Say Her Name Please

I had a moment today, the kind that brings you to your knees, while I was at work. I am pretty sure I hid it well as no one asked me if I was ok. In truth, I physically stumbled as images tumbled through my mind. One connected to the next . . . going in and out of focus so quickly it made me feel nauseous. A sweet memory of a three year old Becca followed too quickly by the truth that she is dead. Nearly every thought a grieving mother has is punctuated by the truth of their child’s death.

When my daughter was three I rushed her to the doctor with a horrible rash around her mouth. I was frantic to find out what had caused it and if she was in serious danger! Had she eaten something poisonous? Burned herself somehow? Nothing made sense but I knew the circular red rash around her lips had to be examined. I remember crying in the waiting room as my toddler looked up at me with concern. Sweet girl . . . she was worried about me when she was the one who was sick! This made me cry even harder.

As the doctor examined her face he asked me questions. Were all the cabinets child proofed at home? Had she been left alone for any amount of time? Did we have a pet she might be allergic to? Was there a fall recently? None of those things were a factor in her condition. Then I remembered something. Relaxing a bit I shared it with the doctor.

“That explains it then,” he said, “your daughter has given herself a hickey around her mouth!”

The night before, Becca had been in the tub playing. Toys floated around her, and so did the cup I used to rinse her hair after I’d washed it. I’d often read, sitting next to the bathtub, while she played. At one point, I’d looked at her and she had the rinse cup suctioned onto her face, over her chin. I laughed at her and told her she was being silly! I also told her not to drink any of the bath water but I’m pretty sure she did.

Relief flooded me when I realized what had happened. After her nightly bath, I’d tuck her into bed under her Care Bear blanket, and say good night. The hickey must have darkened somehow, or I didn’t notice it in the dim light, either way . . . it wasn’t apparent until the next day. And then, of course, I panicked.

The image of my beautiful little girl with the creamy skin and red raspberry mouth and chin flashed into my mind today, out of nowhere. I don’t know what caused this memory to shake loose and float to the surface this afternoon. The happiness that was attached to the image, and the reminder of the relief I felt years ago hearing she was going to be alright, swerved into devastation when I remembered that not every situation turns out this way. I can no longer trust that “everything is going to be ok” because that last time . . . it wasn’t.

The days when I could see my children tucked snugly into bed, under my care, safe from the world are gone. No more can I kiss their boo-boos and make them all better. Kisses can’t fix some things. Moms should be able to make everything better, always. We know we can’t. And sadly, bereaved mothers have the proof.

Today’s experience of having the memory and following it to the end was a quick process. Bam, bam, and boom. She was three, beautiful, and full of giggling life. In seconds, she went from a toddler to my deceased daughter. I felt like a tennis ball, lofted into the air to be slammed back to the ground almost immediately. Soaring for a few exquisite seconds. What incredible seconds they were.

It’s like that though, as I said earlier, every memory is ended with the period of their passing. Thoughts all end the same. With identical punctuation. In grammar, a period is defined as being “placed at the end of a declarative sentence indicating a full stop”. My daughter wasn’t done writing the sentence the toddler in her had started.

And I wasn’t done reading her story.

When you think about Becca tonight, and I hope you do, please think of the giggling precocious little girl who smelled of sunshine and maple syrup. The small child who kept us all laughing. My daughter, the one who first taught me what true love really is.

Say her name for me . . . and smile.

 

Her Angel

I often wonder if bereaved mothers judge themselves more harshly than the average person does. We can be pretty ruthless when noticing our own behavior.

Are we mourning correctly? Too much? Or, the right amount? Not enough? Did we laugh too soon? More often than we should? Are we supposed to go on the vacation we already had planned? How long is it appropriate to wear black? Should we mention our child when no one else does? How do we know if we are grieving the loss of our child appropriately?

First let me say this: someone . . . somewhere, will have a nasty comment to make about how you are surviving in the aftermath of loss. The remarks usually start with “Did you see . . . “ or “How could she . . . “ or “Isn’t it time that you . . . “. The last comment is the one that really gets me because all too often it comes from someone who hasn’t buried one of their children. But this blog isn’t about the insensitivity or lack of knowledge that outsiders seem to bring to us. This piece of writing is about how severely we can judge ourselves.

Monday morning, Stacey and I were having breakfast before a meeting I had for an art show. Sitting in a local eatery, we were chatting about what was on the TV and probably making inappropriate comments about one thing or another, when she started to scroll through her emails.

“Oh”, she said,”here is one about the scholarship.”

She then proceeded to share with me the particulars of the letter. A memorial scholarship has been started in Mckenna’s honor and the first one was presented this year. A 2018 graduate, who is furthering her education in theatre and music was awarded the scholarship. Mckenna was quite gifted in music and acting and Stacey wanted to help further someone else’s dream because she can’t help Mckenna achieve her own.

Stacey said, multiple times, oh that’s lovely. Oh, how wonderful. I’m so happy. Which I am quite certain she was . . . but with the acknowledgement that this girl received the honor to further her dreams it was a reminder to Stacey that her daughter won’t. This scholarship only exists because Mckenna was killed and there is no way to get forget this fact. So, in the middle of the restaurant, Stacey started to cry. And then what did she do? What we all do. She apologized.

I don’t remember her exact words but they were something like: “I’m sorry. I think I’m doing good and holding it inside and then all of a sudden I’m crying.”

That statement holds so much heartache. There is the surface sadness, the sadness we expect when we’ve lost a child, but there is so much more mixed in there as well.

“I’m sorry.”

For what? You have no reason to have to apologize to anyone. Ever. Crying is expected. Tears are natural. Everyone cries. Please, don’t say you are sorry. Cry when you need to. No explanation is needed to anyone. Tears are a healing necessity on this path.

“I think I’m doing good and holding it inside and then all of a sudden I am crying.”

Holding it inside is “doing good”? By whose standards? In saying that holding it in is doing good it implies that letting it out is doing bad. Why is that bad? We’ve been conditioned to believe emotions are troublesome and shouldn’t be shared. Being sensitive is seen as a fault. Somehow, society has morphed into a space where we have to keep what is considered “extreme emotions” hidden away. I think this is a huge mistake. It removes us from one another.

But, back to how we judge ourselves in context to how we behave in grief.

Stacey and I have talked endlessly about nearly every aspect of mourning the loss of a child. We always agree that our culture sucks when it comes to both actively grieving and interacting with others who grieve. Both of us think part of our “mission” is to spread awareness about child loss and parental bereavement. When we see another mother crying . . . we understand why. We are compassionate. There is safe space. We can extend this to another, knowing it is what the mother needs, yet we can’t seem to offer it to ourselves. I know Stacey would sit with me for hours, if I wanted her to, so I wouldn’t be crying alone. I would do the same for her. And, there would be no reason for an apology or even the slightest thought that the other was failing. Yet, again, we don’t offer that kindness to ourselves.

It seems we can talk a good game, in theory, but it’s putting it in practice on the playing field where we falter. We still think we are putting others out when our grief overwhelms us and spills into the moment. How do we change societal views when we have trouble changing ourselves?

I guess it’s in small steps. One tear at a time. We didn’t learn to live without our child in one afternoon. Or in a year. Hell, it’s been a decade for me and I still don’t know how. We do the best we can in the smallest of moments.

All judgement has to stop. The judgement from “outsiders”. That which grieving moms have for each other at times, and especially the thoughts in which we hold ourselves up to an impossible yardstick. My way isn’t your way and vice versa. And it shouldn’t be.

Find your way without faulting yourself for the little moments of the journey. Let others find theirs. We are all heading in the same direction, like a spoke of a wheel, toward the center of spirit and healing. Be kind to each other.

Be kind to yourself.

Note: The featured image above is painting Stacey Hilton did of herself and her angel daughter, Mckenna. I’d like to thank her for allowing me to share her story and her pictures in my writing. It adds a dimension that I couldn’t share on my own.

 

 

Again?

Three days ago I posted a blog entry about happiness. I must have been having a good day. With this piece, you will see the path of grief for what it is . . . a non linear journey. As we travel along it’s path, we traipse back and forth over ground we’ve covered dozens of times. It can’t be helped. Nothing is ever healed completely.

Another blogger read my last piece, “When She Laughed”, and left me a comment on my site. She stated that she liked the fact that I was optimistic in what I’d written about happiness. In a reply, I was careful to state that I didn’t want her, or anyone else to think I started my grieving feeling this way. Instead, I started it mad and sad and angry and jealous and bitter. Very little happiness or optimism was involved. I am always fearful that someone who is struggling may think somehow I am doing it right and they are doing it wrong. I don’t ever want to add more weight to an already heavy existence.

Especially, the feeling of failure.

But when I wrote that reply, yesterday, I was still having a good day. It was upbeat and light. I still felt happy. So many things are looking positive in my day to day life. Both of my boys are happy and doing well. There is a move in my future. My art, my writing. I’ve made big decisions that I feel confident in. A handful of people have told me that they are thrilled to see my eyes sparkle again. “You’re so happy!” they’ve commented to me.

Then today dawned cold and rainy and grey. And, magical because of a wedding happening an ocean away. I am not a royal watcher. I didn’t wake up extra early, bake scones, brew tea, don a whimsical hat, and settle in to be a part of the history making nuptials. I honestly don’t care enough to go out of my way to watch an American become part of the British royal family.

Yet, when the highlights played across the screen this evening I watched a few short minutes of the affair. What stuck with me was not the dress or guests. It wasn’t the fact that an actress from the USA became a duchess in England with the words “I do”. Or that so much of what transpired was breaking from tradition. None of that. What caught me off guard was the look on the groom’s face as he watched the woman he loved draw closer to the altar. His face softened when he caught sight of her. He appeared to be utterly mesmerized and completely in love with his bride.

All I could think about is the fact that my daughter will never have the chance to be looked at in that manner. And it is fucking heartbreaking to me that this (and so many other experiences) were stolen from her by someone who was irresponsible. By someone who decided drinking and driving was his right. By a young man who thought a boozy Saturday night took precedence over the safety of anyone else.

As easy as that . . . the happiness evaporated. I felt as if a balloon had deflated because of the piercing truth of my daughter’s death. Because of the enormity of the years, and experiences, she’s lost.

I’m moving nearer the lake. Who the hell cares?? My art seems to be taking off, in some regards, but what’s the use in pursuing it? What I write . . . does it help me or anyone else? Who knows. Nothing major changed in my life today, yet, everything changed in my life today. Nothing else really matters because my child is dead.

The hopefulness skittered away as quickly, and completely, as a cloud passing over the sun and plunging the world into darkness. There and gone.

I guess I am trying to illustrate two points here:

Even after eleven years, and some very deep healing, I still experience the emotions I felt initially following Becca’s death. I am treading over ground I have covered many times before. No one is immune from these circular situations that spiral us back from where we’ve been. Expect it. It happens to all of us . . . no matter where we are in our grief journey.

We heal in little pieces. A stitch at a time. But, not all soul sutures are strong enough to withstand a violent blow. I am not going to chastise myself because I did a u-turn and headed back into a place that I’ve been so many times before. I have a right to be sad for my daughter’s losses. And, for my loss.

So, yes, I will have good days but I’ll also have shitty days. That’s my lot in life now. I imagine I will always vacillate between emotions and this will irritate some people. They want us to be better. To hurt less. And, as quickly as possible. That’s just not going to happen.

Feel happy when you can . . . and embrace the sadness when you can’t. These emotions are critical to healing. Sadness is necessary.

The featured image above is from this past Tuesday when Stacey and I were in Muskegon. A bunch of dandelions growing between a sidewalk and a wall. Joyfully yellow with their heads turned toward the sun. They are beautiful because they exist in a place that isn’t very hospitable to greenery. We exist in a condition that isn’t amenable to complete happiness.

But we can give it our best shot each day to find some happiness among the tears.

 

When She Laughed

As I was getting ready to sit down and write a blog my eyes swept across a picture I keep on a table in my bedroom. It’s a photograph of Becca and I laughing hysterically, while sitting next to each other, at a friend’s going away dinner. The moment is embedded so deep within my memories that I can feel her sitting to my right and telling me a wildly inappropriate joke. That daughter of mine was hilarious! She never failed to make us laugh!! And, we laughed a lot. I miss her laugh.

Being a single mom I couldn’t always afford everything we needed. So, once in a while, I had to let a bill slide. Generally it was the cable bill because it wasn’t a necessity. I remember one of those tv-less nights when we were all tired of board games and were just sitting around. Becca jumped up and started to act out scenes from her favorite movie, “Clueless”. The boys and I were entertained for at least an hour while she acted and re enacted the scene where one of the girls gets hit in the head with a shoe. Every time Becca fell to the floor the boys would squeal with laughter! Which just made her fall more theatrical the next time. After that we would often turn off the TV and shout out scenes for her to act for us. I would give anything to go back to those times. The four of us safe in the house and in love with each other and life.

I have a few questions for grieving moms. Do you remember the day the laughter stopped? Did it die with your child? Were you, too, sure that you would never laugh again? And, when you did, were you disgusted with yourself? Was there shame?? Is there still shame and guilt if you’ve found laughter again?

Laughter. Such a normal, and necessary, part of human existence. It comes from sensations of joy. Joy: delight, pleasure, happiness, glee. I am willing to bet that joy disappeared immediately from your emotional condition when your child died. As did laughter. For me it did. I never imagined myself laughing again. And . . . I didn’t for a very long time. Which was, among other things, very unfair to my surviving children. It was also unfair to me and her memory.

Everyone who knew Becca still remarks, to me, about her laugh. It came from her belly and was loud and she was unapologetic for the noise. Her laugh made me laugh. It’s true, it’s contagious. And a wonderfully beautiful thing!! We don’t laugh enough, us grieving moms, for various reasons.

How can I laugh when my child is dead?
There must be something wrong with me to be able to feel joy.
Do I love my child as much as I think I do because if I do I should be beyond repair and unable to find happiness without them.

The reasons we don’t laugh are as varied as each of us. Though there is some commonality in the experience, each of us must find a reason to laugh again.

The dictionary defines joy as follows: the emotion evoked by well being, success or good fortune or the prospect of getting what one desires. NONE of those pertain to our situation after child loss. Yet, we must come to a place where we can feel some of what is listed above. But why?

Our grandmothers had it right when they told us that laughter is the best medicine. There are so many physical benefits to a good chuckle. For one, our immune systems take a dive when we are thrust into bereavement. In that first year after my daughter was killed I had diarrhea continually. Constant headaches. Little sleep. My body was physically going through grief, too. A good laugh can help strengthen our immune system, release tension and anxiety, make us feel more positive and hopeful. Laughter can help diminish pain and protect us from the damage that stress from losing a child puts on our systems.

Laughter relaxes the body.
Laughter lightens the heaviness of anger. (and boy do we feel anger)
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins.
Laughter protects the heart. (our broken hearts need all the help we can find)
Laughter strengthens resilience.
Laughter shifts perspective.
Laughter bonds people to each other.

Stacey and I laugh. A lot. Probably more than we ever thought we would be laughing again. I think we are learning that though we find a reason to giggle . . . the sadness never goes away. It’s takes a while, but you can and hopefully will, find your way to laughter again. It is a necessary part of life and a large component to healing from the loss we’ve experienced.

If none of the reasons in the list above are enough for you to find your way to laughter again, how about this one:

Your child would want you to laugh.

Don’t you think so?

I know when it’s my time to join my daughter . . . my sons are going to be heartbroken. They will mourn my passing and grieve the loss of their mother. But I hope, with all of my heart, that they can remember how much we laughed and find a reason to laugh again. I want them to.

My daughter would say to me: laugh mom. Laugh because I laughed. Because I existed. For the boys. But mostly, for you. I want you to be happy.

I remember a story I heard about Jesus in the garden with the children in Heaven. He invites them all to join him in a walk. Gleefully, they all get up to follow him except for one little boy. Jesus asks the little boy why he isn’t coming along. The boy responds that his mother is crying and he is worried so he has to stay and look out for her.

Hearing that story made me think of how horrible it would be to have my daughter, with the entirety of heaven and space at her fingertips, won’t enjoy it because I am keeping her anchored to me. Anchored to me because of my sadness.

Don’t let your child’s legacy be one of continued and complete sorrow. What a horrible thing it would be for your life to end when your child’s did. It takes so incredibly long, and a lot of inner emotional work, to come to the place where you celebrate your child’s life with laughter. But, I know you can do it.

Find a reason to laugh today. I know our children rejoice when we do.

Shifting

The morning I woke up after having the dream was the closest to feeling completely happy I’ve felt in a long time. My daughter didn’t feel eleven years, or another world, away. Her essence clung to everything around me. The warmth of her body hung heavy in the air. It’s as if she had just walked out of the room! I had been in her presence.

Details of the dream were difficult to hold onto at any length. Flashes of images, throughout the day, helped bring them into clearer focus. Over a few hours, I stitched the pieces together into a complete picture. Even remembering I’d been incredulous, during the dream, at being with my daughter again!

A six year old piggy tailed Becca came rushing into the room to see me! A pink and purple puffy jacket squished in my arms as I picked her up into a hug. I held her tight as I kissed her flush face and she giggled! Her sticky little hands held my face and she kissed me!! Somewhere in the dream I asked myself how this could be happening. I pushed it aside and concentrated on the joy of having my child in my arms!

My mother started to pack up Becca’s clothing which signaled to me that my parents trusted me to take care of her again. I don’t know why my child was staying with them but I was elated that I was able to take her home with me. The little voice, that seemed only interested in relaying bad news, told me that this wasn’t real. Not to be too happy because it would all be over soon. As I watched my daughter rushing around gathering her toys I told it to go away. Seeing my daughter so happy, so alive, was amazing and I didn’t want it to end.

But, as dreams always do, it ended.

As I am apt to do, I spent the day ruminating over and picking apart everything that happened in my dream. Why had my parents been caring for my daughter? Why wasn’t she living with me? Becca had been so happy to see me, as if she’d not seen me in a while, how long had we been apart? I’d completely forgotten about her pink and purple jacket . . . why had she been wearing that particular coat? How had I forgotten about it? Why did I remember it now? Had Becca chosen to appear to me as a six year old, and if so, what was her reason? Honestly, I drive myself crazy some days trying to figure things out! I can’t help myself.

My mind whirling with dozens of question I told myself to stop. Out loud I said: “Just stop.”

None of that matters. What matters is that you spent joyous time with your child! You had a beautiful visit with your daughter. A visit that is all too rare. Don’t lose sight of what is important here. So I stopped dissecting dream moments to find hidden meaning and instead put my attention towards the incredible joy in the experience.

To me, though this realization may seem small, it is truly monumental when applied to the entire journey through the aftermath of child loss. The change in perspective from one vantage point to another means a world of difference to the viewer. It’s like looking at the day to appreciate what we can see instead of trying to find what we know is missing.

When our child dies we are plunged into deep mourning. There is not one piece of our world that has not been touched by our loss. To know this truth is to understand why we spend a very long time focusing on the child’s death and not necessarily their life. I don’t believe it is a conscious choice we make to do so. It’s all part of the coming to terms with and eventually accepting that our child has died.

Very simply: we need to celebrate their life instead of only mourning their death. Easier said than done . . . believe me. But, as the years pass, how she died isn’t the first thought that comes to mind. Notice in the first sentence of this paragraph I wrote the world “only” before mourning. We will always mourn. The tragic fact that our child died before us will forever bring a great sense of loss and sadness. However, the beauty in the fact they lived and the memories we carry will begin to present themselves more often. That’s when the shift in perception changes our lives.

This shift can be difficult. It was for me. Being happy felt like a betrayal to my daughter. Still does. Not thinking about the unfairness of her death made me feel as if I was saying her death was ok. I’m not. Her death isn’t ok. How she died, because of someone else’s decision, makes me rage. All the things she missed out on are unacceptable. Some days I won’t be able to think about anything else but how my daughter was cheated. Her twenty three years (and six weeks) held so much more than the split second in which she was killed, though.

For myself, I have to concentrate on how my girl lived, not how she died. Just as in my dream, I need to tell the voice to go away and let me concentrate on the years filled with our life. Often, I repeat it to myself many times a day. It’s easy to slip back into mourning. Expect to slip . . . a lot. I still do and I am in the twelfth year A.D. (After Death) and I expect it to continue. Just don’t get mired there. Our children don’t want our lives to be completely about their deaths.

The life our child lived, and lost, is both an anchor and a balloon for us. On the hardest days the weight of their absence will drag us to the bottom of the ocean. On the best ones, the memories we carry will be balloons that lift us toward the sky.

Let the shift in perception happen. Allow yourself to be lifted more often. Your child will smile with you. And, together you will fly!!

An added note: The photo above was taken by a very dear friend, Kristina, who makes it a priority to put my Becca’s name wherever she visits. This started with people writing Becca’s name in the sand for me and has blossomed into a tradition very near to my heart. I’m blessed to have many different photos of her name around the world. She’s been seen in places she’s never even been!!

 

 

When Time Wobbles

After work today, I met up with my friend, to have a quick lunch. I asked her if she wanted to go to a popular breakfast spot, because we’ve never been, and I thought it would be fun to go somewhere new. She said no because she’d only been there once, with her daughter, before she was killed. I completely understood. I thought to myself, it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt that way about going somewhere. I thought I’d crossed all those bridges over the past ten years. How wrong I was.

Have you ever been in a situation where time seems to slip, back and forth, over itself? So completely believable . . . you forget which day you are really in?

When my boys were little, they loved the pictures that you could tilt one way to see an image, then move it slightly the other way, for a completely different image. To them, it seemed like magic!! The picture changed, so quickly, from one to the other. This afternoon, time wobbled and I was in two different days at once.

As I pulled up to the light, getting ready to take a left into the parking lot, I realized I’d been here before. The snow, which had been falling steadily all day, melted away. In its place, there was a blanket of brightly colored leaves, spread over the concrete. The air around me grew warmer as the time of year clicked back to autumn . . . twenty five years ago.

I pulled my van into a parking space, but when I got out, I was looking at the silver Mazda I used to drive. I shook my head in an attempt to gather my senses. I was doing well . . . until the automatic doors swooshed open and the store was almost exactly as it had been the last time I was there. With a ten year old Becca. That moment tore the breath from my lungs. I should turn around and leave, I thought. But, I didn’t.

It was too much. Tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t leave, though. There is something about being in a place where your deceased child has been. Like part of them is still there . . . waiting for you to find it. I couldn’t leave because around every corner I could hear my little girl’s laugh. I could hear her sweet voice, float over the aisles, towards me. Chasing it, I found myself standing in front of the cereals, watching the shimmering memory of my daughter reach for her favorite one. Swinging herself around, her hair fanning out behind her, big eyes begged me to let her get it. I’m so glad I did.

I’m not sure how long I stood there, today. I was trying very hard not to cry. Someone walking past me, looked at me oddly, and I realized I was breathing as if I was in labor. Those short, open mouthed exhalations, that help to work through the pain of giving birth. I didn’t care how I looked. I was standing there, watching my daughter, alive again. It was beautiful heartache.

I walked up and down the aisles, searching for what I needed, and what I needed was my daughter. Just as in life . . . she was one step ahead of me. I caught a glimpse of her sun gold hair just past the pile of apples. I quickly made my way around the islands of fruit but she was already gone. Always moving, just out of my grasp.

I begged her: please wait please wait please wait . . .

I never caught her. I did see my ten year old daughter one more time, in the store, though. She was standing in front of the flowers and smiling at me. With her little hand, she waved, and was gone. Oh sweet girl . . . my heart aches for you, tonight.

I stood in the spot she had just been. I could still feel her. I thought, the last time I was here, I didn’t know the next time, my daughter would be dead. Who knew a simple trip to the grocery store, a quarter of a century ago, would hold such precious memories? We don’t know until much later.

I picked out a bouquet I knew she would love. Colorful, just like her.

I won’t go back to that store again. As I loaded my items onto the conveyor belt, to pay for them, I realized I’d picked up much more than material goods. Sweet memories, that I’d forgotten, were the most important things I could have found. I was reminded of her musical giggle. The scent of sunshine clung to her hair. Her beautiful eyes, looked up at me, full of perfect love.  A gap toothed smile told me she was happy.

She was amazing.

For a few precious minutes . . . my little girl was with me again. And I was complete.

Becca, Always

What would you do if it was your last day on earth? If you knew it was your last . . . would it change how you spend it? Does it make you stop, and think, when you realize one small change in your plans could set you on a path from which there was no return? Do the events of the future, lock into place, seconds before they happen? My mind is a jumble of unanswerable questions, tonight. A tight knot of facts and wishes and questions.

What was Becca doing, eleven years ago, at this time? This year, the date matches up with the actual day. This, somehow, makes the living her, feel closer. Achingly within my reach. Like time has folded, and she’s closer than ever. There is a tightness in my chest as the clock creeps closer to “the minute” and I know I have no way of reaching through and saving her.

Eleven years ago, I was working at a restaurant, waiting tables. I am unsure what time I started to feel the heaviness, that told me, life was going to change forever. I don’t know, at what point, Becca’s life turned toward her death. What was the hour that the drunk driver’s decisions turned him into my daughter’s path? Were they entwined from the very beginning? He, born in another country, became the deliverer of her death when he immigrated here? Did I put her, squarely in his path, when I decided not to release her to adoption? Why do I need to know??

The weekend, Becca was killed, she was supposed to go to my parents’ house in Cadillac. Her nana was going to help her set up her new laptop. Early in the day, that long ago Saturday, a Best Buy employee called my daughter to tell her the laptop wasn’t ready. Becca cancelled the plans to drive up north and decided to go out with her friends, instead. Was this the fateful turn?

My lovely, vibrant, beautiful daughter, stood in front of her bathroom mirror, and got herself ready for a night out. Knowing her, she probably blew a kiss or winked at her reflection, before flipping the light off. Did she stoop down and kiss her cat, Sarah, goodbye? Or, run her hand along her other cat, Blue’s, back? Did she shut the door with a, “I’ll see you when I get home!”
How can so many “lasts” happen, one after the other, and we not know what they are??

Ten o’clock, eleven years ago, is about the time the heaviness I was feeling, bloomed. I knew that whatever was going to happen, was going to be big, bigger than me. Was that the time the drunk driver, Joseph, decided to climb behind the wheel? Behind the wheel of a car, he wasn’t supposed to be driving, because he lost his license six weeks earlier from a second drunk driving arrest? Was this the moment my child’s life was slated to end? Is that why I felt what I did? Did my soul know I was going to lose her?

I spent the rest of my shift, restless. The drive home took too long. I remember kissing the boys good night, then going up to bed. Again, restless. Waiting for “it”? An hour, or so, later, my waiting ended.

The room was completely dark and my door was closed. I had fallen asleep, laying on my right side, facing away from the phone. Behind me, near the bottom of my bed, I felt someone sit down. A hand reached out and rubbed my leg. I felt it’s solidness and familiar touch. I lifted my head, looking for my daughter, but couldn’t see her. That was the moment, I knew with certainty, my Becca was dead. I knew, that when I rolled over, the light would be flashing on the base of the phone, signalling a message. The message would be that she was gone. My brain screamed at me to ignore the little red light. It couldn’t be real if I didn’t hear it. But, I had to know.

The words I heard were in my mother’s voice. Chosen words, to convey the gravity, but not the complete truth. “There’s been an accident . . . and it doesn’t look good.” Even now, I wonder about those words. Doesn’t look good? Violent death never “looks good”, does it? Did my mother already know that her granddaughter had been killed?

I called the police department to find out where a crash had occurred. When I had that information, I started to call Becca’s phone. Deep inside I knew she was gone . . . but I still tried to reach her. On the way to the crash site, I kept calling her . . . six, seven, eight . . .times. I am not sure how many times I waited for her to pick up before the line started to go directly to voicemail. I think that is when I started to cry. I often wonder, who was the person who had shut my daughter’s phone off, that night? Was it too hard for them to see “Momma” on the screen when they were investigating the crime scene? Or, did I just call her so much that I drained her battery in such a short time?

I’ve been talking to Becca all day, today. Laughing at some memories. Crying at most. Where she is, does she mark this date, too? Is she restless, knowing what I am going through, worried about me? Somewhere, in the same city I am in, is Joseph anxious, too? Or, does today pass over him with no more meaning than any other? Will he remember my beautiful daughter tomorrow? Does he wonder if I am ok, if her brothers are ok? Does he remember?

I’m exhausted. The grief is heavier than it’s been in a very long time. It’s pressing on my chest and making each breath painful. My eyes are swollen and my face is red. I feel a hundred years old. I’m glad it’s dark out . . . the sun was too bright. I’m envious of every mother who has her daughter next to her. I’m not strong today. I’m frail and aged and weak. My journey has stalled as I sit to mourn my daughter, tonight. I am allowed this time, this sacred space, to mark her passing.

Even though she is no longer here . . . it’s my duty, my honor, to be by her side, tonight. So, I will sit in the candle light and tell my baby girl that she’s not alone, this time. I will wail and I will scream.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and start walking again.