Each butterfly reminds me of Nicole.
As the warm sun gently fades upon another day, leaves of a nearby tree flutter in the cool summer breeze, strong tangled branches silently surrender to the quiet strength of an eastern wind, in unison birds sing their sweet evening melody, I think about this night two years ago. I imagine the final evening dusk Nicole witnessed before the years, hopes and dreams of her young, promising life were senselessly stolen.
Nicole Ganguzza, a graduate student at the University of Central Florida, was murdered on June 10, 2008. After leaving friends and colleagues at the UCF Marriage and Family Research Institute Building where she taught PAIRS relationship skills classes as part of the National Healthy Marriage Initiative, Nicole went alone for a jog at nearby Blanchard Park by Little Econ River. Her body was discovered the next day.
Nicole was 26 years old.
I had the privilege of training Nicole as a PAIRS instructor. Of the more than 1,000 professionals I’ve helped prepare to lead marriage education classes across the nation, Nicole’s passion, talent, spirit, and boundless enthusiasm for life, love and making a difference in the world stood out with particular brilliance.
Shortly after teaching one of her first PAIRS classes, Nicole wrote me to share the joy she felt helping a couple rediscover and reconnect with each other:
“One of the women in the class rarely shows emotion, but when we did ‘Emptying the Emotional Jug,’ she cried! Then, I saw her partner reach out to her and hug her, and I had to control myself, because I had tears in my own eyes. I love facilitating the classes, and I look forward to doing many more.”
Nicole’s death very much touched my own life. Beyond weeks of tears shed over her tragic loss, she died before I ever fully shared with her the enormous pride and gratitude I felt seeing her so ably embrace the opportunity to touch the lives of couples, and through them, their children.
She died before I had a chance to let her know how much it meant to me to see her channeling her wonderful talents and love to helping others while remaining a deeply devoted wife and graduate student.
She died before I told her how amazing she was as an instructor, how much she stood out from so many others, including many who were also wonderful facilitators.
From the time of Nicole’s death, I’ve much more intentionally shared my appreciations and gratitude with others, realizing each moment with her in mind that we never know when we or someone we love will reach our final day.
Nicole taught me, and I suspect many others, to truly embrace the gift of each day, each moment, the treasure of our lives and those with whom we share our lives.
A news story this morning again reminded us that two years after losing Nicole, there have been no arrests for her murder. While I hope and pray Nicole’s murderer will be brought to justice, I’m painfully aware that there is no justice that will return Nicole to her family, friends, colleagues, and so many others whose lives she would have surely touched through her own.
That is left to us. To be sure, as we remember Nicole Ganguzza and every other whose life has been senselessly stolen, to make the most of each day, to make a difference with our lives, to embrace love and the opportunities to bring more love into the world, to intentionally and actively treasure the gift and miracle of each person with whom we share our lives.
Once more, the sun has set. The butterflies have gone to sleep.
Seth Eisenberg is President and CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and leading providers of relationship skills training.