Category Archives: Death of a Child

OK

Newtown, CT: Holiday Rollercoaster

I sit here looking out to the window. Anticipated bad weather is on the move toward us. My mind is racing in so many directions I don’t know which one I should or could concentrate on.

I’m exhausted.

The happenings of this past week have been something I never thought I would ever have to endure. Not for me or for my husband. We were just going along swimmingly well, raising our daughter until this.

My mind is definitely not wrapped around this yet. I guess I have to expect this, but somehow I wish I could just be in control of something at this point and the thought that I won’t be for a very long time disturbs me immensely.

Since the identification, it has been a whirlwind. Between the family and friends who flocked to us (which we are so grateful for), to picking out a casket, to the services, to the funeral and all the people who attended.

I feel numb.

I feel small.

I feel like I’m just existing.

Mostly I feel fragile.

I’ve never felt like this before and for me, it’s not a good feeling. It’s a when-will-this-end, I-can’t-stand-this-feeling, sort of situation. One I never saw coming, one I never thought I would live.

Well, actually, how could anyone see such a thing coming into your life. No one ever teaches you what you will do, how you will feel, what will happen and how you are supposed to live if your child is murdered.

They just don’t. Maybe because they think it will never happen to you. Maybe because the thought of it is frankly so unthinkable that no one wants to go there.

How does one tell you how to pick out a casket for your child. How does one tell you how to go to memorials for your child. How does one tell you how to bury your only daughter.

It just doesn’t compute. It just doesn’t.

This past week has been unbelievable. I felt like I was just ushered around by the well-meaning people in my life. And, actually, I was.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget moving in slow motion through the funeral home, first to the director’s office to start the planning and then to another room to choose the casket. It was something I hadn’t yet experienced, as both my parents are alive. It was something no one should have to go through.

All the little details seemed overwhelming. I looked at my husband and he wasn’t the only one whose eyes were filled with tears. Somehow we made all the decisions that would bring to a conclusion the life of a child we thought we’d know forever.

From the moment I stepped into the funeral home that day and first saw her in the casket, I felt like I would collapse. How was I going to endure this completely unthinkable pain. How does one look at this little body in this box and think that just a few days ago we were picking out a Christmas tree, just the one she wanted.

I think of all the little things we did together just before this happened. All the sprinkles she decorated on her favorite cookies when they came out of the oven. All the little gifts we bought and wrapped for her friends.

All the presents and cards we picked out for her grandparents, aunts and uncles. As she started to read, she wanted to get the prettiest cards to send to those she loved. I remember helping her read the inscriptions in the card store as her Dad and I patiently went through so many boxes until she chose just the right one.

Will I ever step foot into a card store again and not become sentimental?

I sat in the funeral service and so many people have visited. People I haven’t seen in years and others I see all the time. But the amazing thing is full families have arrived from out of town. Our relatives, friends, old neighbors who spent thousands of dollars to be with us at this time. Hotels, car rentals, food, etc. How are they doing this?

I am grateful. I feel so blessed to know such good people who care so much about my husband and myself.

The viewing days were filled with sitting and looking at her in the casket and being torn between wondering when this would be finished battled by the thought that I’d never want it to be over. Because when it was over, I’d never see or have her again. I didn’t know which was worse as the moments passed.

There were times I wanted everyone to leave so I could have her all to myself. I wasn’t in a sharing mood right now.

I wanted to just jump into the casket with her. I can’t imagine what this life will feel like when she’s not around.

The morning I awoke knowing it would be her funeral, I remember sitting up in bed against the headboard, pillows propped up against my back to realize it was the last day I’d ever see her.

How could I bear this?

How could I get through this day?

How could I endure such pain?

How would I react when it was time to close the casket?

Could I do this?

Could my husband do this?

My thoughts are so isolated. I don’t know how much I’ve shared with him at this point. No much really and he hasn’t either. It’s not good.

We’ve gone through the motions of what needed to be done but at some point the deep, dark, difficult emotions will have to come to the surface, even if only for a little while, and it scares me so to think what we will both say to each other.

That day all I could think about what it was her last day with us. And how I hated that thought because there was absolutely nothing I could do to change it.

The funeral was attended by thousands. I didn’t know that many people could pack into our church at one time.

It was a lovely service, at least what I could remember. I spent too much time looking at her casket trying to remember her little smiling face when she was alive and sitting in the pew between her father and I.

She used to look all around during service in church at the lights and stained-glass windows, as they were her favorites. She just loved the colors of the stained glass in the windows.

I wondered if I would ever be able to set foot in that church again.

The burial was one of the most difficult times for me. When we arrived at the cemetery, the grave was all prepared and there were seats all lined up waiting for us. I had asked for extra seats as I knew how many of our relatives would be with us that day.

The priest did a lovely job at the gravesite but it all seemed so quick to me and I wanted to linger for a long while and even though I had left gravesites more quickly after other funerals, this time I wanted to take the time I needed.

And I did.

I know I made everyone wait on me, but I really didn’t care.

I had to see her buried…completely.

I had to know exactly where she was and that there would never be any doubt in my mind.

So I asked the funeral director to have the workers lower her casket as I watched. My husband thought it would be too much for me, but for some reason, it wasn’t. It was comforting. It was a completion that I felt I would need to do for my daughter, my first born.

The men graciously lowered her down and then started to add the dirt. I asked if I could add some dirt and they let me. Why I needed to do that I will never know. I wanted to be included.

Soon the dirt was smoothed out and we took my and my husband’s roses and placed them at the center of her grave slightly tilted to one side. Two lone roses among the thousands she received at the funeral home.

They looked so appropriate there. I felt good about that. A weird feeling of accomplishment. That I had done everything I could do for her in death as I had in life.

I trust I will see her again one day. But the life I will now need to live without her will never be the life her father and I had planned.

A life that will always feel as though we are missing a piece of our hearts.

A life that will always feel empty and cold since we’ll never know what she would have become.

A life that will always wonder what could have been.

Today we start that new life without her.

I have no idea how I’m going to do this.

OK

Identification of My Murdered Baby

The Connecticut State police has graciously assigned a member of their force to be with us right now.

In a strange way, it’s comforting to keep the media at bay. In another way, I can’t keep from feeling how much more comforted I would have felt had they been at my child’s side when the shooting began.

Do ‘we’ really need protecting now? I guess so. I surely haven’t seen such a huge amount of media in any one place. Well, at least not in person. For some reason it doesn’t look so large on the television.

My husband encourages me to get dressed. He generously brings my tea to my room. I’m numb.

We have waited for the final word from the police. This is not something I want to hear. Because for some reason, right now, I get to fool myself into believing that this is just a dream. That this hasn’t happened and our daughter is really over at her grandparents visiting for the weekend.

I get to fool myself and my mind gets to fool me into thinking she’s at dance class, or with her aunts and uncles and cousin at some outing. I get to fool myself that she’s still playing down the hall with her dolls and laughing at the funny things she sees in books and on television.

And I know these last moments before I move into this very, very real world will be the last of what I considered a secure world for myself and my family. Something inside tells me it will be a very long time, if ever, when I will wake and feel genuine happiness again. A happiness I took for granted and didn’t even know it…until now.

And I don’t ever think it will be the full sense of happiness that I feel now, because nothing in my life or my husband’s life will ever be the same again. And I can’t seem to shake that thought. I can’t seem to shake the thought that for all time, at least on this earth, I will not see my daughter.

I will miss her smiling face. The one which jumped in bed with us on weekend mornings and who we snuggled with in between us.

I can’t get dressed yet. It feels like if I do, all these luscious thoughts as if my world is just the same as it was when I woke up on Friday, before all this happened, will somehow disappear. I may never get them back.

I want to move into the practical things that I know I must be doing. But I can’t. I just want to sit here forever because then maybe it won’t be real.

My husband needs me to be strong right now…for him and for me. I know this in my soul. I can’t find the way to do this. I can’t let him bear all the burden of the police and medical examiner.

“Get up,” I tell myself. “You can do this.”

I go to him, still in my satin robe. I need his embrace. I need his closeness. I myself feel so infantile right now.

He grabs me. He kisses me on the forehead. I can see he’s been crying. I’m not there for him. That hurts me. I need to be there for him too.

He looks in my eyes and tells me he’s identified her from a picture taken at the scene.

My heart sinks.

We sit together at the kitchen table.

We hold hands.

The tears stream down our faces in silence.

What can be said.

The bubble has burst. This is real now. Very real.

I sense there will be many more very real moments ahead and I don’t know if I’m prepared for them both emotionally and simply physically.

I tell myself I will take them one at a time. I have no choice.

OK

Waking Up Without My Murdered Child

My eyes open.

I see the same ceiling I’ve looked at each morning for all these years.

It doesn’t look any different.

In my peripheral vision, I see my husband curled up next to me. He has the blanket over his head.

I’m exhausted. I lay here so still. I can hear my breath. And within seconds it all starts to seep into my memory. My life is forever changed now. My life will never, ever be the same.

I try so hard to stop those visions and thoughts from coming in. They simply don’t compute. This is all a dream and soon I will reawaken and all will be exactly how life was when I woke up in this same bed with this same man lying next to me 24 hours ago.

Wow…24 hours ago. How can life actually change that much in such a short span of time. Well actually an even shorter span of time, but right now I can only see this parameter.

So now what do I do. I feel paralyzed that not one muscle can move. Like my body is sinking in to this mattress inch by inch and soon I’ll be swallowed up. Maybe that would be good…this pain that is setting in is going to be too much to bear…and I know it.

My mind cannot comprehend how a text could change my life. How a simple ‘school lockdown’ message would irrevocably move me from being a person who was out Christmas shopping one day, to a frantic, shock-laden, out-of-my-mind-with-fear woman who did not have my child at the end of the day.

A woman who dutifully brought her child to a good suburban school, nurtured and care for that child, sacrificed financially for that child, had all the hopes and wishes for a perfect future for that child and now this.

This was not happening.

This couldn’t be happening.

This must not be happening because I can’t get my head around this and just the thought of it all is too overwhelming, too shocking and moves me into a place where the world I controlled could no longer be controlled and this was too scary a place to live.

This stuff happens to other people. People out there. Wherever ‘there’ is, it’s just not here. It doesn’t happen to people I know and it definitely doesn’t happen to people like me. And it definitely doesn’t happen to people where I live. I’m safe, right? We’re safe, right? How the **** could this be happening.

I jump from bed and run down the hall. Surely she’s in bed under the covers not wanting to get up for school.

The door is open. The blankets on her bed in disarray. I can’t remember what is happening until it occurs to me the scene from overnight.

I was the one who grabbed that pillow. I was the one who wailed on her bed. I was the one who begged God to not take her and demanded he return her immediately. I was the one who wouldn’t leave her room without the loving encouragement of my husband.

My husband…

What is to become of us. He has been my rock. He has sustained us financially through all these difficult years. He was the one I waited for at the school to shore me up.

I ran from the car to the school to get as close as they would let me. I waited and waited and waited. I needed him by my side. He told me he’d get there as soon as he could.

I saw children, police, teachers, emergency workers all around. It was so chaotic. No one was sure of anything.

All I wanted was my child. That’s all I wanted.

I started to see the reunions of mothers and children, fathers and children, parents and children. I was longing for my child, but all the while keeping a hopeful attitude as I saw all these intense embraces I waited for my turn.

My turn.

My turn.

I waited for my turn.

And waited.

And my husband appeared and his love and embrace gave me further strength to wait. He was with me now. It would all be ok.

We tried to update each other on how we both learned. We held each other close in the cold with the brightness of the day glaring our view at times.

We saw the police with guns, got various reports about the gunman. It made me catch my breath. We didn’t know what to think. All we could envision was when she’d be safely in our arms again, just as we witnessed with other families all around us.

And we waited and waited and waited and waited.

But our turn didn’t come.

It didn’t come.

It just didn’t come…

She should have been out by now. She should have appeared. We should have been told something by now.

But she didn’t and we hadn’t and as nightfall came about, my hope dwindled and it became clear, very clear that she wasn’t coming back to our arms. She wasn’t going to be jumping up into her father’s arms like she always did. She wasn’t.

There was nothing left to do. The police gave us as much information as they could. The bodies needed to be identified and until then no confirmation could come.

But we knew.

We knew.

And my blood seemed to run out of my body as I stepped foot in the door of my home. I had no more energy. I had no more strength.

The tears I held back for all those hours overwhelmed me. I collapsed at my husband’s feet holding on tightly to his ankles. How could this be happening.

He sat on the floor with me and he took me in his arms and cradled me as we both wailed.

OK

Why Murder Never Goes Away

I can’t help but think about all the families affected today by the media reports that the Libya’s dictator, Moammar Gadhafi is dead.

All the families around the world whose lives were irreparably damaged by the commands and actions of this man will once again be thrown into the past revisiting horrific memories of sorrow and loss.

The closest to me, as fellow memories of survivors of homicide groups at the time, were the families of the Syracuse University students who were simply returning a few days before Christmas on Pan Am 103 in December, 1988. These young people had enjoyed a wonderful semester abroad and were coming home for the holiday season through New York’s JFK airport. But they never made it.

It took decades for these 270 victims’ families to get the cooperation of our own government to press for those responsible for the downing of this aircraft and it all led back to Gadhafi. And little justice was ever achieved.

Only months ago, the man supposedly responsible was released from prison because he was terminally ill. After all, we must be compassionate, now shouldn’t we?

As the news of Gadhafi’s death starts to move onto the airwaves, it will only be a few hours until the famous picture of the nose of Pan Am 103 will be up in all forms of media, thus bringing back the sad memories for these families.

I remember specifically one mother whose son was killed on Pan Am 103 and also a student at Syracuse University in upstate New York, telling me how every time she saw that picture of the plane’s nose, it pierced her heart. It brought all the pain and memories back again. It just never seemed to go away.

Well it’s been nearly 23 years since she and the other families both in the United States and those killed on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland have memorialized their loved ones.

Today, all that pain, all those memories will rush back in.

But I’d like to believe that instead, these US families and families all around the world who were affected by the orders of this ruthless killer, will finally feel some sense of justice, relief and satisfaction today, with the death of this vicious man.

OK

9/11: Experiences, Reflections, Changes

I spent the summer of 2001 writing my book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death. The evening before 9/11 I was developing the press plan and rejoicing because the printer had called that Monday to say the galleys had been shipped via UPS and I should expect them in a few days. Those books didn’t arrive for over four weeks.

Since I worked through the night, it was my former husband who woke me to the words, “Mar, I think you better get up…a plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Stunned and still trying to wake up and comprehend what he said, something inside knew this was intensely serious and I jumped from bed and ran to the living room in our Central Florida home.

I remember standing there in the middle of the room with my mouth open and my hands covering it. I never sat down. We just stood there, almost at attention, in reverence of all that was happening to my beloved city where I lived most of my life.

I thought of all the people who worked in those towers and we estimated there would be nearly 25,000 people in each of them. Just the thought of losing 50,000 people was incomprehensible.

Being the video queen that I was back then, and to some degree still am, I immediately searched for VCR tapes (back then) and popped one in. I asked my husband to continue taping and we did just that, taping all the events for nearly a week.

There were times over the last ten years when I wanted to watch that footage again, but it was just too sad. Perhaps one day I will move it to DVD and have it available for a long lost weekend.

I started to think of all the people who might be there whom I knew. There were many.

First my cousin, Peter. He had been a FDNY firefighter for many years, like his father, my Uncle Pete before him, and had taken the Lieutenant’s test. It took a while to find out he was safe, but had lost so many of his friends that day.

He would spend weeks down at the Trade Center in the recovery effort and on the next Sunday was promoted to Lieutenant since so many had perished. It was a bittersweet moment and one our family will never forget. We still have the picture of him in his dress blues with his devoted and wonderfully supportive wife, Maureen by his side as he held his first daughter, Kaitlin, only a few years old then.

Later we would talk via instant messenger usually after midnight when he couldn’t sleep and I remember how difficult it was for him. And why wouldn’t it be. He had been to dozens of funerals and being such an amazing man, his heart was always so giving and loving toward everyone he knew and even those he didn’t.

To this day, I have such great respect for him and such deep appreciation for all he’s been through during the past ten years.

As the days passed, we heard about my cousin Sharon’s husband, Mike who lost his cousin. His aunt was devastated and although I never met her, I remember sending a bunch of my books for a fundraiser they did on Staten Island. I was glad to do that.

We also heard about my cousin’s husband, Brian, who works for Port Authority and lost many friends but also almost lost his life trying to get out of the towers, walking dozens of flights to safety.

Years later, I would hear his story in person when we had a chance to reflect, ironically when I was recovering from a life-threatening accident and he graciously would pick me up and bring me to church.

Both Brian and Peter were so steadfast in their willingness to help me when I was recovering from all those broken bones, and I will never forget their love and care for me.

Then there was my brother’s former girlfriend, Nina, who lost her brother Andrew in the towers. I stayed with her a few years after the tower fell when I moved back to NYC and I remember the two of us reminiscing about Andrew and his life and work and loves. She loved and missed him so much.

I also remember meeting and exchanging books with Julia Rathey, whose husband, David was killed in the towers that day. She had written a book entitled What Children Need When They Grieve which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt was so wonderfully written, not to mention all the help it brought to suffering families in the years following 9/11.

I was so happy when she shared, years later, that she would remarry a great guy named Gregg. She deserved to be happy again.

As I stood in the living room not moving, not speaking, in total shock, one of the things I started to remember was my pictures. I frantically started to search for them in my boxes.

I knew they were there…but where were they. You see I have celebrated three milestone in my life in the towers.

The night I finished my MBA from Fordham, my parents picked me up after the last exam and we enjoyed dinner together at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top with the most magnificent view of the entire city.

I remember taking home the empty bottle of champagne and writing on it the date and place. That bottle was kept on the top shelf of my living room hutch for many years. I often wonder if I’ll find it one day among all my memorabilia in deep storage. That would be amazing.

Another memory was when I got engaged on the Observation Deck of the Twin Towers. While we had decided many months before to get married, it was on the 4th of July that he actually presented the ring and formally asked for my hand. We went to the restaurant afterwards and had champagne.

When my 40th Birthday rolled around, there was no other place I wanted to celebrate. Funny thing…I remember being in the elevator with Michael Bloomberg that night going up to Windows on the World. I knew immediately who he was, long before he entered politics.

It was those pictures especially I wanted to find. I dug and dug. I couldn’t find them fast enough. My husband kept asking me what I was looking for and I remember just flipping through hundreds of pictures until they finally appeared.

It was then I wept.

I handed them to him. The best two pictures we had inside the trade center. He took one of me and I one of him across the table celebrating my 40th Birthday. The lambchops arranged so perfectly on the plate…my favorite.

I looked at the booths we had been sitting in. I remembered the look of the restaurant, so open and elegant. I thought about how all those booths were now disintegrated. All that steel, and all those people who probably were serving breakfast that morning.

I have been back to the World Trade Center or as it was known “Ground Zero” a few times since 9/11/2001. The first time was on the 2005 anniversary when I was then living there again.

It was a most profound experience. One I will always remember.

It took nearly four weeks for the galleys to arrive for Understanding Your Grieving Heart which were originally shipped on 9/10, the day before our nation’s tragedy.

While waiting, I informed the printer to update the dedication. It now reads:

For those who love them so deeply
Miss them so desperately
Grieve for them so despondently
The tears of a nation join you.

Remembering those who perished on
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

We pray blessings over the survivors of these attacks,
the rescue workers for their brave service to our people,
the canine rescuers for their devotion to help, protect and love us,
and the countless volunteers who heard the call and answered it

We will not back down
We will never forget

God Bless Our Great Land
and its people

Mary M. McCambridge (Ask Mary Mac) is the Founder and President of the Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc., a Grief Coach and author of several award winning books and CD programs on bereavement. She resides in Central Florida.