Life as We Know It Can Change in an Instant

Last night, as I was happily texting with a good friend, another text came in, this one from my daughter:


I watched the bouncing bubble that told me my daughter was still typing, and then this:

Britni died

I gasped. I burst into tears. And through my tears, I speed dialed my daughter.

The heartbreak in her voice sent me over the edge. We sobbed together for a long time as we tried to comprehend the reality that this beautiful young woman, her dear friend and personal cheerleader who was only 27, was gone forever.

And now my daughter’s life is changed forever too.

According to the newspaper report, Britni ran a stop sign and was hit by another car. Her Kia Forte was struck by a Ford Explorer; her car went off the road and overturned, and she died instantly. (The other driver survived.)

“Thank God she didn’t suffer,” my daughter and I kept saying. But that is only a small consolation to her mother and sister, who will live with a hole in their hearts for the rest of their lives, or to her young dance students, some of whom won’t understand what it means that “Miss Britni” will never teach another class, or to all her friends, some of whom will be dealing for the first time with the death of someone they loved.

And it’s a small consolation to my daughter, who has been so excited about her friend’s visit in two weeks. The girls, who have been friends since they met seventeen years ago, had so much in common, including a passion for dance. But even more important, my daughter describes Britni as someone who had her act together, who could talk my dramatic daughter down from a crisis, who grounded her; one of those unique, once-in-a-lifetime friends who made her a better person.

I’ve missed a stop sign or two in my life—I expect most of us have. “Oh no, that was a stop sign!” we think as our brains register the mistake halfway through the intersection. I’ve been lucky; you’ve been lucky; Britni wasn’t. And my heart breaks for her and for everyone who knew her and loved her, and for my daughter, who lost one of her closest friends.

As we continued to talk last night, I reminded my daughter that we never really know which day is our last, and so it’s important to live in the moment, to cherish the people we love, to appreciate what’s happening right now—and if we aren’t happy with our lives, we need to work to change those things now.

Because life as we know it can change in an instant.

Marissa and Britni
Marissa and Britni


Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

54 thoughts on “Life as We Know It Can Change in an Instant”

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss and all of those who loved Britni. A tragic reminder to savor and love each moment, each person in our life. Life truly is too short.

  2. Oh Candace…so sorry to hear this.
    It’s terrible that it takes something like this to remind us all how fleeting life is and to not take one moment of it for granted.
    My thoughts are with everyone affected.

    1. My thoughts are also with everyone here who has been so affected. A bit off subject here, but I’ll just say it: tell your Mom and Dad you love them, every time you talk to them. Even if you are my age (53). Mom went into the hospital to have surgery, as the doctors suspected cancer, and they were correct. Five days later, she was gone. That was three years ago tomorrow. I am not over it yet, and now that I have had some very unexpected change happen in my life, I just so wish that I could just do what I used to- pick up the phone and call her, or stop by her house. Never, ever assume we have even one more day. It’s the things that you wanted to say, but never did, that you will so wish that you had expressed to your loved one. So sorry for your loss, Candace. God bless you and yours, and for having the courage to share your story here.

      1. Mark, I am so very sorry about your mom. Almost the same thing happened to my mom 11 years ago; I still miss her every single day, and I’d give anything to talk to her for just five minutes. Parent, sibling, child, friend—the message is the same: if you care for someone, let them know just what they mean to you. “It’s the things that you wanted to say, but never did, that you will so wish that you had expressed to your loved one.” So true, and thank you for sharing.

  3. Candie, what a horrific and terribly sad loss. I am so very sorry for those who knew and loved Britni. Thank you for writing a tender post full if wisdom for us all. Sending love.

  4. Candace, such a difficult loss for your daughter and for you as your daughter’s mom. I recently had a similar shock and posted something similar. Losing someone who means so much to you, who grounds you, who has her act together leaves a tremendous void in our spirits and hearts. Praying for you and your daughter and for Britni’s family. So very sorry.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear your of your loss, Candace, especially for your daughter and Britni’s family. It is always a shock when someone so young is taken from us. I lost a couple of friends at a similar age and while time has softened the pain, I’ve never forgotten them. My thoughts are with you all.

  6. My daughter now 19 was one of Britni’s students. She was a beautiful dancer and person in general RIP Miss Britni.

  7. Candace, I’m so sorry to hear that news. It’s always heartbreaking when something like this happens. My thoughts are with everyone involved. I’m glad you saw the reminder in this, a reminder I’ve seen in my own tragedies and that I know others have seen in theirs–don’t take this life for granted. It can go away in an instant.

  8. Very sad to read this, Candace. As a mother myself, these types of tragedies are especially hard to digest and come to terms with. Thinking of all involved ❤️

  9. WOW! I’m sorry to hear this for you and your daughter, but thanks for sharing this with us and reminding us of that very important point about living for today and being happy. Sending you loving vibes.

  10. With the loss of someone we love, we change and learn new lessons … how important it is to express our love in person and to cherish every moment that we have. I’m sending healing thoughts and prayers to all of you. So sorry for your loss.

  11. I am so sorry, Candace. This is tragic and heartbreaking. You are so right about living in the moment, something that is so hard to do. I will take these words to heart.

    1. Living in the moment is often a struggle, isn’t it? I know I didn’t appreciate how quickly life goes by when I was Britni’s age. Her death is another reminder to me to live each day for all it’s worth. Thank you for your kind thoughts, Eva.

  12. I know this must have been difficult to write about, but thank you for sharing it and reminding all of us to appreciate our loved ones every single day.

  13. Reading this brought back a lot of memories. My best friend, Brenna, had a brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation) the first year after we graduated high school in 2009. I was in NC, she was in MI. She was in awesome shape when the AVM burst b/c she was training for an Irish Dance Competition. I can honestly say it was the hardest time of my life, doctors saying “we think she’s dying, come say goodbye” and then saying “I think she may make it”, back and forth for months. Brenna was my Britni. 5 1/2 years later, I miss her everyday. She’s in what doctors are calling a vegetative state. Please send your daughter my heart felt condolences, while our personal life experiences differ somewhat I imagine our hearts ache quite the same.

  14. Hello,
    I’ve never read your blog, but for some reason Yahoo News linked to your HuffPo article near the top of my feed. I clicked it because of the title.
    Almost 2 years ago, my best friend (Carolyn Kaufman) died suddenly. She was only 40. She had a brain aneurysm. And, while I only knew Carolyn for 5 years, she was my best friend ever. Talk about someone who grounds you and is a once-in-a-lifetime friend! She’s the best person I ever met, and she changed my life in so many ways. And yes, her death changed that too.
    Within the first year of her being gone, I realized all I had learned from her has helped me deal with her death. Kind of ironic.
    She was a writer, too. She had one book published, The Writer’s Guide to Psychology. She was actually working on a second book, about creativity, and I couldn’t wait to read it. I’m still sad about that. I miss talking to her.
    I always thought, she’d be so shocked at her sudden death, too. I’d be like, “Carolyn! Can you believe you died? This sucks!” And she’d be like, “I know, right?”
    Anyway, your story resonated with me, and my thoughts are with you and your daughter and Britni and her family and friends. No one ever thinks their best friend is going to die.
    But, life does go on. It’s so surreal at first. You think, “How can anything matter after the best person in my life is just gone? What’s the point of doing anything if I can’t share it with her?” But of course you know your friend wouldn’t want you to be sad about it forever. I still can’t believe Carolyn died, but what are you going to do? I have thought, “Tis better to have loved Carolyn and lost Carolyn than never to have known her at all.”
    Anyway, again, sorry I’m rambling. I’m very sorry to hear your news. It really, really sucks. But you and your daughter and Britni’s family and friends won’t be alone. You all have each other.

    1. Annie, thank you so much for writing and sharing your story. I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a friend is always difficult, but losing the best person who ever came into your life seems cruel, doesn’t it?

      I laughed at your “conversation” about Carolyn’s sudden death because I could just imagine Marissa and Britni having the same one. I’m happy for you that such a special person was in your life, even if that time wasn’t nearly long enough.

      1. Thanks, Candace. I don’t know what Britni’s family will decide, but Carolyn’s Facebook page still exists, and that first year I wrote on it a lot. I still post sometimes. Sometimes I’ll share things that I would’ve shared with her anyway. Sometimes I just tell her I miss her. The month after she died it was October, and on Halloween I told her she should come back as a ghost and hang out with everyone who loved her for the day. It’s kind of a weird thing to still write on her wall, but I have to say, if her family deleted it, I think I’d be pretty sad. I do email her mom occasionally. She has said she will never get over or really believe that Carolyn died, and I believe her. Even though it’s only been almost two years, her mom sometimes gets the sense that other people think she should move on. I say, if you never truly get over it, okay! Be as sad as you want/need to be.

        Carolyn was also the first person I ever had close to me die, and that was a big change, too. I think you said it’s the same for your daughter? Anyway, I know everyone grieves differently. One thing I learned immediately after Carolyn died is that it doesn’t matter what other people say. Like, when I knew someone that lost someone, I wouldn’t know what to say, and I’d get all shy and self-conscious and say nothing. But after Carolyn died, I realized the words don’t matter, but it is nice to hear anyone say “I’m sorry” or “Thinking of you.” You just don’t want to be alone in the sadness, you know?

        And finally (sorry, I know I’m writing a lot, but this has really resonated with me, and like other people who have lost best friends, sometimes other people don’t understand), after Carolyn died, I kind of told everyone. Sometimes like, “My dead best friend, Carolyn…” or I’d be talking about something she had said or done, and if the person didn’t know, I’d say, “And then she died.” That was not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but more, like, I don’t know… b/c she was the best, and it’s important. And I still talk about her if she happens to come up in normal conversation, like, “That reminds me of this time Carolyn and I were talking about…”

        I guess the point is, she did have an impact on me, and she still does, and I’m not shy about sharing that with people. (And now I’m starting to cry at work, so I will stop typing.)

        1. Britni’s Facebook page is filled with so many messages of love and support, and her friends and family take solace in knowing how much she was loved. I think it’s fantastic that you continue to post on Carolyn’s wall; when someone is such a part of your everyday life, how can you just stop being with her? One of the first things my daughter did was reach out to Britni’s other friends, and they have helped each other to both grieve and celebrate the life of this remarkable young woman. They will keep Britni’s memory alive just like you’re keeping Carolyn’s alive. Many people don’t understand, but anyone who has been through what you’ve been through do. And now I have to stop crying.

  15. My brothers girlfriend, who was like a sister to me, died in a car accident last Sunday. she was 21. life changed forever. BIG TIME wake up call for me and my husband and all our family.

  16. I’m so sorry. For all who knew and loved Britni. My best friend – my soul mate – my other half, I mean, she knew me better than I know myself…passed away 3.5 years ago after a short (5 weeks) battle with cancer. Even knowing it was coming, didn’t take away the unbearable pain when it happened. I’ve never actually had my legs give out on me before – but then, I couldn’t even stand. When I say my best friend died, people are a little sympathetic. But I don’t think they can understand the depth of my love for her – she was my SISTER, my FAMILY … and while family members always get sympathy, friends are expected to get over it. I never will. Your daughter never will. I am so thankful I knew her, I am so thankful to have had someone like her love me. Grief is a funny thing – right now I just wish I could hug your daughter and cry with her. Please let her know she’s never alone.

    1. What a beautiful message, Terri, and thank you so much for sharing it. You’re right——unless someone has had that type of friendship, felt the type of love that is beyond friendship, they cannot understand the depth of the loss you feel. I’m so sorry your friend is gone . . . the death of someone you love so much is incredibly painful . . . but she’ll always live on in your heart. I’ll be sure to share your hugs and kind words with my daughter.

    2. Yes! That is exactly true, people don’t seem to understand when a friend dies. That’s why I said in my comment, no one ever thinks their best friend is going to die. And when Carolyn died, I referred to her as the best person I’d ever met, trying to get people to understand. She was like my family, too. She was truly the best ever. I remember reading condolences on her facebook page and in the online obituary, and so many people wrote something like, “Thinking about Carolyn’s family during this time,” and I was like, “What about her friends?”
      I’m sorry you lost your best friend, Terri. Those 5 weeks must’ve felt so long. With Carolyn, she had the aneurysm on a Monday night and died early Saturday morning. She never woke up. I got to see her twice, to say goodbye (that was the most horrible and surreal experience of my life), but she wasn’t really “there.” That’s why I ask her, “Can you believe you died?” In a lot of ways I’m happy it was sudden, for her and everyone. I don’t think she suffered at all. But it’s hard, whether you’re prepared or not.
      But yes, like you, that’s what compelled me to comment. A real best friend is so special, and I also hope Marissa knows she isn’t alone in her grief.

      1. You’re so right about family, Annie. There’s the family you are born into and then there’s the family you create. Your best friend——as you put it, “my soul mate – my other half, I mean, she knew me better than I know myself”——is that one person you’d want to have with you if you were stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life . . . and now she’s GONE??? How do we live with that?

        To all the best friends out there: you are loved in a way you cannot even imagine. Do everything you can——today and every day——to let your friends know how much they mean to you. And hope they never have to suffer the loss of their Carolyn or Brenna or Britni. It’s heartbreaking.

  17. My daughter passed in a tragic accident since that moment as her mom I also lost my life as I knew it. Her best friends were in the car and she was in the b acknowledge seat. She was the only one to get hurt. Since 9/18/09 I have lost my life it’s always like a part of me is searching to be whole again.

    1. Oh Joanne, my heart breaks for you, and for every mother who has lost a child; you are living every mother’s worst nightmare.

      If you’ve read some of the other comments to these posts, you’ll know you are not alone in your grief. That’s not much consolation, I know, but your beautiful daughter’s memory is cherished by everyone who knew her and loved her, and even people like me who never had the privilege of meeting her are connected to you and to her through your words. I know the emptiness in your heart will never be filled, but please know there are many people who mourn with you. I’m so sorry for your loss, and thank you for reaching out.

  18. My sympathies for your loss.

    Unfortunately, these days the most common cause for running full speed through a stop sign is distraction on a smartphone. A similar incident occurred just outside the entrance to my subdivision several months ago. A woman came quickly down a long straight hill there and then slammed into the curb where it began a gentle turn to the left. She went airborne, flipped, cut the top off of a stationary car at a nearby stop sign, and landed upside down. She had kept her eyes glued to a screen for a second too long.

    Last year another local man was killed near my home when a distracted driver lost control of his vehicle while texting, resulting in a head-on after crossing a four lane median in seconds at highway speeds.

    Your advice to treasure the moment is very sound. I hope that you will also inform us if you learn the circumstances of Britni’s accident included distracted driving, so that we may all learn a valuable lesson from that knowledge as well.

  19. When I saw your tweet Candace, I knew it was about this post which I immediately remembered. Feeling the loss never really goes away it just changes. Still keeping you and your daughter in my thoughts and prayers.

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