My long-term response to the murder of my son, Christopher, was to treasure even more the special moments with family and friends. My “what is important” had a shift. In the beginning of my grief process I found it hard to tolerate impatience. I had such an enormous and shocking realignment, that situations which might have upset me in the past seemed unimportant. Airplanes being late and traffic jams were too small to get upset about. On the radar screen of life, why stress myself out about such minor events? I have managed to keep that calmness and it has served me well in more ways than I can count.
I decided being open to what life brings was an important way to live. A “just go with the flow” bit of response to the tragedy of losing my son. The comment “There are gifts with death” is valid. Before Christopher was murdered, I felt that my priorities were in order, but was surprised after he died to realize what was really important in life. It is not worrying about the perfect stocking to go with the perfect dress. It is precious moments with your loved ones. I did not want to be bitter. I wanted to make a positive difference in the world. I still hold these traits dear and live by them today. Time is a gentle and welcome healer.
In order to do good in the world, not all that long after Christopher’s murder, I volunteered to do gun control work. I felt that if I could save one parent the pain I had endured, I would feel better. Then, after many years, I wanted to do something not connected to my tragedy to help our world, so I went into low-income housing work. Because this work wasn’t in any way connected directly to Christopher’s death, it felt even purer, linked only to my desire to make the world a better place in any way I could. I worked with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation for seven years, and now I am helping the San Francisco & Marin Food Banks raise money and plan events.
I am a bit of a worrier. I don’t show it much, but all the possibilities of something going wrong run through my head, and I find myself chasing them out with a virtual broom. Sometime brooms don’t work. Real things happen. I still rely on the calmness and openness when these things confront me with painful realities.
Just when I thought I had all the sadness a person could, more came. My sister Michele was diagnosed, in June 2009, with stage-four cancer, which had metastasized. She had been complaining of a very sore back, which she thought was from the new bed she had just purchased. Not so; an x-ray showed tumors. The whole family was shocked and we rallied to do everything we could to make Michele comfortable and give her as many quality moments as possible for the rest of her life, which was going to be cut short. She was on a fantastic experimental oral chemo pill, which gave her almost two years of quality time before it took a u-turn and stopped being effective. She is now trying new protocols with the hope of more quality time with us all. Her illness makes me realize how little control we have.
Then, on top of that, my daughter, Christina, was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, in December 2010. She is very young for this type of blood cancer, which was discovered through a routine physical exam. So far, she does not have any of the disease symptoms. It is possible that she can have a full life symptom-free, but it is possible the cancer can begin manifesting at any moment. With this particular disease, only symptoms are treated, not the presence of the cancer itself, so my prayer is that the symptoms never come.
Then on top of that–yes really!–as we were all waiting for the doctor’s appointment to go over completed tests for my daughter and the full impact of medical news, my darling husband, Gary, flunked a stress test and needed to have a procedure for his heart as a result. I actually walked out of my daughter’s appointment, apologized to her that I had to go because Gary was being ambulanced to San Francisco for his procedure. As I drove to San Francisco, after leaving my very special daughter, to be with my husband, I looked up and said, “What kind of test is this?”
Gary ended up having eight stints in his heart, which saved him from the damage of an eventual heart attack. He was never in pain; had the procedure on Friday and went to work on Monday. OMG!!
One evening, feeling overwhelmed, I asked Gary, “What am I supposed to learn from this?”
He hugged me sweetly and said “Nothing, Radha.”
I have realized that, for me, even the worst things are a bit better the next day. Fresh tragic news is awful. A night’s sleep or one day to digest it makes a difference. I have no perspective when I am right in the middle of the trauma. But once I can squeeze out a little distance, I begin to feel better.
I know some people feel worse once the news sets, in but for me, by the next day I know what my job is and start doing it. And I always feel better doing something. At first, right after the murder, I was happy to be able to get up, get dressed, go upstairs and see what the day would bring. That was my new job, and I was proud I could do that much. Even with such tragedy, I wanted to experience “my new normal,” which brought me comfort.
I still live my life for my family, friends–and others I may not even know. I want my steps to reverberate into the world in a positive way. It will be my legacy and a way to honor my Christopher’s short life.