memorialized

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Sorry I’ve been kind of absent lately. I’ve been busy. Writing for me is a respite but not a requirement so I take breaks until something bursts forth and I can’t contain it, like yesterday in the shower. Also, I’m gearing up to head back to the Northwest and my beloved Edmonds to work on the book again in a few weeks, so I’m thinking about things again.

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Mostly, I’ve been living and loving my life. I’m back in upper Pennsylvania right now experiencing the calm between storms of activity. We spent months (when I say “we” I mean mostly my husband) preparing this home for sale–remodeling the bathroom (he did almost all of the work except me helping with floor tile and color choices as he’s colorblind), laying down an entirely new floor on the first level, decluttering, staging, electrical work etc. etc. It’s been on the market about 3 weeks now and we are binge watching House of Cards as we wait. Well, John is super busy at work so I’ve been hanging out here in the country continuing to declutter and relax and binge watch The Night Of (OMG!).

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We are also building a new home down south aways in Lewisburg, PA. I fell in love with that town the second we drove through it once last year. It took my breath away with its charm and cozy feel. I made one comment about it, but John said it would be too far to relocate due to his contracts and Lillian. Then one day, out of the blue, he said “I think we should move to Lewisburg”. I started looking, then thinking we would rent, and ran in to a beautiful condo community we both fell in love with, also immediately. I inquired about one of the condos listed for rent, knowing we were not ready yet, which led me down a rabbit hole to suggest we consider buying one and one foot in front of the other, we are building our dream home. John has also gotten a new contract there so has begun making the commute there already for work–and to check on our new home which we have named Rafferty Manor (it’s on Baker Street).

 

We needed to streamline as we do a lot of moving around. A condo is just perfect with all of the exterior yard work, snow removal and maintenance taken care of. It brings John to tears when I say “how does it feel to know you can drive home, push a button to get in your garage, then another button to turn on the heat” after over a decade of splitting and hauling in wood throughout the winter to stoke the woodstove night and day. We are ecstatic about the new life this will bring us. We’ve been going down there regularly to watch the construction and bury things like stones and coins under the foundation. This weekend we, with both John’s daughters Lillian and Alyssa, wrote on the wood framing. We are filling this home with love at every step.

I’m also really enjoying the design process. This is our first opportunity to create our home together. We’ve been living out of each other’s spaces since we met so this is big, and necessary. He reflected last night that we have not had one disagreement over one thing related to the house. As they only build one unit at a time (it’s like a duplex so we will have one side), they take lots of care to make it how you want. We’ve gotten to select many upgrades like counters and cabinets and John takes care of the practical things like electrical sockets. It’s been a true collaboration and nothing but fun. It’s going to be a light, open modern space and most of all, ours.

We’ve been spending lots of time with Lillian this summer which has been fantastic! She flew all the way to AZ with her Dad for two weeks and we swam and spent a week in Sedona doing things with friends and exploring. We saw Shrek the Musical, went hiking, cooking, movies, playing.

**Interlude, as I write this I’m looking at a small fawn right outside the window. We have a mother and her 3 fawns come by most days and there they are right in front of me. Good timing. It’s funny because there are 3 and 2 of them are always right by her side then there’s the straggler who is always exploring something alone then catching up. I relate to that one from my own family of 3 kids.**

Lillian turned 5 this weekend! We were lucky enough to get invited to her family birthday party with her Mom, stepdad and their families in a park about an hour away. She wanted a Paw Patrol theme so I contributed “Puppy Chow” treats and baked beans per her Mom’s request. It was an honor to be included in this way. Lillian’s extended family are salt of the Earth, welcoming good people. I really enjoyed meeting them, tasting their home grown and pickled green beans and talk about gardening and other things. This side of her family takes me back to my mother’s side–farmers who did everything on their own. My Grandma raised and slaughtered her own chickens for her famous fried chicken and always had a bountiful garden. She was the best cook I’ve ever met in my lifetime–grand Sunday dinners with chicken, roast beef, ham loaf, homemade mashed potatoes, green beans from her garden and always a relish plate. My mouth is watering as I type this.

We were also lucky to have Lillian with us on her actual birthday. She started her first day of dance class so we took her to that, then to the world’s fastest carousel in Elmira, NY then home to fix her exactly what she wanted for dinner: clams. She ate 26 steamed clams then the ice cream roll cake I’d made for her with her favorite–raspberries. Lucky me.

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Lillian turning 5, not unexpectedly I guess, has pointed me inward to my own life and history. I was just about 2 weeks shy of my 6th birthday when my mother passed. She spent most of my 5th year in the hospital or gravely ill. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35 and was gone less than half way in to her 36th year.

Lillian is at a stage now where she’s very attached to her Mom. Not right away, but about the second week in to her trip to Sedona I would notice her little bottom lip start to quiver and when I asked “what’s wrong?” she would lower her head, tears spilling from her eyes and quietly let slip “I miss my Mommy”.

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This new behavior proved a deep turning point in my own psyche on many levels. First of all, I got to be challenged with how to handle something like that personally. What was odd, when I reflected back, was that I didn’t have one moment of hesitation on how to respond. No debris I had to step over inside myself of perhaps a feeling of inadequacy or competition. I just knew to let her know that what she was feeling was ok.

“Of course you do, ” I told her. “I bet she’s missing you too right now.”

This minor meltdown happened at least once a day after that and has continued. Luckily we all watched the movie “Inside Out” together a few months ago which proved an invaluable resource for me. (If you are a parent or a person, please watch it–it’s a kid’s movie but it’s really not–it’s about the value of all of the emotions, particularly sadness or “Sagness” as Lillian calls her).

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One evening at the table in Sedona, during dinner, I saw the quiver and the head drop and out of nowhere the sobs started “I miss my Mommy, I really miss my Mommy” came tumbling out.

My “Inside Out” training went to work and I started dialoguing with her.

“Remember how Sadness had to be the leader for Riley to get better?” I reminded Lillian after she looked up and asked “are you mad?” to both her father and I about her tears.

“No, you are at home and you are safe and we have nothing but time. If you are sad, then you can feel it. Just let it go like Riley did and you will feel better”.

John chimed in with similar sentiments as we watched her transform.

Her tears got bigger and the sobs deeper until, quick as a switch, she picked up her fork, smiled and said “I feel better now”. And you could see that all over her. Her eyes resumed their sparkle and that sadness had passed. And she started eating and giggling with us like usual.

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She has since asked me questions like “do you miss Daddy sometimes?”. I explain to her that of course I do because we are not together all the time but I just tell myself that I am so lucky to have someone to miss.

Lillian’s 5th year is going to be an opportunity for me to clean up some wounds in my own soul. I am not taking it lightly.

Yesterday, I was reflecting on memories and particularly how things become memorialized in a psyche.

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John and I do a lot of pillow-talk post gaming over here. Of course we did so over Lillian’s birthday–reflecting on things that went well, what we learned, what we could have done differently. He frequently tells me in these quiet behind closed door moments “you are an excellent Mom”. At first I cringed because of my own upbringing. I am very cautious of appropriating the “Mom” terminology. This word is never applied to me in front of Lil but he just is helping me to claim the role and the things I’m doing right. In fact, my husband, the psychologist who works primarily with children and families, told me he learned something from me at that “Inside Out” dinner table conversation.

The Psychologist in him, also shared that he believes my natural talents in the motherhood department stem from the imprinting I received from birth to 5. It’s really the only thing that makes sense.

Aside from losing my mother at age 5, I’ve feared something far greater when it comes to being a parent. I think most abuse survivors fear that the same tendency could exist in them (us) and arise at any moment. This has not really been tested in me before Lillian. And I’m experiencing something of a revelation lately in this regard.

As my husband points out all the ways he sees me as a “natural Mom” I realize, who imprinted on me and who is coming alive through me is Dorothy June Schlosser Monkman. My mother who birthed me and instilled something so deep inside that despite  Marjorie’s efforts to literally beat it out of me, my stepmother did not succeed. There is nowhere inside me that the trauma inflicted by Marjorie lives on in me when it comes to parenting. Not. One. Cell.

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I look at Lillian, cuddle with her, nurture her, listen to her, protect her and there is no place inside me that can remotely imagine laying a hand on her. The opposite in fact. It just isn’t there even when I peek for it. Now, I’m lucky that I’ve not been really tested but let me tell you, those “I miss my Mommy” episodes would have been met with punishment by Marj. Yes it started that small and subtle and progressed to full on violence and name calling. Not of us kids, but of our Mother.

Marjorie wasn’t all bad, of course, she was a human with strengths and weakness like anyone. But what’s interesting to me is that right now, at age 56 and embarking on parenthood, what is memorialized in me–the memories that influence me–are what not to do as inspiration. She was my “mother”, legally, for 30 years. I had my actual mother for 5. Marj taught me something valuable, but my mother instilled in me a golden crown.

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In some relationships, the trauma simply eclipses the good. I don’t know if that will be forever and, if or how, I will find forgiveness around that, but I do know I’m just telling the truth about it.

When I reflect on Marjorie, what naturally comes to mind are things like my mother’s photographs disappearing from our bedrooms when she moved in (which let me tell you enraged my Grandma–my mother’s mother–and she replaced them). I remember driving to the cemetery to our mother’s grave site which we did often before she arrived, less after. Usually she didn’t come along yet the spare times she did, I remember her remaining stiff in the front seat, twirling her hair and grinding her jaw, refusing to get out of the car or even turn her head toward us 3 grieving children saying prayers to our Mother. The Mother Marjorie stripped of her proper and earned title, insisting we now refer to our dead mother as “First Mother” and herself as “real Mother”. I remember her standing in front of me in my bedroom slapping me in the face repeatedly until I said “Mother, in an appropriate tone”.

Marjorie is embedded in my memory as the person who insisted on budget development for our school clothes starting around ages 12-13 for Cindy and I–who never took us shopping but insisted we use our approved budgets and bike or bus ourselves to the department stores downtown to seek out our clothes, then submit them for approval before being given the money to go back and purchase them.

I remember Cindy and I going to 4-H and bonding with our leaders there who taught us how to boil eggs and bake cookies and sew, although we had a “mother” right at home. I remember her stiff body when she tried to hug me and her stiffer hand when she struck me dozens of times in to adulthood. Stiffer yet, when she grabbed a wire hanger or spatula or coffee cup to strike me with it or hurl it in my direction.

I remember being embarrassed of her in public and almost never wanting to sit near her. I remember the confusion and envy upon meeting her sisters and watching their natural closeness and loving nature with their children, wondering why we got stuck with the abnormal one, the mean one.

I remember her turning a weapon off my brother and on to me when I was home on a break from college, beating me over the head as I fled up the staircase in to my moment of truth–moment of pivot– as I turned and grasped those stair railings and kicked her back down 4 stairs in to the foyer. I remember feeling convinced I’d be exiled from the family for good for standing up to her like that.

I remember her laying down her weapons and picking up a pen and the voluminous letters Cindy and I would receive detailing our failures and foibles. I remember the time, when she was too ill to get out of bed in her last months of life, but managed to find someone to purchase and mail a “Get Well” card for me months after she’d broken contact with me permanently. She’d allowed my birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter to go by unaddressed. Yet her seeming joy at an abject failure I’d experienced she’d caught wind of–so much so she celebrated it by sending me a greeting card. I wasn’t ill, I was devastated.  And she wrote “I heard about your recent difficulties, I hope you get the help you need”. These are the words that roam around my head when I think of Marjorie.

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I have to dig, but I also remember her delicious mushroom chicken, feeling proud of her at her retirement dinner and leaning my head on her rigid shoulder once in a boat where I was having extreme anxiety, in a desperate measure to alleviate it and cover it up at the same time. “Tell me your life story,” I said as I listened intensely to every word, hoping it would distract me from the panic inside, and it did.

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I’ve been reflecting on how these few positive memories are eclipsed by all of the trauma. And wondering if that will ever change. I spent so much of my life denying just how bad it really was. Even to my counselor’s face, decades ago, who was sharing her opinion that of all the terrible things  life had thrown at me–my mother’s death, Cindy’s murder, etc–the one she thought was the straw that threw me in to that anxiety disorder was the physical trauma inflicted by Marj. And yet I still begged her not to bring it up to my father, when he came in for one counseling session with me. I was terrified of it being brought to light in my family, although I could finally start sharing it behind closed doors.

I was 40 years old at that time.

It took a few more years to start talking about it to my Dad and that wasn’t easy. He still refers to my mother, playing along by those old rules as “first mother” but he less and less refers to Marj as “your mother”. I don’t correct him as that is his reality, but I don’t join him anymore in those forced words. They simply do not apply. And they never did.

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My mother, Dorothy, has memorialized herself inside me too, even though I have very few conscious memories of her. She lives in me in her love of creative projects, decorating, cooking and now, being a Mom.

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I feel very natural in my role with Lillian. Nothing is forced and there are few learning curves. Honestly, this has surprised me. I feel a natural desire to reinforce her relationship with her Mother, her real mother, and I speak kindly about her, always. Lillian notices this and recently semi-scolded me saying “you didn’t say hi to my Mom” when Rachel came to pick her up. Kids notice these nuances. I need to be even more conscious about these details.image

 

It’s not like I’m trying to keep her out of a warring middle–there is no middle. There is a mosaic she lives in of many colors which I’m sure will shift and change like a kaleidoscope.

“Kids are very bonded with their mothers at this age,” my friend who has raised three kids shared with me this week, helping me to understand this new needy behavior. I see it and feel it with Lillian. Needy, in a child, is normal and not something to be scolded for. I’m learning, or maybe unlearning, that too.

And how could I not realize it was right at this stage of Mommy-clinginess that my own mother was ripped from me and us from her. Yes, it’s sad.

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Yet I have a new opportunity right now to make things right in myself. To keep nourishing the ways my mother lives on in me, accepting them and allowing them to flourish.

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From the creative projects Lillian and I do together to cooking together and exploring new foods, to shopping for her and doing her hair, to travel and adventure, I get to live the life my mother never got to live with me. I get to see her arise and shine through me in all of these moments, getting to know her perhaps for the first time in my 50’s, not my 5.

As they say, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

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And just maybe, that illumination will shine so bright that Marj , and her failed attempts to imprint on me, will slide back in to some dormant shadow, quiet, impotent, never able to harm me or anyone through me in a final resting place.

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And maybe from that place, I will learn more thoroughly, about forgiveness.

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Dedicated to my mother, Dorothy June Schlosser Monkman, forever in my heart.

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final chapter–thank you travis alexander

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I got up Monday morning like any other day and like no other day. I felt the same apprehension I felt the day I headed to downtown Phoenix that first day I attended the Jodi Arias trial in early January 2013. Nervous, not knowing what I was going to face, but confident I needed to go.

I gathered my things together including a stack of letters I’d prepared to give all of Travis Alexander’s siblings, his Aunt and some friends. Just as every day I attended of the first trial, I was not going to walk in there empty handed. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to bring this to closure. The first day I sat with the family, after being invited by their victim advocate, I carried a letter offering my support specifically around victim impact statements. It was one tangible thing I knew I could help them with having written and delivered my own and having some basic skills in the writing department.

Mine was published here.

One of Travis’ siblings had reached out to me with questions about writing their statement so I knew, more than anything, that I needed to be there to support them being delivered. I had read an article online for the second time that I found very clear and descriptive about grief and I know some things about this moment they are facing so I decided to share it with each and every one. You can read it yourself here:

5 Lies You Were Told about Grief

I also wrote a letter sharing what was in my heart and off I went with my blue sweater, my angel pin Tanisha had given me, the blue ribbon still on display in my cabinet and my elephant ring. I also carried the natural trepidation of walking in to a situation where you don’t know what kind of mine fields you might run in to.

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I had decided last year to not attend the second retrial although I’d been there almost every day for the first go round. It was for entirely personal reasons that I don’t feel the need to get in to. I still supported the family in my own way from afar and feel good about my decision and role.

Things were also catapulting in my own life which, on reflection,  came as a direct result from all of the events and miracles that happened because I decided to step in that first day.

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I posted ardently on the Websleuths forum each day I came home from trial. Some days that was at midnight as a typical day looked like — go to work in the morning–rush to the courthouse after eating lunch in my car–attend afternoon session–go to the hotel nearby for a wind down after court–go visit my brother in the hospital (he was hospitalized twice during those months)–run by his house to check his cat–finally get home late at night and do my “reporting”.

I know many of you out there reading me right now know me from that time. We were all on that roller coaster together. I couldn’t have done it if not for the support from the web out there holding me up. I don’t regret any of it.

After the trial was over, I got a mysterious message on Websleuths from an editor that simply said “you should pursue writing”. I asked her what I should do and she pointed me toward WordPress and some other suggestions and support so here I am. Through this endeavor, I decided to also pursue writing my memoir. I took a sabbatical and wrote 30 chapters last Fall and am still working on it. I hope to have it completed this year.

I’m working on it here on my other blog Middle Child.

I had been thinking of this for years but I finally realized I had a story to tell so that set me on course–one of healing through tragedy but you still have to tell the tragedy story. That’s also the one I’d been avoiding. I can deal with it now. I also had to live the healing.

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Through the writing journey I was invited to join a private online writing group. And that’s where I met the love of my life. We are getting married in less than 3 weeks. I credit all of this newness and evolving to having the courage to walk in to that courtroom the first day and go on the journey it took me. We never know where our pivots lie.

I drove down Monday to the same parking lot I’d used for months. As I walked out, nervous, I passed Jodi Arias’ mother pulling in. Talk about timing. I doubt she recognized me but I recognized her.

As I walked in the building, Jennifer Wilmott held the door open for me. She is Jodi Arias’ attorney. It was all quite surreal.

I had not attended the several months of the last go round nor had I really arranged attending Monday–I basically just showed up. I went up the same elevator I’d ridden in with Juan Martinez one day and introduced myself. Once I landed on the 5th floor I saw many familiar faces–Travis’ friends Chris and Sky Hughes, reporter Beth Karas, 3 jurors who had served on the first trial. It was great, and poignant seeing these faces.

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Shortly we were taken in to the victim ante room adjacent the courtroom. I ended up viewing the proceedings from that room along side the 3 jurors and one of Travis’ friends Pam who I’d met many times in court the first go round.

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The victim room has it’s own bathroom, table in the middle and large viewing flat screen on the wall with chairs lined all around the room. Travis’ family was milling through going to the bathroom and understandably nervously walking around.  This was a big day for them. I got some hugs (including from Juan Martinez) and met some new people. One of whom, Tanisha’s friend, was there with her little baby, likely around 6 mths old. She had a seat in the courtroom so we offered to watch her baby while the hearing took place.

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He was such a good little baby, only crying once as the family delivered their statements and we all watched, standing, in the victim room. We were lucky in that our view was from a camera behind the Judge’s head facing to the back. This meant we had a rare view of the faces of all those speaking. I found out later this was not the view that was publicly televised. I’m glad that Pam and I just intuitively snapped some photos of the screen because they ended up being valuable later to those who didn’t see that view. It all felt very surreal, knowing this was the day this entire thing ends, for the most part. It ends primarily because Arias did NOT receive the death penalty.

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On a break, the baby’s mom came in and put him in a little kangaroo type pouch on her body. He fell quickly asleep. She decided to go ahead in to the courtroom for the last leg of the hearing with him just like that–asleep in the pouch. Once Jodi Arias got up to speak her unimaginably cruel words, that little innocent baby started to cry. Imagine that. A baby getting disturbed from slumber by that evil spew. As the Mama rushed up to run back to our victim room (which we could see on our monitor and quickly dashed to open the locked door), everyone saw Jodi Arias flash her head back in annoyance that direction.

 

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The baby quickly settled down so we encouraged his Mom to go back in and we’d take it from there with him. By that time the 3 jurors had been led to seats in the jury box (which was great) so it was just Pam and I back there then. The baby naturally crawled to me so I was playing with him a lot using my flouncy skirt as a little tent for him. Later someone pointed out the sticky sweet rice cracker dangling from one of the ruffles of my skirt.

I picked up the baby at one point and as the Judge delivered that Life WITHOUT parole sentence to this monster, I stood there inches from that screen holding that precious innocent spark of life in my arms. I had written on Facebook that morning as I left “doors opening, doors closing”. I could almost hear that steel door slam shut behind Arias as I held close to my breast this beautiful symbol of “life goes on”.

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I became consumed with this entire body feeling of the Circle of Life as I also contemplated in that moment that I’m on the verge of becoming a stepmommy to a 3 year old. My life is most definitely going on and emerging in to new birth in so many directions. I’d been kind of stuck in a standstill for many years, alone, when I showed up that first day at the trial.

Now, my life has become a trampoline of love and growth and healing. I credit this all to that one decision–to take the risk and show up that one day.

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After it was over we all gathered in the victim room. There were hugs and tears as you can imagine. Of course I handed the baby back to his Mama and had to show her the stuck rice cracker dangling like a Christmas ornament on the tree limb of my skirt layer and we laughed. I thanked her for the beautiful opportunity to hold her baby in that moment.

The family chose to not deal with the media gathered in the front of the courthouse so were escorted out a back door. I walked out with the 3 jurors, right out the front. The media was swarmed around Jennifer Wilmott giving her ridiculous interview still claiming her lying sociopathic client was some kind of abuse victim. Blah blah blah.

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I turned to walk to my car and saw a familiar person standing all alone. I walked to her and put my arms around her and she was shaking all over. It was Detective Flores wife Corinna who I’ve had lots of contact with over all of this. In fact we were setting up a lunch date just days before. She’d lost her son very recently in a terrible accident so I was surprised she even had the strength to show up for this. She is very tiny and was consumed with emotion so I suggested we go sit down on a bench and talk. I was glad to have run in to her in that moment and connect.

Her mother and sister showed up carrying bouquets of blue and purple balloons (purple for her son Tony, blue of course for Travis). Her mother handed me a blue balloon which was so sweet.

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Corinna and I sat for quite a while and talked and just sat in silence. She moved over so close to me at one point it felt like she was going to sit in my lap, it was that kind of need for closeness. I felt like I wanted to pull her on to my lap and hold her. Once she was surrounded by more of her family, I walked with my balloon to say goodbye to some folks I saw in the distance–Chris and Sky, Beth Karas, etc. Kathy Brown, aka “Cane Lady” asked for a picture with me and the man Paul Sanders known as “The 13th Juror” who did a lot of great writing at the trial this time. It was great to meet him.

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I finished up there and decided it was time to go. As I turned the corner of the courthouse on to an empty street, alone with my blue balloon, the words sprung in my head “you walked in here alone and you’re walking out alone”. I felt such an overwhelming feeling of completion and confidence in this journey. It’s hard to describe feelings but this was like walking on air and firmly on the ground at the same time. A smile washed over my healing face. I did well I thought. I’m proud of myself.

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I reached my car and texted Katie Wick who I’d met that very first day I attended the trial. It was her first day too. We became fast friends. She’s now attending law school right near the courthouse so on a whim  thought she could meet for lunch as I had the time. She didn’t answer so I texted her, sat awhile and called my fiance who so sweetly had left me a message early saying “call me if you need to talk when this is over”. One of the benefits of being with a Psychologist. He’s so supportive.

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As we were chatting Katie texted back saying that she had a break between classes in 15 min. I turned the car around, parked and went to one of our usual lunch spots, ordered two salads, got a small can of Sofia champagne and rose lemonade to make a, I must say, delicious little mimosa.  By the time she got there after her class I had the lunch all ready for us.

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It was SO GREAT to see her. We had really bonded through some tough times and it just didn’t feel right leaving that last day without connecting with her. It just worked out perfectly.

Over our chopped salads we reflected on this journey–how we met, how she ended up nightly on the Dr. Drew Show (once with me), how we really immersed ourselves in the trial to the detriment of our lives, how we were affected by it all, how our friendship thrived and mostly how our lives have greatly changed for the better.  She in Law School, me getting married. Both of us meeting huge dreams we had given up on before that trial.

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It was a remarkable conversation and I’m so glad she could meet me.

I’d written a letter to all the Alexanders in my little packet I gave them with the grieving article. In it I included some of the causes I’d been championing behind the scenes–the main one being the issue of murder victims being able to be trashed and murdered again in the courtroom by their killer’s lies and stories made up for their defense. I feel very strongly about this issue and how us taxpayers ARE FUNDING THIS.  This trashing of the victim was NOT allowed when we went to trial in 1990–I remember the defense dipping their toe in direction and objections sustained.  The entire Arias defense was architectured around trashing Travis–all unfounded lies from the mind of a vicious butcher who killed him defenseless in his own shower, nude. This needs to end. This just simply needs to stop! It’s beyond the beyond.

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Lo and behold Katie shares with me she wrote Tanisha the night before also sharing how this trial –and their brother–influenced her for the good and get this. She is doing her Law School thesis on that very topic–victim trashing in the courtroom with Travis’s case being her case study.  Imagine that. She hopes to influence change through this and feels so strongly about it, she’s devoting her final paper to it.

Katie and I had not talked about championing this issue much less writing the family about it. I love that kind of serendipity and connection.

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I devote my life to following these breadcrumbs so when I see their fruition like that, it just warms my heart and convinces me I’m on the right path. There is no better feeling than that, let me tell you.

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I’m glad it’s over. I also know a new chapter of grief opens up for Travis’ loved ones. I was terrified when our trials finally ended. I had devoted my entire life to that fight for 2  years (much less than them) and all I had left was a gaping hole in front of me. It’s not an easy transition. When people say to them “aren’t you so relieved it’s over?” expecting pure happiness, it’s a challenge. Many will crash now. This awareness is very important for me to educate on. There will be days they will wish it was still going on to focus on. Staring at an abyss is not an easy halt.

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I’ve let them know I’m here and understand. All of our lives are going on now.

I will always think of Travis Alexander as a major influence in my life–his life will mean more than his death. Yet this trial pulled me deep in myself to find my way back to clear air again. That kind of healing opportunity is one you don’t get every day and I will be forever grateful.

Rest in Peace dear Travis. Hopefully you know my sister somewhere out there and you guys are having a ball. I know I am going forward living the life you both would be proud of.

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On a final afterthought, I woke up Monday morning to an email from the jewelry designer in the UK telling me our wedding rings were ready for sending off and when I got home that afternoon, my custom made wedding dress was waiting for me on my doorstep.

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Doors closing/doors opening, indeed.

come on down

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I posted earlier about joining an online creativity group.  It’s run by the acclaimed artist Erin Gafill from Big Sur and is called Awaken the Artist Within. 

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one of Erin Gafill’s paintings

I met Erin down at Rancho La Puerta over my birthday and I felt so inspired being in her classes that I signed up for this eight week course as part of my 2014 set of goals to enliven myself.  So much of last year (and the beginning of this one honestly) was spent in very dark places of murder and mental illness that I’ve decided I need to balance all of that out with very uplifting, positive activities/relationships/travels, etc.

For me, most of the time I tend to pull myself out a funk with some kind of creative project.

This year had such a dramatic rough start that I’ve not fully engaged in this course yet.  BUT I did manage to get out to Michael’s and pick up all my supplies which was really REALLY fun.  I’ve got charcoal, watercolors, pastels, pencils, papers and brushes.  All still in the bags at the moment. :/

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As today is a day off, I’m promising myself to get started on something.  At the very least, organize my supplies and see where it takes me.  I have an easel just sitting there waiting for me!

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I also did some digging in my craft room (yes I have a full on craft room in my house) and ran in to lots of old art pieces.  Back when I was in college and my sister was working for the Mesa School District as a Nutritionist, she actually hired me as an independent contractor to design their monthly school menus with an artistic flair.  She always had such higher perceptions of me than I ever had for myself.  I always liked to draw and do all kinds of artsy crafty things, but she hired ME to create these flyers…and I got paid for it.  It was my second part time job I had while in college.

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I ran in to several of those flyers, then I also ran in to this.

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the invitation I made for Cindy’s Price is Right party in 1984

Cindy and I went to California every year to visit our Grandma Buddha for her birthday on March 18th.  She always spent the winter there in a small hotel near the beach.  She would arrange for the adjoining room to hers and we would fly or drive out and have these wild long weekends with her running around LA doing touristy things and wining/dining.  We always had a BLAST with her.

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Cindy, since childhood, was obsessed with the show The Price is Right.  In fact, on long camper trips, she’d pull out grocery items from the cupboards and force my brother and I in to these long games of guessing prices and competing against each other using Price is Right games.  I never really liked that show myself but she was obsessed with it.

So of course, she decided one year we would go and try and get in the audience.  Which we did, after waiting HOURS AND HOURS in lines outside the studio.  Even Buddha, such a good sport, waited in line with us.  The first time we went, we really studied the whole process and figured out their game and our strategy.

Once we made it inside the building, you were given some kind of form to fill out with your name, then they would take you, three by three in front of a panel of producers who would ask you basic questions.  You’d also get a price tag name badge with your name written on it to wear.

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We noticed several things after going through that line the first time (none of us got called).  They tended to pick people in bright colors, big personalities, a funny T shirt or hat, big boobed women, something that clearly made them stand out.

So the following year we went prepared.  Very prepared.  We had planned it before packing for the trip.  We decided, since Cindy wanted to get on the show and I was mortified at the thought, we would dress her in BIG bright colors and me in dowdy greys.  We did her hair huge (it was the 80’s) and mine flat, we gave her big makeup and a top that made her bustline accentuated. I wore no makeup.  We also downdressed Grandma.  We manipulated the whole thing where the three of us would end up in that little interview with Cindy in the middle.  Buddha and I sort of looked down and away as Cindy pushed herself forward with her big huge smile, bright teeth, big makeup and huge personality.

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And, I just knew she’d get called.

And she did.

Cynthia Monkman Come on Down!!!!

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I was both shocked and not surprised at all.  I just had a feeling!

My sister made it all the way through that show to the Showcase Showdown!!! She was on that stage the entire second half of that hour long show!  They even showed Buddha and I in the audience screaming and clapping.  I was so incredibly happy for her and proud of my sister for fulfilling this lifelong dream! She had the chance to win a trip to New Orleans, a new fangled video camera, many many other big prizes.

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And she choked.  She guessed a number so low that she lost. 😦  She was bummed but she was really also completely elated that she even got on the show, met her idol Bob Barker and won a small acrylic fish aquarium which was the first prize that got her on the stage.  She got to spin the big wheel and play several games as she kept advancing.

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I don’t recall her ever being really too bummed out or embarrassed that she missed that Showcase prize.  None of us were really.  We just shook it off and went out for Happy Hour and dinner, celebrating as usual.

She never put fish in the aquarium but used it as kind of a decoration in her home.

It took me years to get rid of that stupid thing as it was really just a dust catcher and sat in my garage for years.

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it looked something like this but came with no aquarium supplies, just the box

I shouldn’t say stupid thing because it held lots of memories.  But as time goes on, you just have to let things go.  I remember years after her death when I had a garage sale and went through boxes of her belongings stacked in my garage, standing there turning a match book over and over in my hand unable to let it go.

Finally, over time, you wind down to a few important items, photos and your memories.

I remember the day I sold her 1977 powder blue Volkswagen convertible bug.  A man flew in from out of state to buy it and ship it home. I wondered if I’d tell him the story of it and I eventually had to as I broke down in tears in front of this stranger.  That was probably fifteen years after her death.

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Time has no real role in the grieving process I’ve determined.  It’s something that winds around and around the chambers of your heart with it’s own rhythm.  Sometimes it makes sense but most of the time it doesn’t.

I have that entire Price is Right Show on video tape.  I need to get it transferred to dvd or digital.

I hosted a big viewing party to watch the show the evening it aired as everyone was at school or work during the day.  I made a director’s chair with her name on the back of it, had all of these snacks reflecting the show like these Pepperidge Farm cookies she’d bid on and we all watched while rewinding and laughing our asses off.  I covered my bathroom mirror with homemade yellow name tags with all the funny quotes she said during the show.  I even had name tags for all the guests to wear.  It was a blast.

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inside of the invitation–this would have been 1984 –she was gone four short years later

So many little quips were born from that show like her saying “I’ll go for the cookies Bob” or “that’s ok Bob” when he said he was sorry she lost.  Or “I love New Orleans!” she excitedly mouthed when they showed her the Showcase.  And she’d only been to New Orleans, with me, for about 3 hours in a strange road trip we once took.

These memories are bittersweet.  I have tears rolling down my face right now, actually, remembering.

Losing someone so important to your entire life, your soulmate, makes you feel on one hand lucky you ever had it and cursed you ever had it because the loss runs so deep.

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Again, I’m reminded she’s out there/up there/around me somewhere even if it’s only in my memories or a belief and still with me.

I have to think that.

To keep living.

Maybe if I ask her today, she’ll come on down, back to me for awhile.

She could even show up on a sketch pad.  Guess it’s time for me to open my right brain and take a look…

still swimming

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Happy Thursday!

I’m back after two days of utter exhaustion and a degree of depression/full on crankiness.  Pretty sure I got spun in to that state by all the head banging I did for hours on Tuesday followed by another session yesterday dealing with the mental health system for John.  I don’t want to keep going on and on but I do want to document our struggles because I intend to take it to a higher level and just want to have a chronology to rely back on.  I also know that they are reading here, at least some of them, and I hope they do (not that I think most of them care but it just feels good to know someone’s getting called out and knows it sometimes).

First of all, John is doing well right now.  Fingers crossed this continues through the holiday as we will be all together in Sedona for a significant period of time.

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I don’t know about the rest of you but something that just gets under my skin are issues around injustice.  Particularly injustice toward those who can’t defend themselves (the infirm, animals etc).  It makes me absolutely nuts.  I tend to gravitate toward using my helping in the world time around these themes.  I won’t dwell on the recent issues with Alfonse but just to say, we have a young new attorney helping out in our attorney’s office who worked in the mental health system here for years before going to law school.  So he knows the AZ system inside and out.  He spent a lot of time on the phone with me this week and I can’t forget this exchange.  I said to him “I feel sometimes like I’m getting paranoid myself thinking these people are now actually trying to sabotage my brother’s mental health status by blocking him from receiving services now–not just not providing the services but actually setting out to block him from receiving any elsewhere”.  This attorney responded (paraphrasing) “you’re not paranoid.  I suspect that’s exactly what’s happening.  I saw it time and time again.  A squeaky wheel calls them out on their incompetence and then they get sort of targeted and punished”. 

Yes, he sure did say that.  Punished.

That just makes me want to bawl.  Again, what has happened to these people?  Did they ever, at any point in their career, care about the population they are hired to help?

It was validating to hear those words and he just said “You’ve been hitting that delicate balance most advocates go through–not calling them out on their not providing what they are there to provide vs. calling them out then getting targeted”.  Either way, it’s just hideous.  I just said “they messed with the wrong family if they think I will sit back and let them neglect or worse yet, harm my brother”.

The problem is we have to keep him engaged in the public system for groups and classes that are with other mentally ill people because that is his peer group.  Completely mainstreaming John is not a smart idea.  We can’t deny he has a major mental illness and needs to be around peers who also relate.  The public system is where these people are.  I have high hopes for this clinic Wellness City where, so far, we’ve been treated with kindness and respect, they have an active community and he will enroll in there asap.  The problem is, the ACT Team removed him from the mental health system entirely, having him sign a form that says not one word about doing that but effectively accomplished that.  This is the kind of thing that I mean about punishment.  He was not clearly informed nor did he understand these ramifications.  He just thought he was removing himself from their cesspool program but lo and behold he closed his entire case through signing that paper they placed in front of him knowing that’s exactly what he would be doing.  Now they don’t have an appt. until Jan. 17 to get him back reenrolled.  It’s just all so damn frustrating and designed to keep people sick and get them sicker I believe.  There are systems, as hard as it is to believe, that are in fact designed to keep participants from getting well–some of them are called Insurance and Pharmaceutical companies but I digress, sort of.   It’s just so hard to wrap my head around but living inside this with him all these months I’m getting the clear picture of the blackness that exists out there.

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And my brother is the sweetest most deserving person you could ever meet.  I’m not, I’m a pitbull when it comes to protecting people I care about and I do have fangs that have a mind of their own sometimes and will arise in these kinds of situations, but not my brother.  He’s like an innocent child.  How do these people sleep at night?  Seriously?

Enough of that, I’m getting myself worked up again.

I fell in to a state of exhaustion the last two days triggered I’m sure from all of that head banging and also just from ….well, Christmas.

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I didn’t even realize this year was the 25th anniversary of Cindy’s death until a producer from the Ricki Lake Show told me as I breathlessly fast-walked down a sidewalk in Central Phoenix heading for the Arias courtroom last Spring.  He indicated it was part of the reason they wanted me on the show–that anniversary. I remember stopping in my tracks, doing the math and saying “you’re right, it’s 25 years”.

Not exactly something you want to call a  milestone but I guess it is.  I’ve survived 25 years since she was taken that Christmas in 1988.  We all have.  It’s kind of hard to believe.

I’ve said it before and say it again, grief is an unpredictable mistress.  It will let you slide when you most expect her visit then land on your doorstep with all of her suitcases and carryons when you think you’re just breezing along with your life.  She hit me hard this week.  I had a hard time even staying awake yesterday, in fact I took an afternoon nap and would have stayed in bed had I not had plans that evening.

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Like with the trap my brother landed in that has no clear exits, grief can just squeeze you in to itself and hold you there making you it’s own sometimes.  For as long as it wants to until you surrender.

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I tend to jump in to creative projects when I’m down like that as it’s one form of medicine that both distracts me and opens my brain in a new way and then I often end up with something I feel good about on the other end.

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Night before last I made a small tree honoring Travis Alexander and Cindy.  I have written before about the astounding similarities in the two of them–both 30 when they were murdered, both lived in the same city, both murdered by sociopaths who carefully planned and covered it up after conning them, both were killed in nearly identical ways, both left to be found by someone else and on and on….

No wonder I got so sucked in to that trial.

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I’ve gotten to know Travis’ siblings, some quite well.  So I made this little tree to send one of them which seems like something that could decorate a gravesite but it will end up wherever it lands.  It has a lot of personal meaning to me this little tree and it did make me feel a lot better after making it.  It’s sitting on my porch right now waiting to be picked up by the mail carrier.  As is the bag of my sweet spicy nuts I made ten thousand of this Christmas.  They turned out pretty good (burp!).

Last night I was invited to go over to Amy’s and make cookies with her kids.  I was driving over there, exhausted, thinking of how I was going to explain I couldn’t stay long, that we’d make this one batch then I’d have to leave. I was just that flattened, emotionally drained and physically spent.

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When I got there though, being with her girls, with Amy I perked right up and ended up staying for hours.  We exchanged all of our Christmas gifts (I got SO MANY cool things like a cactus garden and Tim Gunn’s memoir..yay!), watched Project Runway, had dinner and of course made our cookies.  It ended up being just what the Dr. ordered as I felt a whole lot better when I got home and this morning didn’t wake up with that terrible feeling of dread I’ve been fighting for a few days.  While trying to perk myself up making plans and doing fun things.  That feeling, when attached to you, is damn stubborn and wants to keep reminding you it’s still there, waiting. Waiting to be acknowledged I guess.

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When I got home last night I ran in to the best article I’ve ever read about grief.  I’m going to share it here.  Here is an excerpt that really spoke to me:

If instead of pretending we are okay, we would take the time to wail, to weep, to scream, to wander the woods day after day holding hands with our sadness, loving it into remission so it doesn’t turn cold inside of us, gripping us intermittently in the icy fingers of depression. That’s not what grief is meant to do.

Grief has a way of showing you just how deep your aliveness goes. It’s a dagger shoved down your throat, its handle bulging like an Adam’s apple protruding from your neck, edges pressed against both lungs, creating a long, slow bleed in your chest that rolls down the edges of your life, and you get to handle that any fucking way you want.

If you have been sitting on old grief from your childhood, your failed relationships, the loss of a family pet when you were nine, and any other losses you were unable to honor in the past, this left-over grief will also come through the broken damn. Let it.

“Grief does not change you… It reveals you.” ~ John Green

And herein lies the gift that cannot die. It changes the course of your life forever. If you allow yourself the chance to feel it for as long as you need to — even if it is for the rest of your life — you will be guided by it. You will become someone it would have been impossible for you to be, and in this way your loved one lives on, in you.

http://www.rebellesociety.com/2013/12/18/5-lies-you-were-told-about-grief/

Read the whole thing. I want to know this woman.  She speaks a language I understand and want to speak more boldly myself.

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I’m just going to leave this post on that note so we can all ponder these thoughts together.

I’m doing ok.  I really am.  I’m looking forward to our Christmas Eve Dickens dinner party we are planning, our pizza Elf movie party this Sat. with four of our Sedona friends at our house and putting up our tree up there this weekend.  When I think about it, I think it’s a pretty damn big miracle I can look forward to anything around the holidays.  Ever.  I still don’t send out Christmas cards anymore.  That ended in 1988 and never kicked in again.

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I am sincerely looking forward to it all this year…and to my heart opening wider to my family and taking the risks that I have to take to get there too.

And I’m grieving, acutely grieving again all at the same time.

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And I’m going to take care of myself in a very deliberate way.  Extreme self care is what I told my hair stylist/friend this week.

That’s the name of the game right now and I’m gonna play it.

Now I gotta run and get to the gym and a mani/pedi.

Hope you are all feeling everything you are feeling right now and that’s the most honest wish I can offer up today.  For me and for you.

thawing

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Most of yesterday was rough.  It was almost worst than the first day after I lost Buddy.   Actually it was worse.

I think after all of the googling and reading and writing and diving in to it and basically just giving myself permission to be stuck solid, I don’t know, something started to shift late afternoon.

I had sent Steve over to my brother’s as I just couldn’t breathe with another person breathing in the same room.  I don’t know how better else to explain it.

He in his non defensive way just said “whatever you need” and headed over there.  Of course I found out later he dove in to various chores around my brother’s house.  John’s house is going to be so spic and span and organized when he gets home I’m sure he won’t be able to find anything since the chaos has been ordered.  😉

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not an actual photo but close 😉

Mid afternoon, I decided I needed the rest of the weekend to myself to recover.  That I couldn’t handle any interaction at all.  This is a way I’ve coped my entire life; retreating, alone.

(I almost never use a semi colon, I hope that was the proper placement 😉 )

Around 3pm I phoned Steve up and said I wanted to get the other two cats moved over here and then if he could head home for the rest of the weekend I didn’t think I would be good company to hang out with.  He said he understood and that he’d be over shortly with Coco in the carrier.  Then we’d go back together and get the Nutball Lazlo who I’d not forgotten him breaking his own paw in the transfer over there freaking out in the carrier resulting in an ER visit and $300 Vet bill.  We figured that one was a two person job.

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Steve came back with Coco, grabbed his stuff then we went together to get Laz.  On the way there I asked him to stop at Dutch Brothers and got us both a coffee (well Steve a Chai) and I don’t know, I think that’s where the thawing began out there in that 100 something degree muggy heat.

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Steve started making me laugh.

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that’s Buddy’s tail wrapped around his neck just last weekend 😦

By the time we retrieved Lazlo and got him in the car (and I saw all the work Steve had done at John’s place) I’d changed my mind and asked him to stay.  He laughed and just said “Ok, I can if that’s what you want….women!”.  We both laughed.  But he wasn’t judging me.  He understood.  He lost his beloved Duke just earlier this year.  I don’t have to explain any of this to him.

For the first time in a long time, in a moment like this, I felt like it would be better for me to be with someone than be alone.  This was kind of a breakthrough.

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I reflected on my promise to Buddy, about how I would do my best to live on his legacy.  How he moved from a beginning life of terror to one of bonding.

Maybe this was a first step for me.

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Steve ran back to the Redbox and got two suspense movies, Argo (so good) and The Call (so creepy!) and we got back to our laughing, eating hot fudge Sundaes and freaking out on the couch to edge of your seat suspense.  He says I make him laugh in a way most people don’t.  I think it’s because I bounce off his humor.

Or maybe because I’m 1000% myself around him.  He’s seen me at my absolute worse, unshowered, no makeup, clothes damp with Lazlo’s cat pee from his car freakout in my lap (even though the towel), grief stricken and he still likes me.

We watched the three cats get acquainted again.  I also saw Sabine come out of her freeze on that one dining room chair she slung her head over for hours.  For two days.

Even if she was hissing at Lazlo , she was moving.

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I woke up this morning after a dream where I was really happy.  Sabine was next to me on the bed.

So here I sit, Lazlo purring and kneading the back of the chair behind me-Buddy’s favorite spot, Coco near the window as usual and Sabine walking around negotiating her new normal in her own home.  She and Coco ate breakfast side by side this morning.

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Steve’s upstairs still sleeping.  It was a late night double feature.

And today I’m the one who has plans for us.

And they involve walking, exploring, laughing and eating.  And getting out of the house/cave.

We’re all coming alive again.

It’s a paradox, this freezing/thawing business.  The more deeply you go in to the freeze space, the more committed you are to it, the more swift the thawing.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my pain now rather than later these days.

There’s too much to live for.  Just as all who have passed before me would want for me.

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frozen

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Yesterday I was so flattened I felt like I was hit by a fleet of Mack Trucks.

I felt basically immobilized most of the day not wanting to talk to anyone, interact, think, decide, eat, move.

Steve is visiting and I asked him to go tend to John’s cats at his condo as I just couldn’t tolerate any movement in the air around me at all.  I wrote my blog, which was like climbing a mountain but opening portals for tears at the same time.  It gave me something to do with this constellation of freezing and agony but it was about all I could do.  Sabine came down and sat across from me.  She wasn’t eating or moving either.  I remember a long moment or series of moments where we just sat there, frozen in our own igloos, staring at each other across the room.  Blank stares.

Like, what now?

I ate an avocado all day until I realized mid afternoon I needed to get to the bank.  I got thirsty but was too frozen to get up and get myself a drink.  I thought of putting away my clean clothes but when I  realized just walking upstairs was too exhausting forcing me to sit on the stairs half way that I’d postpone that task.

I called Sabine’s name to see if she would come to me but she just stared.  I remembered she usually came when I called Buddy’s name so I called his name.  Then felt destroyed hearing his name in that falsetto coming from my throat.  I want to call his name.  I want to keep calling it.  I don’t want that sound to disappear from my home.  But  disappear it will. I can’t call Sabine Buddy’s name to keep him alive.  It’s torturous.  It’s not fair to her.

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Yesterday, feeling so immobilized, uncoordinated, frozen, numb got me thinking about an NPR interview I’d heard years ago about the physiological implications of grieving.  People tend to think it’s a head and heart situation, that just our thoughts and feelings are disturbed.  But I heard this author, Joan Didion, speaking about the physiology involved in grief and how deeply it affects our entire body.  I thought I’d revisit that theme today seeing I’m smack dab in the middle of it.  This morning I woke up in to it again.  This is a hole that sucks you in to it until you’ve been patched up enough to surface again and you really have no say in the matter.

I think any deep loss resurrects the vestiges of any prior loss that’s been lurking, on pause, waiting for an opportunity for a portal to slip through so it can find some light of day.  This is also good and just damn hard.

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About six years after Cindy’s death, I received news of my dear friend Charlie Carter’s sudden, entirely unexpected demise while I was on vacation.  I was flattened for three days up there at the beach over Charlie.  He was a client/friend of mine and I had no idea how deeply he’d become embedded in my heart until he was gone.  It was terrible, sudden, shocking.  It was also hard to explain to my family who I was there to party and relax with that I was having a hard time even getting out of bed.  When I came home I remembered the grief support group I’d been in five years prior and enrolled myself again.  I knew Charlie’s death was digging up roots of Cindy’s…at least.  It was an extreme reaction.

How ironic that I was enrolled in that weekly support group when Benny got sick and I had to put him down.  So there was a plan after all because I had my group of people surrounding me to break down with about that.  Fathers who’d lost children, older folks having lost parents, the whole range.  I do remember an extremely Bible based woman in there who was very involved in the church. This group was associated with a church that I didn’t go to but a woman I’d met, Carol Fornoff who’d lost her daughter to homicide, invited me with open arms.

The Bible lady had lost a parent I think.  She was holding on to her Bible for dear life to get through it.  But she told me I shouldn’t grieve my cat, that cats didn’t have a soul, that they blah blah blah her interpretation of the Bible on pets.  She genuinely thought she was helping me.  I sat there on the inside saying “shut the fuck up Lady, you have no idea what you are talking about” but realized I was someone else’s house, that this was their religion so I wasn’t there to make waves.  I was so grateful when others in the group spoke up and derailed that and stuck up for me in my grief of Benny saying their interpretation of the Bible was different but we weren’t there for that reason.  We were there to support each other.  It all just subsided quietly.

Last thing you want to do is get in a fight in your grieving support group over a cat.  We were all screwed up so there’s an opening and tolerance and acceptance around that.  I didn’t hold it against her.   The fierce tsunami of grief has it’s own way of making it’s presence known no matter what anyone says anyway.

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Poking around online searching words like “physiology of grief” I came back on Joan Didion’s NPR interview which I’ll share here.  Her book “The Year of Magical Thinking” quickly became her biggest best seller.  She writes about the sudden loss of her beloved husband of 40 years, John Edward Dunne, another writer.  Her daughter was acutely ill in the hospital at the same time and died shortly thereafter.  She’s another one who knows of what she speaks.

Both segments of the Fresh Aire interviews are found here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4956088

(I also found the text there worth reading although haven’t made it through all of it yet)

I’ve not read her book but have been reading excerpts online all morning.  It’s just what I’m experiencing and writing about.

She talks about “processing everything by writing it down” which I so relate to right now.  I’ve journalled before but there’s something about this blogging that is taking me wider and deeper in to what I need to find….what I need to discover.

She talks about how she used advice from Emily Post of all people about the physiological effects of grieving—how the body gets cold, how the digestion shuts down, how others can best support people in this kind of frozen moment which I think is so important.

You can hear her speak about these things here (skip to 20:35 in the first segment to hear that interesting part):

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=4956088&m=4956093

I love how she uses the word “practical” in her description of Post.  I’ve used that term recently myself.  Practical support.

This is another interview I found with Joan Didion that I think is worth watching.  It’s shorter:

In my exploring, I also ran across this article which describes the physiological elements that happen with deep grief.  Here is one excerpt:

Because we sense that we are in danger, the body mobilizes to protect itself from the intruder or, if that’s not possible, to escape to safety. But loss is no hostile tribe that we can guard the camp against; nor is it an enemy that we can run from. Therefore we are caught in a state of tension. Our brain has stimulated us to take action; but, since we cannot undo the loss there is at this moment no action we can take. We are, therefore, held taut. This means that our bodies are under enormous stress…Dr. Beverley Raphael warns us that “bereavement may also be fatal.” (Excerpt from Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld)

Grieving is hard work and takes a huge toll on our bodies. When we are responding to a loss, the part of our brain where responses are integrated increases the production of CRH, a hormone that produces anxiety-like symptoms. Emergency-mobilizing chemicals are released. As our stress increases, the chemical levels increase; and our central nervous system becomes highly stimulated. Our breathing may become defective. Biological rhythms of sleeping and eating are disturbed. Our digestion, metabolism, circulation and respiration change. Our ability to concentrate and pay attention decreases.

Grieving can actually change the environment in the belly, intestines and bowels. “I feel as if I’ve been hit in the stomach,” we might say. “My stomach is in knots,” someone else may offer as a description of the physical stress triggered by a loss. These reactions can actually rearrange the muscles and sometimes even our body’s skeleton, in particular patterns for particular lengths of time. We may make sounds, like a moan or a growl. Our brain produces pictures that upset us even more.

Often the physical stress of grieving will cause us to lose coordination. We fall more easily. We don’t run our daily lives as smoothly as we did. Even simple things seem hard to do. Our brain and our eyes don’t coordinate the way they did before the loss. We are prone to have more accidents. We get more colds. Our immune system is compromised. We tire easily.

http://connect.legacy.com/inspire/page/show?id=1984035%3APage%3A2521

I really relate to all of this yesterday and today.

In Teri Gross’s second segment of the interview with Didion, she speaks about the theme of her book “magical thinking” and how she couldn’t get rid of his shoes because some part of her developed an “insanity” thinking he was coming back.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone that far in any tangible way but I do relate to that in dreams.  Where Cindy has come to me in dreams in awkward ways like walking in the courtroom once and down the middle aisle of the courtroom during one of the trials in this strange dreamy way saying “I’m back now…it’s all ok now…this can end now…”.

Then waking up in to the real nightmare.  I remember wishing I wouldn’t dream about her because the pain of reality was so not worth any glimpse of her presence.  I think I feel differently now.  I’ve worked very hard to feel differently about that.

It’s a double edged sword when you think about attempting some kind of connection, some kind of sign they are still around and reaching in to it blindly while at the same time acknowledging they are gone.  Many folks are much better at that than I am.  I’ve done so desperately at times, such as right before we moved John out here, and I will write about that in another story.

Today I feel like I couldn’t move the corners of my mouth in to a smile even with a forklift.  And I’m kind of known for my smile.  I feel like I have hooks tethered to boulders holding my mouth in to a deep frown just as my static expression.

I brought Sabine down earlier just to encourage her to eat.  She looks at the food, eats a few bites, laps a few sips of water, looks at me, wanders over to the bottom of the stairs and keeps looking up.  She just keeps gazing up those stairs looking for someone.   With this look of longing in her eyes.  I think she possesses that magical thinking Joan Didion talks about.  But Buddy didn’t take his last breath in her arms though so she has some catching up to do.

I’m aware of the terrible necessity of cave dwelling, at least for me, going through something like this.  I feel raw in every pore of my body.  I can handle very very little stimuli right now.  It’s all just so jarring.

I guess I will sign off with this poem by my favorite David Whyte.  I think I’ve said all I need to for today.  And just leave you with this.  If you ever judge yourself or have felt judged by another to “just get over it”  or “it’s just a cat” or “they’re in a better place” or “isn’t it time for some closure?” maybe you will think of me today writing, grieving for so many things after having slipped through that rabbit hole with Buddy.  We never know what that ball of yarn will pick up along the way clinging with it’s own need for air and a reach for a new glimmer of daylight.  The well can be deep but so can the healing.  Sometimes it’s a wise decision to just sink.

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.

  — David Whyte
from Where Many Rivers Meet
©2007 Many Rivers Press

 

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One day about mid-Jodi Arias trial, I was fast hoofing it up to the courthouse as usual when my phone rang displaying a Culver City, CA number.  I breathlessly answered it (hey, I’m not used to walking fast in heels) and on the line was a producer from the Ricki Lake Show.  Now by this time I’d been surrounded by various TV show producers and media for months covering this trial, I’d appeared on the Dr. Drew Show once, I spoke with people like Beth Karas daily, I’d been posting nightly on the trial online so of course I assumed this was in some way related.  “Hey Kathy, this is Mike Weaver a producer from the Ricki Lake Show” he said and I quickly replied “I’m late getting to the courthouse, can I call you back when court is done?”.  His response surprised me asking “what courthouse?  what do you mean?”.

It turned out he had no idea I was attending the Jodi Arias trial and really no real deep knowledge of the case, remarkably.  He was simply researching cases for a show called “Murder for Money” and found an article related to our case and cold called me to appear.  What odd timing.  I’d not been approached for any media interviews or anything for years.  And here I am sitting right in the middle of this trial and somewhere, out there, someone is researching Cindy at the same time.  You may have figured out by now, that these kinds of “coincidences” catch my attention.

Mike and I talked later that night and he asked me to appear on the show.  I agreed that I would.  It would be taping in a few weeks and he’d send me all the necessary information.  I will write a longer post on that whole truly amazing experience but for now want to share about the preparation.

One of the things they asked me to do was to find pictures of Cindy, Cindy and me, any photos of her killer (ugh) that they could use to make a “video package” to use on the show.  Now many people before and after asked me if it was hard for me to do that show.  Without a doubt the very hardest part was going through the photos to find ones to send.  Of course I have hundreds of family photos tucked away in Cindy’s cedar chest.  Then there’s the blue plastic file box that holds all of the trial related stuff, newspaper clippings and the like.  I am even in possession of a large stack of papers with a copy of my own testimony from the trial.  I’ve never read it again but a friend obtained it when she did a story on our case and gave it all to me later.  Things you have no use for but will not get rid of.

In our case, as in comparison to the Alexanders, as far as victims go, we were treated very well.  I don’t know how Travis’ siblings steeled themselves day after day to sit in that courtroom deflecting the abject abuse levied at their family and their brother by his killer delivered through her, her defense team and her champions.

Yet I’ve wondered if they had or are having the same experience as me.  That in many ways it was much easier to focus on the crime, the justice system than the big hole that’s left once it’s all over.  The loss, the grieving is the hardest part.  The drama of a trial is a piece of cake compared to that inevitable horror, delivered with it’s own life sentence.

I wondered how it was for them sifting through photos of Travis to prepare for their impact statements.  I never pried in to their personal experience but I sat there with them in a knowing solidarity.  It was interesting that, as far as timing goes, we were both seeking meaningful photographs of our murdered sibling right around the same time.

As I dug through that chest, tears streaming down my face, I ran across this one which I just had to pull out.  This is me on the left and Cindy on the right in case you hadn’t figured it out.

Let me introduce you to my alter ego, Penelope Cheese.

Cindy was famous for orchestrating these pranks on my Grandma every time she came to visit for Christmas.  One year we boobytrapped her entire room and closet with balloons.  It was always something, always cooked up by Cindy with John and I as her faithful posse.

One year when Cindy and I were probably 12 and 13, she decided she’d invite a new friend for lunch to introduce Buddha to.  Cindy then went about creating Penelope through me.  She dressed me up in a dark wig, I think a nightgown that could have actually been my Grandma’s, heavy makeup, costume jewelry, an underbite and a Southern accent.  She told me my name was Penelope and gave me directions on how to act.  She actually had me exit the house through the back door in a flimsy nightgown in the snow and ring the front doorbell to come visit for lunch.  Her plan was flawless.  Of course I always played along like the little dress up doll she often made of me.

I dutifully donned my prescribed attitude, rang the doorbell and Cindy introduced me to Grandma who seemed surprised and a bit confused but gracious all the same.  The four of us- Buddha, John, Cindy and Penelope – all sat down in the kitchen for lunch.  I held that underbite to the point of pain as I remained in character as Cindy’s racy, bawdy, sophisticated “new girl in town” friend.  My Grandma sincerely seemed appalled at some of the things that came out of my mouth.  Let’s just say Penelope was always well versed on the topic of boys.

She asked me many questions and when it got to “what is your last name Penelope” I hid my panic as we’d forgotten this detail, looked down at my grilled cheese sandwich on my plate and smooth as sugar delivered “Cheese” in my southern drawl.

This was the day Penelope Cheese was born.  Cindy and I convinced ourselves that we really pulled it off.   That Grandma really did believe it.  That we really had pulled off the ultimate practical joke.  So we never corrected it and went on year after year resurrecting Penelope visits and Buddha’s skills as improvisation rivaled my own.  She was always pleased to see Penelope on each visit even if she didn’t really like her that much as a friend for Cindy with her bad influence and all.  Penelope appeared at nearly every Christmas, once in Mississippi at Thanksgiving to a new crowd and this time in the photo above when I think Cindy and I were already in college.  At least late teens.

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In a very rare moment, I convinced her to dress up along with me.  She typically was the director of these scenes so to get her to be a player was a real coup.  I think we named her “Petunia” as we came down on Christmas Eve to entertain the family that year.  You can see that she wasn’t exactly shy in her new role.  Cindy in so many ways took the fun out of our family when she was killed.  I’ve tried hard to find ways to bring it back to life yet still you can’t duplicate someone’s unique presence.  I did bring Penelope to Maine one year but I think it was her last appearance.  She’s just not the same without Cindy breathing life in to her.

Memories are tricky business.  They remind you of something so precious and at the same time remind you of something so precious.

It’s a brave path and takes some time and some grace to dive back in to them.  And like that kid on the end of the diving board, just gripping yourself and letting go in to it is the only way.  And sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it’s a big splash and sometimes it stings going in.

And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can sink down, rise back up to the surface and start swimming again.

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I look at this photo of Cindy, Buddha and I on the porch steps of our family’s Maine summer cottage, just moments before we were taking off to head back home in the summer of 1988 and remember how carefree we all were then. I remember how Cindy and I went out one day shopping and bought those hats together.  I remember showing them off to my Dad who said “Kathy, that hat is you” and how Cindy kind of wistfully replied “I want a ‘you hat too’ “.

I remember that year she just wasn’t usual confident chipper self.  She was just weeks shy of turning 30.  She decided when we got home that she needed to work on some things so she joined a self esteem group.  She had been enrolled in that group just a week or two when she met Michael Apelt and everything started spiraling downward, unbeknownst to any of us.  None of us navigated our childhood unscathed.  I’d been in counseling for a few years at that point having suffered a severe anxiety disorder in my twenties so I whole heartedly supported her reaching out for help.

One of the assignments given in that group was they were to ask someone, a loved one, to write a list for them of all the things they loved about them.  Cindy asked me of course.  I wrote this crazy list of deep and superficial things extending in to all the margins in a green marker type pen.  Her therapist, who had to testify at the trial of Cindy’s killers, told me that she’d had them all read their lists out loud in the group. That Cindy was crying so hard she could barely get through it but the therapist kept encouraging her to read it and she did.

Can you possibly know how precious her sharing that with me was?  And is now?  That she was given that assignment and chose me to participate leaving me behind knowing she knew all of the ways I loved her before she died?  In writing no less.

I look at that picture of those steps and it also conjures up a more recent memory having to do with John. In the Fall of 2011 I made my annual trek to Maine to the family cottage.  My Dad had of course flown John in from Illinois where he was still living to join us.  Having John on vacations, until recently, was a mixed bag for all of us.  Sometimes he would function, much of the time he was completely consumed with symptoms and disruptive.  I remember saying to my father before coming that year that I’d like for John to only be there for half of my trip that “I’d like a vacation not consumed with mental illness” for my own sanity.  Now, with all that’s happened, I can’t imagine feeling that way as so much has changed in a short time, but it was the truth in 2011.

That year John was particularly symptomatic.  That means he heard voices constantly, was totally paranoid, couldn’t engage in converation much and mostly sat and talked to his voices and chain smoked.   Where his “smoking section” is is at the base of the steps in that photo.  That vacation he had escalated so dramatically, yelling at us and filled with what’s called “religiosity” talking the Devil, Hell, etc., that my father and I took him to the Psychiatric Emergency room for a shot of Haldol.  We talked about hospitalizing him.  On our vacation.  This is the reality of what we lived with for many years with John.  What he lived with with himself.

I hit some kind of wall that year.  I borrowed one of John’s cigarettes (well, I wasn’t intending to give it back) and went and sat on the front steps facing the ocean and decided to have a cigarette with Cindy.  I sat there, by myself, smoking that cigarette and literally talked to her out loud.  This was a huge breakthrough for me because even thinking of her at the cottage was excruciating even all those years later.  The last place we were all together.  It’s somehow easier to think of making new memories instead of resurrecting the old ones.  At least it was then.

We smoked and we talked and I simply asked for her help dealing with John.  That I was lost and I needed her to help me.  I couldn’t do it alone and I saw no light at the end of the tunnel.  I saw a future of care taking both him and our Dad as they both aged and had more needs.  And I just never had anyone at my back.  At least that’s how I felt being single and managing my own life alone for so long.  I was born a middle child.  I wasn’t supposed to be on the front lines.

I have to say I felt somewhat better after that smoke break.

Shortly thereafter I went looking for my Dad and walked out the back steps of the cottage, those steps we are sitting on in the photo, past John who was sitting on the landing smoking, talking to himself as usual.  What happened when I walked past him again is where the stars started to align and where I got my first sign.

I noticed John sitting there turning something over and over in his hands.  I sat down in the chair next to him and asked him “what’s that?”.  What he was holding was a small decopauge plaque.  One that Cindy had made in the 70’s, this being our “summer craft” that year.  He showed it to me and what it said on the front that she had burned in to the wood with my Dad’s wood burning tool.  Emblazoned in this plaque were the words “Take the Valid Choice” with a tiny flower burned next to the words.  It had a sand dollar and shells glued to the front.  Her initials and date was burned on the back.  John kept repeating that phrase over and over “‘take the valid choice’, Kathy, isn’t that funny? Remember how she always used to say that?”.

Now this phrase had become a bit of a joke in our family.  Our Dad, a Psychologist, would always turn decisions back on you when you asked for advice and ask questions back like “which do you think is the valid choice?”.  It drove us nuts as we wanted him to just make a decision and tell us which way to go and he just never did that.  So, probably Cindy, at one point blew out with exasperation something like “can you please just make the valid choice for me?”.  It was hilarious so turned in to a family joke.

I asked John where he got that plaque and he replied “from that shelf above the kitchen door”.  Now that shelf is high.  It’s not something that would normally catch your eye.  It’s something you’d have to be looking up to see.  Moments after my smoke break with Cindy, John was drawn to look up to that shelf, reach up and take that plaque off and go outside with it and show it to me as I passed by.

I knew then and there that Cindy was in the equation.  That she was with us.  That she was going to help me. Help us.

Less than a year from that moment  by John’s 50th birthday, he had disappeared, literally disappeared for weeks on end, not once but twice.  Missing Person reports, police tracking him down and the whole nine yards.  This was new behavior.  Things were just getting worse.

After the second time I broke down on the phone with my father, bawling, telling him I just couldn’t handle it.  I didn’t know how to manage him, how to deal with this and have my own life at the same time.

And what my father replied truly shocked me.  He told me I was entitled to my own life and that he thought I needed to let my brother go.  That he could see the pain this was causing me and that John had to wind his way through this life and if this was the way it was happening for him, I had permission to detach.  To let him go. 

I just broke down that night.  Tears in to my sleep.

And woke up the next morning and called my Dad and said “thank you for the permission Dad but it’s me we’re talking about here.  I can’t do that”.

And then the world opened up for Alfonse.  I got the instructions of what to do and followed them.  He was escorted back in to life by a team of angels who guided me and my decisions/actions every step of the way, who gave him his life back.  I listened.  I took the “valid choice” which really was the only choice and have been guided by them, by Cindy, by our mother, ever since.  More of that story to come later.

Just say that John is beating all the odds and is recovering from Schizophrenia in some kind of “waking up from a coma” sort of way.

And anyone witnessing it is fortunate to know that miracles truly are available on this planet.  And when I say anyone, I mean, especially me.

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One of the many unique similarities my sister shared with Travis Alexander is that she was raised by a Grandmother.  When our mother got sick, my father being in his early 30′s with three children under the age of six, needed help.  He called upon his mother who literally dropped her entire life and moved in with us.  He moved us all from our idyllic life in Florida where we were all born back to Illinois where our mother was from.  We haven’t discussed these things in detail, it’s hard for my dad , but it’s always been my belief that she wanted to come home to die.  Maybe I don’t ask because it’s hard for me to know these things.

My mother spent most of the last months of her life in a hospital in a city 150 miles away from her children.  I remember her coming home for brief periods then going back to Chicago to the hospital.  Children weren’t allowed in the hospital back in the 60’s so my last memories of my mother are standing on the lawn outside holding drawn pictures up for her as she looked out a window high above.

We lived in a huge rented house in the small town of LeRoy where my mother grew up.  My sophisticated Grandmother who’d lived in New York City her whole life was transplanted to a tiny farm town much like a spinoff of Green Acres.    It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

After our mother passed, our beloved Grandmother stayed on and lived with us for five years.  My father was her only child so we all were her life.   Obviously she was with us in the most formative and traumatic years of our lives.  I remember feeling so awkward in second grade that I came home one day and asked her if I could call her “Mom”.  How devastating that question must have been for her.  In those days there just weren’t “single parents”.

When our father remarried about seven years after we lost our mother, our Grandmother moved back to her home in New York.  I remember this being a crushing loss for all of us.  Yet we always stayed close.  We went to visit her every summer and stayed with her for weeks.  As we became adults, Cindy and I traveled all over the place with our “Buddha” as we’d nicknamed her along the way.  She would winter here in Arizona staying with one or the other of us after we’d moved out here.  Then she would head over to Santa Monica for the rest of the Winter and Spring.  Cindy and I visited her every March for her birthday in California in this little quirky hotel she stayed in on the beach.  She would get the adjoining room for us and we all had a blast exploring things like tapings of daytime shows (Cindy ended up as a contestant on The Price is Right one year!), looking for the stars homes and wonderful dinners out all over LA.  We loved our Buddha like an older sister in many ways.  We pampered her and she pampered us.  She had a childlike spirit all the way throughout her life which you can see so clearly in the photo above during one of Cindy’s famous “let’s dress up for no reason” parties.  That photo was taken at Christmas 1987.  The last one we were all together.

The following year Buddha, now living on her own in a condo in Connecticut, had fallen and broken her hip.  She was 87 at that time and other than the hip injury was going strong.

When I flew home, during the hours Cindy had been designated a “missing person” , it had already been decided that for the first time in our lives, our Grandma Buddha would not be with us for Christmas.  She just couldn’t travel.   I arrived home to the four of us- my brother, Dad and stepmother- hoping that word had come in from Cindy during my flight time, to nothing.

I don’t remember much from those hours.  I do know we sat in the same room you see in the photo above – an addition my father had put on the back of the house that housed a huge jacuzzi, plants, a gas fireplace and of course our big Christmas tree.  We sat there, mostly silent, just waiting for anything.  And hoping.  Praying. Desperate.  It was Christmas Eve day 1988.

I do remember at about 2pm or so my father saying “we’d better call Grandma as she’s going to wonder if we don’t call her on Christmas Eve”.  It would have been a couple hours later in the East.  So he and I decided to call her and just act normal, say nothing, not worry her there alone, needlessly.  I don’t know where I mustered up the strength to talk to her like that.  I was 29 years old, panicking, desperate and I had to talk to my Grandma like nothing was wrong.

I remember her being so happy as always to hear from us.  She was completely lucid and clear as always and cheerful.  As Cindy had been ambivalent about coming home for Christmas that year (her murderer we now know was trying to stop those plans as he had his own forming) , Buddha asked me “did Cindy decide to come?”.   I answered “No Grandma she decided she couldn’t make it this year so you see you’re not the only one not here”.

And her response to that is something I’ll never forget. Something she never forgot through the rest of her life.

“Well she called me this morning”she said.

My mind began racing in a million directions yet I had to remain calm and not seem as affected by those words as I was.

“She did?  What did she say Grandma?” I managed to whisper out trying to hide my shock.

As of that morning, Cindy had been missing for over twelve hours and her face was plastered all over the morning news back in Phoenix.

My dear Grandma repliedall I could make out was ‘Hi Buddha!’ and then the phone went dead.  I asked the girl here to call her back for me and I got that German man and I couldn’t understand a word he said”.

My Grandma never had a confused moment in her life.  She knew Cindy and my voices as distinctly as she knew her own.  No one on the face of the Earth referred to her as “Buddha” other than the three of us.  Ever.

Since I was the last one to talk to Grandma that day, I went straight to my Dad with this news.  Of course none of it made sense.  This was before the days of cell phones.  We knew Cindy didn’t have her purse.  It was doubtful she’d had this temporary rehab facility’s number memorized.  Why would she call Grandma if she’d been kidnapped and could make contact with someone? But it was a glimmer of something through all of the silence.  I remember feeling hopeful and full of doubt at the same time.

My father said “well if she’s made some kind of contact, we need to call the police back”.

We found out that day that by the time Buddha had received that phone call, Cindy had been dead for at least fifteen hours.

My Grandma went to her grave thinking her beloved first born granddaughter had made contact with her on that Christmas Eve as she was up there all alone and would need comfort.

I believed it too.  I believe it still.

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This was the last photo taken of my family together.  It was the last time we were together.  It was the last time anyone in my family saw Cindy besides me.  It was the last time she was at our family cottage in Wells Beach Maine. It was the last time we were 5.

This photo was used as our Christmas photo 1988.  Her body was found on Christmas Eve that  year.  People were still receiving this photo, along with a newsy family Christmas letter, after they’d been informed that Cindy was gone.

I don’t remember if my Dad included anything about Cindy having married Michael Apelt, her  murderer, in that Christmas letter.  I don’t ever want to remember that.

This is one of those photos I’m sure every murder victim’s family treasures and is devastated by at the same time.

And yet, we last on.