You lose so much more than your loved one when they die. I recently tried explaining this in Amador’s 15 year parole hearing… doing my best to convince the parole board that 15 years of prison was not enough. I requested they deny parole for the maximum number of years, which in the state of Ohio is ten.
They didn’t hear me though or maybe they did not understand the gravity of my request and instead added only 8 more years to his sentence.
WE, the victims, continue to pay the maximum price for Amador’s crime and he continues to pay the minimum. Where is the justice?
Two weeks after my sister passed, we had my cousin’s wedding. The date of the wedding was also my sister’s birthday, October 11th. I was the Maid of Honor, so I felt I needed to somehow manage to get through this. My cousin gave me an “out” and looking back I wish I took it because every moment was torture. As the bridesmaids laughed, put on their makeup, and did their hair I would pretend to laugh with them and when I could… I would escape to the bathroom or hallway to try to breathe. The room would spin, it felt like there was no air and my chest was being crushed, I could hear people talking to me but I felt as if I was outside of my body listening to them talk. At the age of 22, I was having a panic attack and didn’t even know it. Everything in me wanted the day to end and I prayed I could get through it without ruining the day for the bride. It was October 10-11 2003, when I learned to smile despite what I was feeling inside. I learned to be “fake happy” – because nothing else would have been acceptable.
I packed my car the day of the wedding. I planned on leaving as soon as the wedding finished, driving through the night back to New York. It would be a 10 hour trip back alone but I didn’t care— I needed to leave.
I hadn’t talked to my parents after the burial and they had not talked to me. There was nothing to say. I needed to focus on something and my focus was getting to New York to work and to pay rent. My parents focus was my sister’s baby, custody, and the investigation.
The wedding couldn’t end soon enough. So many of us pretending to be happy when we all knew it was Christina’s birthday. I couldn’t look at my parents, I couldn’t look at my family, I could look at the table where Christina would of sat. So after the maid of honor toast, I said my goodbyes and I left. I was most definitely the worst maid of honor in wedding history.
One foot in front of the other.
On October 16, 2003, it was three weeks after my sister passed and it was also Game 7 of the ALCS- Red Sox vs. Yankees. I was bartending that night and the bar was packed with regulars and friends watching the game. My manager let me off early and my friend Dana convinced me to stay and watch the rest of the game. I stayed, despite knowing I would have to fake happy for a few more hours. Jay unexpectedly showed up to the bar too, like he sometimes did, and watched the game with us. I found solace having him there, knowing he knew everything my family went through, he had to know I was NOT OK but… he could at least pretend with me.
I think what really sets in and is hard to swallow when you lose someone is you see life keeps happening. Everyone was happy, drinking, and enjoying the game. Life was going on, even though I felt it was over. First a wedding and now a baseball game. I wondered would this be the rest of my life? How could I possibly feel “real” happy again?
I wanted to leave and was struggling keeping my tears in. Maybe Dana saw this because she kept walking over to where I was sitting, trying to cheer me up. I would put on a smile for her and her kindness was enough to keep me there.
Towards the end of the game, she put a Yankee’s hat (or maybe a jersey?) on me and announced to our crowd of friends, “Diddy (Dana’s nickname for me) is wearing the jersey, she’s our good luck charm now!”
I forced a smile again for her and the crowd of friends.
Then it happened, some guy, a player we didn’t know at the time (Aaron Boone), was batting and hit a home run. The Yankees won. Everyone went crazy, cheering and hugging me- thinking I had something to do with it. It was so ridiculous and I laughed, a REAL laugh at the silliness of it. I quickly stopped the feeling of happiness, perhaps out of guilt or perhaps instinctively my heart said stop being happy. How could I be happy, my sister just died?
Jay found me in the crowd and said, “We need to go to the stadium now.”
I wasn’t sure why we would leave all of our friends and head to the stadium but he was eager to head out, so I followed. During the ride to the stadium, Jay talked about getting tickets to the Word Series and how there must be a crazy party at the stadium. We avoided talking about my sister, which seemed weird at first but I understood— how long could I expect him to sit in my grief with me.
It didn’t take us long to get there but when we arrived nothing was happening- no crazy party or whatever he was expecting. In fact, Yankee Stadium was a bit of a ghost town when we arrived. Everyone was probably celebrating at a bar with their friends, which we just left. Again, I felt like laughing because we left a perfectly good celebration for an empty stadium. I quickly stopped it… how could I be happy, my sister just died?
Jay was still excited, and perhaps determined to make the most of our trip, so he headed towards the city to a place called Greys Papaya. He claimed it would be the best hot dog I would ever eat. So, we headed to Greys Papaya and soon we were eating the worst hot dog and juice drink I’ve ever had. As we ate, Jay tried to explain how the hot dogs were normally better and how him and his friends would get them after a night out. Unable to keep the happiness out anymore I laughed, truly laughed about the whole night. I decided to allow it this time but as I laughed something strange happened, something I couldn’t control- I felt the tears come and a lump in my throat. I don’t think Jay noticed, if he did he didn’t say anything, and I did my best to hide any sadness because I didn’t want to ruin the night. I had to stop the happiness so I could stop the sadness.
What was happening? When will I not cry? I cry when I’m sad and think about Christina and I’m sad when I’m happy because Christina is no longer here.
If I faked happy, I didn’t cry, I was miserable but I didn’t cry—so I concluded that was the answer. It was the answer for many years after that day.
I went back to faking happy and when Jay sensed the change in my mood he said, “It’s great we can do whatever we want right now, if we want to eat disgusting hot dogs at 1 am, we can do that!”
Who would want to eat disgusting hot dogs at 1 a.m. except us right now? I began to laugh again at the silliness of his comment and again I felt the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. This is such an awful feeling, I can’t be happy even if I allow myself to be.
On the drive back home, Jay talked about his future plans and who he planned to date next. Though I normally had plenty to say on this subject, I had nothing to say and became quiet. I was a bit angry because if Jay dated it meant I would need to take a backseat, the harsh reality of boy-girl friendship, and I wasn’t ready to be alone—not now.
Jay asked, “What’s wrong?”
I thought about saying, “nothing” or “maybe you could stop talking” or something mean so I could cause a diversion, but I knew being hurtful wouldn’t help and I couldn’t do it after all he did for me. So instead I said, “Do you think, one day, I won’t feel sad? How long will it take?”
He responded, “I don’t know, Priscilla you may never feel better.”
My heart stopped and we were both silent. Though I tried hard not to, I ruined the night— for both of us.
What Jay said though was the realest and the most difficult condolence I had ever received… and he kind of end up being right, not completely because there was something neither him nor I fully understood at the time. At the time, we were only 22 years old, just babies, trying to figure out if I could “get better” from something most people don’t experience in their lifetime.
Now, at 38 years of age, I can say Jay was partly right- I still feel sadness. I still hurt. I still cry for Christina. I still cry when I’m happy, not all the time, but sometimes. Like the other day, I was riding my spin bike. I was spinning and singing while I was working out. As I began laughing at my spin instructor who was singing too, tears began to fill my eyes just like the night I was eating the disgusting hot dogs with Jay. Then I was crying on my spin bike.
I’ve tried to understand this over the years and I can only conclude that maybe I cry when I’m happy because my mind and heart remember the feeling of happiness I once knew before Christina died. Then as my mind and heart recall this feeling, I am saddened because something which used to be so easy and joyful is hard to let myself feel.
What neither Jay nor I fully understood that night, was there was hope in my grief. I wouldn’t have to fake happy for the rest of my life and though I felt I would be swallowed by my grief, I was being saved by God’s grace, even then. God continued to place things in my life which made life good, things which brought happiness. Like really bad hot dogs, the Yankees winning the World Series, friends and family, and my nephew (Christina’s baby) whom I didn’t know at the time but would become my everything over the years to come. God also gave me Frankie, my husband, who taught me even more so to embrace happiness and life even if it meant I had to do it sometimes through tears.
Hope. Hope was happening on October 16th but I didn’t even know it. I wish it was something I saw at the time and fully understood when life seemed impossible and unbearable.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5
Dear Reader, the above was taken from my journal but this is written in real time. If you are grieving then you are not alone. In the trauma, there is hope and I wish for you to see the Hope, embrace Hope sooner than I did.