The Wrong Name

I've been cruising along pretty well this year. Feeling fairly secure in my job, so sleep isn't quite the challenge it has been; finally began the process of getting the mortgage in my name; getting to know the grandbaby, with a new one on the way; a new relationship with lots of fun and zing; family and friends doing pretty well - all in all, things are going well. The saying of which causes my knuckles to search compulsively for a piece of wood to knock on.

Susan told me early on after losing Lee that once I got through all the anniversaries the first couple of times, it would be random shit out of left field that would knock me down. I was prepared for her birthdays and the day she died to be hard. I didn't expect Easter, of all things, to be tough. Halloween was particularly difficult - the light-hearted, in-your-face-finger at death was something I could appreciate, but not really participate in. The Resurrection story is raw and painful for anyone of faith, and particularly so when what you most want is the one you lost to be magically resurrected too.

It will be a while before I can put up a Christmas tree without Lee there to do it with me, and Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday of all, will be hard for a lot of years. She loved her cousins and aunts and uncles, and just sparkled when she was with them. She and Brad both leave such big holes, and that last Thanksgiving we had with her was magical. Not many people could have my parents, my siblings, and her pre-teen cousins all dancing and singing together "I like big butts", but I'm sure no one who knew her is surprised to hear she could engineer that particular bit of hilarity. Aching from laughing is a state that people often found themselves in when they were with Lee.

It is getting better - I'm able to remember these moments and smile now, instead of feeling the wrench of missing out on the laughs and love she had in her future.

I've acquired a bit of a shell when it comes to the graduation and wedding and birth announcements of Lee's peers - I enjoy getting them, and am happy and hopeful for the new brides and new families. I'm not to the point of being able to attend, but it isn't a wipeout thing to receive them anymore, either. Things really are getting better.

So I surely wasn't prepared for a movie trailer to slay me this evening. Here's the movie - I wish I could find one that doesn't make you watch a commercial first, but God knows I can't sit through watching the thing again to find out if there is one out there.

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

I was starting up a movie for Brianna after finally getting home from work at 8:30, so I was already tired, which just adds fuel to the fire. I couldn't fast forward - they won't let you skip the copyright warnings, the message from the FBI, the Surgeon General, etc. ad nauseum. Oy. And some of them won't let you skip the trailers. I was watching this trailer about a dog who waits and waits and waits for his deceased master to get off the train every day. And remembered a particularly awful moment in the aftermath of Lee's death.

Anyone who knew Lee knew she loved animals, especially hurt or homeless animals. We had a parade of critters over the years that she rescued and brought home, and she was directly responsible for every pet we've had for the last 20 years. Lucky Dog loves her Brian, and loved Lee, and one of her favorite games when she was a puppy was when I would say to her, "Where's Lee!? Where's Brian!?" She'd take off and go find them, and would bark excitedly when they were found (usually just hanging out quite peacefully in their rooms). She missed them when they went off to college, and would bark and sing and paw at them, and tear around the house in circles whenever they came home. Lee pretended to be annoyed by this, but she secretly loved it that Lucky would get so excited to see her.

One day about six months after she died, Brian pulled up to the house, and I said to her, "Where's Brian!?" Except, it came out, "Where's Lee!?" Like anyone with more than one child or dog or goldfish, you occasionally run through every named person or animal who has ever lived there before arriving at the right name.

Lucky bolted up, started towards the door, and then stopped and looked at me very intently. She's part Border Collie, and is truly one of the smartest dogs I've ever been around, and you could almost see the thoughts going through her doggy brain. 'It's been a while, where IS she?' As she got more and more agitated, I desperately tried to distract her with, "Where's Brian? Brian's here!" but it was too late. She started to whine and whimper, and took off full speed towards the front door, then came tearing back into the back yard where I was sitting. She looked at me again, as if to ask me "Well? Where is she???" and ran into the house again. Brian was in the house by now, but she kept looking for Lee. It completely wiped me out ... that even my dog was missing her.

I had forgotten all about that until I saw the trailer, and it all came back. I'm not one to assign human qualities to animals, and I get particularly irritated with people who equate the loss of a pet with the loss of a child, but those who believe animals can't think are uninformed.

I just hope that when Lucky crosses the Rainbow Bridge, Lee is there to greet her, and Lucky can "find" her at last.


Whirlpool Redux

The brain can be a strange place, able to convince you that illusion is reality. The shift back to 'real' reality can be unsettling, like feeling the sand wash out from beneath you in a strong riptide.

I was up very early Monday, and then fell back asleep, usually a recipe for disaster for me. The dreams come swirling at me like a bad LSD trip, and I wake up disoriented and unsure what day or time it is. This one had to do with my car - I'm driving Lee's car these days, which often gives me a vaguely angry and impatient feeling, because it is a constant reminder of her day-to-day life. The dings and dents, the hibiscus flower sticker, almost completely deteriorated now, that was her touchstone for her dream to go to Hawaii and surf someday, the odds and ends of hers in the glove box that I can't part with.

And in my confused foggy somewhere between asleep and awake state, I wondered in exasperation why in the world her car was here? How would she get back here? I'd have to drive down to Valdosta to get her ...

Body slam as I came instantly, fully awake.


Link to the original Facebook post


Old friends, new awkwardness

As more and more people from my high school and college years discover Facebook, I’m getting the question more often - who is the pretty, smiling girl named Lee? She is my daughter, who would be 26 now.

I lost her three years ago in a car accident. She had been drinking, it was very early in the dark hours of the morning after a party, she was likely sleepy, she was driving a friend’s car, it was a dark two-lane road. Any one of those factors, or all of them, could have been the reason she crashed and died, taking a friend with her. No one really knows.

For a long time normal emotions weren’t on my menu – it was like my sea level was a little lower than everyone else’s. That initial numbness has passed, however, and most of the time I go about my life, feeling frustration, happiness, anger, all the normal emotions just like everyone else. Most of the time I am engaged with my fellow humans, laughing, working, loving and living. But occasionally, if I’m tired or worn down by other things, I am caught off-guard and the thin coating of familiarity with the pain opens up, and I realize it is yet the enemy.

It has been a painful trip from that day to this. What I’ve come to understand about that pain is that it doesn’t lessen over time, it doesn’t fade, it doesn’t cede space in your mind to happy memories, or any of the other fictitious things we try to ply upon people who have lost someone significant. It remains, raw and dangerous as ever, below the surface. We simply become accustomed to it. This is an example of how the human mind can accommodate, and still function.

People say about the loss of a child, “I couldn’t survive it,” but few actually roll over and die. What we really mean is that once we’ve gotten to know and love our children, none of us wants to imagine living in a world that doesn’t contain them. We may not *want* to survive, but we do. I was incredibly angry about that for a long time.

And yet, here I still am. Moving forward, unwilling to be numb, however much smoother and calmer and softer that makes things.

Link to original post on Facebook


my brother Brad

I don't know if many people on here know about my brother Brad, who committed suicide just two weeks before Lee died. In fact, we had just returned from his funeral the night before I was notified about Lee. His death kind of got overshadowed by Lee's death, which is sad and unfair to his memory.

My mom, who lost a child also, probably hasn't gotten the support she would have, needed, because all of us were reeling at the double blow. She certainly didn't get anything useful from me, but I think my sibs have been hard pressed to be there for both of us as well, and she probably has been shorted.

Last night I was searching through the pockets of my overcoat, and my fingers found a piece of folded up paper, and I froze, remembering something I hadn't thought of since it happened. I was sitting under the tent graveside in Hendersonville, and reached into the pocket of that same coat for a tissue. And pulled out the eulogy I read at Brad's funeral a week before. I sat there staring at it, not knowing what to do next.

We miss you Brad. We miss your laugh, your love of the ridiculous, your practical jokes, your soft heart, your Pied Piper schemes that you always managed to suck us all into, your myriad nicknames for all of us sibs.

Bradley Stuart - 1961-2006


in God's arms

I received a really nice note from a writer I sent a note to a few weeks ago, and it couldn't have come at a better time. The mental image it brings up is comforting and peaceful, the day before I need it most, and I wanted to post it here hoping someone else would find it so also. Here's the link to the article I read that day ... if it doesn't go straight to it, the title is "A Whisper". http://www.tonywoodlief.com/archives/week_2006_10_15.html#001125

On 10/18/06, Walker, Julie (Atlanta)
JWalker2@> wrote: Tony,I've been reading your blog since you started your site, and just read it again for the first time in about a year. And it was the Thank You blog. Perhaps God's hand is evident in my life after all ... I'm still not there - where I can be anything but angry with God and the world, the loss of my daughter is too recent. But I'm getting the sense that I might get there someday, and reading that someone else has made it through helps ... it makes the path there seem like a real possibility instead of a pipe dream. Thank YOU.

Dear Julie,
Thank you for writing to me. I'll pray that you'll get there. It doesn't make sense, that we should bury our children. It doesn't make sense, and it isn't fair, and often the burden is so much that it's all we can do to get out of bed in the morning. I still don't know how God can allow it. The place I got to was an understanding that he, who gave up his own child to death, doesn't let our little ones die lightly. And he takes them up into his arms, where there is no more suffering. We would rather they be with us, but at least there is this mercy, that they know nothing of heartache or pain.

People who haven't been scarred so deeply like to imagine that God makes everything work out of the best, in our lifetimes. But I don't think there is ever an answer in the face of something like this, where if we were to know it we would say: "Aha! Now I see why you let my child die. It all makes perfect sense now." Perhaps there is some purpose, but it is not for us to know, nor would we care. We can only take solace in the assurance that this present suffering will end, and there will be a reunion, and then the very memory of the heartache we feel here will be blotted out, and all things will be right again.

Blessings to you,



A Mother’s Day Message

Road conditions: dry
Time of accident: unknown

Who could ever fully appreciate the cost of a moment's distraction, a minor impairment of a couple of drinks, and too long a night? Who among us can appreciate the final and forever consequences of a few seconds' inattention?

Sometimes you don't get another chance.

To say good bye.
For one more hug.
To say, I love you.

My life was being Mom to Lee and Brian. Now half of that has been cut out of me, and I will never, ever be the same. There will always be a shadow around the edges of even the happy times.

Alcohol present: .133
Drugs present: No

A casual encounter, a friendly conversation with someone new always carries the treacherous territory of having to explain, and then the uncomfortable pall while everyone tries to think of some way to move on gracefully. Of watching them having to confront the yawning vulnerability that all parents usually manage to keep hidden, even from themselves; of the uncomfortable moment of having that fear exposed and borne fruit, in front of strangers. Of the irritation I then feel at having to comfort them.

Different but also something you guard against: seeing the strain of those dear to you suffering themselves, and suffering for you. Feeling everyone you know watching you for signs of cracking, waiting to catch you when you fall off the edge, and thus a constant reminder of how close the edge is.

Lee and I had angry confrontations over risky behavior ... too much drink, driving hours to a party and then driving hours back, and I would say, "I don't want to be one of those mothers tending a cross on the side of the road with flowers and teddy bears." And now, but for the fact that I refuse to do so, I would be one of those mothers.

I read in one post online, recounting the drunken aftermath of Lee's funeral, that "Lee wouldn't have had it any other way." I beg to differ. She would have been devastated to lose any one of you, and the shock and pain on your parents' faces would have made her think twice about visiting the same thing upon her own parents. If any thoughts crossed her mind at that last moment, I am quite sure that one of them was, "Oh God Mom and Dad, I'm so sorry."

There has been a lot written about living life the way Lee did .. taking chances, all out full speed, living life to the fullest, and up for anything. I'm not convinced that part of that wasn't about seeking out the fun and companionship she loved, without understanding that the excessive drinking wasn't where the fun and spirit and love between you all lived. She was beginning to grow tired of the bar scene, but hadn't figured out how to replace the drinking with something else without losing the fun. There is a difference between living without fear and living without sense. As hard as I tried, I didn't get that message through to her. I ran out of time, and she ran out of chances.

While we all hope she is an angel in heaven, this does not give her magical powers to overcome bad decisions. She can't save you from yourselves. For several hours on that long Monday, we did not know who the other person was in the car. I hope that the thought has crossed all of your minds that it could easily have been any one of you with her.

Look at your mothers' faces, and the faces of your friends' mothers. Don't put them through the visit from police officers to let them know you're gone forever. Don't make them go through the struggle of figuring out how and why to get up each day. Don't think you can drink shots all night and not be affected by it on your ride home.

Don't think you are the superhuman who can always handle the fatigue, the alcohol, the unexpected, and always
come out on top.

Your mothers shouldn't have to face it. Look at their faces, and live your life differently. Don't go to them shamed and contrite and say "Never again, I'm going to do better," they don't need to know you've already taken chances you shouldn't have.

Just do it.
Just live.

I love you all,