On December 21, 1988, a terrorist bomb blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, 54 minutes after it took off from London's Heathrow Airport. The explosion sent 259 passengers and crew members tumbling 6 miles to their deaths, killed 11 people on the ground, and created waves of shock and grief that continue to reverberate across the globe. My friend Miriam Wolfe, one of 35 students returning from a semester in London under the auspices of Syracuse University, was on that flight. Her death was the final, jarring event in a traumatic year that had brought me the accidental deaths of four other friends in an Easter plane crash and the breast cancer that would force my mother to endure a mastectomy and painful years of chemotherapy and drug treatments. While it is tempting to canonize the victims of violent disaster, Miriam was different—and inarguably deserving of such hagiography. A tribute written for one of three memorial scholarships established in her honor calls her "a rare and gifted young woman who lived life to the fullest; actively worked to change the world for the better; and gave a great deal of love, joy and wisdom to all who knew her." Her death yanked me from the comfortable naiveté of my youth and forced me to confront the pain and confusion of the adult world. It destroyed my faith in the inherent good of mankind but showed me how disaster can bring out the best in people. It gave me a nihilistic view of life but forced me to make the most of every moment I have. It made me appreciate the people around me but gave me little tolerance for anyone who wastes my time. And it instilled in me a knee-jerk animus toward religion and nearly all things Middle Eastern. Ultimately, though, Miriam's life and death taught me how to live and love and survive in ways I never thought necessary—or possible.
Excerpted from "Surviving the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103: The Loss of Innocence and a Dear Friend in an International Tragedy." Journal of Personal & Interpersonal Loss, Vol. 3, No. 1, January–March 1998. Pages 117–134. Publisher: Taylor & Francis.