I didn't know Mike Brady, but I know he was a lucky guy.
I've learned that just by talking to his friends. I've seen most of them playbasketball or lacrosse before. But this week I've gotten to know some of them a little better.
They have wanted to talk. About Mike. About the traffic accident that killed him and injured four of his buddies last weekend. About holding a vigil at the hospital and praying that Mike would pull through.
And about the shock and the pain and the anger they felt when they heard that he had died.
Mostly they just wanted to talk aboutthe fun-loving, sometimes goofy 17-year old who had touched all their lives before leaving them far too soon.
When they talked about Mike, smiles lit up their faces. They laughed.
Dave Stever, Tim Ferriter, Brian Turk, Jenny Lund, Kristin Hughes, Chris Sipes, Jason Schmidtt, Toya Smith, Jeff Raymond, Dave Ishmael, Carrie Stevenson, Brett Jensen, Stephanie Moore. Even the ones I didn't get a chance to talk to, I knew laughed as they reminisced.
I admire them for that. Laughing comes easily when they think about Mike, but it hurts, too. They have shown more poise under pressure than I could have imagined. I wondered what it was that kept them going.
Surely, their faith has played a part. "When we talk about it, we talk about it like we know Mike is in heaven," said Jenny Lund, who sat next to Mike at the movies less than an hour before the accident.
"The first thing we would say is how he's up there laughing at us for being so upset. Definitely faith had something to do with it. I really believe that -- that he is in a better place than we are."
But the key to their strength has been one another. They know there is strength in numbers, sothey stay together as much as possible.
"We never would have madeit this far without each other," said Kristin Hughes, who shared a love for basketball and lacrosse with Mike. "We never really thought about how close we all were. We were always together, but you never realize what you have until you've lost something."
Their strength has opened the eyes of many of the adults around them.
"It was amazing the peer counseling that went on. That was a spinoff I never expected," said Robert J. Garbacic, principal of John Carroll School.
Joe Hughes, Kristin's father, is a guidance counselor at Joppatowne High. He went over to John Carroll Monday morning to help anyone he could. He had seen how close the teens were at home, but even he was surprised at how they helped one another.
"The adults have almost stood back and admired these kids for how they've taken care of each other," he said.
"It seems to me young kids in general -- sometimes they just hold onto each other. I watched kids at Joppatowne when we had something similar happen several years ago. Even kids that didn'tknow him get swept up in this mystique. If (Mike's friends) saw someone standing by himself, they went over to that kid. It's that kind of literally reaching out and touching each other that has made a difference."
The teens have also been an inspiration to Mike's family -- his parents, Dennis and Mary Ellen Brady, and their two other sons, Sean and Mark.
"They have been terrific support for us," said Dennis Brady. "They're a real caring group. There's a lot of ache for them too. As a parent, you deal with your own ache, but you have to recognize theirs."
The Bradys have opened their home to all of Mike's friends. After Thursday's services, a group stayed at the Brady home until 1:30 in the morning. "We have to force them to talk about it,so they can get back up on the bicycle," said Dennis Brady.
John Carroll administrators had provided extra guidance counselors Monday morning, urging despondent students to talk to them or teachers and parents. But most of them just talked to one another.
"I find it easier to talk to my friends than my parents," said Mike's closest pal,Dave Stever. "He was my friend. Adults can understand so much, but my friends understand exactly what I'm going through right now."
For Dave and the others, there still will be tough times to come, especially as graduation nears, but they will try to get back to the rest of their lives tomorrow.
Dave talked about going back to school. "All the mourning and all the sadness will be over. Well, not over, but we'll all try to move on. I think that's going to be the hardest part -- missing him. At school every day, when I went downstairs to my locker, I could see him at his locker. Not seeing him there -- that'sgoing to be pretty hard."
As time goes on, Mike's friends won't forget about him, but they soon will be able to concentrate on other things. They will have fun again. Mike would have wanted it that way.
Mike would have thanked them for all they've done for his family and for one another. And he probably would have told them he was very lucky to have them as friends.