Losing J to the State of Florida's idea of help and to mental health issues was much like losing her to death. She was no longer accessible to us. In many ways, worse.
I have buried a few people in my lifetime. My beloved grandfather died when I was ten. I distinctly remember his funeral, my mother breaking down and into my father's arms. In our family, shortly thereafter, we buried three of our loved ones--two were an aunt and uncle who died in a car accident. Then, at the age of 14, I attended the funeral of my "first love," a young man shot in a hunting accident.
Over the course of life, we hear the news that our loved ones have died. Their bodies live no more. We have that initial moment of shock, we cry, we grieve. In the South, we make casseroles, platters filled with deviled eggs, or decadent desserts, slip into our best funeral wear, and attend viewings, family gatherings, and funerals. I have been to my fair share.
Two of my most devastating moments in life came when my brother called from across the country to tell me our father had died. A couple hours earlier he called to say Daddy was getting better and was about to be moved out of intensive care and to his regular room. Hearing, "Daddy died!" threw a bolt of electricity through me I can still feel today.
The second call also came from my brother, only this time he was only a mile away. We were taking "shifts" over our mother's dying. His time to watch was my time to sleep, which--as exhausted as we were--came like bricks falling to the ground. That night, when I returned to our room at The Rathbun Center, I didn't even bother to undress. I simply kicked off my shoes and climbed into the narrow twin bed I'd been sleeping in for a week. An hour into my semi-comatose condition, my cell phone rang ...
Only a few months after Mother died, the words "the little girl you knew is gone," hit much in the same way as "Daddy died!" and "She's gone ..."
The difference being ... I knew she was out there, somewhere.
Stages of grief are real and, as J's therapist said to me, I would have to go through them. For me, the biggest problem was that I'd not quite made it through the stages of grief from my mother's passing. So, right in the middle of trying to experience that, which we owe to ourselves after the death of a loved one, I was hit with more than I thought I could emotionally and spiritually hold.
1. She's not mentally well.
2. You are being accused of abusing her.
3. The Powers that Be believe her even though the investigating police do not.
4. Though you are still her guardian, you cannot see her. You cannot talk to her. You cannot legally know where she is.
5. She's in the ghetto, not getting help, not doing well in school, still believing her own twisted stories
Harder still, for me, was that those who we knew as a family were seeing and speaking to her. It was as if we, and we alone, were ostracized. We--who had been there nearly every day for 12 years--were told (and I quote) to "get on with your lives and forget her."
But how do you get on with your life when the fingerprints of her life were all over my house? I stood at the doorway of her bedroom every night, unable to walk in, just staring at the bed, picturing her propped up on the pillows, laptop opened and resting on her knees, fingers flying over the keyboard. In my mind's eye, I could still see her looking up at me, smiling. I could hear her voice. "Tov you!"
Which meant, "Love you!"
Every so often I could hear her door opening, see her dashing out from "her side of the house," across the family room floor and to the kitchen where she'd get her favorite snack, pizza rolls.
"Can I have a Sunkist?"
"Have you had one today?"
I could smell her.
And I could not believe--I could not believe--she was gone. Refused to believe this was happening. Surely I could blink my eyes or nod my head or twitch my nose and this whole thing would be absolved. Surely I could go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning and discover it was all a bad dream A very bad dream.
Looking back now, I was in the first stage of grief. Amazingly, those who should have recognized that, were too oblivious in their own self-righteousness to recognize it.
I distinctly remember the morning I fell to my knees and cried out to God, "Please help us!"
This will be one year ... came the whisper to my heart. This will be one year.
And so, for me, the idea that in one year a miracle would occur, came to be. And it would be a miracle, but not the one I imagined ...