5 Years Later: Magic and Loss

by Bill Brenner on November 20, 2014

This week marks a sad anniversary: the tragic death of a beautiful young woman named Penney Richards. Penney was killed in a motorcycle accident on a sunny day in 2009.

Mood music:

To be honest, I didn’t really know her. But I had once worked with her mother, who has the same name but spells it Penny.

I usually slip into depression in November, but I sunk much deeper into it that year because I couldn’t stop thinking about a vibrant young life cut short and the parents left to find a way forward.

That was the obsessive side of my OCD at work — the part that couldn’t help but latch on to other people’s grief. I’m lucky because I don’t do that often, but I know people who do it all the time. I call them professional mourners and agents of doom, folks who only call you when there’s a terminal illness or death to report.

Though I don’t go there often, I sure as hell did that November.  I felt terrible for Penney and her family. I also felt like an asshole for inserting myself into a situation where I didn’t have much business. I worked with Penny, but we weren’t close friends. I felt like a grief parasite.

Penny blogged about her terrible experience. Her ability to face the grief and share it with the world inspired me. And in my depressed state, I decided to try writing about my feelings.

And so, on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, 2009, The OCD Diaries was born.

Penny continues to write about her life experiences.

Though Penny and I weren’t exactly friends back then, we certainly are now. I’d like to think we appreciate each other for sharing the deep shit. For my part, I’ve been inspired by her along the way.

This is someone who beat breast cancer and, though a parent never truly recovers from their child’s death, she has found a way to keep living and has shared it with all of us.

She became a justice of the peace, and many of her posts on Facebook these days are about that.

Hers is a journey of love, with all the grace, beauty, joy and sadness that goes with it.

My thoughts and prayers are with her on the fifth anniversary of her daughter’s death.


Penny’s daughter, Penney Richards.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Penny November 20, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Thank you Bill. You say so many things in these posts that I want to respond to (to which I would like to respond…). I’m clicking around and just came across this:

“I’ve learned to see my own depression as just another chronic illness that comes and goes. I’ve learned, in a strange way, to ‘still be happy when I’m depressed most of the time.’ That sounds fucked up, but it’s the best way I can describe it.”

I don’t think that’s fucked up, not at all. I accept my level of depression and my grief and while I won’t use to the word “happy”, I do embrace them. I look for them. I want them nearby. They keep me focused and grateful–for all that I had when she was here, for all that I have now that she lives away, and for the fact that she left me work to do in her honor and memory to keep her her with me and with those who miss and love her too.

Maybe that’s fucked up. Maybe no one else would understand. But that’s OK. I get it. I know you do. And I’m happy to be kinda fucked up with you.

Stef November 20, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Every time I see a picture of Penney I find it hard to believe she’s gone. We weren’t super close, we hung out with all the same people and got along great, who didn’t get along with her? She had the personality you just wanted to be around. She walked into a room and everyone was happy to see her. I have never heard an I’ll word spoken of her, before nor after hrler passing.
At her wake I was inconsolable, looking back I feel foolish that I was so distraught since so many other people were so much closer to her than I was. But that’s just the point, she was a light that everyone was impacted by. Anyone who met her remembered her. She was and still is an amazing spirit that glows all around us. I think of her just about every day, the things she said, her smile, her hair, the way she made everyone feel. Penney was a magical creature not fit for this world, and the light is a little dimmer without her shine but when you look closely, you can see her smile.

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