Original Post Date: October, 2018 – We are into the autumn slide towards the Holidays and the pace of this time can always catch me off-guard. The gems of the season can be lost in the shuffle of schedules and events. I fear this will be compounded this year as I enter this time having just come off a three-week vacation and a 25-year college reunion. My head is already swimming and spinning. Vacations create dreams, reunions spark motivation, work stresses balance, and my focus in life shifts, The weather shifts and so do I. For me, the slide is also towards November 30th- a bad day in the history of my family.
The Thanksgiving tradition is far more meaningful and far less painful these days. My family and family of choice now have a sacred, running tradition that brings me much joy and love. We choose to engage this time of year with intention and my experience of this has been transformational. I actually ENJOY this time of the year. That was not always the case. It gets dark. For many years, so did I- and not without reason.
In the immediate years after the accident it was hard to hold my shit together around December 1st- and because of the support I have- I never really felt like I needed to. For our family, that expression, “Oh, that is a train wreck…” has far more scarring and jarring meaning. A couple of weekends ago my Catholic University classmates (#cua1993) and buddies have heard and told the stories that make us the adults we have become. We all have matured, so there was much less puffery, much more connecting. I enjoyed myself and I enjoyed them.
For those who asked and listened, they also heard about me. The real me. The me that struggles with depression, the me that fears failure (despite all the overwhelming evidence pointing to my success and success potential) and the me that laughs while grieving.
What is written below shows a bit of how I’ve grown and how life experiences over time have shaped me. The intersection of pain and life come to clear focus during this Holiday season. Thankfully today, I can say so too is the joy of this season. Susan and the accident reminded me that often when we are broken and most pained, we are also most aware of the love in our lives.
Day 2 Reflections on Texas, nearing the 4th anniversary of the tragedy – Posted February, 2006 – Event day, November 30, 2002.
When I answered the phone, I already knew the conversation was not going to be easy. It was Susan. By now I had been so camped out by the phone most of the family would wait for me to answer it. They knew that Susan would ask for me anyway.
Twenty four hours earlier I had dumped her on a plane. With her mom and my sister, after a sleepless night and an attempt earlier to get from the East Coast to Texas- she was on her way to piece back together her shattered life.
What do you say to a mother who was visiting her dying daughter? Her dad and son already dead, now she is calling with the status of Jennifer.
“Hello…?” I said, not knowing what to expect.
“Randy, it’s Susan.” We knew. I knew. The shit had gotten worse. Earlier when I dropped Susan, Paulette, and her mom off for their flight we held hope. Susan had talked to her friends at the hospital. They held the phone to Jennifer’s ears as Susan said hello. “They are running test” is all they would say. The doctors and nurses would only say, “we are doing everything we can.”
“Hey, what’s going on? You sound tired?” I was out of things to say really. Neither of us had slept much, or though to of sleeping since about 5 PM on that awful day, now only a day and a half past. I already knew that the life we knew was changed forever.
Susan told me a story that went something like this:
“We got to the airport and the airlines had let the church people picking me up through security so they could meet us at the gate. We cried almost the whole flight, we could barely think of getting any rest. We rushed to the hospital, it was all such a fog. When I got to the hospital the doctors and nurses were explaining things to me as we entered the room. I saw my baby there, on machines, unconscious. My eyes roamed her chart and monitors. I so wanted there to be good news. I so wanted there to be hope. I so wanted to pick her up and make it better. As the doctor was talking I began to see it for myself. They had done everything they could do. Sever brain hemorrhage. Jennifer looked fine, but she was hurt bad. It was like she was just sleeping and I just wanted to have her wake up.
Almost immediately I had to make the decision to take her off the machines. They told me there was no hope.
I wanted to believe there was always hope. My faith called for that, right? Hadn’t I come to believe that prayer and God’s love could do anything? But the nurse, the mother in me knew. My baby was gone. I crawled up in bed as they removed the equipment. I held Jennifer close to me. I held her until she died. She took her last breath in my arms.”
I remember my head pounding the whole time. As I listed I could see my family hoping for some good news in my voice, some expression on my face. They too wanted there to be hope. Poor little Jennifer. If only she could make it then it wouldn’t be that bad. With Jennifer maybe Susan could survive the loss of Joshua and Donald?
“Jennifer is dead” I said. “She did not make it.” And then back to Susan. What could I say now? The unthinkable had happened.
“Susan, I am so sorry. I will come and help you. You will get through this. We’ll get through it together.” There was only silence and tears back home.
My heart broke for Susan. How could she get through this?
In years past I had always held some respect, some awe for grieving mothers. My work in HIV and AIDS Services helped me see that the love of a mother can sadly be measured by the depth of the grief they have when a child dies. I had drawn this link between what I saw in friends to a prayer in my childhood, or my faith- the Hail Mary. The story of Mary, watching the painful death of her son, always struck me as ironic. How blessed to see such pain?
In subsequent days, weeks and months I would watch Susan piece together her broken life. I carried (and still do) link to her (and of all things,) that Hail Mary. I would hear the refrain in my head “Blessed Art Thou Amongst Women” and think of Susan. Blessed? Blessed with such pain?
That is always what bugged me about that prayer. Blessed Art Thou? It came to me though, that to know the pain of loss is to also know the joy of love. Susan’s grief as a daughter and as a mother was now as deep and wide as her love was as a daughter and mother. Blessed she was in having two wonderful children. It didn’t strike me as odd when during her pain she was calm, prayerful and offering comfort to others. Susan recognized the blessing, so yes, in her grief she was blessed. And like Mary, she knew the loss of a mother, twice, now like no one ever should.
I hung up the phone with Susan and began making plans to go to Texas. I tried to explain what she was going through at the hospital, what I heard her going through. We were too wrapped in our family stuff, our own pain. They didn’t get it. I wondered if they ever would.
I remember the eulogy Susan gave for Jennifer and Joshua. She committed herself to a life that celebrated the joy of motherhood. She encouraged us all to remember her kids as happy, loving people and the best way to honor their early deaths would be to live life lovingly and kindly, much like Jennifer and Joshua had.
Randy N. Marcotte – December 1, 2006