10 Years Later: The stone still ripples
It could’ve been a beautiful spring day like any other. The dogwoods were in full bloom, wrens merrily tweeted about in the soft, warm breeze, and a few fluffy clouds floated across sky in the distance. But this day, April 5, 2013, was the Friday after Easter, the day my daughter took her last breath, passing peacefully in her sleep.
Five days later, Bekkah had a spectacular send-off celebration in a standing-room-only gathering of friends and family who shared memories and laughter. The pastor compared her to a stone cast into a pond that caused a huge ripple, a symbol of the imprint she left upon her community. Bekkah, as it happened, collected stones wherever she went, from gravel and common ground rocks to smooth river pebbles.
I’ve often wondered how 10 years past this stormy time in my life would look, how I would feel. I remember wishing right after she died that time would just fast forward so I wouldn’t have to live through the pain. What would I do with all her rocks? And her things? How would I live without her?
The week after her death, I gave her prettiest, smoothest rocks in her collection to her classmates to hold anytime they missed her. One of those classmates, Nick, passed away two years ago. I don’t know what happened to that rock, but I hope it helped him. On the first anniversary of her death, I put the rest of her rocks in the base of a translucent, turquoise vase and inserted an arrangement of orange and blue flowers — her favorite colors.
I found a therapist to help get me through those first awful weeks, during which time I was also going through a divorce from her stepdad. I awoke nightly from my wine-and-Benadryl induced sleep with looping scenes of her lifeless body on the hospital gurney.
I remember longing for “normalcy,” wishing that people would stop looking at me with pity. I felt like I had the words "My child died" tattooed on my forehead. I stopped taking the Benadryl, weened myself off the wine and ended the therapy after a year. I drowned myself in work and freelance projects. I used Bekkah’s story to carry on her mission of love and acceptance through my work with the youth in my church. Busyness became my new coping mechanism, a way of skirting round the heartbreak. Every moment of my life was a distraction. I gave away most of her toys and clothes to the Salvation Army, then blankets and books as needs arose to appreciative recipients. Meanwhile, the pain lay dormant.
All seemed well on the surface until seven years later when the anxiety attacks began, triggered by a string of deaths in our family. I reentered therapy to continue work on untangling the web of complicated grief of losing my child and ending my marriage, confronting the aspects of myself I had come to loathe, and learning how to work through anxiety and the unattended sorrow. Therapy, journaling and lots of long, prayerful walks have brought me to a place where I can understand both my past and future, where my life makes sense again.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of Bekkah’s death, the dogwoods are blooming, the birds flit about and the clouds drift easily above. The day is eerily similar to April 5, 2013, but I no longer look at the clock to mark the sequence of events as they occurred that fateful day. Now this day more fully signifies hope and gratitude, strength and resilience. Moreover, this day marks the tremendous amount of love I felt – still feel – for Bekkah and the love she reaped.
My mom and I are looking forward to presenting the second annual Bekkah memorial scholarship at her Elberton high school in May, another way we continue to extend the reach of her ripple in this small corner of the world. And we also are looking forward to next week attending Extra Special People’s Angels in the Outfield in Watkinsville honoring Bekkah and other ESP campers who’ve passed away.
Today I see Bekkah’s death as a sort of renewal of spirit. I believe it was no mistake that she was born the Tuesday before Easter and died the Friday after Easter, a full-circle mission for a heaven-sent child whose mission was to show us all how to love everyone in this mixed-up world. I've adopted her mission, to continue that ripple, for which I have only happy tears.
Ten years later, life looks amazingly like love.