When I look back on my life, there are a few days that stand out with such significance that I can’t help but acknowledge them, regardless of the pain.
And while there are happy days I can recall, like when I completed both my degrees, when I was given wonderful awards for my work, when my books were published, there are several difficult days that I’ve lived that caused me and those I’ve loved great trauma.
One was the death of my beloved grandmother, who lived, almost exclusively, a healthy life till her death at 93. She was my anchor when life handed me difficult times while growing up.
Another was my little dog, Daisy, who brought me so much joy every day for almost 13 years. My constant companion, she was always there to snuggle with when I needed her most.
But there was one particular day that, when I look back on my life, shaped and changed who I was and, even though I had helped so many in my life before who had struggled with bereavement, it was her death that catapulted me into leading support groups, writing books, speaking, and starting a national foundation for grieving children.
She is Angela.
A 10 year old who came into my life when I met her father. Her older brother was then 13 and younger just 9.
I remember her bubbly personality, her courage to ask me those most pressing questions you’d never think would come out of the mouth of such a young lady. But I answered every one and she went away satisfied.
Many who knew her longer than I described her as a firecracker. And for the short time I knew her, they were right.
I specifically remember how much she loved shopping together. How she couldn’t choose between the pink or blue cotton candy.
Or the last holiday she and her younger brother spent with us. It was Easter, 1984 and I made a special dinner for us.
At one point after dinner we took a long walk together. I wanted to purchase film that day to take a few pictures but we didn’t pick it up. And that moment was lost to me forever.
Because just a few short months later on this day in 1984, that bright, bubbly young girl was murdered on Long Island.
And what followed were 18 years of an unsolved murder.
It took until 2002 to have enough evidence to charge the initial suspect and another two years to go to trial.
We endured a six-week emotional rollercoaster from the time they began picking a jury for her 20 year old murder, to the time he was convicted.
I often wonder what life would have been like if she were still here with us. Would she have been in my bridal party when her father and I married?
Would she have studied for a college degree? And what career might she have chosen?
Would she have married and had children? How many would she have had and what would they have looked like?
But today, I guess there is a part of me that, as my stepson texted me today, which says “I can’t believe it’s been 30 years.”
And he is so right.
Rest in Peace, Angela. You were with us for far too short a time, but the impact you had on our lives, both in life and death, will remain forever.