Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Everything And Nothing At All

The woman who killed Rachel has been caught. She was a fugitive for over a year, during which time all of us who love Rachel languished in Limbo.

Dear people, happy for us, have been asking us how we feel. It’s complicated.

Jill and I have been trying to find the right words to describe our feelings. Happiness isn’t really even on the radar. The best we have been able to come up with is: relieved and grateful. We are relieved that the woman who took Rachel’s life and deprived those who love her of the joy of her presence will finally begin to suffer the consequences of her own crimes. We are grateful to those who worked so tirelessly to make it possible to bring Elva Diaz to justice. We are grateful that Rachel’s loved ones have finally been liberated from the Limbo we have been imprisoned in for nearly three years and are finally able to move forward.

Still. Elva Diaz’ capture simply marks the sure beginning of a process we have dreaded since we received the terrible news that Rachel had been killed by a drunk driver.

Our neighbor was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. He had to wait for treatment while the wheels within wheels of bureaucracy turned at their own unhurried pace. While he waited the cancer grew, making the success of the treatment even more doubtful. Finally, his application was approved and a date was set for his treatment. He is pleased to receive the treatment he needs for a chance at survival, but, obviously, he doesn’t relish radiation and chemotherapy.

That is the way I feel right now. I guess I should be pleased that the criminal phase of our ordeal has begun, because the only way to get it over with is to go through it. But the last thing I can think of wanting to do right now is to be confined in a room with my daughter’s killer, to have to look at her, to be forced to listen to her pathetic excuses - as if she were the victim and not my daughter...

We haven’t won the lottery. This is no trip to Disneyland. It is pitiful, even to me, that we must be “happy” to have the privilege of this dreadful experience - our day in court. I would much rather be happy that Rachel would be graduating from college this year, or that she was engaged. But I do know some poor souls who, deprived of their loved ones, do not even have the small consolation of an actual criminal trial. I am sensitive to their plight and grateful that we do not share it.

What I am especially grateful for is that now we have the assurance that there is an end in sight to this part of our ordeal. No court of law is going to bring our daughter back, and no punishment for her killer will make it right. Whatever happens, we will still be bereft of our precious daughter. A conviction for her killer will be something. In this world it is perhaps everything, all there is. Still, we are left with nothing at all...

Friday, July 9, 2010


Many people wonder at our courage and strength. I understand that they simply don’t understand. I know, because I used to feel the same way: How could anyone survive the death of a child? It is inconceivable. And, the fact is, we really don’t want to conceive of it. We don’t want to entertain the idea that it could happen to us. The fact that God only chooses certain people for such a trial is a sure sign of their extraordinary character...Isn’t it?

That’s not the way it works. I can’t conceive of any more loss than what I have already suffered: best friend, grandparents, sister, daughter...I know, however, if I don’t die first, other losses will mark my pilgrimage through this valley in the shadow of death. Loss is one of the naked facts we must learn to reckon with and, finally, accept. We are all losers. Jesus tried to teach us: we only gain life by losing it, letting go. We only keep the treasure we give away. It all slips through our fingers eventually; why not let it go, give it up, give it away? We spend so much of our lives trying to cling to what we cannot hold. Our time would be better spent in other more worthwhile pursuits: loving, for one.

This is what I have learned: We endure what we must. I don’t know how the starving AIDS orphans endure their plight. They do it because they must. I have survived the loss of Rachel so far not because I am strong or courageous or virtuous or special, but, simply, because I have no other real option. And that is the way we learn all the hard lessons of life - Not because we choose, but because, at last, we must reconcile ourselves to the given facts of our lives. So much for victorious living. It is much more like surrender, more like defeat. I would not have chosen this path; it is not what I had planned for my life, or my daughter’s. A daughter should steward the memory of her parents, not the other way around. Everything is out of order now…

But look at Christ...His dark agony, his apparent defeat in death on the cross, turned out to be the victory he sought and on which all our hopes depend. He overcame by submitting to his defeat, by suffering and dying. It doesn’t make any sense, but it does give us hope.

In the end, God’s promises are our only hope. A desperate, drowning person will grasp at anything, I know. But on my best days, I truly believe. Some would counsel us simply to put this whole horrendous mess behind us; forget about it and move on. We can’t do that. We live in the present, and Rachel’s life and death has changed the whole landscape of our present lives. Even if we could, we wouldn’t want to. Rachel, our hearts insist, is more than a memory. The only thing that keeps us moving forward instead of dwelling in the past now, is the awareness that it is only in the future that all our hope is realized. We will never find Rachel in the past. We can’t put her behind us. We must put her ahead of us. That is what keeps us going. She cannot come to us, but we shall go to her.

Friday, April 2, 2010


One of the terms tossed around in grief circles is “ambushed.” (Grief Circles: The club where every member is enlisted against their will)It is used in reference to an unexpected painful reminder of what has been lost. Jill experiences it often when she is out shopping: she sees a mother and daughter out shopping together, maybe even arguing, and she is reminded of Rachel and the fellowship she will never experience with her again in this life. It is difficult, and embarrassing, when you burst into tears in the middle of a department store, or a bank.There are so many losses to grieve...

It happens frequently, and it cannot be avoided. You can't prepare yourself. The other morning I was watching the news as I was putting away the dishes, getting ready for work. A commercial came on - I honestly don’t know what it was advertising - but a father and a daughter are having coffee together. The father remarks that his daughter got home awfully late the night before. She gently reminds him that she is “not 16 anymore.” “Still...” the father answers. The daughter appeases him by saying that he’s not going to have to worry about how late she stays out anymore. “Oh, yeah? Why’s that?” the father asks. She shows him her engagement ring. They hug and the father tells his daughter that her fiance is a lucky man. As he goes back to his coffee, he drops the bomb: “That’s what I told him last week when we talked!...”

This sweet little snapshot played out in front of me, and I found myself weeping as I continued putting away the dishes. What can you do, but cry and carry on?...

I never had any doubt about Rachel Getting Married. I both anticipated and dreaded the day I would walk her down the aisle and hand her over to another man. When Rachel was only a couple of years old, Jill and I watched “Father of the Bride.” I cried in anticipation of the day I would play second fiddle to another man in my precious little girl's life. I cried the morning of her 17th Birthday, too, just knowing that day was becoming a reality: she was slipping out of my hands...It is no consolation that I don’t have to worry about that anymore...

Sometimes the ambush seems particularly painful and mean spirited - almost personal. Jill and I had a difficult weekend recently: On the heels of the two year anniversary of Rachel’s death, and probably prompted by it, we had a cyclone of upsetting phone calls and developments. We look forward to the end of the workweek, but that Friday was a nightmare, and had us both at our wits' end. We awoke the next morning and tried to continue our routine, lingering in bed a little and then sitting together at the kitchen table to drink coffee and read. Jill went outside to get the newspaper and returned to the table ashen-faced and shaking. Elva’s picture was on the front page, along with an article about the continuing efforts to find and prosecute her. Not a good way to start the day. Though we appreciated the fact that the paper was reporting on this unfinished business, we had no idea the article was going to be published, and we just weren’t ready for it. Ambushed again.

After that shock, we tried to carry on with our plans for the day: rearranging some of the furniture in the house. I decided to put on some music to lighten the mood. I plugged my ipod into our stereo system and programmed it for shuffle. First, I have a confession to make: I currently have 28,614 songs on my playlist (I have the 164 gig ipod). I could listen 24 hours a day for 115 days before a song would be repeated. The second song into the shuffle that morning was “Part Of Your World” from Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” That was “Rachel’s song.” Ariel made a big impression on her as a little girl, and she grew up singing that song. I can hear her singing it in my mind’s ear. “Part Of Your World” was the song her good friends from Orland High sang at Rachel’s memorial service. We continued doing what we were doing in a fog of tears...But what are the odds? Can such a thing be purely coincidental. I don’t know. All I can say is that it doesn’t feel like it. And more than two years on, we still feel under siege...

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Lately, I have been having dreams where I am weeping inconsolably. I don’t know if this is a result of taking anti-depressants - the subconscious mind finding an outlet for what the conscious mind blocks - or if it is simply the reality of Rachel’s loss to us finally settling into the deepest levels of my mind.

I have also had dreams of her being here but not here - back from the dead, but not realizing what has happened to her. In these dreams I try to hold her, try to find some way to keep from breaking the spell that will send her back, away from us.

Two years later, we are still struggling with this loss, as we will, no doubt, for the rest of our lives...

Recently, we visited a newly dedicated memorial to victims of violent crime at the new site of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. The names of all the recorded victims of violent crime in Riverside County are etched in black marble. Rachel’s name, sadly, is among them.

A plaque inscribed beside the wall states:


On this wall the names of victims appear.

Violent crime removed their voices from our community.

It is the commitment of the men and women of the

District Attorney’s Office of Riverside County

that a victim’s voice will be heard in our courts

so that justice will fall like mighty rain,

and the lives of our loved ones

will not have been in vain.

Above the entrance to the new facility is written in golden capital letters:


As a family, we are honored that Rachel’s name appears among those written on this wall of remembrance of victims of violent crime. We appreciate that the crime that took her from us is acknowledged for what it is: an act of violence.

But this is not what we had hoped Rachel would be remembered for. She was and is for us so much more than a victim, a name among too many other names scratched upon the surface of a black wall. And the meaning and value of her life is not a matter to be decided in a court of justice.

For us, Rachel was too good, too beautiful, too alive to be just...gone. We still can’t get our minds around the hard, cruel fact of her enduring absence. And those who visit the memorial and read her name written there will never know the real and vibrant and beautiful human being, full of dreams and promise, that Rachel was. In my mind, water should perpetually pour over the memorial wall standing in the center of a black marble bottomed pool to represent the innumerable and unfathomable tears shed by those left to mourn those who have been lost...

What is left for us? Two years out and still waiting, “A VICTIM’S VOICE WILL BE HEARD” and “LET JUSTICE BE DONE THOUGH THE HEAVENS MAY FALL” ring hollow in our ears: The woman who killed our precious daughter so far has successfully eluded the consequences of her actions. Rachel’s voice has not been heard. No one has been able to speak for her, and no one has been made to answer. Justice has not been done, and I don’t know which will come first: a trial, or the sky falling...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Little Blue Pill

I read Joan Didion’s book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which documents the first year of grief after her husband’s death (which happened while their daughter was fighting for her life in the hospital: when it rains it pours!).

I understood what she meant by “Magical Thinking”: the unarticulated expectation that things will return to “normal”, that the lost loved one will walk through the door...When I receive a text message, there is still a split instant before my mind engages and reality reasserts itself when I expect it will be from Rachel. Denial is a powerful thing, and I can’t just rationalize it away. It goes deeper than that; it is an emotional response, arising from a place not governed by the mind. As I read in a poem by Rumi today, “I need more grace than I thought.”

Anyway, Joan Didion researched the medical and psychological literature about grief as she grieved. One of the things she discovered is that even from the beginning of modern psychology, grief, though a natural and normal response to significant loss, has been categorized as a type of temporary insanity. Temporary is the operative word. But does anyone ever return to normal? We can’t. And that’s part of the problem...

Another thing she discovered is that there is indisputable scientific proof that extended periods of grief produce health problems and hasten death. Remember Old Dan and Little Ann from “Where the Red Fern Grows”?

Now I can tolerate a little more the initially offensive encouragements to “get over it.” The problem is, like the enjoinder to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” it is impossible. You can’t get over it; you must go through it, and the journey takes as long as it takes. We may find ourselves someday in a green and pleasant land, but it won’t be where we wanted to go...

I have been experiencing mystifying health problems lately, gastro-intestinal problems which I will not detail here (which, also, suspiciously coincided with the horror of the holidays). I feel sick all the time and have no energy. I am used to feeling sick...I just attributed it to the misery of depression. But when I found I couldn’t eat and couldn’t function I knew something was definitely wrong and I needed to seek medical attention. There is no definite diagnosis yet, but of course I am taking pills, which have given me some relief.

One of them is Zoloft, the anti-depressant. It’s depressing to admit I have to take an anti-depresant. Since the beginning of our ordeal, I have wanted to feel whatever I needed to feel, believing that is the only way to make progress towards...what do I call it? Health? Wholeness? Healing? I really don’t believe any of those things are on the horizon. I may learn to accommodate my new disability - as I have the little finger of my right hand which I cannot bend - but I am irremediably changed.

But I am trying it because my body needs a break from the effects of the stress of grief to have a chance to restore itself. Of course, I am trying some nutritional and diet remedies as well. I mean to be kinder to myself, as my dear friend Ray has wisely been advising me since the beginning. Next week I may even join Jill for a yoga class. We are trying to watch more romantic comedies now than tragic dramas...I hope something helps...

I don’t mean to complain. And I am not looking for sympathy. I merely want to state for the record that this too - the ruined health of surviving loved ones - is one of the consequences of DUI.