Two years ago, on October 21st 2012, I held my son in my arms as his heart stopped beating. Just a few days ago, I sat in a Prince William County Courthouse and saw my son’s killer for the first time in nearly two years. Many people expected that I would get some sort of sick pleasure out of seeing my son’s killer look like a demented serial killer out of a 1980′s cheaply made horror film; however, seeing him in that state only made my skin crawl more. Possibly worse, however, was having to sit in front of Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman as he exclaimed how “juicy” he believed the story was on my son’s murder. His crass behavior was, in part, a sure attempt to get under my skin; however, in the two years since my son’s murder, I have often cringed at how callous many people connected to the case have been. Today, on this anniversary of his death, many people have wished me and my daughter well. I appreciate all the love and support that my friends, family, and readers have shown me throughout the years. I am reminded, though, on days like today just how many other people have been forced to live through terrible tragedies. I am reminded of the choice I made two years ago – to live so that a piece of my son could keep living inside of me. For those of you who were not following my blog a year ago, I want to share with you my post from this time period last year. I hope this will help people understand how I view this day. And I hope that my choice to spin a negative day into a positive one will entire others to do the same.
This past weekend (October 20th and 21st to be exact) marked the one year anniversary of the worst two days of my entire life. While I am still relatively young, I am willing to bet that October 20-21, 2012 would have been considered astronomically bad by anyone’s standards – and even that seems like an understatement. For those of you who don’t know, October 20th last year was the day that I found out my son had been murdered by his father. It was the day I learned that I would never again see my little boy open his eyes, give me a hug, or say “Mama”. All of my hopes and dreams for him shattered in that single moment. A year later, I write this post reflecting over the past year. I received more messages this past weekend from people telling me they were thinking about me than I received on what would have been Prince’s second birthday (which to me was a more difficult milestone). My response to everyone who sent that message went something like this: “Thank you for your kind words. Today is not a bad day though. I will not be spending it thinking about the worst day of my life. I don’t care to celebrate or commemorate this day. I refuse to allow a date that a demonic man chose to terrorize me for the rest of my life. This day was not a good day for my son and it was not a good day for me. I do, however, see it as a day that marks strength.” Many people seemed confused with my response. Maybe they were expecting me to curl up into a corner, and spend the two days crying as I forced myself to relive the nightmare that occurred just one year ago. While I could have chosen that path, and I would not judge someone else who did, I continue to choose survival. So instead of curling up into that ball and crying, I thought about all the things and people who have gotten me to this place of strength. I will never say that the path I have taken in the last year should be followed by everyone who has endured tragedy, but it was my path and if my words can help someone then it is worth sharing. 1) Find your people: I put this one at the top of my list because without my friends and family I know I wouldn’t have survived this past year. When my son died, everyone who knew him was devastated. It rocked my family in a way that a family should never be rocked. That said, many of my family members were able to rally around each other and we gave each other the strength to keep living. In addition to my family, I learned who my true friends were. As soon as I sent out the text message that my son was dying, several of them dropped everything and drove to the hospital just to be there with me. One of my oldest friends got on the next plane from Louisiana to visit. She listened to me, sat with me while I cried, made me laugh when I didn’t think I would again, and cooked when nobody seemed to have the strength to even think about food. When chaos and tragedy strikes, find your people. 2) Clean house on the toxic folks: Throughout life its never a good idea to allow toxic people to hang around. This is especially important during the hard times. I found that there are some people who enjoy chaos. They will gravitate around you during these times and make you feel worse. If you find that someone is making you more sad or appears to be feeding off of your bad situation, drop them like a bad habit and move on. In the past year, I have made no apologies about getting rid of bad people. For example, two weeks after my son died, someone who I thought was a friend told me that I needed to “just get over it and stop talking about how angry and upset I was about what happened.” After that conversation, I promptly told this person to lose my number and I truly believe I am better off because of it. 3) Grieve your way: In the past year, I can’t even count the amount of times people have tried to tell me how to grieve for my son or passed judgement on me for decisions I have made. Many of these people have never lost a child and seem to project how they think they would feel if in my situation. Recently, one of my coworkers lost his son tragically to a brain aneurism. The child was six years old and he was devastated. He asked me what he should be doing. I told him that he needed to do whatever he felt he needed to do and that he shouldn’t let anyone tell him that what he chose to do was the wrong path. That said, I would advise someone against doing something that was hurtful to themselves or others. 4) Don’t be afraid to go to therapy: Admitting that you need to see a therapist shouldn’t be seen as a weakness. If a person broke their arm and just decided that surgery or casting it wasn’t for them, they would end up with a jacked up arm for the rest of their life. If you find yourself in an emotionally unstable place, sometimes you just need to seek medical help and talk to a therapist. I am not ashamed to say that after Prince died (and while I was in the throws of the custody war), I have seen a therapist regularly. 5) Take back your happy: Ever since I met Luc in February 2010, my life has been in some level of chaos. He has tried to control and torment me. While I believe he killed my son primarily for money, his secondary motivation was likely to destroy me. He chose the first time he saw Prince after my birthday as the day he would drown him. He intended for that day to make me sad for the rest of my life. I will always miss my son. I will always hold a certain sadness about the fact that he will never grow up and do the things he should have been allowed to do. I will not, however, allow the man who killed him to destroy me. I chose to take back my happy. I chose to do this for myself and for my daughter. Finally, I leave you with one of the wisest things I heard after my son’s death. I was speaking to the priest at my church. I asked him why so many Christian people were telling me that in order to have peace I needed to forgive the man who killed my son and all of the people who allowed my son to be killed. I asked him if I needed to forgive these people before finding peace. Father John looked at me and said, “Hera, hold onto your anger. It is that anger that will help get your son Justice.” Father John went on to explain that forgiveness should be reserved people who can understand forgiveness. It was clear that Luc had no soul. Forgiveness would simply allow him to feel absolved for what he did, and possibly even allow him to continue to torment me. So I will not be forgiving Luc. It is a waste of my energy – energy that should be used on happiness. While I don’t forgive him, I also don’t dwell on him either. I stayed angry for as long as I needed to in order to get the wheels of justice to turn. I would never tell someone else NOT to forgive someone who has hurt them. I simply offer you an alternative. If forgiving the person who has hurt you allows you to heal, then do it. Just don’t allow that forgiveness to let them continue to hurt you. For me, what was more important was learning to forgive myself. This remains the hardest part of my journey. While I know how hard I fought and how much I loved my son, there is still a level of survivors guilt and victim guilt that I will likely face for a long time to come. As I continue on this journey, however, I will focus my efforts on life - on the legacy of my son through telling his story and helping to try and protect other children. Soon, I will also focus on raising my daughter. I am starting a new chapter of my life and Luc is not a part of that chapter. So next year, when my daughter is about a year old and the anniversary of Prince’s death approaches, I will think of strength and survival. I will have survived one more year, and I will be thankful for all the wonderful things life has given me. This is my survival date.
Next week my daughter turns one year old. Looking at her sleeping next to me, I am still amazed at how fast this year has gone by. Me and Stela didn’t spend the day today being sad. We spent the evening playing, dancing, laughing, and reading some of Prince’s favorite books. Today is my survival date.