by Clellie Allen
WAKE FOREST — Family and a multitude of friends, students and co-workers of Michelle Simone Barlow gathered together April 1 in Binkley Chapel on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to, as one speaker said, "celebrate Michelle’s life, grieve her loss, but most of all, remember this day, that those who are in Jesus Christ ... though their life on this earth has come to an end ... that Christ will raise them up."
Michelle was killed the afternoon of March 22, when the driver of a dump truck on Capital Boulevard failed to reduce speed and ran into the back of Michelle’s vehicle, crushing it into the back of the tractor trailer in front of her.
An instructor with Wake Forest High School, she was returning from a teacher’s workshop in Cary. She was 42.
While family members acknowledged that reality, they chose instead to focus their memories on the happy times they had as family, the impact Michelle had on others and their belief that they will see her again.
"She is now in the arms of Christ," her husband Michael said.
Michelle’s mother, Lynn Simone, was the first family member to share her memories. She talked about how Michelle was born a week early, so quickly, that her husband, who had dropped her off at the hospital before taking their older child to family just 15 minutes away, was not able to get back to the hospital before Michelle was born. "That was our Michelle," Lynn said. "She was always full steam ahead ... a force to be reckoned with."
Lynn said that it seemed like Michelle’s future as a teacher was evident from toddlerhood.
"She talked in sentences. ... Michelle taught everyone, everything. She was famous for visiting the neighbors and dispersing all the pertinent information," she recalled to quiet laughter.
"She had that famous Italian temperament," she said. "Strong willed. ... Her teenage years were challenging, and never, ever boring."
It was while she was a young teen that she met her future husband.
"She was 14, I was 15," Michael said. "We had a long history together."
Lynn called their marriage, "A match made in heaven. Michael was the calm to her storm. And she was his spark plug," she said.
Michelle’s only sibling, an older brother, also spoke.
"Family was everything to Michelle," Tony said, recalling they had a tight bond as children that carried over into their adult years.
"Many of you knew her as Michelle, Mrs. Barlow or Ma. I always used to call her ‘kid,’" he said. "That was part of a language we had between us. Part of that connection.
"She was strong. Feisty. Stood up for her family, her friends, what she believed in. She wouldn’t be intimidated," he said.
"She cared about everyone and everything. Whether you were a big smelly dog or a big smelly teenager, she’d sit you down with a big bowl of food and talk to you and be there for you. Do her best to get you what you need."
Michael echoed many of those same sentiments, but he also addressed what he called the "other person not present" — the driver of the dump truck, Donald Wayne Caulder Jr.
"[He] would have (otherwise) never met Michelle ... But it was that day’s meeting on Capital Boulevard that has impacted thousands of lives," Michael said.
"It left a family fractured. Left school systems in two states mourning loss ... and has thousands of people asking, ‘How could this happen? Why did this happen.’"
At the time of the wreck, Michael was returning home from Virginia. He knew Michelle was driving back from Cary and began to see alerts on his phone about the wreck. After trying unsuccessfully to reach his wife, he asked a friend to go to the scene. Michael then received the news directly from law enforcement on the scene.
Putting his personal grief aside, Michael addressed Caulder directly.
"What I can say with complete honesty and sincerity, from the bottom of my heart, is I forgive you. My children forgive you. Our family forgives you, Donald. Make no mistake. We do not take this loss of someone so precious lightly in any way. We know the magnitude of our pain. But we also know something else. We know the truth of what forgiveness really is.
"You are loved and you are forgiven," he said.
Michelle is survived by her husband, Michael, her two children, Rhett and Vanessa, her parents Donald and Lynn Simone, and her brother Anthony Simone and his family.
—Todd Allen contributed to this report.