Michelle, my belle …
The first day of the month will always serve as a reminder to us that another month has passed without Michelle in our lives. It has been eight months since she has been taken from us. No, it does not get easier with time. Occasionally I will get asked, “How are you doing?” I always reply, “okay”, in a defeated voice. I know they are asking out of good natured care and concern. I also know they hope to hear that I’m doing good. I’m not doing good. I’m barely doing okay. The hardest part of my day is in the morning, waking up, and forcing myself to place my feet on the floor, stand up and take on the day. The only thing I want to do is pull the blanket up, cover my head, and give into my depression. Everyday I summon the courage, stand, and do whatever is necessary that day.
Patty and I learned during our cancer battle, to take it one day at a time. It was our way of coping with the ordinary stresses of being adults, being parents, and battling cancer. We would place things on the calendar, but not think about them or make decisions about them until that day. After the doctors gave Patty a clean bill of health, we slowly began to look forward to things again and make future plans. After Michelle’s death, we fell back into old familiar habits, but for different reasons. When we were battling cancer we did not want to make commitments that we would have to cancel and feel guilty about it. When Michelle died, we did not want to think about a future without her. To do so would be a paradigm shift from all the dreams we had accumulated over the past 15 years, that all included Michelle and the woman she would become.
Michelle was a talented hard working child. She lived life the way I wish I could. Each day I was full of admiration of her. She was always busy, always kind, always loving. It was a blessing to be her father, and be included in her life. It was a much too short life, but very accomplished. Those that knew Michelle can feel the loss of her presence in their lives. Those that never met Michelle, and heard stories about her have expressed to us the loss of opportunity to have known her better. Patty and I often sigh and say, “It isn’t fair, we were robbed.”
Our daily struggle is maintaining an existence in this barren world, while longing for the next life, to be reunited with Michelle. As we attend Easter services we are encouraged by our Faith and the Hope we have in the Resurrection. While we struggle with understanding why Michelle died, and what purpose does it serve, we often put the question aside and place our trust in God. It is all we can do. I ask God daily, “Why?” Maybe I’m not ready for the answer. Maybe the answer is in front of me and I can’t see it. I then ask God to take care of Michelle, and I ask Michelle to pray for me as I struggle coping with her absence. Sometimes, when I talk to Michelle, I can imagine what she would say in reply, and in my mind I can hear her voice. “Michelle, pray for me.” “Okay, dad, I will.”
Last week, one evening, I road the bus home from work. I was listening to an audio book and it was near the end of an emotional struggle. A character in the book reminded me of Michelle, and her sacrifice for others triggered an emotional response. I struggled to hold back tears most of the way home. Upon my arrival home I went to Michelle’s room and looked around and just let the tears flow. It was an emotional release while remembering what we had, what we lost, and what we want to have again. Patty joined me and we held each other and just shared the moment of inconsolable sorrow with unrestrained sobbing. We concluded the moment both emotional and physically drained.
The next morning I woke up earlier than normal and began my daily battle to place my feet on the floor. In the struggle, I found myself drifting off to sleep and dreaming. Michelle visited me in my dream. I was able to wrap my arms around her, hold her, and hug her. She acted like everything was normal, but in my dream I knew it was not, it was a special visit. I could see and hear her while others in my dream could not, and they were okay with it. Right before I woke up, a large SUV pulled into our driveway and a man came into our house and said to Michelle, “It is time to go.” He left to go back outside. He looked familiar and it suddenly hit me. In my dream I turned to Patty, “That was Michael Phillips.” (A fraternity brother that passed away a few years ago and his grave is near Michelle’s.) I went to the door and looked outside, and Michael was milling around the SUV with about a half dozen young people as they were waiting for Michelle to come out and join them so they could continue on their journey.
I woke up and related the dream to Patty, providing to her every detail that I could remember as she sobbed through the telling. Unlike Patty, I was not saddened by the experience. I felt a brief moment of peace. I could remember the feeling of holding Michelle in my arms again, hearing her voice … even if it was just a dream.
Michelle’s death was an unfathomable accident. Our community took a collective gasp as the news spread. Many prayers were offered up for us. Those prayers are greatly appreciated, and still needed. We may never understand “Why?”, as we stand on this side of heaven. It has been our hope that some good come from this tragedy. That we don’t take each other for granted. That we choose kindness. That we emulate Michelle in our daily lives. I look at the yellow silicone wrist band with the faded orange print, “Live Free Like Michelle.” Sometimes, when I am struggling with my daily morning battle with depression, I look at that, and I find the courage to place my feet on the floor and to start the day.