Thursday, August 27, 2015

The View From the Caboose...

I have mentioned in several posts as well as in personal conversation how I relate the events of this past year to being hit by a hundred-car freight train.  We have passed the First Year anniversary and here is a look back at the freight train that plowed through my life in 2014. 

The Engine – My sister and best friend was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and there were at least 25 cars attached to that alone as I watched my sister and my best friend my whole life go through the most devastating all-consuming "vacuum" that sucked what used to be her life into a dark and spiraling black hole.  Fatal disease, 21-day hospital stay, having to move out of her home and completely away from her pets, her church and her grandchildren and in with a 24 hour a day caregiver, 100-days in the bone marrow transplant unit every single day for 6 to 12 hours a day while she is poked and prodded and little pieces of her literally sliced away, four types of high-dose chemotherapy; hair loss; mouth sores; nausea; diarrhea; high dose total body irradiation, multiple painful bone marrow biopsies, bone marrow transplant, my niece being the donor and having to go through all that entailed, graft vs. host disease of the skin, lungs and eyes,  dangerous/life-threatening treatments including high doses of steroids, at least eighteen other scary medications, UVA light treatments, three different dangerous viruses, complications of diabetes and liver disease.  I am committed to be her caregiver for at least the next six months and six weeks into her treatment and a mind-numbing schedule…the rest of the cars begin to hit.

·        There is a death in my immediate family – Huge.  But not just a death but the death of my child. And not just the death of my child which would have been horrific alone but my youngest son, my 29-year old daughter in law and my 2 ½ year-old grandbaby – the child I have cared for and helped raise since his birth --are all gone. 
·        It is a tragic, horrific death – all three found shot in their home and not found for more than thirty-six hours.
·        I now have a grueling schedule trying to care for my sister – without a brain and a body that doesn't work.  I am so devastated I cannot function.  I cannot grieve or cry or curl up in the bottom of the closet like I want to.  Yet I am incapable of doing the job I have committed to and my sister's life depends on it. Guilt. Fear. Devastation.
·        The captive audience and brunt of my raging anger is my very sick sister that I love desperately and fear losing.  Guilt.
·        We were never allowed to see any of them and because of the condition of the bodies they could not have a traditional funeral and burial.
·       They say it was a murder/suicide committed by my son!  Impossible.  They don’t know him.  This cannot be true.  But they will not listen or investigate for any other possibilities.  They have made up their minds and they are done.
·        Because of the situation and the belief that Brian did this –
o   There is instant breakdown between the families - understandably.
o   They will be separated forever.  Kara and the baby in one state and Brian in another.
o   We do not even get to attend the memorial service for the daughter in law I loved nor the baby I adored. 
o   “We” actually feel guilt, remorse and shame even though we did nothing and do not even believe for one minute that Brian did this.
·        There is strong evidence that suggests it was a staged suicide and a possible hit on their lives:
o   Weeks later we hear from Kara's mom that Kara told friends and family over a year ago about an incident that happened where an acquaintance of Brian’s young adult son came to their door high on something and looking for trouble when Brian refused to let his son go out and called the police to the boy he left screaming threats: “This is not over. I will come back and kill you and your whole ^&^%*$ family!” 
o   Fear was the reason Kara asked for a gun.
o   The only ground-floor window was unlocked and partially open, hidden from the street view behind tall, thick shrubbery while all of the doors in the house were locked and dead-bolted.
o   Only two spent bullet casings were ever found. 
o   The missing bullet casing was from the shot that killed Brian - the last one alive; so how exactly does that happen? And why was this not a red-flag?
o   Though Brian is an avid writer – no suicide note is ever found.
o   Nothing was wrong in his life; we talked to both he and Kara just hours before and everything was fine.  They had plans to take the baby to a birthday party the next day and he called me asking what time we would be home so he could come over and bring the baby for a visit afterward.
o   According to the investigators, they had “all” put on pajamas and gone to bed. And no one found this even a tiny bit odd?
o   There was no reference to any domestic issues on their phones, I-Pad or computer – just sweet bantering back and forth between Brian and Kara the same afternoon this happened.  Why were these items not taken as evidence for the investigation?
·       We begged the county sheriff’s department for ten months to give us all of the information about the investigation that led them to this determination.  We were told the GBI would be heading up the investigation and there would be a ballistics test, a toxicology screen, an autopsy and a report of the findings would be sent to them upon completion.  Somewhere around four weeks later in a call to the GBI we find out that none of that is true. Four weeks after the bodies have all been cremated and after Serve-Pro has cleaned and decontaminated the house – destroying any evidence.  I demanded a meeting with all of the investigators --twice and all we got was “cover your ass” answers and even blatant lies.
·       They did not take finger-prints or physical evidence from around the open window, ballistics tests or test for blood evidence that proved Brian was the shooter.
·        They offered no explanation for why the other shell casing was never found.  Small room, wood floors and Serve Pro completely emptied it and went through every inch of it and no bullet casing was ever found. The Sergeant actually said and I quote. “Giving you closure is not our responsibility.  All we need is cause and manner of death and we have that.”
·        WSB TV showed up on the scene, then stole from Kara's Facebook account, my copyrighted photographs of the family taken in my yard the fall before and blasted this horror all over National Television – before we could even notify family.
·        Brian’s children had to be told by phone for fear they would see it on the news.
·        One of the best dads that I ever knew was now left with the most horrible legacy imaginable.
·        The entire free world now saw him as a monster.
·        That legacy spilled over onto what was left of my family as friends and even some relatives turned away from all of us in hatred and disgust and said horrible things about Brian on Facebook hurting his children as if this horrific tragedy was not bad enough.
·        I am devastated and in disbelief that people actually do not think that I should love or mourn the loss of my son.
·        We have to hold a private Memorial service and hire security to keep the news crews out.
·        We live in a small town.  Everywhere we go strangers ask us about it, stare at us and even point.  I no longer feel comfortable in the town that I have made my home for 23 years.
·        A formal company-wide announcement was made on my job.  That was comfortable.  I have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
·        Guilty by association - “We” are treated as if we are guilty by the Coroner’s office, the Sheriff’s Department, the GBI.  We are given no information, no consideration, no respect and certainly no sympathy.  There is the family of the victims of this God-awful tragedy…and then there is us.
·        I actually feel guilt with regards to Kara’s family because they believe my son caused their loss.
·        We quickly realize there is no justice for Brian – no matter how we fight.  No one is going to do anything to try and prove his innocence because their minds are made up.  A judgment call made on a gruesome crime scene in about fifteen minutes will leave a tragic legacy for him and the rest of us completely destroyed.  They have been his accuser, witness, judge and jury with a very biased point of view.  Sentence is passed – guilty.  He is guilty.  We are guilty by association.  They half do their jobs, piss away evidence, release the scene and allow any evidence of a crime to be destroyed. They lie to us about what has been done that proves this. Without knowing him, without giving him the benefit of the doubt, because of the horror of the scene they let their opinions of him get in way of them doing their jobs.
·        The house is contaminated with hazardous bacteria and all of their personal belongings have to be thrown out.  There are no clothes, no shoes - absolutely nothing “personal” left to us.  All of the baby’s clothes and shoes, his beloved blanket, his binkies and the handmade heirloom memories – made and given by both grandmothers - gone.  The house looks as if he never even existed.  There is no evidence anywhere of the beautiful little boy that graced our lives for 2 ½ years.  As if he had just been erased.
·        There is no will so his two older children are left not knowing who the next of kin is. They have no idea how to file an estate and since no one actually now owns it, no one can legally sell the house. 
·        There is no insurance.  The children cannot pay for his service or cremation.
·         My heart breaks for his other two children.  They are lost in a sea of grief and confusion.
·         My heart breaks for my daughter who has to oversee the decontamination and clean-up of her beloved family’s home.  Meeting with Serve-Pro discussing gut-wrenching details of things no one should ever have to see or hear.
·         We have the sad job of having to find homes for their two dogs.
·         My daughter and I are left with a huge physical and financial mess trying to intervene and sort out everything, deal with the personal property, the bills, calling the creditors, the house, the stray belongings left unclaimed in the house.
·         We have to start foreclosure proceedings on the house in order to be able to do anything with it and get out from under the bills that keep piling up and the yard maintenance. 
·         In the wake of the worst tragedy one can imagine we hire a lawyer for help and he decides like everyone else that we are in a vulnerable position and he decides to capitalize on our tragic circumstances so he bills us 2 ½ times the price he originally told me it would cost to handle the standard foreclosure - and it was, regardless of the circumstances, just a standard foreclosure to him.
·        Since there was no will the home that he and Kara worked so hard on has to be sold on the courthouse steps for a fraction of what it is worth; leaving very little to his children and it was split four ways with Kara's parents.
·        All of the things the children or Kara’s sister did not take is still sitting in my building.  Six truckloads.  I now have the gut-wrenching job of going through it and then trying to “dispose” of what is left of my children’s lives.
·        From the fallout of this – I have lost the friend that I have shared the most intimate parts of my life with for the past 37 years.
·        I have lost many friends and relatives through this.
·        It has changed my perspective on EVERYTHING until I don’t even recognize who I am anymore.
·        It has aged me by ten years at least.
·        I have had a huge faith crisis through this and consequently have little security still as to who God really is in light of this horrific tragedy.  I have a difficult time knowing what to pray for and why.  I have a difficult time believing all I read and hear about God’s protection.  Though I am better, I am still left feeling very vulnerable and empty at times.
·        It has threatened my other son’s marriage.
·        It has left me with a huge insecurity as far as how I feel about law enforcement.
·        It has left me feeling as if I do not belong in my home town and I am living in limbo not knowing where to go now.  This was my home.
·        There are actually family members that now avoid us and refuse to come to our home because it, and we, remind them of this loss and horrific tragedy.
·        I have had my feelings hurt over the people that I thought were friends that have completely deserted me through all of this. 
·        I myself am avoiding people that I care about that used to be in my life because I do not know how to tell them this.
·        And it is our belief that there is a killer walking free.

      So this is why I say it is like being hit by a train.  The hurts, the tragedies, the devastation, the insults, the guilt, the changes, the horrors like the separate cars of a freight train just kept on plowing over us one right behind the next for the whole entire year.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Gift of Old Ragged Socks

Today my daughter found another "treasure".  In a box of crafting material that she had taken from Brian's house she found what appeared to be a large bag of old worn out socks.  When she opened it and removed them there were 42 very rough versions of Brian's famous sock puppets!  We all knew Brian's had made these infamous sock puppets but none of us had any idea there were so many or that he had kept them.  What another true gift. 

As a general rule he was a neat freak and his house was completely clutter-free. (Probably a holdover from having a mother that couldn't turn loose of anything!)  Unlike me - he purged. His house was immaculate. His bills, his household files and old income tax records looked as though they belonged to a really picky accountant.  But he, like me, still had a sentimental streak in him especially when it came to anything to do with his children. 

Neither of us could believe he had saved all of those ragged home-made sock puppets.  But how thankful to God I am that he did.

It all began when the kids were young as he was purging old badly-stained, unmated socks or socks with holes. He put one on his hand and started it "talking" to the kids - which was kind of always his thing. Everything when placed in Brian's hands "talked" and had a personality; bagels, tortillas, diapers - everything.  The kids just loved it.  So began the sock puppet menagerie and as everything tends to do - what started as a fluke took on a life of its own. He started drawing faces and funny mustaches on them.  Then he began to give them names.  Then the kids got big enough to get in on the game.  Thanks to Hobby Lobby the sock puppets got brightly colored pompom noses, wonky eyes, yarn hair and even straw hats.  He gave them all different voices and distinguishing characteristics and he began to make up fun stories "starring" the socks.  And this was how a single dad entertained two active kids without a mother in the household for almost 10 years.

IMG_2056.JPGIMG_2054.JPGOne day he got the idea to use the sock puppets as a teaching tool to help the kids learn the stories of the bible.  With the sock puppets he made the stories come alive to them so that they could remember them, relate to the characters and understand the stories better. 

He told stories of Daniel in the lions den; David and Goliath, Joseph as his brothers threw him in the pit and sold him; Joseph  interpreting the dreams and how he went on to save his father's household through the famine. He told of the story of Boaz and of Moses in the bulrushes, then how he was rescued and later in life killing the Egyptian, He also told the story of Moses and Aaron leading God's people that had been in bondage in Egypt and the story of the plagues that God sent to the King when he would not let them go and later how God gave Moses the ten commandments. I'm sure that is not all but all I can remember. 

The kids ate it up.  They even reversed roles and the kids presented the puppet bible stories to him.  So obviously his plan worked pretty good and consequently they probably knew the stories of the bible better than most Preacher's children at their age.  The only difference was that in their eyes Moses will always have bright orange feather hair!

It was one of the sweetest memories to me and I just had to share. 


Friday, August 14, 2015

Whatever you do for the least of these...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I have felt abandoned by God in all of this misery. 

So I got to thinking about where I have found my comfort and support.  Of course my family first and foremost my daughter, my son in law, my husband, my sisters, my brother & my best friend but where was God in all of this?  Well the first help and comfort I received was from my church family – all of whom were with us from the moment we found out and there for us throughout that entire horrific day.  Then throughout the week following their deaths – we heavily depended on them for so much.  There was the Preacher and his wife – to preach the service and play the piano and to be there to sit with us, cry with us and pray for us.  There was a steady stream of Deacons and their wives, and the rest of the church family all there, at one time or another bringing food, drinks, paper goods, hugs, tears, offers of help in any way we needed.  They continued with phone calls, cards, emails and sporadic visits for many months even bringing us fresh vegetables from their gardens.  And even this past week a drop in visit as they remembered that the anniversary was coming up and they thought I may need someone to be with me.

Then there were all the cards and the beautiful and thoughtful “comfort basket” from my daughter’s Sabbath School class.  A group of ladies from the Seventh Day Adventist Church my daughter attends – all women that did not know me but sent me inspirational books, cards, a special coffee mug, picture frames, soft cuddly throws and CHOCOLATE!  It was the sweetest gesture.

I have even received, right along with my sister, a steady stream of funny, sweet, uplifting cards for a solid year now from the mother of the preacher at my sister's church.  

Then we attended Grief Share classes at one of the largest Church of God churches in Atlanta where we were given books, advice, comfort and support while we met in a group of people who had all experienced loss and watched inspirational, helpful & hopeful videos to give us hope and teach us ways to survive this loss.  I also made a good friend there that has kept in touch and I’ve had dinner with several times.

And when my sister went home and the grief blind-sided me again – she (as if she had nothing else to think about!) contacted a church sponsored group called Stephen Ministries.  Where they have volunteers that train to be paired up with someone in an emotionally trying situation of loss to listen and offer friendship and comfort.  I have been meeting weekly with the sweetest lady that sits for a couple of hours a week and listens while I tell her the details of this horrific story.  A heavy burden emotionally for her yet she keeps coming back.  She actively listens.  She isn’t judgmental or disgusted.  And, when I want to talk about my love for my son, I don’t get “The Look”.  She is kind and considerate and thoughtful and she also meets with a group of “prayer warriors” weekly in a Prayer Shawl group and they knit or crochet shawls or afghans and the entire group prays over it and then they give them to someone in need of prayer.  She brought me the most beautiful blanket that all of the women in her group had prayed over for me!  They are from a Methodist Church fifteen miles away.

Days after the kids were found, we received a letter in his mail box addressed to the "Family of Brian, Kara & Paxton" expressing sympathy and telling us how sorry they were and how they were praying for us.  It was from a church fifty miles from us.

I have spent days and days listening to the comforting messages of Charles Stanley, a minister from the largest Baptist Church in Atlanta.  He is on the radio and his sermons are broadcast on TV and online from their website.   I listen every day to what has -- at times been a life-saving message.

I have also for the first time in my life begun listening to Praise and Worship music.  I am a Southern Gospel old Church Hymnal kind of girl and have never cared for the new age modern worship music but the very first person to contact me from my blog sent me a link to a song by Mercy Me called the Hurt and The Healer and I fell in love.  And I’ve been listening to them and all praise and worship music ever since.  It has become such a comfort and such a help to me and I have found a new love that I will no doubt hang onto from here on out.

So what is the common denominator here? 
Yep, God.  That same God that I felt had abandoned me. 
There have been Churches  -  Baptist Churches, Seventh Day Adventist Churches, Methodist Churches, Church of God Churches, Presbyterian Churches – all sending help and comfort my way continuously.  All God’s people --doing God’s work; “being Jesus to the least of these.”  God was bringing me help and comfort in my grief and pain – through the kind acts of His people.  I couldn’t feel Him or find Him but He was there all the time; sending His earthly workers to be the music that soothed my soul, the inspirational teaching that got me through that day, various formal ministries to be my listeners and my guides through the strange and hostile world of catastrophic grief, new friends and even strangers to be my comforters and my own church family to be my physical help. 
He has been there for me --through all of you!
If you ever think that what you do does not matter – think again.  If you have a talent (and everyone does) whether it be carpentry, gardening, crocheting, knitting, talking and being an inspiration to someone, or listening to give someone an outlet for their pain, cooking to provide a meal, singing, preaching or praying – God can use it if you let him.  And trust me when I tell you, it makes a difference.  Some days the difference between life and death.

Sometimes You are all of the God some people ever see.  I know because I have been one of them.


Monday, August 10, 2015

My Very Eventful Weekend

It has been a very full and positive weekend.  I got out and did several things that were way out of the norm for me since last August.

I actually hired a man to take care of a repair job on the ceiling at church.  I spent the day working on a grief-related memorial project for someone else; I went to see my two granddaughters that live about 100 miles from us, stayed over-night and got in two good days visits with them and also a good visit with their mother my ex-daughter in law.  I got to visit and have lunch with my cousin that I dearly love but haven’t seen in a long time;  I got to test my theory about whether I would actually step up and say something of comfort to someone in an uncomfortable situation of loss – cancer in this case.  And...I met with Kara’s mom for the first time since last August.

The Memorial Project - I spent five hours editing photographs and putting together a photo book of memories of my friend’s brother that passed away suddenly just last month.  He wanted to do it as a memorial gift to his family but did not know how.  I got it to the draft stage.  He was very happy with it and it was a creative release for me and it felt really good doing something positive and comforting for someone else.  And I think it turned out beautifully.

The meeting with Kara’s mom - This was a long-time coming and it was not without mixed emotions on both of us.  It was so good to finally get to see her and talk to her face to face but I have to admit I was terrified thinking about how emotional it would be; fearful of how she would react to us; and wondering if we would be able to talk --really talk –about all of this at all. 

She and I both were hesitant and a little fearful of whether it would be good or extremely uncomfortable.  I don’t think I could have custom-designed it to go any better than it did.  It was a tangle of emotions; a little sad and emotional at first, a little bitter-sweet yet extremely comforting though I can’t explain why and such an emotional relief to finally get to be with her.  We met for dinner and stayed and talked four hours!   It was, to me, one of the most gracious acts of love and kindness I’ve ever personally been a part of.

The visit with my granddaughters and daughter in law - My granddaughters are both grown and on their own.  Have their own homes and one is married so we don’t see them as much anymore and in most cases there would be no reason to ever see my ex-daughter in law again…Except that I will always love her.  I appreciate the fact that she always allowed me to be a part of their lives and I have the other side of that coin and know better than most how much that means.  It was really good to spend quality time with all of them.  We had individual time with each of the girls in their homes; shared a meal with both and also had time with them together as a family.  We laughed and reminisced and talked until we were falling asleep.  It was a great weekend.

Then at the hotel where we were staying the next morning when we went to check out I noticed the clerk was wearing a scarf on her head and I heard her mention a rash she had that she thought was caused by the chemo.  My first and most natural response “before” would have been to pretend that I did not notice the scarf or hear her refer to “chemo” since she was not talking to me and just quickly turn in my keys and leave.  But I remembered my own sister and all of those other people in the clinic.  I remembered how isolated and alone cancer can feel because it makes everyone uncomfortable.  I remembered how I felt in my isolation and how my friends “discomfort” with “this” hurt me and made me feel so alone and abandoned.  And while I said I would never again walk away – I wondered how I would really do when put to the test.  Well, I didn’t just do what I probably would have done before.  I actually stopped acknowledged her and told her I overheard her mention chemo and told her how sorry I was to hear about her illness.  I told her about my sister and that I understood a little of what she was going through.  And she was clearly thankful to have me acknowledge her.  It was like a dam had burst.  She started talking non-stop like she was so “full” and I know personally, that she probably was.  We both teared up and I just let her talk.  I asked about her doctors and her treatment plan and if she had a good support system.  And she talked on and on.  And then as confirmation, she actually said, “It’s weird.  Like some people have a hard time relating to me anymore because of the cancer.  It’s like they don’t know what to say or how to treat me anymore.  I guess because of your sister you seem so open like you understand.”  I just said, “Yes, that must be it.”  I wished her well, told her I would be praying for her and left. 
It was not hard.  It didn’t take that much time.  And it literally made my day!