It's funny how family works. You're either born into or marry into a group of people that you trust, depend on, fight with and for but, most of all, love. There's a bond that is organic but, grows stronger with time and every obstacle you overcome together.
When you lose a family member the severance of that bond stabs at your heart like a phantom pain similar to that of a severed limb. I experienced this pain several times in my life. The first time I remember is when my Grandma Pearl died. My grand parents lived next door to us so, when she got sick my sisters and I took turns sleeping in the bed with her so, we could alert our mother if she got worse. Late one night she whispered "'Get your mother" my sister ran out the front door, into the dark of night, to tap on my parents' bedroom window while I lay their scared to move. Five minutes felt like hours. When my mother arrived Grandma Pearl had gone to be with her Lord. Then there was the time my favorite sister betrayed me and her guilt told her to stop speaking to me. That's another story for another day. Then, again, when my sister, Irma Jean died. She was our oldest sister, the light above us and the earth beneath us.
I felt it again when my father died. Again, when my brother Charlie died, and when my mother died. I can remember every detail of the moment I heard the words that told me I would never be able to hug them or talk to them again.
One year after my mother died, I was still feeling the ache in every bone in my body and grappling with the fact that at 46, I had become an orphan. That is what you call a child whose parents are dead, right? It felt like the worse pain I could ever imagine until January 12, 2011. Here's what I remember. I woke up at the Ritz Carlton Battery Park. It was the last day of a four day corporate meeting that ended at noon, I grabbed a boxed lunch, which wasn't really a box but, instead was packed in a cute little royal blue lunch bag with the Ritz logo on it. I still have that bag. I don't know why. I took a train from Grand Central Station to New Haven, CT. I drove home, then immediatly went to my bedroom, opened my laptop and began to answer emails. The TV was on but, it was muted. The house phone rang. I ignored it. It rang again and I instinctively looked up at the TV screen. I saw the words "Washington, DC". I remember thinking "Ha, the President must be calling." I laughed to myself then continued with my emails. Then, at the same time, both the home phone and my cell phone rang. I looked at my cell and saw my sister-in-law's name. This was odd because she rarely, if ever, called me.
I remember touching the button on my phone and saying "Hello", I remember her saying that the US Embassy was trying to contact me. I remember that the home phone continued to ring. I. remember looking at the television screen and seeing the words "US Embassy". I remember asking why? I remember her saying "I don't know but, you need to call right now." I remember making the call. From that point the details get fuzzy. The memories become less detailed and more like flashes of dark and light. There were more phone calls, my kids coming home from school, some stupid people who posted on my kids' facebook pages before I had the chance to tell them their dad had died. I remember the sound of my son crying out every night because his little heart was broken in so many pieces and the rattling of those pieces was loudest at night so, he couldn't sleep. I remember newspaper and TV reporters calling, and almost daily news reports, everyone trying to find out what happened, a horrible blog written by Springfield, MA police officers, work friends who drove in a snow storm to be by my side, college friends who flew in and stayed at my house for a week, my nephew, Mark, shoveling my driveway, my oldest daughter living out of state and her Godmother buying her a ticket and flying her to me immediately, my sister, Jennifer, quitting her job. and moving across country to live with me, the body being flown from a foreign country, a funeral, a nasty court battle, my 13 year old being slandered, a court appointed child advocate being involved, horrible things being said on both sides, friends caught in the middle, people being forced to take sides, feelings of despair, heartbreak, anger and shock. I remember one friend, in particular, who became my lawyer, my savior and my voice of reason.
Most of all I remember that in all the turmoil I never took the time to grieve. I felt like I couldn't because I was too busy fighting. I felt like I was being attacked so, I had to protect my children, myself and fight for what I thought was right.
In hind sight none of it was right, not even me.
I remember my boss saying "take some extra time off" and me responding "No, I need my kids to see things back to normal so, they can know it's ok for them to get back to normal". I thought I needed to show that I was strong. I really should have let go and let the tears flow. I should have immediately found a therapist who was trained at helping families grieve and learning how to cope with that grief. Looking back, there were so many things that I could've done better or should've done differently. I have few regrets but, that is one.
Every battle leaves you with scars. We are all shaped by our experiences. Maybe that shape is formed by scar tissue