Where do I go from here???????
It seems to me that the person I am today is the result of two distinct events, both of which have occurred within the last 5 years. This is not entirely accurate of course; I realize this even as I speak the words to myself. The first event was a lifetime in the making. It was the inevitable outcome of the choices I made, the family I was born into, and the era in which I “came of age.” If this particular conclusion had not been reached, I clearly would have died. I know this. By contrast, the second event was staggering in it’s abruptness. It was unexpected and irrevocable. It sent me reeling, turned me inside out and stood my entire world on edge. There have been times that I thought that dying would be easier. Certainly it would have put an end to the pain, but that option was not mine to take. Since the second event, everything I have ever believed, thought I believed, or wanted to believe has been called into question. I wish more than anything that someone could give me the answers I am looking for, but I am beginning to understand that only death will finally bring me to the truth. There are days when just living with the questions wears me out.
The First Event
My face had just smashed into the concrete steps. My first instinct was to try to get up and in the house so I could wash my bleeding face before anyone saw me. To my surprise, I was unable to push myself up into a standing position. I tried again and again. It should have been easy. I was just sitting on the ground, why wouldn’t my arms work? Why couldn’t I get my legs under me? Finally, I gave up and just sat there and finally, I couldn’t run from the truth anymore. Only later would I understand that this ignominious turn of events was to be the beginning of my salvation.
The day had started off innocently enough. It was Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995 and we had just returned home from a large outdoor dinner party at a friend’s home. The children hunted for Easter eggs, and the grownups sipped their cocktails. By the time the day was over, I was pretty well soused. Of course I had primed myself for the party with a couple of drinks before we even left the house. And now, here I was on the ground with no way to escape the thoughts that ran through my head. I began to look at how I came to be in this undignified position.
I grew up as the oldest of four children in Boston. All four of my grandparents were born in Ireland and all but one was dead before I was born. I inherited my father’s eyes and my mother’s hair. I also inherited the family disease of alcoholism. Of course I didn’t know for many years that my parents drinking habits were anything but normal. I just assumed that everyone’s parents drank every day and that voices just naturally got slurred as the evening wore on. Don’t get me wrong, this was not Frank McCourt’s Irish Catholic upbringing by any stretch of the imagination. My father was a blue collar worker who worked his way up to a foreman’s position in the company he started with at the age of 18. He tended to get mellow and quiet when he drank, but I never doubted that he loved me. He was always fair and kind, even if, and possibly because he wasn’t around much. Oh, he was in the house, but he’d come home, have supper and drink a few beers and go to bed early so he could get up at 4:30 a.m. and do it all again. Day after day, year after year until he died an early death at the age of 55.
My mother was a bit more volatile in her moods. One minute she’d be joking with one of her friends and the next she’d be in a rage at one of us. She was the one who smacked the behinds, or gritted her teeth or yelled at us. She also tended not to keep her promises, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized that most of her promises were made in the midst of an alcoholic blackout and so it was more a matter of not remembering that she made them than it was of her not keeping her word.
I attended St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic school for 12 years, the same one that my mother had gone to. Some of the nuns were wonderful and some of them were the embodiment of every Catholic kid’s worst nightmare--cheek pinching, knuckle rapping old hags. My siblings managed to get out of going to Catholic school. My brother escaped because he was a boy. Of course, that made sense! Our town happened to have one of the best public school systems in the state and education was deemed more important for males and religious upbringing was necessary to keep the girls in line and guilt ridden so they wouldn’t get in trouble with the boys. By the time my other two siblings came along, my mother reasoned that there were so many lay teachers at St. Mary’s that they may as well go to public school. I remember how desperate I was to get out of that place! I even said I’d stay back a year, but my mother wouldn’t have it. My father was in my corner, but evidently it wasn’t his decision to make, so I graduated from St. Mary’s in 1964.
Looking back, I can see how I always felt “different from” and “other than,” terms I would eventually hear from other people in the rooms of AA.
I was painfully shy as a child. The pain was all mine. I carried it around with me, wore it constantly like the medal of the Blessed Virgin around my neck. I used to think it was some kind of genetic defect, this shyness, but I have learned that it was simply a coping mechanism. Children growing up in alcoholic homes adapt in different ways. My way was to disappear. I figured that if I kept quiet, nobody would notice me and if they didn’t notice me they wouldn’t discover that I really had nothing important to offer. I tried to remain invisible and when I couldn’t, I was self-conscious to the point of tears. I felt like I was always being judged and I always came up lacking. For a long time I didn’t know why I felt such fear and insecurity, after all, I wasn’t being verbally or physically abused. I only knew, even as a child, that this would not be the way I raised my own children. That is my mother’s greatest gift to me, the realization that I needed to parent another way. I have come to believe that parenting is proactive. It is not enough to just not give negative messages. What is needed to make strong, confident human beings is a sense of self-worth that comes from being told from the very first instant they come into being that they are special and cherished. I knew this on a purely intuitive level and I thank God that I acted on my intuition.
Now, as an adult, I have finally come to understand that I am not defective, but sometimes I see the look in a certain child’s eyes and feel an instant identification. I know how often they are hurt and I know that they will never admit to it. To admit to the hurt would be to become visible and to run the risk of having someone tell you that you really don’t feel that way at all. After a lifetime of being told that you don’t feel what you think you feel, you come to doubt everything.
I have happy recollections of my childhood, but the overriding feeling is one of a shy, skinny little redheaded girl who knew that she was flawed in some basic way and deficient in something essential that everyone else possessed and if she could just go unnoticed, maybe nobody would find out. I feel like I spent my whole childhood and much of my adulthood playing a role and pretending to be someone else. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I found the person who had been there all along and embraced her and loved her and finally realized her worth. In the eyes of many people I have known most of my life, I may not seem to be so very different, but the difference to me is that now the person you see is the person I am not the person I am pretending to be. I realize that until I came to love and accept myself for who I am I would always have that fear of being found out and exposed as a fraud.
I remember watching other people in awe at how easily they seemed to go through life. They made friends effortlessly, conversed comfortably and laughed freely. Everything seemed to be such a struggle for me. That finally changed when I turned 21! My first taste of alcohol was in my late teens when my mother gave me a glass of Mogen David port. It was disgustingly sweet, but I took it and went up to my room. Even with my first drink I was secretive. My next taste of alcohol was when I went to New York City with my cousins. The drinking age there was 18 and since I was 18 I could drink legally and guilt free. I remember the sensation even today. How the roof of my mouth got tingly and how suddenly I felt relaxed and comfortable with people. I talked and laughed with the rest of my friends. I was witty and clever. I went home from that trip and waited, biding my time until the magic age of 21 and I then embarked on a love affair with alcohol that lasted 26 years.
For a person with my disease, the late 60’s and early 70’s were made to order. After the repressive atmosphere of Catholic school, I embraced this new freedom wholeheartedly. I was finally old enough to buy alcohol, but there was so much more out there to experience. First I overcame my qualms and tried marijuana, when I didn’t die or go crazy like the government was trying to tell us we would, I stopped believing the scare tactics. I tried LSD, psylocibin, Angel Dust, cocaine and even laughing gas. All of this was washed down with alcohol. I’d stay out all night in bars or at friends houses and when morning rolled around I’d just pop a little speed and head off to work. Oh yes, I was working full time as a nurse. I’d miss a day here and there of course and wasn’t too reliable about getting in on time, but basically holding down a full time job was a great denial mechanism for me. After all, if I worked every day (almost) then I was fine wasn’t I? Was I?
Sex, drugs and rock and roll was the motto in those days. Work was just a means to get money in order to eat and have a roof over my head and of course to buy alcohol and drugs. The idea of a career didn’t interest me in the least, it was simply a means to an end. Occasionally, I’d get a fleeting thought that maybe I was drinking too much or using too many drugs, but after all, everyone was in those days. And remember, I was still holding down that job and paying the rent.
I had a couple of fairly serious, long term relationships during my twenties. One was with an intern who was pretty self involved and arrogant. In the midst of my breakup with him, I met another man who helped me ease out of the relationship with the doctor. It wouldn’t do to be without a man, even though I didn’t necessarily feel like I had to be monogamous. This guy was extremely intelligent and had just finished grad school with a degree in International Law. He also was a member in good standing of the drug culture. So, we did drugs and had lengthy conversations with his similarly intellectual friends and solved the problems of the world. These conversations always left me feeling like a fraud. What was I doing with these people? I didn’t have a college degree and always felt lost and insecure when discussing philosophy or other esoteric topics. Drugs and alcohol were my best friends during these times. I just kept getting numb and pretending that I wasn’t feeling what I was feeling.
I lived in several communal houses during those years. One household consisted of a couple of guys who were in the Air Force Academy and we began an underground antiwar newsletter. We would sneak into the Airforce base on some pretext or other and distribute them. All of this was just an adventure to me, it didn’t occur to me that I could end up with a criminal record. I did things just for the thrill. I shoplifted just to see if I could get away with it. I remember once getting a big charge out of shoplifting an avocado from the Stop & Shop and walking out right under the policeman’s nose.
When I was 27 I was still living with the intellectual who had a series of non-establishment jobs such as working in a grocery warehouse or driving cabs in Boston. Looking back, I see that I looked at my relationship with him as a challenge. First of all the challenge was to get him to say that he loved me and then later to get him to agree to marry me and later still to agree to have children. I worked hard at accomplishing all these tasks until I finally ran out of challenges, but that was much later.
In 1974 we moved from Harvard Square, the Haight-Asbury of the east coast, to a small town in rural Tennessee. What a culture shock! I cried for two weeks. I missed my friends and all the excitement of the city. My boyfriend and I couldn’t even live together because he was teaching and living at a prep school and we were, after all, living in sin. Things finally improved when I got acquainted with the local hippie community. I was in my element again. Peace, love and Woodstock in a rural setting.
In 1976, I was nearly 30 and my significant other was 3 years older so we decided we’d best start to settle down. He applied and was accepted to Law School and we gave away all our drug paraphernalia, got married and moved off to the city to try the establishment route. I gave up drugs, for the most part, but alcohol was still a more than acceptable alternative. He studied, I worked, and we survived 3 years in Knoxville. Oh, I also convinced him that we should start a family when he graduated.
I got pregnant and was a model mother to be. I stopped using any drugs and didn’t touch alcohol. I was determined to give this baby the best start possible. This was something I could do. Everything was going to be perfect for this baby, and it was. I had a wonderful, healthy pregnancy and natural childbirth. My labor lasted a total of one and one half hours. The nurses were incredulous. We had taken Lamaze classes and everything went so fast that my husband didn’t even get a chance to eat the sandwiches he’d packed with the expectation of a long labor. At 1:35 A. M. on June 25th, 1980, Diana was born wide awake, alert and staring at her father and me. She looked from the first moment as though she knew things. She always impressed me as a wise soul. I had a very strong sense right from the start that I needed to be careful with her. I needed to make sure that I never said or did anything in relation to her that I would later regret. I didn’t know why at the time, but that sense was always with me.
Five weeks after Diana was born we moved back to Middle Tennessee. We didn’t go back to the town we had been living in because my husband got a job as an attorney in another town close by and so that’s where we settled. I never really liked it there. I didn’t have a lot in common with the people in my neighborhood who were mostly much older retired people. But we invited people frequently for dinner and pot luck volleyball games and I had my wonderful little girl, so I was content. When Diana was 15 months old I decided to go back to school and get an Associate degree in nursing. At the end of that time, we were expecting our second child. Daniel was born on my sister’s birthday, April 28th, 1984. Labor with him was about an hour longer than it had been for Diana, but he weighed 9 lbs. and 6 1/2 oz. I was able to deliver him naturally and this time my husband actually got to coach me. It seemed almost that Diana birthed herself and didn’t need much help from either of us, but Daniel was content where he was and required some coaxing to enter the world.
Things went along pretty smoothly it seemed for a long while. I still enjoyed my wine and my cocktails, but I was more restrained while the children were young. After awhile, however, it seemed that discontent was setting in and I started to drink more in order to avoid facing this undefined melancholy that seemed to be permeating my life. On the surface, nothing was amiss, but something wasn’t right within me and I didn’t know what to do about it. I couldn’t even name the source of my unhappiness, how was I going to overcome it? So I just kept drinking and the more I drank, the worse I felt.
I worked at various nursing jobs. It seemed I could only stay at any given job for 3 years at the most before I “burned out.” I engaged in “if only” thinking. If only my job. . .if only my marriage. . . if only people wouldn’t. . . or if only people would, and so on and on and on.
In early 1995, the downward spiral started in earnest. I began wishing that I’d get sick and have to be put in the hospital so I could get some help. It didn’t occur to me to simply ask for it. I knew from the experience of growing up in an alcoholic home that we kept the family secret and so I pretended that things were alright. I was bloated, my skin was broken out and I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, but if anybody knew what was wrong, they never said a word and so I just continued to keep up the façade.
That was the state I was in when I was introduced face first to the concrete steps. The thing I thought about most in that 30 or so minutes before my husband came looking for me was, “What am I doing to my kids?” I had fooled myself into thinking that they were doing alright because I wasn’t like my mother and because they weren’t like me. Diana was bright and beautiful and full of the self-confidence I had always lacked. I was amazed at the grace with which she went through her life. Daniel was all boy. He was exuberant and clever and could always make me laugh.
I felt as though I was searching desperately for some inner peace and it was constantly eluding me. I knew that I was tormented and that somehow it was connected to my drinking. I thought that if I could just stop for awhile then I could go back to drinking like a normal person. Such was the degree of my denial that I believed that there ever was a time that I had been a normal drinker.
In the cold light of the next morning, the memory of the night before came flooding back, I knew that the game was over. I was throwing in the towel, waving the white flag, surrendering and asking, finally, for mercy. I was admitted for a 3 week stay at Cumberland Heights Treatment Center totally defeated and powerless beyond belief. This is where I first heard and came to believe that to surrender is to win. I had hit my bottom and now would attempt to pull myself out of the ravine.
The Long Road to Serenity
I spent the first two days of my sobriety in the detox unit. I refused to even eat in the Dining Hall because my face was so smashed and I was totally humiliated. The counselors kept reminding me that they’d seen it all and there was no need for me to be embarrassed, but at that point I still thought that I was different. On day three I was moved into the Women’s Unit and I was required to go to the dining hall for meals. My new friends were gentle and solicitous and thought at first that I was a spouse abuse victim! They asked kindly if my husband had done that to me. Most of them had been beaten before and knew what it looked like. I became good friends with crack addicts, crank addicts, potheads and cocaine addicts as well as alcoholics. My closest companions were people I would have avoided in my former life. There was absolutely nobody who was better than anybody else. We were reduced to our lowest common denominator, we were all addicts of one kind or another.
I spent 21 days in rehab. We had daily group therapy sessions and lots of 12-step meetings. The grounds were beautiful. It sat on the edge of the Cumberland River and in mid April was coming alive with the sights and sounds of spring. Wildflowers bloomed everywhere and we even startled a quail on her nest while walking across the field. The family came on Sundays for a non-denominational church service and a gourmet meal. Really, the food was incredible. The cooks were all people in recovery as was just about everyone else who worked there. We had roast beef on Sunday with the chefs carving slabs off huge roasts. Nutrition was considered part of the treatment and they didn’t skimp on the food.
In spite of the idyllic setting and almost spa-like atmosphere, it was impossible to forget what we were there for. We learned about Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and we were given instruction in working the 12 steps. Every Friday we had “Crossover.” This was the night when Cumberland Heights alumni returned and led 12 step groups. It was there that I learned that if I wanted recovery, if I truly wanted what these people had then this would have to be a life-long process. There is no cure for the disease of alcoholism I learned, only a daily reprieve. I learned that the people who relapsed were the people who stopped going to meetings and stopped working their program. Finding my way into AA was a long and difficult journey and I wasn’t sure that I would have it in me to make that trip again. I knew that if I started drinking again I might not make it back the next time and so I was committed to recovery. I was told that as soon as I was discharged I was to go to meetings. They recommended “90 in 90,” ninety meetings in ninety days. I was also told that I had to get a sponsor as soon as possible. This was to be a woman who had over a year in the program and was working actively at recovery.
When I arrived at Cumberland Heights, I was crying. I left the same way, but this time it was for a different reason. I felt so safe and accepted with all my new woman friends that I didn’t want to leave. This was where I felt at home, with other addicts and alcoholics. I wondered what life would be like on the outside.
Like many people, but not all, the desire to drink was removed when I started working a program. I wasn’t worried so much about drinking as I was about cleaning up “the wreckage of my past.” I had a lot of amends to make both to my family and to myself. I had friends to face who were surprised but not surprised by my sudden disappearance. I walked out of Cumberland Heights with the tool I would need to reclaim my life, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The day after my discharge from Cumberland Heights, I was in an AA meeting. I knew many of the people in the room although I hadn’t realized that they were members of this fellowship until I walked through the door. I was immediately made to feel welcome and once again I was home. I had made the journey through my alcoholism and was embarking now on a journey of Recovery. I saw that recovery is nothing more than groups of troubled people huddled together to talk about their childhood, their lives and their addictions and somehow getting better. Nobody can explain how or why it works, all they say is “it works if you work it,” and it does. In some ways recovery is more difficult to live with than the disease. I was now seeing my unhealthy behavior and I knew that I had to change the dysfunctional patterns or live with the dishonesty which was becoming more and more difficult.
The first thing that struck me when I attended my first local AA meeting was the lack of women. How was I going to find a sponsor if there were no women drunks? I just kept going to meetings figuring that if a woman didn’t show up at least I was working on my recovery. If worse came to worse, I could ask one of the older men with many years of recovery to be my sponsor. My dilemma was solved about two weeks after I came home. I was attending a very small women’s meeting. Very small meaning me and one other person, when the door was flung open and there was a woman I’d never seen before saying “Oh good, there is a meeting, I’ll be right back.” Back she came in a couple of minutes and joined the meeting. It was clear from the time she opened her mouth that she “knew” recovery. At the end of the meeting I asked her to be my sponsor. This is one of those events that we refer to as “God doing for you what you can’t do for yourself.” I don’t doubt for a minute that God put that woman in my life that day and she has figured very strongly in my life ever since. The odd thing is that the town I live in is very small. You either know everyone or have at least heard of them. I’d never seen or heard of this woman in my life and yet by all rights I should have. She was my age, grew up in the same part of the country and we even had friends in common. I don’t know why I’d never run across her before, I only know that when I was desperate for a sponsor she showed up and for that I am unceasingly grateful.
With my sponsor’s help I began working the program in earnest. I worked the 4th and 5th steps which entailed doing a “fearless and searching moral inventory of myself” and then relating that inventory, warts and all, to my sponsor. The Promises of AA say that “you will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” Doing the 4th and 5th steps with my sponsor taught me that I needed to look at everything, the good and the bad, to accept that this is why I am who I am. The important thing is what I do with it all. Was I going to learn from it or repeat the mistakes of the past?
Life at home was changing as well and in some regards not necessarily for the better. For the first time I was really looking at my relationship with my husband and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. I realized that we shared very little together. With the exception of the children, we led our own lives. We had gotten out of the habit of talking to each other. I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious around him. I stayed away from him as much as I could because of this and that just further alienated us. We were strangers living under the same roof. He never said anything about our relationship so I even wondered if he noticed. I left home at one point for two weeks. I packed my bags and left while he and our son were camping for the weekend and our daughter had gone to Florida with some friends as a nanny. I left a note with the phone number of where I’d be and spent the entire weekend anxious about what his reaction would be. As usual, I need not have worried. His reaction was just as it always seemed to be. . .nothing! I finally called and asked him if he’d gotten the note and he said he had and just figured I wanted some time away and so wasn’t concerned. I had anticipated that this would encourage some kind of dialogue between us, but that was not to be. We just kept going in the same way. I did say that I wanted to go to a counselor to try to figure out ways we could communicate better and he agreed to that. It was a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
The rest of my life, however, was wonderful. My relationship with my son and daughter was full and rich and rewarding. Our communication at least was better than it had ever been. I remember thinking at that time that in spite of what was going on or not going on between me and my husband, I was really happy. I felt a sense of joy that I don’t remember ever feeling before. I was honest with my kids about my alcoholism and my recovery. Daniel commented that I always seemed “so perky” when I came back from one of my meetings and Diana even attended Alanon. The sense of my contentment and joy during that time is something I carry with me. I don’t know if I will ever experience that feeling again.
Two memories stand out of those days. The first memory took place on April 17th, 1997. In AA we celebrate sobriety anniversaries and this was my second one. I asked Diana if she would like to present me with my medallion at my home group meeting and she readily agreed. I told her that it was traditional for the presenter to say a few words and did she prepare what she was going to say. She said that she hadn’t that she was just going to speak from the heart. She did. This 16 year old girl spoke to a room full of adults without a trace of nervousness or self-consciousness. She spoke about how grateful she was to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous for giving me the tools to change my life. She talked about how close we’d become and how much happier I was. At the end she broke unashamedly into tears and we sat there and hugged each other with tears streaming down both our faces and the faces of everyone in the room.
As I write these words, I can feel the sensation of sitting and crying with our arms around each other so strongly that it is difficult to believe what happened only 6 months later.
The second memory of those days occurred on Diana’s 17th birthday, June 25th, 1997. We went out for dinner and I gave her a bracelet that she had admired several months previously. When I gave it to her she said “Oh Mom, you didn’t need to get me anything, you’ve already given me enough.” I looked at her questioningly and she said, “You gave me life and that’s more important than anything else.” I was so grateful that she was so happy to be alive unlike a lot of teenagers who whine that they didn’t ask to be born. I felt truly blessed at that moment and realized that everything I’d gone through had been worth it just to hear those words.
In early October of 1997 Diana and I were filling out applications to colleges. She had decided to apply to Emerson College in Boston. She liked the area having been up there visiting my relatives every summer since she was a child. She also loved the proximity to Nantucket where she planned to work and spend her summers. We had spent time on the island each summer for the past several years and Diana was never more in her element as she was on Nantucket. As she filled out her career plans she commented that she was planning on going to Medical school and studying Psychiatry. She jokingly said that she was going to help other teenagers try to get along with their “baby brothers.” She and Daniel had had an argument a few weeks earlier which culminated in him throwing a stink bomb into her room and she was still smarting from the exchange. I said that if that was the worst of our troubles, then we were doing pretty well. Unfortunately, this was to be so far from the truth that none of us could have anticipated what was to come.
On October 15th of that year, I got home a little before 6 p.m. Diana wasn’t home yet so I called a friend to see if she’d seen her but she hadn’t. I knew Daniel would be coming home with my husband and now that Diana had her license she would be driving herself. About 5 minutes later I got the phone call that every parent dreads. There was a doctor on the phone calling from the hospital. He asked me if anyone were with me and I said “No, what’s wrong?” He kept asking if there was anyone close by and I finally said “It’s Diana isn’t it?” He said I’d better come to the hospital. I raced to the hospital crying all the way and praying ,“Oh God, just let it be bad, we can do really bad, but don’t let her be dead.”
When I arrived at the hospital, the doctor was waiting and he took me into a room and asked me if my daughter was driving a van. I felt a moment of relief and said that she was in a station wagon. He then showed me her driver’s license and told me that her car had been hit by a train at a crossing and that she had been killed. I cannot even begin to make anyone understand the effect those words had on me. I only kept crying and repeating “What am I supposed to do now?” I have asked myself that same question every day since. I have yet to get an answer.
The doctor left me with two nurses I had known slightly from my days of working at that hospital. He first asked if I wanted to call a priest. I said that I wanted to call my sponsor. One of the nurses was in the program and understood totally why I would call her rather than a priest. I made the call to my sponsor, the only person I know who doesn’t have a driver’s license! But I knew she’d be there. Twenty minutes later she was there with several other women in my 12 step group. I don’t remember much of those first few hours, I just remember somehow being supported by those people. I saw their faces every time I opened my eyes. Another friend went to the Wednesday night AA meeting and told them what had happened and several of those kind men came to be with us.
The doctor who told me the news had called another surgeon who was a good friend of my husband’s. When he came to the hospital I asked him if I could see Diana. The other doctor and the nurses had said it wouldn’t be a good idea. When I asked Nick I saw one of the nurse shake his head quickly. Nick said he’d go check and went down to the morgue. He returned saying that I shouldn’t see her right now, that he didn’t think I want to remember her that way. And so I was just left to think of my little girl alone somewhere in that building and unable to be with her.
We still hadn’t located my husband and son who were at a soccer game so Nick went to our house to wait for him. When they got home Nick told them that there had been an accident and that Diana was dead. He broke down and said that there was no point in going on. But of course he did, we all did in spite of ourselves.
The next few days are a blur. Family and friends came from the Northeast and the house was full of people. I remember the children the most. All of Diana’s classmates and friends. They came to the hospital, to the house, to the funeral home and to the church for the funeral. They looked dazed, as if they couldn’t comprehend any of it. How could they? None of us could make any sense of it. It just didn’t seem possible that this incredible human being with her laughter and her singing, her wisdom and unfailing joy could be gone.
The only thing I can say with any certainty is that I am not the same person I was. As Simone Weil writes,
It is human misery, and not
pleasure which contains the
secret of divine wisdom.
I know things now that I never knew before. The things I know are difficult to put into words, but they relate to what is important in this world and what seems to be important and yet isn’t. I am not sorry to have this wisdom, but I would have happily remained ignorant than to have to get it in this way.
The thing I struggle with the most these days is my concept of God. I had difficulty with the “God thing” since coming into AA, and it was only in the 2 months prior to her death that I finally felt that I had a conscious contact with God. I came to this through reading a book by Neale Donald Walsch entitled “Conversations With God.” I really felt that I came to know a God that I could relate to through that book. When Diana died, even religious people would say that they were angry at God. I would say that I really didn’t think that God had anything to do with the accident and that on the contrary, I felt as though God were grieving with me. I still felt a closeness to God in those early days, but now I think I have lost God as well. I’m not angry, I just don’t feel connected to God anymore. It saddens me because those few months when I felt that connection were probably when I felt the most serenity I had ever experienced. I fought it for awhile, reading and thinking and trying very hard to get it back, but for now I have just let it go. If there is a God and if I’m meant to know this God then I believe I will, but looking for God requires more energy than I have right now.
Incredibly, along with the pain and the unceasing sadness, freedom came crashing down on me as well. I lost my fear. Things I had been afraid to do because they might disrupt the family or upset someone now seemed easy in comparison to Diana’s death. Less than one and one half years after she died, I moved out of the house. I left for many reasons. The sound of the trains began to be unbearable to me and this was a big reason for leaving. I also was acutely aware of the fact that I was no longer functioning as a wife and the reality of that stared me in the face every day. Grief is hard work and it is work that must be done in large part alone. It takes most of my energy and what I had left I was giving to Daniel.
In May of 1998, I went back to school to work towards a degree in Social Work. I realized in the months following Diana’s death that the part of my job that gave me the most satisfaction was counseling the students. I am presently a Registered Nurse in a university health office and much of my day is spent talking to students and helping them through one crisis or another. I am unable to go to school full time because I need to support myself and I don’t even know how long it will take me to complete my course work. I don’t look that far ahead. I just do the next thing that is required of me and I imagine I’ll keep on doing it until somebody hands me a diploma and says that I’m finished.
I have also felt a strong need to find a creative outlet in my life. At this point I’m exploring. I have done some watercolors and some writing and recently I bought my first really good expensive camera and have been experimenting with that. I planted a garden in the backyard of the house where Diana grew up. Her father is doing a lot of the work there now, but I go down and work in it periodically. I have made her spot at the cemetery into a garden as well.
Whatever I do, the reality of Diana’s death is with me. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath,
The absence of her life, the absence of her voice,
her face, her presence becomes something that
begins to grow beside me like a tree.
I believe I live my life more consciously or deliberately as Thoreau would say. I am, I think, more aware than most people of the things I have to be thankful for. I am incredibly grateful for the people I have in my life who bring me joy when I thought I would never feel that emotion again, who love me and are loved in return and who give me something to look forward to on those days when I am in danger of thinking that there is nothing. I am grateful to my son for his similarities to his sister and for his differences; he is the one who makes me laugh out loud. He challenges me constantly, and keeps me on my toes. I am also grateful to my husband for being the father he was and is and for continuing to care about me through all the times it would have been easier to give up. I am grateful for a sponsor who will let me rage and scream even when I’m not sure what it is that I’m raging or screaming at. One of the greatest gifts that she has given me is her willingness to tell me the truth when others might shy away from it. She embodies Thomas Merton’s prayer; “God spare me from the love of a friend who would never dare to rebuke me.” I’m also thankful that her rebukes are tempered with love and gentleness. I have relationships with people today that I never would have had without recovery and sobriety and without them I never would have survived the loss of Diana.
There have been times when I have mentally compared myself to a container full of dead leaves. I was empty inside of anything living and yet I could not leave myself. I continue to live with the questions because it seems clear that the only answer comes with death. I don’t like it, but I am resigned to it for the time being. I struggle to let the grief ease just a bit while fighting my fear that if I don’t feel the pain then I will feel nothing. I have been told by people in the same situation that in time the hurt will give way to something softer and without the rough edges. For now I am willing to feel the feelings because I know that if I shut down the pain I shut down the joy as well. I also believe feelings denied do their own damage and that in time they will fester, and ooze their poison into every cell of my being.
I am aware that the loss of Diana colors every decision I make regarding Daniel and that this can be hard on him. I talk to him and tell him that I don’t think I could survive the loss of him as well and I think he understands. He wants to drive now and ride with his friends, but understands the reluctance of his parents to give him that permission. He is patient for now but observed recently that it was inevitable that he would drive at some point. So we make plans for a really good, thorough driving school and he tells his friends that before he’s allowed to ride with them they have to sit face to face with me so that I can be sure that they understand the responsibility entailed with driving my son. Every decision is a battle that I wish I didn’t have to fight. Before Diana was killed I felt safe. I thought that nothing bad would ever happen to us. Now I know that bad things can happen. . .to us or to anybody.
I’ve learned quite a bit in the past couple of years and I think this knowledge comes through even when I myself am not conscious of it. I’m different now. That’s all I can say.