Friday, March 14, 2014

20 years

There are events in nearly each person's life that burn themselves into memory. These events can be major happenings like a first born child, or small things like winning a school-wide handwriting contest in the third grade (yes, I remember both). They can be happy or sad. They can be uplifting or traumatic. It's just how life works.

Dates are sometimes triggers for memories. Songs can be too. I know there are many others, but these are two strong ones for my mind.

Twenty years ago today, I returned home from school just like I did most every other day. But something was off. I had no idea what really, but something was off. A few hours went by until I was given an answer.

"Carissa is missing."

The words still echo.

The news came on at six and verified the nightmare. My two-year-old cousin, who was very much like a baby sister to me, as my cousins and I grew up together as close friends and siblings, disappeared at her family farm. 

I still have my journal entry from that night written in my very first journal. It was mostly a prayer to God that she would be found safe. For years, I would look at the entry, upset about the prayer that had gone neglected. Now, with matured faith, I know He answered, just not in the way I wanted, but she was found, and by then, she was safe in His arms.

The next two days were torture as my 10 year-old mind comprehended the gravity of the situation. Family, friends of family, and strangers gathered on the farm to help find our little girl. After days of searching, her body was retrieved from the river where it was determined she had snuck out the door from the house, silently, followed the dog down the hill, and slipped in, losing her breath and earthly life. It was such a horrible, unexpected accident. I still see the event so clearly, but I will spare exact details from my memory.

It was extremely traumatic. I had visions and nightmares for years. Her older sister who is a few years younger than I, and I, attended a grief/loss support group for children once to help heal. It probably helped some.

As time went on, the nightmares subsided. It wasn't until I took a college writing course at school in the 10th grade, and I wrote a descriptive essay about the event (which garnered tears from multiple teachers and professors as well as an A+ grade) that I think I really healed.

It still makes me sad, but it's much easier to cope with. Sometimes, I still feel like that little girl who was so upset she couldn't even stomach Pepto Bismol to quell the nausea (I still cannot to this day drink that stuff) or the 10 year-old with a 2 year-old, blonde-haired giggly baby attached to her hip spinning in the front yard. I can see Carissa dancing to "Cecilia" by Simon and Garfunkle and remember laughing at her thinking it was the cutest thing. I listen to that song still and that's where my mind goes.

More often than not, now, I feel the loss like a mother. I felt so horrible as a child for the loss and trauma my aunt and uncle had to endure, but now, with two toddlers of my own and a baby on the way, I embrace it more strongly. I put myself in their shoes. It breaks my heart in a new way, and truthfully, causes terror at the thought that my own children could be gone in the blink of an eye. 

It's affected my parenting, too, I'm sure. There was a long time where bath time terrified me or my kids getting water in their faces at bath or pools freaked me out. I still find myself nervous while someone else bathes them and they become quiet, even though I know it's sheer terrorized paranoia. I worry about them opening doors, or being so quiet playing outside that they've disappeared. I worry about losing them so young and never seeing them grow up. I hate the idea of losing another beautiful young toddler in our family and spending the rest of our lives wondering who they would have become.

I admire my aunt, my uncle, and my cousin, for overcoming the loss. They are each a beacon of strength and hope.  Today, as I do each year, I pray for their continued healing and send them all my love.

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