Every year when the anniversary of my daughter’s death approaches I face the dilemma about whether or not I should remark about it on my Facebook. I then think of Misha and what she would want. She would definitely want to have the spotlight for a day. So I put a memorial to her on my feed.
This year I was overwhelmed with the lovely thoughts everyone has written, and I want to thank you for them. As the years go by I worry I will forget memories or they will fade, sometimes I even get her age wrong. How can this be? I think because I will always remember her as 20 years old: the age at which she left this world. I have so many photos of her growing up and I sometimes look through them just to refresh my mind about life moments that were special. It hurts of course when I look through past memories but they also make my heart smile.
Misha was a lover of social media, she got me started on Facebook, and Twitter. I am so inept at these things that I talk to her in my mind sometimes when I am trying to figure a new app out, when something can’t be downloaded, or is downloaded but I don’t know where to look for it. She was a whiz at all of it and as the years pass and we become more entwined with all that social media offers, such as Netflix, Smart TV’s, all the phones and more that are our lifelines I know she would be loving all of it.
So thank you all for taking a moment out of your day to send love to me and to Misha who is still with me everyday here in my beautiful Villa. She is with me when I look at the hummingbirds, or when I rescue one. She is with me when the beautiful Ibis that have made their resting spot in the Norfolk pine come to visit. She is with me because I buried her ashes in a garden made especially for her, and I see the butterflies all around her on the flowers. She is with me because she loved animals and she would love all of mine. She is with me in my heart until I leave this world and hopefully am reunited with her soul.
To say I’m devastated is an understatement about the Tennessee fires in Gatlinburg. As the mother of a deceased child there are triggers that bring back the pain of loss. A song. A smell. A place. A memory.
Yesterday a community that is so special to my heart was all over social media because it is burning. Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The beautiful Smoky mountains where I spent 12 summers with my children. A place so like where I live now; Colombia, South America. When I first came to Colombia I noticed the similarities immediately. Now that I live here, I am reminded of the lovely times in the Smoky mountains, recollections of complete happiness. Enjoying my children’s childhood as they spent their time outside playing, hiking, learning to love nature like I do.
We had property in a plush RV resort just outside of Gatlinburg. My son learned to swim and ride a bike there. My daughter was only 4 when we first started spending time in Gatlinburg, my son a new baby just a few months old. We were there for the opening of the Aquarium that was a favored spot to visit with my children. We had my children’s friends from South Florida come with us for the summer every year. There was the 4th of July parade where they decorated their bikes while us adults watched as they rode through the RV park. The hikes on the many trails in the Smoky Mountains, the tubing in the freezing water, and the swimming in natural pools. The sadness of leaving when it was time to pack up and go home, back to our huge house after living in a trailer for a summer. Maybe this is why I’m a minimalist now. Those times in our trailer were the happiest times I remember. I could spend all my time with my children instead of always cleaning and keeping the perfect house. I cherished my summers in the Great Smoky Mountains.
A painting Misha did in Elementary School of the Smoky Mountains
Me with the kids on a hike in Gatlinburg
No Way Jose’s of Gatlinburg T-shirts
My son started tubing early in Gatlinburg
The complete freedom we felt living a life that was one with nature. I even ruptured my ACL while telling a story around a campfire. A funny remembrance that my daughter Misha loved to retell to all of her friends as she grew up. I was telling a ghost story around a campfire and slipped on a small hill that was wet from an earlier rain. The kids all thought I was acting, but I was crying out in pain! The using of dryer sheets in our hair to keep the gnats away (like in the photo above). The special places we frequented, and loved. The sighting of a bear, a deer, of nature. The visits to Cade’s Cove. The back to school shopping in Pigeon Forge, the season passes to Dollywood and the many country music concerts we attended of up and coming stars. We saw Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Sawyer Brown, Steve Wariner, and many more before they were really huge country favorites. That tiny theater at Dollywood was a place I will never forget. Yes, these memories keep my daughter alive in my mind.
Now Gatlinburg is burning. I see the places I frequented gone. The small wedding chapel that Keith Urban told a story about when he came onstage at Dollywood is gone. He was coming to play our concert : he stopped and entered the ceremony and sang for the bride and groom!
The Welcome Center of the Smoky Mountains. This was the first place I visited with my children when I fell in love with Gatlinburg.
The nature that was the most important part of these beautiful mountains.
The ride through Cade’s Cove with my daughter on bicycles and the spotting of baby bear cubs. Seeing wild Turkey’s, and deer grazing. How can I not feel sad? This was a time of my life that was joyous, without stress, and with many lovely memories.
So I wrote my ex husband and one of the children whom my kids grew up with. The ORA resort is still standing. My ex and I might not get along, but we remember these wonderful times. The memories keep us in sync, no matter where we have gone in our lives. My children’s childhood friend who is now a grown man gave me some good advice. He said “the ecosystem has had this happen before, it will grow and reproduce. The poor of Sevier county will have new jobs to benefit growth of the community. This will pass like the hurricanes that hit, or Earthquakes in other countries.” It was oddly calming to me. A man now, but I remember him as a child. He had a great way of making me feel better.
So I will let my heart grieve as I always do, a past time when my daughter was alive, when I was extremely happy. A culture, a life that I loved and still love. The outdoors. It is burning in Gatlinburg, TN. But I am enjoying nature here in Colombia. A life of freedom and peace. I need to learn to let things go, the things I have no control over. We all do.
I moved to Colombia to find myself, and I did. I felt stuck in circumstances that were harmful to me at the time of my decision to move. We always have choices. I had an ex-husband stalking my every move, and fallout from a bitter divorce. Then I realized I didn’t need to live the way I was living. I could find a better way. So I did. You can too. No need to allow anyone or anything to control your life choices. End of story. I am proof that another way to live is possible and just around the corner if you keep your options open.
What I thought about when I wasn’t searching for an answer to my life situation was unpleasant. I was wracked with anxiety about the future. My healthcare, my home which was being foreclosed on because of vengeful ex, my animals, my life in general. I needed to find a way to survive the madness of a time in my life that was my worst nightmare. With my decision to move to a new country came a freedom I doubt many people have. I live authentically. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, I don’t watch posts on Facebook as they are never the real story. I just look outside my window as the hummingbirds fly around me for validation.
So how did I come to this place in my life? I will admit when my daughter was murdered by a drunk driver in the middle of that horrific divorce, I hit rock bottom. But still I got up and got going again, because that is who I am. I am not a person who is sedentary. I am an action person to the maximum I can be. I remember walking into my Pilates class a week after my daughter was killed while my friends and classmates looked shocked to see me. I had to go on. It is a choice one must make no matter your circumstance. You can choose to be sad and depressed or live your life. I decided to live. I am not happy all the time, no one can be. We have a life to live and with that life comes reality.
A life that may appear wonderful to others, can fall apart in a second! Too many people live their lives to impress others. I have learned I don’t need to do that. I live my life for myself only. I am a free spirit. I am an eagle in flight flowing through my current life with knowledge I didn’t have previously. I am a person who is alone, but yet very connected to others. I am happy to the best of my ability. No matter how many times I have erred in my life I am way ahead of those who do nothing to change their circumstances.
Even when you make mistakes during a turbulent time you can stand strong. How you react to happenings in your life is a definition of whom you are. I have discovered that being alone is often better than being around people who mean nothing to me but a night out. I love my alone time. I study Spanish, I write, I watch nature around me, I hike, I enjoy my animals, I appreciate my home and the views I see that would never have happened if I was still in the United States. If you really want change you will find a way. You will live your authentic life. I have done it. I will never say it is perfect. It is not. There is NO such thing as perfect. It is a myth. But there is such a thing as living authentically. I have found it.
Life isn’t a narrow path upon which we walk in a certain direction. Life is curves and loops, a winding road to a quest which is impossible to predict. We can try our hardest to obtain our desires, but then something changes and so do we. We have to adapt to what is given to us.
We can take any direction, thinking it is the right one. But along comes a bump and that deviation changes everything forever. What we get is often not what we expect nor what we have planned for. We need to adapt. We need to think broadly in terms of our future. We can’t be limited in our observations of life and the world. We must be open to all possibilities.
There are lines we should not cross, immoral ones. Those are the exceptions. We have to stay true to our own moral compass and find our own truths. But we cannot follow a thin line. To follow that line without an ability to change is to become stuck without experiencing everything you need to see in a life that can be way too short.
If we look at life in such a way that we know it is fleeting, then we can expand and grow. We can find ourselves even when we feel everything is falling apart. Because we are
the future, we have free will.
That is how I have adapted to the death of my daughter. I know she had free will. I was not responsible for her choices as she matured. I did my best, but I am still haunted. I always will be. I will never know if I could have changed the outcome. I will always think about the thin line.
Yesterday was just lousy. By that I mean really damn horrible. I actually cried for most of the afternoon, until I fell asleep, it was that kind of lousy day. It was a day I want to erase from my memory. But just maybe this post will show others about proper etiquette when dealing with the death of a child.
I had someone tag me on Facebook about finding a dog almost dead on the side of the road and trying to save it. She wrote that all she could think of was me and what happened with my daughter who was left dead on the side of a highway after she was murdered by a hit and run driver. I know she meant well. I actually answered that I was glad the dog had someone to hold it while it died..because I was. In actuality, I should have said ” please take me out of this post as I can’t handle the image you just sent to me that I pictured as my daughter instead of the poor dog”. She wrote of blood coming out of the dog’s mouth, and of it taking its last breath. All I could think of was my daughter and what she must have looked like laying there on the side of the road when she was hit. Was she still alive? Did she suffer? The questions that I have worked 6 years to overcome, and in one moment this ignorant post brought them back. It was horrible to envision, especially at 6 am in the morning when I first awoke.
It doesn’t matter if it was just last week or 6 years later, parents of a deceased child are not any better than they were when they first heard the news that their child is dead, they have just learned to live with their grief. Some such as me have made positive changes in their lives, while others struggle daily to just get up in the morning and go on with life. We parents of a deceased child know about letting go of certainty, and a willingness to embrace life as it is. That is what happens when you finally are starting to adjust to the death of your child. The biggest obstacle to overcome is your mind, and it is important when you respond to others you use control as your response is your power.
So, let us explore my reaction to this awful but totally well-meaning post. I handled everything wrong. I should have written a nice message to her to take it down, as it was very upsetting to me. But, I didn’t. I answered the post honestly about how hard it is for me to still live with the murderer of my daughter free on probation, but I was happy she was able to be there to comfort the dog. A few more comments and it was over. I know she did not know how severely she had affected me. People are oblivious about the way grief can paralyze a person. I went on with my day but was very sad. My companion kept asking me “what is wrong Michele?” I couldn’t really put it into words as I knew I should have shut down the post immediately…then I kept getting notifications from others commenting and I went to stop the notifications and the post was gone. I was relieved and wrote my friend that I knew she meant well and I felt happy that she had thought of Misha. I didn’t say anything unkind, nor confrontational because I am not that way. But then, I am tagged again with the same post. She took it down and put it back up. That made me angry. I try to embrace a way of living that is not argumentative but it vexed me when it went up again. I had felt incredible pain answering the first post and now I had to answer again? Once more I will accept the blame as I should have ignored this second post. This pressure of social media is truly intense at times, especially when my name is mentioned and I am the reason for the post. So I commented that I had said something earlier and that I was very pleased with my life in Colombia with hummingbirds, butterflies and nature. That I felt her with me and I had gone on to create Villa Migelita in her name and put my website along with my answer.
This is when it got ugly. Not in a horrible way, but let’s be honest, it was not nice, because I show that I have gone on to create a life my daughter would be proud of…which I also said…and I got a response from someone who was just being mean. Seriously, shouldn’t this person have written, “good for you to have created this dream in your daughter’s memory?” Instead I’m reprimanded for putting my website on the post! If it was inappropriate to put my website there ‘oh well’ ! The post was about my daughter who was left dead like the dog at the side of the road and I was showing people I have moved forward! When it comes to social drama, letting go of other people’s rude remarks is the best step forward. Most haters don’t really hate you; they just hate where they are in life, and you’re a reflection of what they wish to become.
My heart is bruised from yesterday, and is still bruised today. I have a good life now. I have maids, they see me crying. They become upset. They come to me to ask what is wrong and I tell them the truth; that I was reminded of a picture I saw in the newspaper the very morning after I found out about Misha’s death because of someone who is my friend. She was lying on the side of the road covered by a black bag, but I knew it was my daughter. I don’t want to picture her that way. I want to see her like the cover photo on this blog. I know I will continue to heal until I die. Life is always changing, when something ends or leaves something new happens. I know my sad crying jag will soon be gone, but I won’t get over it quickly. It is just not possible when it is my child I am talking about, and she is dead.
The anniversary of my daughter’s death was yesterday. Such a dismal day: one I will live the rest of my life, an affiliation that no one wants, but many share with me. We are members of a somber club, one that only we as the parents of a deceased child understand. We carry extreme grief that has settled into our very being. Many people assume we get better as the years go by, but we don’t; we continue with the same heartache year in and year out. In fact, if possible to feel anything worse after you lose a child, you do as the years go by as you imagine where they would be in life at whatever age they would be as the date of their death passes.
Every year as the date approaches I get anxious. I fear the day so much. Believe me that I hate a lot of the days of the year now: Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas, my birthday, and the list goes on. As she would be getting older, I imagine what she would have accomplished. What we could do together, what we would talk about as she matured, as her daughter Amaya was growing up. Those who knew my daughter and me; know she died when we were at a point of separation in our lives. Not only did I lose my daughter, but I lost her when she wasn’t speaking to me. It has taken me a long time to accept this, but I have. As her mother I am sure I made mistakes; but she made many also. I loved her unconditionally but I had to let her be whom she wanted to be. It never worked out when I tried to help her. So I had to let go. Letting go is not easy. I read her twitter posts and knew she was doing pretty well for herself. She was still going to school even with a child and lived with her best friend; she seemed to be happy with her life. I assumed she would grow up and we would grow close again when she matured some. I never had that chance to regain the closeness we once had because she was murdered by a hit and run driver. A harsh lesson for me. So as the years go by I imagine we would have reunited, and made peace. In fact, I know we would have been fine with each other within that same year, if she wasn’t taken so suddenly. I have made my peace with that.
Now when I look back on my life with my daughter I see so many photos of joyful times. Our summers in the mountains were especially wonderful. We had the most amazing years hiking the Great Smoky Mountains every summer, shopping for her back to school clothes, decorating her room so many times, having her friends come on vacations with us, enjoying our animals, leaning on each other more than a few times. We were very close. I know that now. A short period of growing up does not speak for the life of my daughter whom I raised to be a good person. She proved how special she was by the cause of her death. She was trying to help someone she saw get hit by a car.
As the years pass and the anniversary of her death approaches I have decided to look at all the pictures I have of Misha. I will rejoice in the short life she did have, and I will smile at the memories. I will share the milestones Misha never had with her friends whom are still in my life. They are all my daughters, as they grew up in my house with Misha. My house was one in which her friends were always welcome. They share stories with me still. I will enjoy their new marriages, births, photos of family like they are my own daughters. I know that is what Misha would want. When I meet new young people who are the same age as Misha I will embrace the fact they are living their lives well and be happy for their accomplishments. I can’t have this with my daughter, but every time my granddaughter celebrates a milestone, I will say a prayer that Misha somehow knows from wherever she is now. I will continue to live my best life in the name of my deceased daughter. I will hopefully educate those who do not know any better that we who have lost a child, no matter what the circumstances, never get over it. We just get on with our lives. That is the best we can do.