Today I will be giving the following speech at the Memorial Service.
June 9, 2003, was one of our happiest days as we became a family of four and Madyson a big sister. The birth of Abrielle came after the heartache of losing a baby, making the event that much more special to us. As labor began that morning, we received our first glimpse of our new little one's personality. So eager to meet the world, Abby could not wait for the doctor to put on her scrubs or gloves; just a towel to catch her in was all there was time for. And so our lives began with Abrielle Lauryn, our small, enthusiastic little girl.
It didn't take long for Abby's adventurous personality to begin to shine. By seven months she was walking and by nine months, running. She kept all of us on our toes with her zest for life and her digestive issues. Abrielle underwent numerous outpatient procedures to try and remedy her constant vomiting and help her gain weight. As troubling as these issues were, they were not what took our little girl from us. Instead, our lives were changed by the decisions of a total stranger.
March 29, 2007 began like any other school morning in our household except for one difference – it was Abby's sharing day at preschool. Abrielle hurried faster than usual so that she would have time to choose something to take. She dressed in a brand new pair of Gymboree fruit punch capris and a yellow shirt and met me in the bathroom to find something for her hair. I helped her up on the sink and she dug through the hair tie basket looking for a yellow pony holder. She hurried out to the living room, telling me she wanted a little pony. With my 32-week pregnant belly protruding too far for her to climb on my lap, Abby stood in front of me as I pulled her hair up. Off she ran back to her room to gather her things for school as the rest of us went about getting ready for our days. Mady and I were ready to leave, but Abby was still hunting her sharing item. I carried my lunch out to the Expedition, had Mady get buckled up, and went into the house to see what was keeping Abby. I was met a few steps in by her and Marc carrying her bobcat skidloader, her bobbycat, as she called it. So out she came carrying her bright pink jacket, her pink and purple Dora backpack, and her bobbycat for sharing. Marc lifted her into her car seat and helped buckle her 5-point harness. We said our goodbyes and backed our of the garage with Marc leaving in front of us. It was 7:30 am.
Around the first set of curves on the gravel road, I slowed down as three turkeys flew across the road. I stopped momentarily to let the girls see them as they continued into the CRP grass. Abby said she saw them although I'm not sure that she did.
We continued on our way south down the gravel road towards Route OO, the path I take everyday, when at the top of a small rise I noticed another vehicle off in the distance. I did not think too much about it other than to wonder who would be traveling North on our road at that time in the morning. At the next small rise in the road, the green pickup was there, on my side of the road. As I decided the best way to avoid impact in that split second, I first tried moving over in my lane, but the pickup wasn't moving. It was then that I made the decision to try and avoid the vehicle and pulled the steering wheel as hard as I could to the left. I was so afraid I was going to roll the Expedition by doing that, but I had nowhere else to go. Seconds before impact, I see the driver of the green pickup swerve into me as if losing control or finally realizing I am there. There is a horrendous boom and then blackness.
Our Abrielle was not able to survive her injuries and at 11:47 pm received her angel wings, donating her organs to others. We were later informed that the driver of the green pickup was arrested and charged with Involuntary Manslaughter, two counts of Second Degree Assault, Operating a Motor Vehicle While in an Intoxicated Condition, Failure to Maintain the Right Half of the Roadway, and Driving While Revoked. He had two prior convictions for DWIs. Our grief became public news as we had to endure court proceedings and parole hearings as he was sentenced to 6 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections for his crime.
Marc and I had always joked that Abby would be the one to give us gray hairs, but we never imagined it would be like this. My heart was filled with such crushing pain that sometimes it was hard to draw a breath that didn't hurt. There were nights I felt I must wrap my arms around myself tight just to hold myself together. I knew the truth to the statement that one can die from a broken heart – my heart physically hurt. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced and unlike anything I could ever imagine. I felt as though my heart was shredded into little pieces while I was forced to stand by and watch, unable to do a thing. Friends and family have helped me gather the torn sections and slowly stitch them back together, but scars will forever remain.
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.
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.
Sleep was next to impossible without medication as my mind kept replaying the sights and sounds of that day. The survivor's guilt I experienced continually loomed as I kept trying to find a way that I could have prevented Abrielle's death.
I cried every day that first year and only less frequently now. Grief does not pass overnight. It does not pass at the one year mark. I don't think that I can tell you that it is gone for me yet. Some may not understand the sadness that is held in the depths of the soul after a child is taken from you, as we who have experienced it have learned to hide it beneath our masks. I have come to the conclusion that this is now a permanent part of my life and who I am, but it does not have to dominate my life. Just as butterfly works hard to emerge from its cocoon, we too have had to fight to free ourselves from the grief and depression that losing a child brings. How long will it be until we can flap our wings and fly? I wish I knew, but I do feel like a new normal is beginning to emerge and our wings are starting to dry. We try to stay in the “we were blessed with an angel for almost 4 years” place instead of focusing on our loss. We no longer feel the guilt from smiling and laughing. As special days and celebrations arrive, the panic is gone as we have found ways to continue to incorporate Abrielle into the festivities. I now try to proudly answer “three” when I'm asked how many kids I have instead of awkwardly stammering and trying to decide the best way to reply.
I would like to end this with a quote by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. “The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen." I say that we are beautiful people.