I knew it would be hard when I first saw Christina’s body at the funeral home. I didn’t know seeing her would result in triggers for the years to come… even 16 years later.
My parents had a private viewing before anyone else came to the funeral home. The funeral home workers walked us into the room where they kept Christina — and there was my baby sister, laying in a box.
My heart broke and I couldn’t see anyone else, besides my sister. I sobbed as I caressed her hair and cried her name – she was so cold. I pushed my lips against her forehead and kissed her but the coldness was too much. I tried to place more of my body on hers— maybe, maybe I could make her body a little warmer.
Cold hands, are a trigger for a flashback. Sometimes when I hold a cold hand. Sometimes when I shake a cold hand. Sometimes when I kiss my husband’s forehead. It will be a quick replay of seeing Christina in the casket or of my lips on her forehead.
Then the makeup, it was like putty. Why did they put so much makeup on her face? On her arms? On her hands? I began to wipe it off, panicked others would be allowed into the viewing room soon and would see her like this – cold and matted with too much makeup. I said (possibly out loud), “They did this wrong, it doesn’t look like Christina, why did they do this? She’s so cold. Mom- she’s so cold.” My mom’s words from a few days before when she identified my sister’s body echoed in my head.
I remember feeling so angry at the funeral home not only for the overuse of makeup but for my sister being cold… feeling angry, even if irrational, almost felt like a relief from the sadness. Maybe that is why one of the stages of grief is anger…
I see my mom weeping and it didn’t matter if I said anything about the makeup out loud because my mom was saying it for all of us, “This is not Christina, she doesn’t look like this… Gary look what they did. This isn’t my baby, oh Christina,” she wiped the excess makeup off Christina’s face with me.
It felt like we were trying so hard to find her, to see Christina’s face one more time but she was hidden under the pounds of makeup they put on her.
My dad spoke to someone behind us, I remember hearing him tell them they needed to fix the makeup because it wasn’t right and it doesn’t look like his daughter. My dad’s voice wanted to sound angry but it was cracking. The funeral home agreed to have the makeup fixed tomorrow. They apologized, I’m sure they’ve had this complaint before and know there is not much more you can say to someone who is suffering. So we did the best we could. Christina’s face looked a little softer after the makeup was partly removed.
Sometimes, makeup is a trigger for a flashback. Sometimes when I’m cleaning off my face. Sometimes if I’m wearing too much. Sometimes when I greet someone with a kiss and they are wearing too much.
As we stood at the casket, I remember my dad trying to hold me and my mom. He called out to Jay to help hold us. Except no one is holding my dad.
Through my tears I begin to fix Christina’s arms and hands. Why did they put this makeup putty on her arms and hands? I grabbed her hand and start to rub the makeup to even it out with the rest of her skin tone. I use my tear drenched tissues to even the makeup out and then I saw the dents… oh God what is that? I inspect her arm and rub another heavily makeup putty area on her arm, another dent… then I knew. The news anchor’s words replayed in my head “slashed throat”, “defensive wounds”. The words, “defensive wounds”, comes to life as I began to understand it meant my sister tried to catch and stop the knife with her hands, with her arms. I frantically start to push the makeup putty back onto the cuts but I am crying so hard my tears are washing it away. She couldn’t stop him, she tried, but couldn’t stop him. I can’t cover the cut again with the makeup putty. We search for makeup in our bags.
Cuts are triggers for a flashback. Sometimes cuts on me, sometimes cuts on someone else, sometimes cuts on a tv show or in movies. A few months after my sisters death, I went to the movies with my roommates, we went to see the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I closed my eyes and plugged my ears the entire movie, crying to myself and praying the movie would end before anyone would see me. I stopped watching scary movies after that. I actually avoided going to the movies whenever I could after that because the thought of being trapped in a movie theater again causes anxiety.
My mom was also trying to wipe the makeup off of Christina’s arms, I remember when she realized the makeup putty was to cover Christina’s cuts. She wept, loudly, screaming to us, “my baby’s hands, he cut her so bad, look at her hands, he cut my baby’s hands. Oh, Christina, my poor baby, her hands.”
We sobbed, feeling all of my mom’s word’s. Feeling hopeless because the body we loved was hurt, violated and now lifeless – and it was my sister, their daughter. She was ours and she was taken.
It felt as if we wouldn’t survive.
If it wasn’t for our faith we wouldn’t of survived. I am certain of that. We had hope in Jesus. Hope He held Christina when she struggled with her murderer. Hope He gave her peace. Hope one day, triggers, wouldn’t bring horrible images.
The difficulty with therapy were the images and reliving the trauma. It is similar to the difficulty I have had with these journal entries. However, at least with the journal entries I can have Frankie (my husband) read them and I wouldn’t have to repeat everything I said in therapy. Saying it once in therapy was more than enough. So writing was our compromise: I could discontinue therapy if I wrote. Frankie would read.
When my family learned I only went to therapy for three days they felt I didn’t try. Frankie had said the same. I wish I could express how hard those three days were. Maybe, if I could of wrote in my therapy sessions like these journal entries then I could of done therapy longer but saying it out loud- I couldn’t do it. It was too much.
I don’t know if there are different levels of post traumatic stress disorder, but if there are, then I think we may have it. I’m sure I’m not severe, as I’ve seen movies about soldiers and the struggle they face when they get home, and it is not like that. However, there are some things I can relate to – like the flashes of Christina in the casket, flashes of her cuts, or even flashes of her in field where she was murdered (even though I didn’t see her there).
As I mentioned, in a previous entry, I usually prayed these images away when they come. My three day therapist wanted me to replace the image with another image during therapy. This was helpful during my therapy sessions and while writing my journal entries so far. She asked me to think of a place where I felt safe and content. I told her it would be in my grandma’s house, in grandma’s bedroom. This is the room where we would usually take naps or sleep if we were visiting. The therapist then asked me to pick one object in the room to think about anytime the images were too much. I picked a picture which used to hang in my grandma’s room. I asked my grandma to mail me this picture when I started my journal so I didn’t have to imagine it.
Ironically, the picture which brings me comfort is a scene of an older sibling safely guiding a younger sibling across a broken bridge. An angel watches them as they cross the dangerous bridge. Growing up, I always tried to make sure Christina was safe, guiding her across the dangerous bridges in her life. When she was a baby, I would sneak to her crib and place my finger under her nose just to make sure she was breathing. I did this strange breathing check until she was school-aged.
I failed at guiding her across her last bridge. The older sister in me was upset at her current choices and I left her on the bridge alone. So why does the picture bring me comfort?
Maybe because regardless of what I could do or didn’t do to protect Christina – there is a greater protector than me. God didn’t stop Christina from being murdered. I believe evil like this happens because we live in a fallen world where there is – cancer, hate, pain, abuse, and murder. So, no, God didn’t stop her from being murdered… but God, gave his one and only Son so we may have eternal life. Meaning the evil in this world doesn’t have the final say, death has no sting. God protected and saved the most important part of my sister – her soul and one day I will see her again.