I didn’t start to feel anxious until my phone showed the time as 3:04. Swiping the home screen I hit the icon for messages and searched through the ones we’d exchanged. I wasn’t sure if I had said 3 or 3 ish. The latter being what I’d normally say for any meeting. But, this wasn’t just any meeting. I sent him a quick text that simply read: I hope you are still coming. Then, he was there.
The booth I was waiting in had very high backs. And, I’d sat close enough to the wall so I would be hidden until he was at the table. I don’t know why. Protection of some sort, I imagine. Angela, the owner of the restaurant and a very dear friend, motioned to me that he was there. I squared my shoulders, lifted my chin, and waited to meet the man who was responsible for my daughter’s death.
As he approached me I could tell he was nervous. His hand trembling, he reached out to shake mine. Our meeting was far too intimate a moment for that formal of a greeting. With ease, and knowing it was the right thing, I pulled him into a hug. His arms held me tight as he cried into my shoulder. My tears started to fall, too. That moment, those few minutes when we held each other and cried for the same beautiful girl, was the closing of a circle.
He slid into the seat across from me and seemed to struggle with his emotions, with his words. It hurt my heart. His pain was so palpable and raw. Just like mine. I reached across the wooden table and took both of his hands into mine and told him that it was going to be alright.
Tall and well dressed, he wasn’t what I had expected. I think he asked me if I recognized him from court and I told him no, not really. I explained that I had been put on a handful of different medications the day after the crash. And, that the intense agony of grief clouded much of those early months. But as he spoke to me, flashes of memory started to come back, and I could see the younger version of the man now in front of me. He had been thinner then, his head hanging low, hands cuffed behind him. A white shirt? Maybe khakis?
I think of my sons, now twenty four, and try to picture them in his situation. To me, they are still so young. Only having been children just a few years before. This man had been younger than my boys when this happened. And, my daughter had been younger than her brothers when she died. Two lives changed forever.
Our conversation threaded its way back and forth between the past and the present. I don’t think he trusted that I was there to truly extend forgiveness until about halfway through our hour together. I could see him visibly relax. His voice became steady. His hands stopped shaking. As I listened to him speak . . . he became a real person to me.
A man, who’d made a terrible decision that cost my daughter her life. A man who was living with this every single day since that night. Not because he had to, but, because he chooses to. I, as her mother, have to live with her absence every moment of every day, whether awake or asleep, the truth is there. The weight he is carrying is immense. Different than ours, but heavy just the same.
He told me that he knew he needed to talk to me. I told him I knew that, too. I’d had a feeling, for a very long time, that I might be the key to unlock healing for him. But, it had always felt arrogant when I’d said that to other people. Like I was some sort of miracle worker that was his only way to finding peace. I had kept telling myself “quit being so conceited”. Yet, the idea that I, as her momma, was the one person he needed forgiveness from kept crowding my thoughts. Personally, I think he would have found peace without me . . . it just might have taken longer.
So, there we sat. Two strangers bound to the same moment in time. I felt no anger. I felt no hate. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was grateful to be so near this person. This man who had been with my daughter when she took her last breath. Yes, he is responsible, but he is also a victim in this as well. As is his family.
The pain in his eyes was intense. When I looked into them I could see the trauma he carried within himself. But, I could also see my sons faces. I saw my daughter’s face, too. He’s someone’s child. He deserves compassion just as my children do. That is the thought that kept coming back to me: he deserves compassion and forgiveness . . . just like the rest of us.
He isn’t what I had expected. I wasn’t prepared for the person he is. The concept of him, that I have carried for a dozen years, isn’t factual. He told me that a friend of mine had visited him in jail just a few days after Becca died. She’d told him that she wanted him to know the beautiful girl he had killed. “Now, you have to live a life that honors her.” He told me that he never forgot that and that is what he has been trying to do. And, as I listened to him talk about his job, what he does to help others, and the way in which he lives his life . . . I know he is doing just that. I believe Becca is a motivating force in everything he does.
So many people were scared for me when I shared that I was going to meet Joseph. Most, I have learned, didn’t think it was a good idea. They can tell me this now that it’s been done. They were afraid for me and what I might find on the other side of the table. I was prepared for it to be good or bad. Either way, extending forgiveness and meeting this man was as much for me as for him.
As I share with those who care about me, how the meeting was . . . I can see relief in their faces when I say it was better than I could have ever hoped it to be. The only way it could have been better was if he had been able to bring Becca to the table with him. I am happy that the experience that changed all of our lives forever isn’t just a footnote in his story. I am grateful beyond measure that he is working her death into a positive theme in his life.
I believe our meeting is the beginning of another phase of healing for both of us, all of us. We each, he and I, live the same reality from different sides. Both of us carry something the other needs in order to deepen our understanding of what happened and how it’s changed us. And, where we must go from here to continue forward. I think the next part of this journey will be taken together. Our story has the capacity to help others, and heal ourselves. Good MUST come from the horror of my child’s death for it to settle in a place inside of my heart, gently.
I always knew my daughter was going to change the world for the better. Joseph is helping me realize that she still can. Even in her absence.
Thank you for that, Joseph.