Oliver: A heavy heart in wake of recent tragedies

When we wake up in the morning, few of us give much thought that today might be our last.

And yet, if we’re honest, it could be. None of us really knows.

From time to time, items in the news make me pause and reflect on that reality.

For instance, how could Gary McPherson and his bride of 46 years, retired librarian Linda McPherson, have known that a massive mudslide March 22 in Snohomish County, Wash., would take her life and leave him without the love of his?

After all, they were sitting side by side in their home, enjoying their morning caffeine. He was able to dig himself out from the debris, but she was not.

And so it was for so many of the people who were on that rain-soaked hillside above the north fork of the Stillaguamish River on the outskirts of Oso, a town northeast of Seattle.

When the hillside collapsed, they were just going about their day. 

As of Tuesday, at least 27 were confirmed dead and at least 22 were missing. About 180 people lived in the path of the landslide.

Two more victims, Steve Neal and Bill Welsh, didn’t even live there. They were on a service call in the landslide zone to replace a water heater. Neal was a plumber and Welsh was an electrician. The homeowner, Amanda Lennick, also was killed.

For so many, it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Four-month-old Sanoah Huestis was at home with her grandmother, Christina Jefferds, when the slide happened. They both were killed.

Sanoah’s mother, Natasha, and Jefferds’ husband, Seth, were in town at the time and survived.

On the other side of the world, the passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 probably were thinking they were taking a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China, on March 8 when their plane went missing.

Aboard the Boeing 777-200 ER were 239 people, including the plane’s crew.

The passengers ranged in age from 2 to 76. They were children, vacationers and commuters. They were painters and students.

In other words, they were just ordinary people going about their day.

Experts believe the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean. The search area, which has been changing daily it seems, now is off the coast of Australia.

Both the Washington mudslide and the missing plane have been in the headlines for days, perhaps because these tragedies seem out of the ordinary.

Yet, both are reminders that the lives of ordinary people – people like you and me -- can be gone unexpectedly and without warning.

Such events stop me in my tracks and prompt me to take stock.

Am I living each day wisely, fully and with purpose? Do those I love know it? Can I honestly say that my regrets are few?

While there’s time, there is still a chance to change those answers.

For those in Oso and on Flight 370, the chance is tragically gone.

My thoughts and prayers now are with the families of those killed and still missing. May they take some comfort in knowing that their loss is felt around the globe.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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