I am setting this to post at about the same time we should be having our hearing. So here is what I am saying to the parole board this morning.....
Probation and Parole Board Members
Our purpose here today is obvious. We do not wish to see Ryan Sundermann released from this facility. His selfish act took the life of our daughter Abrielle Lauryn Neff on March 29, 2007. We have spent 615 days missing our Abrielle while Ryan Sundermann has only spent 161 days in prison. With his history of alcohol and driving offenses, it would only be a matter of time before someone else becomes the victim and no one needs to endure this heartache. I hope in sharing what our life is like now without our little girl that you, the board, will agree that Ryan Sundermann needs to spend the full amount of his sentence behind bars.
When Abrielle died, I tried to will my body to go with her. I didn’t want to be here without her. I know we were told that if she would have survived she would never be the same, the damage was too extensive. But I would have given anything to keep Abrielle here with us no matter what the condition. It would have been so much easier for me, but I know it would have been unfair to her. A mother’s love is unconditional and this is exactly how it would have been.
In the months that followed, I was certain I could hear her little footsteps throughout the house and went looking for her. I seriously thought I was going crazy and wondered which would be better – to be insane and think Abby was still alive or to be lucid and know she wasn’t.
I cried every day that first year and only less frequently now. The gaping hole in my life goes completely to my soul. Some may not understand the sadness that is held in the depths of the soul after a child is taken from you. I have come to the conclusion that this is now a permanent part of my life and who I am, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I still struggle to get through the days as the depression continually lingers in the background, waiting for the moment to overcome me, rendering me useless to my family.
The overwhelming grief has robbed our family of so many moments together. Our girls have been forced to skip holiday traditions because they have just been too much for us to bear. We could not bring ourselves to carve pumpkins or even put up a Chirstmas tree the first year. No cookies were made and left for Santa, no reindeer food either. The Easter eggs weren’t dyed and we didn’t have the birthday celebrations we normally have. The list could go on. We just didn’t want to celebrate without our Abby here.
Our everyday life has changed too. Sunday has always been our family time. It’s the day we spent time together whether it was working in the garden, fishing, playing in the pool, or baking cookies. The evenings were spent playing Memory, Go Fish, or some other board game. Now our Sunday is spent tending not to a garden, but to the most precious piece of ground we know, Abby’s grave. Every Sunday we do whatever is needed to that small patch of earth, whether it be pulling weeds, sowing more seed or filling in holes with dirt. We take flowers and balloons to our Abby while the girls play with the baby dolls that are next to her headstone that bears her handwriting. This is our family time now. We spend Sunday evening as a family the only way we can, at the cemetery.
Sleep is still something I battle. The nightmares have not left. Now instead of the horrific sights, I dwell upon other aspects of that day. I replay the last words I said to Abby while she was still conscious at the hospital. I told her, “Stay strong. The doctors will make you better. Mommy loves you and I will be there as soon as I can,” as they loaded her up for transport. Visions of me trying to save my little girl now plague my dreams. My mind replays the day trying to figure out how I could have changed the outcome, what I could have done differently that would have allowed Abrielle to still be here, how I could have traded her places. I have always heard that a parent’s main responsibility is simply to protect their child, to keep them safe. At that I failed. I essentially awaken from one nightmare into another one, even more agonizing – a life without my Abrielle.
Abby couldn’t wait to be a big sister. She would pat my belly and kiss her new baby sister. During the 3-D ultrasound she snuggled up as close to me as she could, making sure Mommy and her baby were okay. How excited Abby was to see her sis on the big screen. “A little Abby” we kept saying, making her grin. What a heart-wrenching moment when Abby wasn’t there to welcome her baby sister Elly into the world. That day was to be a special one, a celebration of the completion of our family. Instead it was filled with tears and heartache for our missing Abrielle.
That tragic spot in the road that I must pass every day has not become any easier. I have forced myself to stop once, placing a stone that simply states remember. I had to quickly get back into my vehicle because the flood of grief overtook me, making me ill. The visions are still too horrific for me to attempt to stop again, but the site remains as a constant reminder to all that pass with its small cross, daffodils, and grass cut into a heart.
The simple act of shopping brings tears. I have not found a store with clothes in which I can go from Mady's size to Elly's without seeing Abby's. I see things that I know she would just love or something that would be so cute on her or something that reminds me of a shirt she already has. I try to not look. I try to avert my eyes to the next section, but it just doesn't work. I have gotten good at holding the emotions in when I'm in the store, but they build up. Instead I just end up wearing down faster and getting grouchy. Basically shopping for clothes for the girls makes me face the reality that I am missing one.
My heart breaks for the pain Madyson faces. She still does not understand fully the concept of death and longs to have her sister, her playmate, her friend back. She has changed so much from the girl we had before the accident. She has nightmares. She has accidents. She has aggression and outbursts. She is still leery of riding in vehicles and refuses to sit next to a door. She is no longer our girly-girl that loved to dress up. She had to endure a painful three hour surgery to repair damages from the accident a year later and has just finished speech therapy in October. Her life too has been changed forever.
Abrielle would be five now if it weren’t for Ryan Sundermann’s fatal decision that morning. She would have started kindergarten. What an agonizing day that was when we took Mady to the first day of school without our Abby there too. The tears just would not stop. Her friends still know us as Abby’s Mom and Dad, but some days it is all we can do to bear to see them. It seemed like torture as we have had to watch as they played t-ball in the summer and soccer in the fall, knowing our little girl would be there too. She was our more outgoing, athletic child and would have been in the middle of all the chaos of the sport. She had so wanted to get her ears pierced like her big sister, but knew she had to wait. This is the year she would have been old enough to have it done.
Abby’s room still sits as it did that morning when she left it, her little cowgirl boots in the middle of the floor, her Nemo blanket hanging off her bed, and her Baby Annabelle laying in the basket waiting to be loved. Her Barbie dolls sit in the jeep, ready for an adventure, her Princess dress hangs on its hook until the next dress up time, her dirty laundry still fills her hamper. Everything is trapped in time, waiting for their little girl owner to return.
Our lives have been forever changed since March 29, 2007. The games gather dust up on a shelf; the pool has never been filled again. The nightmares I relive will never end. Ryan Sundermann robbed us of our life with our Abrielle. I am not an insensitive person, but I am not in a place where I can even begin to forgive him for taking our Abby and until then I cannot even pretend to care about him and what he has to face in prison each day. It cannot even begin to compare to the prison of grief we battle. His six year sentence in no way compares to the sentence he dealt to us. We have to live the rest of our lives without our precious little Abrielle. So we ask you to please see to it that Ryan Sundermann serves his sentence to the fullest extent behind bars. It is the least that can be done to honor our Abby’s life.
We do have one other request of you, the board. That is that you require Ryan Sundermann to hang a picture in his prison cell as a constant reminder of the pain his drinking and driving caused. We ask not for a picture of our Abrielle, but a picture of what we have left, her headstone.
Mother of Abrielle Lauryn Neff