Friday, December 14, 2012

20 Elementary School Children In Connecticut....

If The Parents of The Children Killed in Connecticut Are Fortunate…

"Parents will go home today and hold and hug their children a little closer tonight-and tell them how much we love them," President Obama said during a press conference. I have heard several reporters and others interviewed express similar sentiments since the tragedy in Connecticut.

I was driving when I heard the news. At first I guess I just did not believe what I had heard and continued driving. Then I needed to pull over and just sat in my car and cried - for the children, their parents and families, and for those loving and caring teachers who tried to protect the children; and for their community and for the world which is a much darker place today. And of course I cried because I was flooded with three and one-half year old memories from those minutes , days and weeks after my daughter Casey died. I felt, sensed, imagined the collective grief of those who were now suffering and would suffer for the rest of their lives. The magnitude of my families’ grief somehow magnified twenty fold. It is utterly overwhelming and incomprehensible. So why will we hug our living children more and hold them closer tonight? Is it because we still have our children and other parents do not? Is it because for at least a part of today, and maybe for the next several days or weeks, we will allow ourselves as parents to imagine the unimaginable? Is it because we realize that the beliefs we have about the natural progression of life, children surviving parents, beliefs which allow us to function, now are threatened? Is it because we realize that with respect to what is most important to us, the health and life of those we love, we have so very little control? These thoughts and fears are primal and come from deep within, but ultimately are selfish and self-focused. What about these parents?

If the parents of the children killed in Connecticut are fortunate they will find comfort from friends and family and will have at least someone who will listen for as long as it is necessary- listen as they sob, moan, cry, scream, blame, deny, question, regret, plead, shut-down; listen as they tell the story of their loss, and tell it over and over again, as they must; listen as they anguish over whether their child suffered in those last few moments ; listen as they question whether they loved their child enough, or were good enough parents; listen as they question whether their child was happy and felt loved; listen as they question whether they did anything to bring this misfortune upon themselves and their child; listen as they question their faith and how a supreme being could have allowed this to happen; listen as they wish they were the ones killed instead of their child; listen as they question how they can go on living now that their child is dead; listen as they blame themselves for not being able to protect their child and not being there to hold and comfort their child in his or her last moments. And this is just the beginning for these parents .

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Have a Happy Thanksgiving"

"Have a Happy Thanksgiving"

I have been told/wished/advised/urged/  to have a "Happy Thanksgiving."  Let me start by stating that everyone who has done so has truly wanted me to be happy--I fervently believe that. But making that wish, or extending that pleasantry to me, does not come without risk. Can I ,or should I, be happy when my daughter Casey is not here to be with us on this special occasion?

Consistent with  my experience over the last three years since Casey has died I feel disconnected from others who have not suffered such a painful and inexplicable loss when they  "treat" me as if I am the same as them. I am different and will always be different-that is clear now.  This will be the 4th Thanksgiving without Casey-without Casey rushing in by train , me waiting to get the first glimpse of her as she appeared walking under the columns at 30th street station, knowing that she had seen me when that smile-that "Casey" look came across her face and I truly believed at that moment, that that look, that "face" was just for me and no one else but her dad could ever receive that special gift.Casey juggling all of her busy work and leisure time, appearing so beautiful, so poised, so absolutely wonderful to her adoring father who, often could not believe that he had played a part in the development of this incredible human being. Casey seeing her pets and loving them all as only Casey could , singing from room to room throughout the house,staying out late to connect with local friends, waking up and appearing in a long and ill-fitting extra large T- shirt, with her hair haphazardly bunched up on top of her head, no make up, teeth unbrushed and looking so young,  innocent and  beautiful. Casey with mom and her little brother and making all feel so specially blessed to be loved by her.

I will share Thanksgiving with friends and family and those that I care about most and who care for me. It will be a special time because I know that one should not squander or take for granted  opportunities to be with those who matter to us. But I am not seeking to have a "Happy Thanksgiving." Perhaps I am seeking to have a positively reflective Thanksgiving, where I take the time to take in all those who are with me and I love, all those who are no longer with me physically that I love and miss so much. To take the time to remember how blessed I am, to  remember Casey, and to remember that from pain and tragedy come tears and one day smiles, and tears and more smiles and an appreciation for all that there is , an appreciation for the opportunities seemingly born from pain and despair, the opportunities afforded by life, and the realization  that special days, holidays, do not need to include "happiness" to be special.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How are we doing today?

I have spoken with almost a dozen parents who have lost children recently. We talk about how much pain our children did or did not suffer before they died. We talk about what those last moments must have been like, knowing we will never really know, and feeling as parents we somehow deserted our children because we were not there for those last moments -to protect and to comfort. We talk about needing to know everything about how they died while dreading the answers. We talk about whether our children were happy and had led fulfilling lives for their short time on earth. We talk about whether their short lives will be remembered, or whether they will be forgotten.We talk about our loss, and our children's loss and ....we talk about our need, our hunger, "to do" in their memory . We talk about emptiness, and loneliness and pain and being different from other parents as a result of our loss. "How are they doing?"  ..."How am I doing?" "How are we doing?"

It is not often anymore that anyone asks me how I am doing and really wants to know how I am doing today.  I wonder if all my activities in Casey's memory suggest to others that I am doing well? I think I am doing well and then .... Is doing well getting on with life-as I seem to be doing; or  rearranging my priorities and trying to help others in Casey's memory-as I seem to be doing; or believing that there is so much opportunity for good in this world-as I fervently do? Is doing well having that acute searing, agonizing, terrible jagged hole in my gut, the emptiness of Casey's death and loss, become less, almost like the jaggedness is gone, like a rusty sword, dulled and smoothed over as a result of 3 years of suffering?

What is doing well?  Does it even matter how I am doing as long as I am doing and busy and distracted and  open  to accept the gifts that are offered to me by others ?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Long car rides

Today I had a 2 hour drive to Scranton, PA.  I start thinking, thinking of Casey and there are no distractions as I sit in the car and drive. I am captive to my own emotions and there is no escaping them. Still after 3 years it is hard to drive long distances alone.We had driven that route so many times as a family -going to see my parents, Casey's grandparents. Seeing if she could hold her breath as we went through the tunnel on the Turnpike, wanting to stop at the rest stops, acting silly and goofy and wanting to get fireworks  in Matamoras, or stopping at the flea market at the Monticello Racetrack for bargains with her mother. All those memories come and I am flooded with emotions and alone in the car and no one to talk to. Sometimes I hate long car rides.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Casey's love for animals is making a difference...but

We spent the 3rd anniversary of Casey's death performing service at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia and announced the new facility therapy dog we had funded. Ford, is an 8 year old Golden Retriever and is such a kind, gentle and loving presence. His unconditional love for the patients, many of whom have suffered devastating and life-altering injuries, is palpable as are  the patients' reactions to him. The patients are better motivated and willing to work harder for Ford. Here is a link to a video:

I was in Chicago speaking with lawyers who will participate in the distracted driving presentations in high schools across the country during the 2012-13 academic year. It is gratifying to do all of this in Casey's memory.  But...  I am realizing that while all of this is good, and I will continue to do these things, they are distractions so that I don't dwell on the enormity of my loss. I still can't look at more than a few pictures of Casey at a time without getting very emotional. Or listen to her voice on one of the videos we have . Or sit in her room and look at her posters, clothes, trinkets and all the items that she collected that represent her energy, compassion, love for people and animals and family and friends. The tragedy of Casey's death would be compounded if we could not do all these positive things in her memory. But that does not make it any less cruel or unfair.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

3rd Anniversary

Tuesday will be the 3rd anniversary of Casey's death. Sometimes it seems like yesterday and other times , and this scares me, I seem to have gotten used to it in a way. I was reading some of the e-mails and cards and letters that came in from kind folks after Casey's death and while it is very emotional to do so , they are comforting-the common thread was that for those who knew Casey the shock of losing someone with so much energy, compassion and vitality made them want to change the direction of their lives and to become better people. For those who did not know Casey they were touched by learning about her and also wanted to become kinder and gentler people. Looking into a future without Casey is painful, as painful as it has ever been-for what she has lost and what we have lost by not having her here. So I don't really look into the future and miss her and know that half of our family's future was destroyed three years ago. The loss to her and all who knew her and those who would have been touched by her is so profound and I cannot grasp it. I  know that for what we have been through nothing really scares me and  that I do appreciate life much more. I understand how life and health are gifts, and how important people-relationships - are and that I am impelled to do things, create and touch people in Casey's memory and will always feel that is my mission.  I am  at times more fulfilled than I have ever been as I  mourn Casey's absence, missing here, remembering her and making certain that her life and memory make a difference in this world.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Moms and Dads: Mother's Day and Father's Day

On Mother’s Day, this year and the two prior years, Casey’s absence was palpable. I did what I thought I needed to do, remind my wife Dianne that she was a great  mother, so warm, loving and supportive, and  that Casey loved her and that she had been responsible for helping Casey live a wonderful 21 years. I asked how she was doing on  Mother’s Day, with one of her children dead. She told me that , for her, all days are like Mother’s Day-that day was no worse than any other. I did not really get the full significance of what she meant until Father’s Day.  Father’s Day this year was very difficult for me, more so than the two prior years, and definitely more difficult that other days. It is two-edged-what I have lost and what Casey has lost and will never have. And about a week or so later it struck me -For Di, a mother who has lost her child, are all days for her like my Father’s Day? Are there not days that are easier for moms? 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Like only a daughter could....

I was on the treadmill and watching "Power Ball." Brad Pitt's daughter sings him a song and I start sobbing like I have not for some months. A young girl singing a song about life's troubles, life being a "riddle." But also about hope and possibilities. Her name is Casey too. I hear Casey, my Casey, in my mind singing show tunes, and remember that when she would sing and our eyes would connect she would give me that sweet, yet confident and knowing look--knowing that she was touching me like only a daughter could. I wonder if I see these things, these reminders of Casey , to remind me that I am getting on with my life without her..and maybe getting on too well.

Friday, April 6, 2012

For Casey's 21st Birthday three years ago

Thinking about Casey today-what would be/is her 24th birthday. Looking through old e-mails from before she died and found the one I sent to her three years ago today:

Not to get too sentimental but I was thinking about that day 21 years ago when you were kind enough to appear and make me a father-one of my greatest blessings in life and for which I am so grateful every day. The eagerness, the worry-your Mom did not want to get to the hospital fast enough for me. And just that feeling when you arrived and we knew you were fine and healthy. I fill with emotion when I think of how wonderful a young woman you are, bright, sensitive and caring and sooooooooooo hard working . I also think about how you have handled the “downs” and I so appreciate you sharing some of those with me also-now that Dad tries to keep his mouth shut and listen its probably easier to do so.

I will try to call you later as I know you are working—hey you are 21-kiss as many strange boys as you want!!!

I love you very much sweetie

Filling with emotion today also-still so very proud,still blessed to have Caey as a daughter but raw, painful and empty

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How am I doing now compared to then?

Looking back to something I wrote 6 weeks after Casey died--

At times it is unfathomable to me that I will never see, hear or hold Casey again or that all of the things we looked forward to sharing with Casey will not occur. Prior to all of this we were as happy as we had ever been as a family and there was a sweet, serene rhythm or cadence to life. That was shattered and has not returned for me but we are doing better as we try to find our way in a world without Casey. One day I can look in her room and smile when seeing her brown bear that she has had since she was a year old and the next day I fall apart and need to cling to “brown bear” . I never really understood what the “pain” of grieving was about until now. I also get the sense that I am “different” now in the eyes of friends and family for having suffered what everyone refers to as the greatest loss imaginable. I know many of them are thanking God it was not their child and while I don’t wish it had been anyone else’s child I certainly wish it had not been mine. The fraternity of parents who have lost children is larger than I ever could have imagined and the paths of recovery of those who have taken the time to contact me are so very very different. There are those who need to tell me that it will never get better for as long as I live -two parents told me that during the visitation. I was startled and then angry at them. I do not accept that now and did not then but I share their grief and hope that perhaps they can get better as I know I will. I do think that what I first thought were so poorly timed and almost cruel comments did help focus me into thinking about the choice I had going forward after losing Casey. I intend to lead as happy and productive a life as I can for my wife, son and myself as well as all those who knew and loved Casey. Had Casey not been born I would have counted myself incredibly blessed with my life, family and friends. I still have all of that and had the blessing of Casey for 21 wonderful years and the promise that many will remember Casey and act in ways to improve our world because of her.

I am appreciating life, thinking that I can deal with anything, more spiritual and on a different and better path, but I am filled with emotion as I think back to how swwet life was with all of us-all 4 of us and what will never be for Casey and us.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Speaking with our loved ones before their death

Yesterday I attended an event marking the first anniversary of Owen Brezitski's death. Owen was 8 and was killed while walking with his family in a crosswalk in the Harrisburg, PA area. The driver was a teen who hit the gas instead of the brake. Owen's mother spoke about the last conversation that she had with her son. She told him how proud she was of him, how she so admired him for many of his attributes and all who heard her speak could feel the love that she had for him. She also said how thankful she was that Owen knew how she felt about him. As I listened in tears I recalled the last conversation that I had with Casey in which she told me she was happy. It has made my mourning easier knowing, that in addition to living a very full 21 years of life and positively affecting so many others,that Casey was happy. I was struck by the "coincidence" of parents, immediately before their children's deaths, being given the gift of a deeply meaningful conversation with their children. It is something we can hold on to as we think of all the things that will never come to pass for us as parents and for our children. As life goes on and I become more open to others I am feeling as time goes on that the coincidences are not coincidental. As I do grief counseling with families whose loved ones have died in hospice I see that despite the advance knowledge of impending death, many families do not have that meaningful conversation before their loved one dies. How fortunate we were for this gift.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Purposefully Busy and Distracted

I am lawyering-continuing to represent the families of those who have been killed, or people who have been injured-doing grief counseling at a hospice as part of my internship-and working on getting distracted driving presentations to more than 500 high schools across the country as part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.I am so very busy and I know it is purposeful-I still can't look too far ahead into a future without Casey. I can, but I don't and if I do it feels so hopeless, so empty and still so raw and unfair. I am doing better of course and I am thankful for that but at times it seems like everything I do is just to occupy my time and to distract me from the enormity of losing Casey. At times I am very uncomfortable with my reinvestment into life, my moving forward and getting on with life. A life without Casey and the memories of Casey and missing Casey until I die or lose my mind and memory. It is Casey who should be meeting new challenges, meeting new people, positively impacting others. It is not fair that I am doing all of this, and much of what I do is because Casey is dead. I wonder at times do I do it for Casey or do I do it for me and what are my motives?