The Trial, Constellations, and Grace

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Today marks one month since the trial began for the man convicted of Jason’s death. Throughout the passing of the one month, I have sat down on more than one occasion and attempted to write about my experiences at the trial. I have thought to myself on NUMEROUS occasions, “you wrote so easily and freely concerning Jason’s death, pull it together. Surely a trial can’t be harder to write about than your own husband’s death.” Yes, I know I am a very harsh critic when it comes to myself, and I know you all did not see it this way at all. Yet, I still “punished” myself mentally for my inability to truly capture the essence of how traumatic and life altering the trial was for me and for all those who supported me. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake because of the evidence presented, praying that I could erase it from my mind. Hours spent analyzing my words when I took the stand. Were they good enough, did I accurately portray the gut wrenching death of my husband that in turn caused me to lose who I once was, and causes my son to miss his daddy? Could I have said something more? Should I have cried more?

 

I’ve spent more of my time replaying evidence over and over in my mind, and analyzing Jason’s last moments. Yes, I sat through that rear dash cam video more than once. I promise you, I still don’t know how I did it. I wonder if the message my presence during the video sent to the jury was worthy enough of the years I’ll spend replaying those last few moments in my head. I find myself washing clothes or cleaning, and thinking, would Jason have wanted me to endure all I chose to endure, just to ensure that honor was given to his sacrifice. I’ve thought over and over again how unfair it is, that I had to sit through 7 days of emotional turmoil in order to be the presence in the courtroom who silently demanded justice to be served. And, it’s usually at that point in my thought process that I enter into my “dark zone.” The place in my mind that I attempt to push back, cover up, in hopes that the repression eventually erases it all together. In reality, I know that in order to heal, I have to enter my dark zone. Yet, in those moments I’m there, and I’m walking through it, I honestly feel the furthest from Jason I could. My “dark zone” is generally a swirling storm of anger. I hate feeling anger, while it’s productive, I feel it blinds me. And so, I avoid it at all costs. Yet, there was no avoiding it. In fact, it’s been on the backburner of my mind up until tonight. Showing its blinding face at every twist and turn in my life. Clouding my judgment, and causing me to dislike who I was.

A considerable amount of my anger doesn’t stem from the sentencing portion of the trial…although at first, it did. Instead, my anger is more often directed at myself. I can try forever to explain to you the paradoxical emotions of praying for justice to be served, but feeling your heart strings slowly ripped as you watch a mother saying good bye to her son before he’s lead away. Or the prayers that the amount of years will in some way equal the loss we endure daily, but also almost feeling sorry when you look into his eyes and see the reality of his choices sink in. I’ve been angry at myself for feeling such paradoxical emotions. I’m angry because these emotions feel as if they are a betrayal to Jason’s sacrifice and to his brothers/sisters in blue. In fact, I have debated sharing such emotions because I was afraid people wouldn’t understand why I felt them. I have feared that this paragraph I’ve written numerous times would alienate me from Jason’s brothers and sisters, and that they would turn their backs on me because of my true feelings.

I have told myself over and over, that a “true officer’s wife wouldn’t feel sorry for the person who took her husband’s life.” That she shouldn’t wish it would become a learning experience for him, and that in the end he will leave prison with the ability to impact others, and with a hard-earned respect for the value of a person’s life. I’ve told myself that a “true officer’s wife would not ‘be okay’ with a sentence that is less than a life for a life.” And, yet, no matter how often I “tell” myself anything, these paradoxical emotions creep up on me, engulf my thought process, and drown me.

 

For the past week, I have been fighting them off. Forcing myself to stay incredibly busy in the hopes that they will fade, and that I won’t have to truly deal with how I’ve been feeling. That I wouldn’t have to write this blog that I’ve felt weighing on my heart since the verdicts were issued. Realistically, I knew the possibility of such an occurrence was extraordinarily rare. All day today, I found my thoughts elsewhere, and my thought process erratic, and the difficulty level of accomplishing even the simplest of tasks frustrated me. I have felt out of sorts, as if a thousand piece puzzle were thrown to the floor, and its pieces placed hastily placed back together. The general outline of the puzzle is there – a shell, but the inside is all jumbled together with pieces forced together to fill a space. As I prepared for tonight’s Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line meeting, I found myself sporadically “accomplishing” items on my to do list, but never feeling as if I had anything together.

 

Even as I began the meeting, my frustration levels were high, and I struggled to pull myself together for these ladies who have given so much to me. Yet, when I started that meeting, a few of the pieces of my jumbled together puzzle were placed back into their correct location. The longer the meeting went on, the more pieces were correctly placed. Conversations after the meeting, placed a few more into their permanent homes. Each piece placed was a small weight lifted. Ladies who support me, back me, and understand how an “officer’s wife, could look into the eyes of her husband’s killer and feel immense anger at all he took from us, but also understand how a mother could look into those same eyes and feel in some small way sorry for him as well.” I shared a small portion of how I felt at the trial, and they all supported me. They wrapped their arms around me in support, and the encouraged me to keep going. I promise you they don’t even know they did it, but I felt it.

 

And so, I left the meeting with more pieces in place, and a certain sense of calm that I hadn’t felt in quite some time. When C and I arrived home, we got out of the car, and as always I looked at the sky. Tonight was beautiful, clear, and peaceful. I commented on the stars to C, and he looked too. And what happened in those moments of arriving home, placed even more pieces in place. He looked at the sky, and he immediately found the big dipper, a skill Jason taught C at an early age. He smiled, and he pointed out a “winking” star in the handle of the dipper. He turned, and he looked at me, and with childlike faith said “ That’s my daddy’s eyes winking at me tonight.” Normally, I would have lost it at that point. I would have mourned Jason’s death, and how C is forced to live without him, but this time I didn’t. Instead, this time, we sat down in the middle of our driveway, and we looked at the stars.

 

This was the best picture I could get :)

This was the best picture I could get 🙂

C talked on and on about how Jason had taught him how ships used constellations as a GPS, and that he thinks Jason would have chosen the big dipper to build his mansion in heaven. I listened, and I remained quiet as he kept talking. Listening to my baby be so happy that we are “closer to daddy tonight,” calmed me, and it placed more pieces in their place. At one point, he jumped up, and ran inside to get “Jason’s blanket, a pillow, and his DADDY’S flashlight, so that he could hold it and remember his daddy.” I joined him, and we lay down under the stars, and we snuggled. While he sat and watched the stars, I began to think about how angry I’ve been at myself for feeling a little sorry for the man who killed Jason. And just as I allowed myself to begin to process why I felt that way, C pointed out a constellation he felt looked like “the cross Jesus died on.” He asked me why Jesus would want to die for us, and I began to explain grace and mercy to him. He remained quiet for a long time, and I welcomed the silence. In the silence I began to realize how irrational my anger at myself was. All along, I had convinced myself to believe that feeling sorry for my husband’s killer made ME a bad person. That it erased my status as a “good and dutiful officer’s wife.” When in reality, the exact opposite was true. Those moments I spent looking at the man who killed my husband, and telling him exactly how he changed my life, were moments when I kept telling myself, “stop feeling sorry for him. It was his choice. He did this; he created his own consequences.” Yet, instead, those moments standing before him in the courtroom were the first moments when I truly saw a glimpse that forgiveness might be possible. In reading my statement to him, I chose to leave out the last line of the letter. In that line, I told him that if I ever did forgive him, to make no mistake, the forgiveness would be so that I could move with my life, not so he could feel better about his own choices.

I didn’t tell him that, instead, I just went and sat down. Up until tonight, I’ve regretting not reading that last line to him. Tonight, when C and I talked about the cross, salvation, grace, and mercy, a number of more pieces fell into place. I realized that feeling sorry for his decision to drive away that night, didn’t make me a bad person. I thought, if I truly believe in salvation and the grace Jesus must extend to us in order to be willing to die on the cross, then forgiveness on my part should come at some point. Forgiving him or forever living in anger affects the remainder of my life, and I thought for a while it would never affect his. I was wrong.

Extending grace is modeled time and time again throughout the Bible for Christians, but it’s rarely practiced in today’s world. We are taught to feel anger for others who hurt us and to look out for ourselves. This belief is what caused me to be angry at myself for “becoming a soft officer’s wife.” I’ve always felt that people who say “ they have forgiven their loved one’s killer,” are lying. That there’s no possible way it could occur. And, I won’t say that I’m there yet, but a lot more pieces came together tonight as we sat beneath the stars.

 

When we were getting ready to go to bed, C turned around, and he blew a kiss to heaven. He then came and kissed me as well. He told me “ daddy’s bed is now in the big dipper, and that’s okay. It means he gets to watch everything I do, and be proud of all I do.” We carried our items inside, and we laid down for bed. I listened as C told Jason all about our day. How the he remembered all the lessons Jason had taught him about constellations, and how he hoped his daddy would visit him in his dreams tonight. And then, we told daddy we love him to heaven and back. C turned over, and he held my hand as he drifted to sleep with a smile upon his face. Tears streamed down my face as I marveled in his ability to never feel anger at Jason’s death.

 

I laid in bed, and cried. In those moments I realized, C isn’t angry because I’ve always made it a point to never inflict my anger at the situation upon him. He gets to live in a world of child-like faith, and I get to wish I could go back to that. Tonight, I realized, if I would have listened to my heart all along, God was trying to push me back there. If C can go his entire life and never feel anger at the man who killed his daddy, this mommy has done something right. The conversation we had tonight where I explained grace wasn’t for C, he already readily extends it. I was the one who was being reminded of the true meaning of grace.

 

If you’re reading this today and you think “I’ll never be able to forgive him. He took too much. He took my brother, a daddy, a husband, and son.” I want you to know I understand. I felt that too. In fact, a part of me still feels that way…and maybe it always will? Please know that I’m not writing about my steps towards forgiveness in a judgmental manner of those who aren’t ready to forgive. I’m in no way telling you how to think, feel, or act. Instead, I’m reminding us all, of where we would be today without grace.

 

Think back on a situation where you didn’t deserve grace, but were granted it anyway. A time in your life when you should have been allowed to fall flat on your face, without any help from a hand to lift you up, yet they extended their hand anyway. We’ve all made choices where grace should have never been extended, but it was there waiting for you, lifting you up, and pushing you forward. Where you a different person afterward? Did you allow that experience to change you for the better? If I can cultivate C’s ability to extend grace, and allow it to become a part of who he is, then I know with certainty that I’ve raised him to be a person that Jason would be proud of.

 

I pray my honesty hasn’t changed your opinion of me as an officer’s wife, and that in the end you sincerely know that I respect wherever you are in the grieving process. I just know I can’t continue to live in anger, if I want to raise a son who is free from it. Tonight, while gazing at the stars, Jason wrapped his arms around us both, he winked at us through the stars, and for the first time in a while, we were at peace…my prayer is that this moment is coming for you as well. Jason would want peace for all of us…I pray that you find your own path to peace.

Defining a defining year

How does one measure how defining a year is? Is it by the changes you make personally? The lives you impact? The places you have visited? The jobs you’ve held? A defining year might be because of events you’ve initiated: changes you’ve made personally. Or, for some a defining year might be because of events that happened outside your control. The only choices you were left with was the choice of reaction.

Some years of a person’s life pass with little change, no major events, no incredible changes, just living life. Some years aren’t defining until much later. Some of the 8 years J and I spent together were defining in that moment: marriage, having C, and moving to Texas. Others were simply years we spent living. However 2013 was not only the most drasticly changing and impactful of my 29 years of living. The events of 2013 definitely defined me, but they also made the last 8 years spent with J defining years as well: even those years we were simply just living.

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The years J and I spent together were comfortable, and I liked that. Most weren’t what I would have called defining in that moment. Yes, I grew, I changed, I learned, but I wouldn’t have called them defining years. I wouldn’t have labeled them as life changing because I didn’t really see my life changing. I measured success differently then. Honestly, I’m really not sure how I measured my success then because how I view my life is so different now. What I do know is whether at the close of a year I labeled it as defining or not, it was. The events of 2013 have taught me a incredible amount because they have altered my perpective of life.

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Today as I spend the last 11 hours of 2013 sitting by a pool and watching my little one learn to “swim” under water, I can’t help but reflect. One would think I would be reflecting on the events of 2013: J’s death, the funeral, learning to be a single parent, beginning The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line, learning to live with only the memories of my soul mate. I have spent time reflecting on each of those, and how they’ve changed me, but honestly, I spend a considerable amount of my time reflecting on each of these events. I reflect on them daily. These events have defined my future. Today, actually this week at Disney in general, I’ve found my thoughts on the past 8 years. The years that I really thought were simply passing years. Sweet memories but far from life altering.

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The years where I was growing ever so slowly and subtly into the woman I am today. The years of learning how to be a wife, and an officer’s wife at that. The years of learning to be mommy. A better teacher, daughter, sister, and friend. The years where I learned to cook breakfast, only to have to learn how to keep it warm without drying it out completely. The years I spent being a therapist to a silent man who grieved the tragic events he saw, but was never able to completely tell me about them…but yet somehow I gained the knowledge of how to help him heal without subjecting me to the horrors of his job. Years spent perfecting cupcake recipes, from a box, and learning how to package 36 plus cupcakes so that he could safely transport them without having to sacrifice yet ANOTHER cupcake carrier. I now smile at all the sacrificial cupcake carriers gone to the depths of a patrol room. I still couldn’t tell you where they all are: because I know no other officer wants a cupcake carrier!

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I smile at the small, funny notes that were left to me on the counters, the pockets of his uniforms I washed and pressed so many times. The many times I saved him by squirting kool-aide bursts into his mouth as his sugar dropped, YET again, because he refused to listen to me about eating protein. I marvel at my emergency driving abilities as we FLEW down the interstate to the ER because SOMEONE took 90 units of short term insulin instead of long term. By the way, short term insulin takes effect in 15 to 20 minutes. My racecar driving of a Nissan Altima made a 20 minute drive a 10 minute one.

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I now marvel at the patience I had while waiting for him to decide that he wanted to marry me. A fact I knew from the first time I saw him. I now laugh at the NUMEROUS times I spent embarrassed by his less than PC actions, or his incredibly “talented” dance moves. I look back at the years he spent playing on the floor with Caden: teaching him how to escape from various wrestling holds. In essence teaching him his own strength, patience, and bravery. The years they spent playing army, coast guard rescue swimming, hide and seek. The years I spent in a sleep deprived state STILL accomplishing all the tasks of the day. The surprise gifts or flowers, texts, and 5 minute visits snuck home in between calls. The stories of the lives changed for the better by our money spent on baby formula or canned food on a welfare check.

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One of the last gifts Jason have me, surprise gift of course!

I find myself laughing at the spontaneous breakouts of “Ice Ice Baby” no matter where we happened to have found ourselves.

I find myself smiling when I see a package of Skittles: the candy he offered me in an effort to create a conversation with me for the first time. The same candy we handed out at his visitation, because in those sad moments of my life, Skittles still brought q smile to my face.

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The first picture I remember taking as a couple.

Marveling at my ability to make executive decisions while I spent time waiting for a simple, “Yes” or “no”text. In the end just making the decision and texting him the outcome because at that time his dedication to protect and serve was a greater need than our own. And my own understanding and acceptance of that…because it is OUR calling.

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As I sit poolside in the last few hours of 2013, I’m amazed at my ability to survive this past year…this year of course has been a defining year. But, even with all the events of this year, the unfortunate losses, the voids, and the blessings, what I’ve chosen to reflect on the most is how the past 8 years of my life have defined me as well. At the close of each of those years I’m sure I “reflected,” but I doubt I was as thankful as I am now. This year in my reflections, memories don’t seem to stop, they just keep flooding my mind, and, for all of them I am thankful. Each of those moments were defining: sometimes in their simplicity, other times in their incredible outreach, but nonetheless defining. Each in some way prepared me for the most defining year of my life thus far.
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At the close of this year I find myself saddened that the future years for both me and C will be without our soul mate or daddio, but I also know that each of those years will be defining. Because my definition of a defining year has been forever altered. Now, at the close of years I pray I truly reflect, and cherish all my defining moments: memories, mommy and son moments, strength gained, and lives changed.

Today, I’m ending the worst year of my life with the absolute best gift J ever have me: C. And as we start 2014, we are starting it by living!

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Yep, he has his daddy's personality!

As you reflect on your year, I pray you recognize it’s defining moments, no matter how small. The moments of this year: the bumps, hilltops, valleys, and the roads you drove as you were simply living, have in some way prepared you for events of future years. Appreciate the years you simply just”live.” In those moments of living, you’re constantly making memories. You’re becoming the person you were destined to be. Who is that person? Are you reflecting and changing to become him or her?

I wish you the absolute the best in 2014, but if it brings you heartbreak or loss, I pray that you use those moments to define you as well. Each year is defining because in the end each year brings you closer to the person you are meant to be. And, I believe that person changes each year: you decide if it’s for the better or worse.