First published on December 30, 2011.
This is not the post I expected to be writing today – or ever, for that matter. This week a friend of mine from high school and longtime reader of this blog was shot and killed by her ex-husband in Colorado, who later turned the gun on himself. Her name was Donna Royer, and I wish you could have known her.
Her death was sensational and public in the way that her life was not. She had an emotionally challenging and fulfilling job providing physical therapy for cancer patients, worked off steam by competing in physical endurance races, and was planning a better life with a man who just asked her to marry him. Her two daughters were the center of her world and the subject of almost all her conversations. Her life was on the upswing after enduring a tumultuous divorce, financial turmoil, and entre into single parenthood last year.
You may not have known Donna, but I can’t bear to let her quiet life be overshadowed by the headlines of her tragic death. She was so much more than that. She worked hard to graduate from college in her late 30s and start a new life as a single mom. She exposed her daughters to a variety of people and lifestyles and taught them it was okay to be anything you wanted to be as long as you weren’t hurting anyone else. She was curious and naive in the best kind of nonjudgemental way. She loved life and had faith that most people were good.
She was a later-in-life athlete who had rock-hard abs at the time in life most of us are watching ours disappear. As Donna was coming into her own after the divorce, she competed in events like last year’s Moab Adventure Xtreme, where she biked, kayaked, ran and rappelled on a course she had to plot from a map.
She was on a journey without a defined route in life, and she loved how this race mirrored her new reality.
Donna and I connected on our shared “good-girl-but-still-an-outsider” mindset even from high school. We both knew what it was like to be in the wrong place, living a life that didn’t quite fit, and surrounded by people who didn’t understand our discontent. We each made bold moves in our 20s, enduring the scandal of divorce in a small town and leaving to start anew. We bonded over our desire to try new things, live full out, and give a hand up to people who might want to live the same way. We each made some smart moves and some dumb mistakes along the way, and we tried to learn from both.
I last saw Donna at our 20th high school reunion in 2009. We had a long talk over dinner about the twists and turns of life and how it takes longer to grow up when the status quo doesn’t quite fit. I met her beautiful daughters, who were without question the light of her life. I told Warren later that connecting with her over dinner again was the highlight of the reunion for me.
When I saw the open casting call for the movie The Avengers in Santa Fe earlier this year, I sent Donna a note to get over there fast. Who better to be a superhero than someone who had remade her life and her body? She laughed off the suggestion, but I still think she would have been great, and she is the only friend I know who could fill out a superhero costume after all her training. Trinity from The Matrix had nothing on Donna. When the movie comes out this summer, I know I’ll think of her.
She joked about being able to keep up with a younger boyfriend, but I suspect he was the one trying to keep up with her.
When another friend recently said she might be moving to Colorado for work, I immediately put her in touch with Donna because I knew she’d form a welcome committee and help her transition. Donna was such a giving soul, and she couldn’t stand to see anyone hurting or in pain, swooping in to help or protect at a moment’s notice. She was not so vigilant about taking care of herself in the past, often apologizing for her needs and working to make everyone else’s life better at the expense of her own. In recent years she had been trying to reverse that trend.
Just a week ago she commented here on the post about over-apologizing:
“Betsy, this is fantastic. (Mostly because it was like you were watching my life play out.) I love the quote, “we are shrinking ourselves to balance on a single blade of grass when an entire acre is available to us.” Could not be truer and I am going to share. I needed to hear this today, thank you so much.”
Every time I see a patch of green I’ll imagine my friend Donna laying back on the soft grass, ams and legs splayed wide to take up every available inch, soaking up the sunshine with a big grin on her face.
She just really got started on this race called life, and I can’t believe she’s already crossed the finish line.
I’ll miss you, Donna.
If you’d like to honor Donna and the thousands of women like her who are abused or killed every year by current or former romantic partners, please consider donating your time or money to an agency that helps victims of domestic violence in your area. You can find the closest resources to you by clicking on this map of domestic violence agencies around the world, and if you want more information on the problem of domestic violence and how it impacts our families and countries, click here.
*Photo courtesy of Donna’s Facebook page