left the west-side house she grew up in to get gas for her trip to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs, one stop on a tour of Colorado she planned for a college friend from Wisconsin.Her mother and sister waited at home, thinking that Hendrickson, 18, and her friend Julie Podair, 19, would be back soon so the group could enjoy a day tailor-made for two young women on spring break from Grinnell College in Iowa.

Minutes later, Hendrickson was gone.In a freak accident outside a 7-Eleven at 1428 W. Colorado Ave., the clever and outgoing college freshman who loved photography and drawing was killed when a pickup crashed into a gas pump and engulfed her minivan in flames.

Hendrickson, who was outside pumping gas, was trapped between the gas pump and her burning vehicle. Podair, who was uninjured, made a desperate attempt to push the vehicle away but was forced to retreat alongside several people who rushed to answer Hendrickson's frantic cries for help but were driven back by the searing heat.

Witnesses described a horrifying scene: A crash followed seconds later by a series of explosions that sent flames and smoke rising more than 20 feet in the air, singeing the canopy over the pumps."She was frozen in there, between the gas pumps and her car," said Michael Horvat, a health insurance broker who works across the street. "She was holding her face. Flames were all around her. She never got out."

He tried to approach the inferno with an extinguisher but an off-duty firefighter yelled at him to get back as the island erupted.Greg Alderman, who ran from the Trent Real Estate Group across the street, tried to enter the minivan, but the heat, and the potential for an explosion, made it impossible."I thought of my wife and three children," he said.

As he ran away, he heard another explosion reverberate behind him.Police said the crash happened about 12:40 p.m. when a red 2003 Ford Explorer heading southwest through the parking lot of the convenience store slammed into the right rear side of a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado pickup parked at a pump opposite Hendrickson.The impact forced the truck into the gas pump, which dislodged it and caused gasoline to spew out. The pump pinned Hendrickson against her minivan as the gasoline ignited.

Both the pickup and minivan went up in flames."In 28 years of doing this work and investigating traffic accidents, I've never seen a tragic accident like this," Colorado Springs police spokesman Lt. David Whitlock said.Firefighters arrived in two minutes, Whitlock said, and quickly extinguished the fire. Witnesses credited someone in the parking lot with dashing to the store to hit an emergency shutoff button outside the store.

The driver of the Ford Explorer, Kelli R. McKay, 29, of Colorado Springs, was cited on suspicion of careless driving involving a death, a Class 1 misdemeanor. She was served a summons to appear in court after being treated and released for minor bruises.

Three witnesses told The Gazette that McKay was shouting that her brakes had gone out, but police said that "vehicle malfunction" did not appear to play a role. Investigators used an onboard computer to perform a "vehicle autopsy."

Hendrickson is survived by her father, David Hendrickson, a political science professor at Colorado College, her mother, Clelia DeMoraes, a twin brother named Wesley, who is in his freshman year at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., and younger sister 16-year-old Marina, a junior at Palmer.

Hours after the crash, friends gathered at the family home to mourn the 2008 Palmer High School graduate, recalling the beautiful nerd who had a rare combination of silliness, intellect and unfailing friendliness that captured those around her.

She spoke French and played lacrosse."She was just a very loving, happy person who loved life and lived it to the fullest," said her mother.

They remembered Hendrickson as a funny and outgoing woman who had an easy time making friends. She was an honors student in Palmer's International Baccalaureate program and enjoyed drawing, photography and art history and "blossomed" at college, her parents said.

David Hendrickson called his daughter a "very special" person and laughed when he recalled his daughter's Christmas gift to him last December - a humorous scrapbook linking him to embarrassing scandals from 2008. The gift was typical of her wit and imagination, he said.

From the start, David Hendrickson was enamored with his little girl who "had this way about her that was divine.""She had this special quality when she was actually very little. I was always struck by that. She emerged, even as a very little child, with all of these marvelous qualities. Always very sweet, never a cross word, very observant. And she developed this tremendous wit. She was really very funny."

Whitney Hendrickson chose to live life rather than worry over the meaning of it, David Hendrickson said.

"Everyone that she ever came into contact with loved her," said 18-year-old Dani Radoshevich, one of three friends from high school who journeyed with her to Grinnell. "Nobody had it in them to dislike someone who was so great."

Podair met Whitney Hendrickson at an orientation mixer. Both were short and both had fathers who were college professors. "We've been inseparable since," Podair said.

Whitney Hendrickson hadn't declared a major but was leaning toward art history and sociology, well-suited for the gifted, self-taught photographer who "understood people really well," Radoshevich said.

Radoshevich, Podair, another classmate, Mondo Montaño, and Whitney Hendrickson took the train from Iowa, arriving in Colorado Springs on Sunday.

The laughter David Hendrickson had known before his daughter went to school returned the moment Whitney and Podair arrived back at the Hendrickson home on West Pikes Peak Avenue.

Friends and family spent Tuesday night smiling over their memories of her rather than focusing on anger or sadness.

Born on the day David Hendrickson's first book came out, Whitney died the day his latest work was published, this one on international relations. He said it struck him that his work and her life were "continuous."

"I pictured her married with kids looking after her old man and being some famous artist to boot," David Hendrickson said. "She was on her way."

Correction by DCH. March 17, 2009, was indeed the publication date of my latest book: Union, Nation, or Empire--a strange and horrible conjuncture. The project of which this book was the fruit was begun when the twins were babies, and concluded as they reached maturity. But the earlier coincidence was different from what the Gazette described. Whitney, with her twin brother Wesley, was born on April 13, 1990, the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth. In that spring, with Robert W. Tucker, I published Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson (my fourth rather than first book). I remember being amazed by the coincidence at the time: I was scheduled to give a paper on Jefferson at an academic conference but was held back by my wife's labor. And out came Whitney and Wesley on Jefferson's birthday, right at the moment when I was due to present my paper two time zones away. So both that miracle and this nightmare had these baffling conjunctures between work and family.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Christmas 2008: Whitney's Scrapbook for Her Father

Such was my Christmas present for 2008, dreamt up by the inimitable Whitney.

Whitney and Marina, Christmas 2008

This delightful photograph, which you may click to enlarge, was taken by my sister Christy.

Of Whitney and Friends

Eighteenth birthday, with Armando, Dani, and Tessa:

* * *

From the Spencer Kellogg collection:

* * *

A gift we received from a friend of Whitney during our visit to Grinnell for her memorial service:

* * *

With Mom:

* * *

Livin' Large:

Posted 4/6/09

By Whitney

"First Day of Summer 2006: Dani and Sarah in North Cheyenne Canyon"

* * *

"Dad -- Ice Man in Kansas, July 2008"

* * *

"Marina and I Bundled to Watch Football -- Oklahoma Winter 07-08"

* * *

From Whitney's artbook, 2007 (click to enlarge)

Just a Kid

Posted 4/8/09

The Happy Threesome

Over the 2008-2009 Christmas break, Spencer Kellogg took the following photographs of Wesley, Whitney, and Marina cavorting in the mountains. Spence has put up 164 photos of Whitney and friends on her Facebook page, many from when they were little, but these photos from the great mountain shoot are especially dear to me.

Posted 4/13/09