The Pursuit of Happiness

I find I often feel like I’m waiting, as patiently as possible, for…something. I’m waiting for morning. I’m waiting for evening again. For the pain to stop. For my daughter to come home, or call, or text to tell me all is well. For the point at which I’ve done everything I’m supposed to have done. For someone to bring her home and say it was all a terrible, terrible mistake. For the happiness that would come with such a revelation and reunion.

Dannica brought so much joy to my life, to my family. I had fallen in love with the young woman she had become. I loved it every time she passed by a room I was in and smiled at me. I loved it every time she snuggled up close to me just to be close. I loved it when she wanted to do my hair or my makeup or choose what outfit I should wear someplace special or at home for a special time. I loved her laugh and I loved listening to her laugh with her brother. I would listen when they didn’t know I was listening so they’d continue being silly and spontaneous and I’d have to try to muffle my own laughter as my heart threatened to burst with the perfect harmony of their connection. Her roots in family were strong but she was ready to fly.

She had told me she wanted to move out and that her plan was to do that before last Christmas. She was about to begin college and she wanted roommates and her own place and more independence. My heart ached at the thought of not having her here. I had thought she’d stay at home while she went to school and move out later since she was going to a local college but her wings were growing stronger day by day. I was about to be an empty nester. I had survived, Danni and I both had, her brother moving out to attend school in another city. It was hard for us. We grew closer and spent more time together as a result.

A full minute does not go by without thoughts of Dannica floating through me. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter if I’m trying to do something else, the mental and emotional pendulum slowly swings, unendingly powered by the motion of the earth even when I’m very, very still. Acceptance (almost), anger, incredulity, abject denial, guilt, supreme sadness, the deepest, darkest ache……….and back again, and again, and again, and again in a constant, fruitless, never-ending pursuit of happiness.

I was in no hurry for my children to grow up though now they have, the beautiful, intelligent, sensitive, amazing people they have become fills my heart and soul.

My heart breaks as I watch my son moving through his own grief and into mourning. He is doing it beautifully and with such love for his sister. His art, his music, his gifts for expression, his appreciation of quiet time and space in which to honor and nurture and heal. I still have him to hold and to talk to and to laugh with and for that I am so grateful. I remind myself that there was a time before Dannica was born that we were so happy. I do this not in an attempt to erase her from our lives but to acknowledge that it’s possible. We were happy before. We can be again. Dannica streaked through our lives as a bright and shooting star leaving us changed forever by her presence and forever by her passing.

The Lights In My Life...

The Lights In My Life…

Maybe 20 Seconds

On the way out to breakfast this morning, I noticed the reflection of my blinker lighting up the street sign in front of me.  The lights from cars coming from the opposite directions added flash and color and my mind instantly remembered being on the scene of Dannica’s accident.  So many flashing lights; her there, on the stretcher, her left arm falling limply to the side.

One of the first thoughts through my head was that I couldn’t have been more than 20 seconds behind her… if I hadn’t turned on the wrong street… I’d have made up that time easily and she’d be in my arms today.

The light changed to green and I turned.  The memory had removed me from my body a little bit and I realized it as I noticed how different the world looks without her in it.  I took a deep breath and brought myself back into the moment by giving myself a play by play, “I’m driving a vehicle.  It’s foggy.  The lanes split into two up ahead.  Moving to the right one.  The light is green…  oh, my God….”

My foot came off the accelerator and time slowed way down as an SUV went straight through the red light and hit the pole below it.  No brakes.  Didn’t even try to make the turn.  “He’s drunk!” my husband said, pulling out his cell phone to call for help.  Another car, a little blue one, came around me to my left, slowed down and honked angrily before speeding off into the fog.  May that driver never be in need of assistance on the road… and if he is, don’t let me be it.

The man driving the crashed vehicle backed up then drove forward into a parking lot.  I was afraid.  “What if he’s an angry drunk?”  I got out of my van and went to his car, my husband giving directions to the 911 operator.  “We have to make sure he’s okay.”  His door opened and the first thing I did was to breathe in deeply; not drunk.  Something wrong, though.  I took his hand in mine and looked into his confused face, “Are you hurt?”  He wasn’t.

People who lived in the houses along the road where Dannica’s accident happened, came out right away.  One man opened the door of her truck.  Later, he told me she looked peaceful, like she’d gone to sleep and that he had cradled her head in his hands until help arrived.  She wasn’t alone.  She wasn’t conscious.  She didn’t feel a thing.  She was at peace.  Something wrong, though.  Something wrong.

Off to breakfast and frozen to the core all I could think about was getting my hands on a hot coffee mug.  Then my next thought… 20 seconds.  Had I not forgotten to put my wallet back in my purse last night, we’d have been 20 seconds sooner.  We could have been T-Boned on our way to breakfast.  But we weren’t.

The Gift of Sight

My first earthly memory is that of looking sleepily up into wise and smiling eyes.  I was an infant of only a few months but the memory is very clear. My maternal grandfather was cradling me in his arms.  He died only a few months later and I never got to know him but I feel so much was conveyed to me in that moment of memory, through his eyes, and in a way I do know him; the most important things, anyway.  I know he loved me. I know he was happy I was in his arms. I know I felt content there, bundled and warm.  Even as a child, I noticed people’s eyes.  I saw there a measure of emotion, intent, validation. As I grew older, I noticed deeper things in people’s eyes.  There was something there, in some of them, that I couldn’t describe. Something that attracted me to them and made me want to know what was inside even as I knew that whatever it was would be kept, held close and not lightly shared, if shared at all. I wondered if anyone would ever see something like that in my eyes. What might that look like? Would it be something I would keep, hold close, not lightly if at all share?

The day Dannica and I were released from the hospital following her birth, we were sitting together waiting for a wheelchair to be brought up by Daddy and Big Brother. It was a very quiet moment. She was wide awake and her eyes, though new and fuzzy, were bright and alert. Her tiny head was resting on my left shoulder and I was looking into her sweet face and she into mine. There was a spark of recognition as we regarded each other, sweetly, through the windows of our souls. Our bond was complete. Our little family was complete. “Let’s go home, little ones.”

The night my baby was taken from me, just over 18 years later, I waited for the car in front of the hospital, this time my arms wrapped around my 21-year-old son who was shaking almost violently from shock and cold; our family no longer complete.  As I climbed into the car, my arms had never felt so empty.  It was only the beginning of the realization that my arms were not the only empty thing about me.

Two months later now and I am beginning to wonder who I am. I have started picking up some of the pieces scattered around me. Some I set gently on the table, others I allow to slip from my fingers again to rejoin the others on the floor. I envision the pieces fitting together again but when they’re all together, there is one very important piece missing from the very center.  This makes me angry, this makes me scream.  This missing piece draws my attention to the pain of the loss of it.  The space this piece left has pulled me through it and on the other side of that space, Dannica’s tragic accident and death are my introduction, my identity, my autograph.  I’m realizing I can’t just be who I was before; that person is also dead.  But how long will this be my identity?  How long is it my introduction?  How long do I sign my name with it?

I received a letter on Dec. 7th, 2012 from Lions VisionGift. Dannica chose to be an organ donor. Her donation resulted in two corneal transplants, giving two individuals who were blind the opportunity to regain their sight. I can’t help wondering about those two people. What would it be like to look into their eyes? Would I see her there? Will they see the beauty in this world that she always saw?


Maybe I’ll never actually know what it is in the eyes that attracts me but I think I’m beginning to understand what goes into the creation of it. Challenge, pain, loss, disappointment, heartbreak, and any number of other events that bring about a deep and abiding sadness.  I see that sadness sometimes, yes, but what I really see shows up when these eyes smile, when these eyes love again, when they sparkle with laughter or happy tears.  At some point, all of these people were also hollowed out.  Perhaps what I see is a glimpse of the resilience of these human spirits and the result of their simply moving through these horrible times the best they can.

I still love birds.  I still love flowers.  I still love the earth and being here.  I still love my son and my little, incomplete family.  I know there is joy in my memories.  I know the blessings will come if I watch for them rising like steam from pavement warmed by the sun after rain.  I hope the something people see in my eyes becomes greater than the sadness that lives there now.  I hope I can come to see the beauty in this world that Dannica always saw.

So softly I whisper…

Black Bird singin’ in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free….

Black Bird Fly…

Black Bird Fly…

Into the light of a dark black night.

The Shadows of My Grief


It doesn’t seem to much matter what I watch on TV, what I read, which movie I choose or even which song comes on the radio.  I can close my eyes and push the buttons on the remote control, keep them closed and pull a book from the shelf, open to any page, any passage and it is about my loss… all of it.  Was my life so thoroughly saturated with grief before and I just didn’t notice it or has the universe really reorganized itself with me and my gravity at the center of it?

The day before Dannica’s accident, my son and I were talking in the garage when I saw someone walk by outside the window.  The person had white hair or was all in white and walked toward the back yard with determined purpose.  I opened the door to see who it was and there was no one.  No one there.  I wonder if God touched her precious head sending out ripples into the universe as she slept.  I wonder if it was an angel returning on the ripples that passed by my window Dannica’s last night in our arms.  Perhaps it was an angel joining other angels as they gathered in an attempt to fill every empty space about to be created.

Yesterday, I opened and poured down the sink a container of eggnog that my son had bought for Dannica.  She’d not opened it yet and he had written her name on it in several places with permanent marker.  The joy on her face and in her voice when she asked, “Who bought me eggnog?” made my heart smile.  It was such a sweet thing for her brother to do.  The carton sat in the fridge through all the holidays.  A space not yet hollowed out.  Some poor angel had to sit in the fridge next to that carton waiting for the vacancy.

I carried the carton, now filled with angel, and placed it on Dannica’s bed along with other things that have collected there, filling the empty space where she rested her curly head, snuggled in her fuzzy, soft blankets and dreamed her beautiful dreams.  Even when she was 18, I’d sometimes open the door to peek in on her sleeping and have the odd thought, “Is she breathing?”  I’d watch the blankets softly rise and fall, shake my head and roll my eyes a little, “…of *course* she is. What are you thinking?”  Sometimes I would walk in and quietly sit on the bed next to her, just to touch her hair, her soft cheek.  She never minded that I’d awakened her.  She would smile and let me hold her hand, caress her beautiful fingers…whenever I wanted to.

When I go out, I see her everywhere.  I never noticed before how many teenaged daughters go grocery shopping with their mothers.  It is beautiful to me and makes me smile then cry every time.  I notice the mothers are about my age, softening a little, fading a little and I notice the daughters and how much like their mothers they look but young, full of life and promise…vibrant versions of what they’ll be when walking through the grocery store with their own daughters some day.  I want to stop and look into the eyes of these women, these mothers and daughters, and I want to tell them to treasure these moments they have.  I don’t stop them though because the emptiness in my own eyes is hard for me to look at in the mirror.  I can only imagine what it would do to strangers.


Comfort…Somehow Knowing this is the way of it.

ImageGone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone”
Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast, hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her. And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

A Walk in Her Shoes

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This morning I could see the sun shining through my window, casting the shadow from a tree in the yard onto my bedroom wall.  I needed to be out there.  Where I live in Oregon it is a rare treat to have a sunny day in winter.  It’s rare to feel crisp, clear air this cold.  For the first time in a long time I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed, it felt good to get up.  Dannica and I were going to go for a walk….together.  I stood in my closet looking down at the heap of options when I saw one of Dannica’s shoes poking out from under the boots I wore yesterday.  She was going to donate those shoes months ago and I salvaged them from the pile because I hate shopping and they seemed like they still had some good treadmill miles left in them.  Of course, I haven’t put them on until today, the best of intentions being what they are, but I’m glad that I saved them for today.  Today they are precious to me.

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I bundled up and stepped out into the world.  Having been hollowed out, my every sense has changed.  There have been times when my senses have felt weakened, deadened, muffled as if every bit of energy in me is going toward simply keeping my heart from exploding from the pain the way the blood rushes to the core to save us when we’re dangerously cold.  This morning, however, I felt as if every sense had been fully restored; not only restored, but restored with super powers.

I slowly filled my lungs with air so crisp and cold and clean I could feel the oxygen moving from my lungs into my blood, into the deepest, darkest, furthest reaches of my physical being.  I held that breath, allowing it to transform me, setting those dark places alight with a zillion frosty sparkles that I breathed out to coat the world all around me in brilliance.

I reached the park to find vast expanses of frost covered blades of grass, glittering pine needles, and the pond covered in a sheet of ice thick enough to support a seagull but thin enough to deceive one coming in for a landing. (That was kinda funny, poor thing 🙂

I walked quietly around the park and talked to the birds and the ducks and the trees and my Danni Jade.  I told her that we’re planning to buy her a gift; her very own park bench with her name on it, next to the water, under a beautiful tree.  Her gift to me will be the time I get to spend there with her.

Finally, I stood in the middle of the park, in the middle of that glimmering sea of grass, the very center of my universe, and I closed my eyes, raised my face to the sun and just listened.  My super power hearing sang of the rush of water in the distance, a million birds, so close I was sure if I reached my hand up, I’d touch one.  I felt the heat in the super powered sensory nerves of my skin; felt it melting the frosty sparkles I’d been filled with and nourished by.

Some of my favorite photos are the ones Dannica took of her sweet feet standing in the places she visited.  Looking at this morning’s photo of my own feet in her shoes, the first photo of its kind for me, I am comforted by the reminder that wherever I go, she is with me now, if that is what I want.  And it is.  Her eternal gift to me, super powers in her presence.

Why didn’t I use these super powers before I was hollowed out?  Why didn’t I see angel’s wings before in the clouds full of colors that exist nowhere else on earth?  Why didn’t I see that earth sparkles?  Why didn’t I see the heaven in my own heart?

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In heaven, everything sparkles.  Today, I am in heaven.