Be Brave

Today, I sent another message to the driver that killed my daughter. It’s been a little over a week since we last exchanged texts. Or has it been two? In the last response he sent me, in connection with meeting each other face to face, he said I could take my time in setting a date.

I sat with his words from a Sunday to a Tuesday. Either nine days . . . or sixteen. I guess the actual length of time doesn’t matter. What matters is why I sat passively as the days clicked past. My idleness wasn’t because I’d changed my mind in meeting him. Rather, I needed to digest what making contact with him meant. I had a lot to work through.

I’d purposefully decided to veer off course and take a new path. A path that will lead me into his world. One that will allow him to set foot in my life, welcomed. We will be creating a new reality, together. A new ending to a tragic story that could have had multiples tragedies along the way.

But, before I could do that, I had to come to terms with many ideas and feelings I’ve been carrying since January 21, 2017. Where I am now, though it’s a painful existence, it’s safe. There is a security in knowing that I feel a wrenching anguish, each day, concerning the absence of my only daughter. Today was sad, every day is sad, and tomorrow will be no different. There is an odd comfort in knowing this. A solid painful place is still solid.

So, I had to slow down and just “be” in the place I am for a little longer. For eleven years I have lived with him being the “drunk driver” in my head. He has been faceless for the entire time.  An undefined male image. As I’ve said before . . . he’s remained the twenty three year old he was when this all happened. He’s been a fleeting picture in my thoughts. One of Becca’s friends recently said to me “he isn’t a faceless monster any more”. And, indeed, he is not.

In reaching out to him I have set into motion an entirely different future for us both. It reminds me of the in between space I stood in on that cold highway wondering if it was my child who was dead. Moving from the life we all had together into the new one that didn’t include her. Waiting in the dark for the information that would catapult me into the “after”. Those precious moments from when I was told it was my Becca until someone I knew positively identified her at the crash scene. Minutes I could almost convince myself that I could stay put in the life I loved. Having someone who knew Becca, tell me that yes . . . it’s her, closed a door on our life together and forced me into a new room. It will forever be the point marking the before and the after.

Meeting him will be the same kind of moment. In a different way. I feel as if I will be exiting the dark room I’ve existed in for a little over a decade and entering another that will be much lighter. It is another before and after moment. These points are always life altering. And, I needed to rest and gain strength in order to face the shift. So, I lay on the plateau I had reached by connecting with him.

The years since her death have been heartbreaking. The path I’ve been on has some sharp ups and downs. But now I realize it’s been on a steady incline since the day she died. I never noticed this until right now. I have been ascending, all this time, to the upcoming meeting.

It’s been such a long climb up to this most recent ledge. I’ve found myself bare, bleeding, and bruised. Not sure I had enough strength to go any higher. Then, this level ground appeared and I decided I needed to rest in the “in between” for a little while. Remain in this new light pondering this new life. However, I know that I can not stay here indefinitely. It’s not the end destination for me. Or, for this story. Instead, it’s a place to take a respite from the gut wrenching reality of her being gone. And, it’s a new beginning.

I liked it here. In the in between. As I said . . . it is safely predictable. A segment of time bookended by the letter to him and meeting him. I know I can not set up household here. It’s not meant to be my new home. Being here is starting to feel wrong because it’s been too long. Not a place of deserved rest as it had initially, but a place to hide away from this big thing. Today, I finally sat up and acknowledged that my time here is done. No more inaction. The time has arrived to start climbing again.

So, in the spirit of moving toward healing, I messaged him again. I asked him what days and times work for our meeting. He said weekends. Weekend afternoons. I replied with “A Sunday”? He said yes.

There it is then. A more concrete plan. Not completely worked out . . . but forward movement.

Today I stepped firmly on the path that will lead to our meeting. I am glad I had a chance to rest because it’s made me feel strong enough to traverse this new section of my healing journey.

We will meet on a Sunday afternoon, which seems appropriate because Becca died on a Sunday, but I’m not sure of which one, yet.

Small steps give surety to my footing and balance to this journey.

Always, in memory of you my beautiful girl.

 

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This New Path

My life has had some profound shifts the past few weeks. For the better. Changes I set into motion . . . and not something that happened to me. I think that is an important distinction to acknowledge because not many life upheaving events have been by my doing. Instead, they’ve been in reaction to an event thrust upon me. The major changes in life can be easier to handle when we’ve made the choice to make the change.

Recently, I’ve written of communication with the man who killed my child eleven years ago. I have had just over a decade of time to react to my child’s untimely death. To wear down the edges of it so I’m not continually sliced open with its existence. To accept, a bit more each day, that it really happened and this is what my life is now. To accept that someone else’s choice forced a life altering reality into my own. I have had to react to Becca’s death, in a thousand different ways, over the course of the past eleven years.

But now, I have the chance to alter my life again by choosing what path I will take. Each day is full of healing possibilities for me. For every bereaved mom, I think. Sometimes we see them and can hold them close and learn from them. Other times, the air around us is heavy and the light is dim and we can’t see what possibilities lie at our feet.

Then there are the times when we see a path veering sideways off of the one we are walking on. I am sure the path has exposed itself to me before but I just wasn’t ready to see it. It’s always been there, I think, but my eyes couldn’t accept it as being a possibility. I think, when I did finally notice it, I might have tentatively set a foot onto it . . . leaving the safety of the uneven ground I knew so well . . . to peer into its shadowy depth. There were times that I didn’t think this new path was for me. No thank you. I’ll continue to travel the hazardous road of child loss instead of venturing into somewhere I don’t know. I know, by now, the monsters I will face on my journey. I don’t know what hides in the dark curves of the unknown terrain.

This new path exposed itself to me a few years ago. It didn’t seem so daunting, for once. It wasn’t as dark as before. But, I still wasn’t ready to leave the security of what I have known for a decade plus. I stopped, looked at the spot where one path met the other and decided to stay where I was for now. I knew it would present itself again, eventually. And that, one of these times, I would be ready to confidently set foot upon new earth and move forward into it.

This new path didn’t so much present itself to me as I was actively looking for it. I had been seeing it more frequently in the past few years so I knew it wouldn’t be too hard to find. I just had to gather a few things before I set forth upon it. An address. My boys blessing, or maybe just their acceptance. A willingness to face whatever was on the other side in the heart of the other person. The person who killed my Becca. Finally, one day, I had all of those things. I took the step.

I chose to move toward forgiveness and deeper healing rather than not explore what it could be for me. For him. For all of those who were impacted by my child’s death. I didn’t know exactly what I would face as I turned the corner that hid my former journey from me. I had bravely decided to see where this change in my journey would take me. I wasn’t sure. Would it open old wounds? Is there unknown anger lurking just under the surface of my conscious mind? I don’t think so. I am done being angry. The chance that something wonderful could come from forgiveness is worth the risk of changing course.

When I think of where I have been and where I am going I really visualize a path. A physical place with rocks and water and bushes that scratch me when I pass too close to them. Quicksand catching hold of my foot and anchoring me in place while I slowly sink. Sections that are ink black because the sun is blotted out and I can’t see any light. Anywhere. Others that are sweet with tall grass and clean air where I remember my child alive. Places where the horizon looks like a duplicate of what I just passed through and fought so hard to overcome.

Is this new path, I have chosen, a shortcut to the end? The end being complete healing? I don’t think there is complete healing. So probably not. But, it’s a chance for my healing to be wider as I veer from what I know. Will it lead me back to familiar ground? Probably. When I get back to the original path I will be more equipped to fight through the battles that are waiting for me.

I’ve chosen forgiveness and I believe it’s made me stronger.

Know The Truth

“I love watching all the amazing things that you and Stacey do. You’re both really living life and I’m proud of you.”

Another bereaved mom, that I know, sent this message to me recently. I thanked her for the kind words but inside I felt like a fraud. A few days later, I read them to Stacey, and remarked that people see us as an inspiration. Her reply: maybe you, but not me. I felt incredulous that she felt this way. But that’s the truth . . . we feel as if we are not the good that people say they see in us.

These feelings are more complex than simply feeling worthy of such praise. I feel as if the image I create is a smokescreen of half truths. That I share enough of the “good” to trick others into seeing me for more than what I am.

The past month has been a whirlwind of activity centering around the local art competition known as Artprize. Both Stacey and I had pieces that were accepted and shown to the public. Each of our entries has to do with the death of our child and where we are at this point in our healing journey. Much time was spent by each of us, standing beside our project, explaining its meaning to those who were kind enough to listen to our stories of loss. Truthfully, Stacey spent more time than I did and even when I was there I let her do some of the talking for me. It was just so hard to do . . . repeatedly.

Please, for every positive thing I do, know there is negative not far behind.

Being a part of Artprize allowed me the platform from which to speak about my Becca. There were so many people willing to listen that I put myself into a dark place and danced at the edge of depression, again. I’m happy it’s almost over.

We had the chance to open our home to other artists who needed a place to stay during the competition. Many of them traveled from far away just to be a part of this. The expenses of creating art, shipping art, traveling here . . . are high. When you add the cost of staying here, it’s often times undoable. We are lucky enough to be relatively close and have a very large house. Offering to host artists was really a no brainer. But, it came with a price. An emotional price.

Home is my sanctuary. Where I retreat when the outside world becomes too much for me to process. It’s a (mostly) controlled environment shutting out the uncontrollable. I am by no means a perfectionist. If I was I wouldn’t be living with five dogs and two cats. My things don’t need to be in order or in precise condition. Nothing needs to match. I just need my personal surroundings to be as stress free as possible and generally quiet. Calm. Or, not calm if I need to fall apart. It’s my soft safe place where I give the most vulnerable parts of myself, freedom.

The freedom to be ugly and undignified. Petty and jealous. Furious and damaging. Because . . . all of these emotions are part of this journey I am forced to take. When I blow up at something that shouldn’t elicit such a reaction, Stacey understands. And, that goes for her, too. It’s hard to control these feelings when someone else is in your space. When I’m the host, it’s up to me to make sure my guest has everything needed to insure a pleasant time. There were days, while we had our artist guests, that I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I’d spend time talking about my dead child, sharing her story over and over, only to have to pick up one of the artists from their venue and drive them home. Upon reaching home, I had to cook them dinner and spend the evening chatting about the day. Or, chat happily as one of them cooked dinner for us. Lovely to have a French man cooking our meal but there were many times I just wanted to climb into bed and cry myself to sleep. When my space isn’t my own, I tailor my behavior to those around me and this can be damaging to my well being. I was relieved when they left and the house was empty . . . except for us.

It was fun to tell people we were cool enough – interesting enough- bohemian enough to house artists but it was exhausting. I would love to say that the entire experience was wonderful from start to finish but, as I’ve explained, it wasn’t. Not because of them, mind you, but because of me. So, all the “how awesome!!” we got from people envious that we were living such a colorful life make me feel fraudulent. I often feel like a lie. A misconception to others. A hollow inspiration.

I’m not always living. It might seem that way but most days, in all honesty, I am just surviving.
Surviving in a world that doesn’t include my child is difficult on the best days. Imagine the days it’s harder. The days when I don’t give a fuck what’s happening outside of my bedroom door. What kind of role model am I then? I desperately need people to know that I am not always doing great things. I am not always hopeful and positive. I’m not squeezing every moment of joy out of this life.

I have my down days. Many bad days. Days when I am a bitch because I am jealous that you still have your child with you. Ones in which my anger rages because I have to talk about Becca in a past tense. A lump in my throat because I have to swallow what I really want to say. Hopelessness because I know I just can’t do one more day without my daughter by my side. Those days are as real as the good ones I share on social media. Please, please, know this.

I don’t want to mislead anyone in any way. It wouldn’t be fair to them or to me.

So, I’ll just keep bumbling along this uneven path my feet are on for as long as I am here. If I have given you the impression that “I’ve got this” . . . understand, I don’t.

I do my best. Accept my worst. And, keep moving through.

Connected

Yesterday I handed my cousin a small envelope with a handwritten note tucked inside. I’d agonized for a few days about what I was going to write to the man who killed my daughter. I’d made up my mind to contact him quite a while ago, but had difficulty finding his current address, or maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Either way, my cousin sent me a screenshot with the info I needed. The first thing I noticed was how old he is now.

His age was listed as 34. The same age my daughter would be today if she were alive. That number instantly drove home the amount of life my daughter has missed. I know it’s been eleven years but this made me think about the life lived in those years. I realized my image of the drunk driver was still that of the 23 year old young man I had screamed at while I gave my victim impact statement. For a moment, anger washed over me as I considered the fact his life went on. His years were filled with living. Would he have lines at the corner of his eyes? Maybe a gray hair? How much had he aged physically in just over a decade? I told myself that I had forgiven him. I kept telling myself I had forgiven him. Forgiveness, even after having been decided upon, is an ongoing process.

I hadn’t considered certain aspects of learning current information about him. And I am wondering, if I do see him face to face, how it will affect me. As I mentioned above, he will have aged, a gift Becca never received. It’s one thing to know something and another to experience it. Will he have a wedding ring on his finger? Was he lucky enough to find someone to love in the years since my child’s death? Is he a father now? Or, maybe he’s caring for his elderly mother. A gift, sadly, I will never receive from my daughter.

Sigh.

Back to the note I wrote to him.

“This is Diane. I am Becca’s mom. You and I are bound to the same beautiful soul for different reasons. The past eleven years have been full of intense pain and deep sorrow for me. I imagine they have been difficult for you, as well. With this letter I hope to find a small portion of closure in my child’s death. I need you to know I have forgiven you and hope you have a long and happy life. If you could see your way to meeting me I’d be incredibly grateful. If you can not, know that you can reach out to me at any time. Sincerely, Diane”

As I said, I’d worried about what I wanted to say to him, and how I was going to say it. I knew, at the very least, I had to extend forgiveness within the sentences, in case he didn’t want to meet me face to face. This was most important to me. I want to see him, in person, but I may not get to and that

has to be acceptable for me. But, I’m not sure of what to expect if I do meet with him.

A friend of mine, playing devil’s advocate, asked me what I would do if he told me “I don’t need your forgiveness”. I thought about her question and decided that I would be ok with that. I would be sad that we couldn’t have a conversation. I would be content in that I did I what I needed to do in order to further my own healing. Forgiveness is a selfish act.

I had been at work on Saturday when the words just presented themselves to me. I left the deli counter and sat down with a pencil and let my thoughts spill onto the paper. The words came from deep within my soul and (I thought) were perfect to convey what I wanted to say.

So, I tried to neatly write the words onto unlined paper and didn’t do so well. My hands were shaky and some of the letters hard to make out. I considered rewriting it, placing lined paper beneath the top sheet, but decided not to. Why? Because I was full of emotion and writing a letter like that might not be meant to be a calm, neat experience. I folded it up and inserted it into the envelope. Done. Something I had been thinking of doing for a while was accomplished. Now, it’s out of my hands.

It’s Monday. The letter was mailed on Saturday., by my cousin, because I wasn’t sure I could drop it into a mailbox. Will it be delivered today? If so, will he open it or lay it in an out of way place because he knows it’s from the mother of the young woman he killed? How long until he lifts the flap of the small envelope and reads the message within?

I hope he opens it as soon as he receives it. I hope the words I wrote for him land softly on his heart. And, I hope the seed for meeting me is planted in his thoughts . . . even if it takes a while for it to bloom.

I’ll be waiting.

.

Create Healing With Forgiveness

Late last year I decided to make another piece of art to put into “the world’s largest art competition” Artprize. I started to work on it just after the first of the year. This project was going to be much larger than the one I entered in 2015. That painting was one that depicted my boys and I holding a deceased Becca. I tried to show what it was like to have to say goodbye. It was much smaller than this year’s but conveyed much of the anguish and pain I felt in having one of my children die. Having to accept that my daughter is no longer here. It was a very difficult piece to work on, and in truth, took many years to finish.

This year’s entry “Touching Heaven” shows how far I have come in my healing process. It’s huge in size standing 10ft tall by 5ft across! Three panels layered with spackle, wire, papier mache, acrylic paint, stained glass, glitter, and feathers. The angel, I created, is my Becca in heaven. Look how far I’ve come!

When my boys move somewhere new I always ask them to send me a picture of their rooms. It helps me to envision them in their surroundings. Which makes me feel calmer about them being far away. A little trick I play with myself. With this piece of art I am doing the same with my Becca. In the three years, between the projects, I have accepted more fully her absence. I am ready to visualize her somewhere else. Away from me. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t like it, but I know it is the reality of things.

Today is the official start of the competition. My piece has been hanging since Sunday and I have gotten much positive feedback from those who know me. In the next few weeks, I’ll be standing by my angel talking with people, and I hope to get a positive response.

For those who don’t know, I have been looking for the drunk driver that killed my daughter, the man who ended her life here and sent her to heaven. This driver ENDED MY CHILD’S LIFE and I have a need to look into his eyes. Being born, and dying, are the two greatest occurrences in one’s life. I was there for one and, tragically, he was there for the other.

I awoke this morning to a message from my cousin, Tammy. She’d sent a few screenshots from some records she’d located. Her words were simple: I think I found him. And, she has. The 23 yr old man, that killed my 23 yr old daughter, is now a 35 yr old living not far from where I work. Everyday. I have his current address saved on my phone. All of the energy I had upon waking up instantly left me. I’ve been waiting for this information for a while and now that I had it, did I really want it? I mean . . . he’s 35. Becca will never be 35. He has a home. Becca was robbed of her future. He’s lived the eleven years that she lost. Could I really contact him? Should I?

I am pretty open about who I am and what I feel. I’ve shared about my desire to meet him. A few people have told me that they are surprised I want to contact this man. They would understand, they said, if I was doing so to scream at him. But that is not what I want. My soul needs to extend forgiveness to his soul. I have tried to explain to these people why I feel compelled to share forgiveness with him.

I don’t believe he set out, that long ago night, to hurt anyone . . . or to kill my Becca. Though his mother behaved reprehensibly, after the crash, I can not believe her wish was for her son to grow up and end someone’s life. His crime is categorized as an “unintentional death” which I now understand. If he had searched out my daughter, hunted her and preyed upon her, then I am not sure there would be any forgiveness in my heart. This isn’t the case, though.

If the circumstances had been different and it had been my child driving . . . I wouldn’t stop loving them. I would do everything in my power to help them overcome the emotional toll this would undoubtedly take. I’d be there every step of the way to help them put their life back together and find happiness in every day. How can I not want this for another mother’s child?

Becca’s life never had the chance to blossom to its full potential. Her chance to change the world and make it a better place was cruelly snatched away from her in a second. The lives she might have helped, especially the children she should have had the chance to teach, are less rich without her having touched them. She would have done great things. Don’t we all think this about our children? And, doesn’t every single one of us have the potential to do world changing things? Including this man. I don’t want the fact that the event he caused, that killed my Becca, stops him from being all that he can be in this life. One life, her life, was ended in tragedy. I don’t want two to end the same way.

So, here I sit writing this blog piece. The words coming easily as I put thought to the screen. Oddly, I’ve started three handwritten letters to him and can’t seem to put together the right words. Do I tell him I forgive him straight off . . . so in case he doesn’t want to meet me he at least knows? What should my first sentence be? How do I introduce myself? Do I put my name on the outside of the envelope? Or will that stop him from even opening it? Will he even meet with me? Will my appearance in his life cause him anger about an event he’s trying to forget? There is no way to know any of these answers. I must take the chance and extend the possibility to him. I sincerely hope he contacts me in return.

If I do meet him face to face and he has no desire to be forgiven by me . . . that is alright. Maybe he just doesn’t understand that his soul needs it. That my soul needs it. That Becca’s soul will have greater peace because of our meeting. I will have a sense of closure around the person who ended her life. I believe this is necessary for me to keep healing. Right now he is merely a foggy image, standing in the courtroom, as I screamed at him to look at Becca’s picture. I need his image to become more solid in my mind. I need it to be real.

Whether you agree, or disagree, with my attempt to contact him I thank you for reading this piece of writing. I am scared. Terrified. Anxious. But, most of all, hopeful.

I am hopeful that our meeting will somehow bring good to the world.

 

My Son

Saturday, I drove halfway across the state of Michigan, to pick up my son. Two weeks ago he was nearly killed in a car crash. I needed to have him with me so I could reach over and touch him to prove to myself that he was still alive. The momma soul in my yearned to care for him during this healing period. Burning in my heart is the need to nurture my child.

The weekend of the crash I rushed across the state after receiving the news in a phone call. When I reached the hospital, I parked my car crookedly, and sprinted toward the doors. My other son, his twin brother, met me in the lobby to walk me up to his brother’s room. Surprisingly, their father trailed right behind him. My son wanted to prepare me for what I was going to see when I got to the room. I immediately started to cry.

My twins father and I are no longer together. We don’t get along. Years of crap have built a wall that is high. And, it is much stronger than I thought, because I was hoping the near death of our child would break it down. It didn’t. He was icilly cordial to me the entire time. The last day I was at the hospital I asked him if his cell number was the same, he replied yes. Good, I thought, I can get updates and be contacted if something goes wrong.

The next day, I started to message him, asking when our son would be released from the hospital. No answer. Throughout the day I both called and messaged him at least a dozen times. With every inquiry that went unanswered the scenarios of what must be happening grew darker in my thoughts. Nearly eight hours had passed from the initial text to my first communication with someone in that household. Eight hours of wondering if my son had relapsed. Had the brain bleed started to grow larger? Did the MRI not catch a fracture in his neck and he moved into paralysis? By the time I talked to my other son I was frantic. I was sure that his brother was dying and that I wouldn’t make it over to say goodbye. My children die. A slow spiral had started, gaining speed downward, with each hour that ticked past. I found myself in a full blown PTSD episode.

With my son’s phone call I finally got some answers about his brother. I was anxious and highly stressed and not handling anything very well. I explained to my son that I’d been trying to contact his father all day long and didn’t get one response. He informed me that his brother was home and resting comfortably and all was as well as it could be. I asked if I could come to visit my hurt son and I was told that my visit with my child could be from 10 to 2 the next day.

Fueled by PTSD adrenaline I became mad and asked why I was being ‘granted’ four hours. He’s my child, too. No, I said, that isn’t good enough. I needed to see my son and I would spend as much time with him as I wanted. Here, I should state that my boys are staying with their father. The next phone call, just a few minutes later, my son told me that my hours had been shortened from noon to 2. To which, naturally, I blew up. As you might expect things disintegrated from there. The third phone call informed me that I had “lost my privileges” because I was being difficult and that I could Skype or Facetime with my injured son.

“Are you fucking kidding me!?” I screamed to my son.
Everyone, but me, was able to spend time with him. His father, brother, stepmom, and aunt were all at the house. But somehow keeping his mom away seemed a fair idea. Bullshit. I was told I was being unreasonable. Playing the victim when I wasn’t the one that had gotten hurt. I needed to respect their father’s rules for his house. (This is where it really hit me that the wall between us is never coming down). I was told that I “did it to myself” and I had to accept the consequences. A lot of words flew out of my uncensored mouth. Words crafted in fear, terror. Some of them were unkind and accusatory. My son told me that their father had blocked my number years ago so he got none of my inquiries. Seriously, I thought, who the hell does that? Who can be so cruel?

But, I had to accept not seeing my son. What choice did I have? I was told coming to the house was going to cause a domestic problem with police and did I really want to add that to what was already going on? My mind was on fire with anger and the pain from not being listened to.”I caused this??” I yelled at my son. “This is fair?? Do you understand what I am going through over here? And how it’s exacerbated by hours of no contact with anyone there?” That “the momma, who’s already lost a child, needs to see him to calm her fears.”

Didn’t matter. None of it mattered. A few days later I was able to more calmly convey to my son, the intermediary between his parents, why I was reacting the way I was. Still didn’t change my being able to visit but my son and I took the time to understand each other. Then, this past Saturday, my injured son said he wanted to come stay with me for a bit. We tried to arrange a time.

Last summer my boys went to Europe. The trip had no definite end date. So, the boys agreed to spend the night with me to have dinner and visit. While we were eating dinner I was told that they wouldn’t be able to spend the night after all as their father had planned a birthday party for their stepmother. He wanted them to be there. I tried not to be mad. Notice I said tried. After a quick dinner I kissed them both goodbye and went to bed and cried. This almost happened again on Saturday. In trying to coordinate a time to pick my son up he asked me “could it be a little later . . . today is McKenna’s birthday”. McKenna is their little sister. For fuck’s sake.

Not only have I had the terror of nearly losing another child to deal with, but, I’ve been given the feeling of not mattering. Of being a second thought. Of being a nuisance. Bothersome. Unimportant. Part of me feels as if my sons have turned away from me. I feel cheated out of helping to care for my injured boy. That I am viewed as unhinged and untrustworthy.

Invisible and easy to forget.

No longer needed.

That is a lot for a bereaved mother to shoulder. Having one child killed, another who seems to view me as their father does and nearly losing another, the weight of emotions was enough to send me far down into the black hole. The descent was quick because the spiral is greased with everyday fears, feelings of guilt, loneliness. Oiled with the absence of my daughter. It’s a lightning fast ride to the bottom. I spent almost fourteen days at the bottom this time. And, I was left there alone. Saturday I crawled up out of the abyss, got into my van, and drove east to get my child.

Eleven years have passed since I lost my Becca. This crash, that almost took my son’s life, brought me right back to that day over a decade ago. The treatment I received after anchored me in the dark. Picking up my son was like the sun rising after a very long night.

PTSD is difficult to deal with. You never know what is going to trigger you. Or how long it will manifest. Surround yourself with others who understand and want to work with you, not against you. Find people who hand you a pair of wings when they see you in trouble . . . not attach a ball and chain around your ankle.

Most of all: believe you will rise again.

Because you will.

Again.

A few weeks ago one of my twin sons, Gabriel, came to visit me in the town to which I’d recently moved. I was so excited when he told me he was going to visit! There were two “firsts” I was looking forward to. One, he hadn’t seen the historic home we’d moved into and I was eager to show it to him. Two, he was bringing a young lady he’d been dating for a while and this was going to be our first meeting. The visit was everything I had expected . . . and more!

Since losing my daughter it’s been a struggle to feel truly happy. I have had moments of happiness, which have grown longer and larger, but the day he spent with me a few Sundays ago really made me feel confident that life was going to be ok. I told him this, too. Always with the qualifier “without your sister here” so as not sound like I’m over her passing. As I said those words to him, “I’m really as happy as I can be” . . . I meant them. Both of my sons were doing well. Working. Living. Loving. What else can a mother want? I have it all. (except for my daughter).

I felt certain that the hardest part of life was behind us. I was satisfied this was the truth. Then, on a beautifully sunny Saturday, lightning struck twice. It was as if some invisible hand had parted the clouds, picked me up by the back of my shirt, and dropped me right back into the day my daughter was killed.

I was at work when I received a phone call that began with these few words:

“Mom, listen to me . . . I want you to know he’s alive.”

I started to spin out of control quickly because my son, Matthew, kept saying:

“MOM! MOM! He’s alive . . . calm down . . . Mom, I need you to calm down . . .”

I flew out of the bathroom, already running and telling anyone that would listen, I had to leave NOW. Standing in the back warehouse, with all three of my bosses looking at me, I was asking my son if his twin brother was in a coma. I was yelling. I was spinning around, in place, with one hand across my forehead in disbelief. How could this be happening. Again. I’ve already lost one child . . . didn’t this mean the chance of losing another was nearly zero? Wasn’t closing down the life of your child like a vaccination of sorts?

What I remember hearing in that first conversation with my son was that his brother had been in a bad crash. He told me where Gabriel was: a hospital in Flint. Flint is 113.6 miles from my job. Travel time is 1 hour and 39 minutes. At that moment it might as well have been half way across the world. They were too far away. I was frantic

I have recollection of Matthew telling me there was no brain damage. Holy shit, I thought, this is really bad. There didn’t seem to be any paralysis, either. Holy fuck, how bad is it when they are checking for those things? I must have asked my son if he was telling me everything, or if he was telling me the truth, because he kept saying:

“I promise, Mom, I’m not holding anything back. Please, don’t rush here, I need you to drive safely. He’s ok.”

I didn’t believe him. I was CERTAIN he was holding the most devastating information back because he didn’t want me to speed and have my own crash. Was he downplaying the truth of his brother’s condition so I wouldn’t drive like a maniac to get there? Yes! My mind told me. YES!!! It screamed at me! “YOUR CHILDREN DIE!!” I kept shaking my head as my son tried to calm me, console me, make me believe his brother was, indeed, alive.

“I need you to be ok, Mom!! Promise me you won’t speed, promise me you’ll be careful!”

All I kept saying was, “I have to leave . . . I have to go . . . I have to get there now . . . I know you aren’t telling me the truth . . .”

I was in my car and on the street within seconds. I didn’t know what to do first. I needed air in my tires but I couldn’t waste the time getting them filled – there wasn’t enough gas in my van yet it would take too long to fill it up – how far could I get on what there was . . .

I think I drove in circles in the parking lot, trying to figure out what I needed to do first, because I had to keep moving. I had to be doing something. I was literally spinning my tires in panic.

Fortunately, a coworker messaged me and told me she didn’t want me going alone. I had it in my head that I just needed to get on the highway and get the hell across the state. She told me that Joe, a high school friend of the boys, would go with me. I almost ignored her message, turning left toward the highway instead of turning right and going back to work. I didn’t and having Joe with me for the long ride helped.

As we drove toward the highway I filled him in on what little I knew. Something inside of me told me that I had to hold it together for Joe. I was the adult, even though Joe is 24, and I had to appear calm for him. As I explained Gabe’s condition (as I knew it to be) I tried to hold back the tears. Why was I able to remain calm for someone else but not myself?

In between conversations with Joe, about mundane things, horrible thoughts were racing through my mind.

Would my child have a cognitive disability. I know Matthew said no brain damage but he could be just saying that. Gabriel is sarcastic and fast witted and intelligent. In a lot of ways, he is my most difficult child, always testing the boundaries and not caring about consequences. He’s thoughtful and philosophical and questions everything. Full of angst. At times, it seems, he carries the sadness of generations that have come before him. An artist’s soul with a deep well of emotions. What would I do if I had to look into his beautiful eyes and know he’s lost part of who he was? Would he be aware that he had been permanently changed? Somewhere deep in his mind would he know he wasn’t fully himself anymore? Would this realization sadden him? Or was there a chance that he might never know who he was before this crash?

These thoughts rushed in but I kept pushing them back so I could concentrate on the highway.

Oh my god. What if he is hurt badly enough that he spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair? I know Matthew told me there wasn’t that kind of damage but my son knows me well enough to be concerned that I would drive well over the speed limit to get to them. What if Gabriel could no longer use his legs? Both boys played soccer in high school and continue to play to this day. Gabriel recently discovered a love for disc golf. Are the courses wheelchair accessible? His arms. Paralysis could include his arms! How in the world would he feel if he could no longer run or kick or shoot a baskeball?

Which would be better? A cognitive issue, or a physical one? Would one be easier to overcome than the other? How would Gabriel approach the loss of either one? OR BOTH?? Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.What the fuck!! Why did the miles seem endless as I sped toward the east side of the state?! I needed to touch my child. Matthew needed me there, too. I am the mom. I am supposed to make everything right. No matter their age . . . children still look to their parents for guidance. I had to get there and DO.

I was told the car flipped between 40 and 50 mph. No airbags deployed. Unsure of seat belts. The crash happened in a construction zone and wasn’t found for a few hours. A female officer knocked on their father’s door to ask if they knew a Gabriel Kelly. She said there was a crash and he was in serious condition. I was told by the boys’ stepmother that Matthew anguished over what to say when he called me. He had to give me the news yet keep me calm enough so that I didn’t freak out (which I did anyway) and hurt myself getting there. Then Matthew had to sit next to his twin brother’s bed, while doctors and nurses tended to him, all the while wondering if he’d just lost another sibling. Trying to remain calm as old wounds were opened and blood started to spill. Angry at his brother but thrilled he was alive. Matthew had also been placed in a space from eleven years ago . . . instantaneously.

On a beautiful late summer day, the kind that can only be found in Michigan, Matthew and I were standing on that cold gray highway in January again.This time it wasn’t me trying to protect him, but instead, him attempting to shelter me. Side by side, we sat at the foot of Gabe’s bed, and just looked at him. Grateful when he surfaced out of the drug induced sleep long enough to say something. Crying when he would moan from the pain. Matthew told me how much it hurt to see his brother this way. That he wished he could take the pain away. I wished I could take the pain from both of them into myself.

A few days after the crash, when my mind settled down enough to move from the emergency state, I thought: Damn it! That is what I get for saying I was happy. For thinking life was going to be good. To be openly optimistic and hopeful. Life said: Yeah? Watch this. Then it proceeded to recrumble the ground beneath my feet. Why? Why did another tragedy have to happen? I’ve had enough! My family has had enough. In the past I’ve half joked around about having been Hitler in my previous life because I was getting a good amount of karmic payback in this one, it seemed. There should be a quota for the number of children on mother can lose. Can we ink that in somewhere? Who do I need to talk to?

My son is alive. We have a future together . . . all three of us. Matthew will heal from the terror and pain he’s been feeling for the past week. He’ll be carefree and optimistic and full of joy again. His playful nature will resurface when he can put the weight of this event down. Gabriel’s healing will be slow but eventually he will be back to the sarcastic funny kid we know. And, out walking the disc golf course “meditating” as he calls it.

Lightning does strike twice in the same place. I have no immunity because my daughter was killed. Any confidence I had that my two boys would be safe because we’ve already faced this is completely gone. There are no rules in child loss. We must not take any part of being a parent for granted. I don’t think life came after me because I was too smug or cocky. Well, most of me doesn’t. But it’s going to take a very long time until I feel “safe” concerning my children again.

Gabriel will be coming to stay with me for a while soon. I will be able to mother him and help him heal. I can hold his hand and tell him how much I love him. We can talk about what he’s feeling. He can tell me about his sister being at the crash, and watching over him, more completely.

Please, for me, if you are able . . . go hug your children.

You never know when a storm might be brewing.