Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘parent’

The Mad Woman That Changed America

This is an excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

On May 3rd, 1980, Candace Lightner’s thirteen-year-old daughter Cari was hit and killed by a drunk driver as she walked to a school carnival. The man who committed the crime had two previous arrests for driving under the influence. When Ms. Lightner was told about her daughter’s death she remembers collapsing, being carried into the house and “screaming all the way”. Her screams were soon to be heard across the nation.

After Cari’s death Ms. Lightner’s reactions where not that of passive suffering or resignation, she was outraged! Her anger became the spark that ignited Mothers’ Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and literally changed the climate of American culture by making driving under the influence intolerable. Since leaving MADD Candace has worked with victims of violent crime and, as a woman of Lebanese heritage, with organizations that are trying to stop stereotyping of Arab-Americans.

“It’s funny, because people will say to me in chatting about death, “Oh you are so lucky because your daughter went instantly.” I don’t think there is any lucky or unlucky situation. I mean, you are sort of dealt the hand you’re dealt and do whatever you do with it. I wish I had had the opportunity to have seen her, been with her and had some time together before she died, but that is not what happened. I can’t tell you that one loss is less painful than another. I haven’t had two children die, one slowly and the other suddenly. So, I am always amazed at how people can make judgments, you know, about how fortunate you are.

I remember being on TV once doing a call-in show. Of course you could see my face and expressions. I’m used to doing a lot on radio but not on TV. Someone called in and said, “I just know that God meant for your child to die so you could do this.” I was floored. I didn’t cuss, which I normally did, because I was on TV, but I think I was so stunned that in looking at the tape you can see my eyes get real big. I said, “I don’t think anyone planned for my child to die.” I used to get letters like that too. Like God chose you. Well, why didn’t he choose somebody else? I wouldn’t mind.

If I wouldn’t have gotten mad after Cari’s death I don’t know if I would have made sense of it or not. I think it was the fact that it didn’t make sense, there was no rhyme or reason, no excuse; there was no illness. In this particular case it was a crime that was the most often committed crime in the country and it had been completely and totally ignored. So it kind of doubled my anger, because it was treated so lightly. It wasn’t as if she were murdered, where everyone would have gone, “That’s horrible!” I even had friends of mine who said that. I wasn’t angry with them because I knew that was true. It makes me realize that it was so acceptable that people weren’t shocked and horrified by the fact that she was killed by a drunk driver.

It was like, “How dare they feel that way about my child!” She was very, very special. Everybody should be horrified by it and they weren’t. So I think part of what I did was to make everybody horrified by it. I also think I had far more anger then most people I know. I am a very passionate person and I was literally enraged. I had never been so angry in my life and I hope never to be that angry again.

I don’t know what I would have been like if I hadn’t started MADD. It’s so hard to say because I don’t have anything to compare it too. This is not something I had a choice about, I had to do it. I didn’t think about it, I just did it.

Anger is very focusing, very directing and progressive. It is much easier to focus on anger then it is on grief. That is probably one of the reasons I did it. I was in such horrible pain. I tend to do whatever I can to avoid pain, avoid feeling things. Getting angry was a good way to avoid dealing with the pain and the hurt and it was much easier to focus on the cause or blame. In some ways I was fortunate because I did have someone to blame. I had an individual to blame and I could do something about it. I could hope to have him incarcerated, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t started MADD. I have always tried to get something positive out of anything negative, either through humor, life lessons or whatever.

The full impact of Cari’s loss finally hit me after I left MADD. There were several things I began to notice. The last year I was at MADD I found myself getting very weepy. I was very burned out and wanted to leave. I no longer had the anger, the passion; the things I thought someone needed to do a good job. It just wasn’t there. Then Clarence Busch (the man who killed her daughter) was re-arrested. The similarities were so numerous. He hit a girl the same age my daughter would have been if she had lived. The girl had the same name. Luckily, she didn’t die. When the press showed up in mass I did not want to deal with it. I found myself crying and going through the turmoil again. It forced me to make a decision.

After I left MADD I really started grieving, for leaving MADD and for Cari. Some said, “Five and a half years after she died? You should be over your grief by now. There is something wrong.” So I went to see a psychologist. told her I needed to grieve for my daughter. I said, “I want you to know I tend to postpone and hide from pain and I need you to help me face this.” I spent six months grieving and crying and grieving and crying and couldn’t stop. I felt like I was going to grieve for the rest of my life.

I don’t deal with the fact that Cari was killed by a drunk driver anymore. When I grieve I grieve for who she was, the loss and love I still feel for her, the missing her, wondering what her life would be like. I look at Serena (Cari’s identical twin) a lot. On Serena’s birthday I always get a little weepy thinking it should be Cari’s too. Serena and I talk every once in a while about what we think Cari would be doing if she was still alive, what our lives would be like. I don’t think, “Oh, she was killed by a drunk driver.”

I was fortunate to be able to see her after she died. I think that the biggest thing the parent goes through with a child is wanting to know that they’re OK. I know that she is. In the first week there were a lot of occurrences that happened, we all sort of felt her. I know she’s fine . . . probably better then the rest of us.

My pain or grieving is more about missing her presence. There is an inside ache. It’s hard to explain . . . just the loving and holding, the touching, the physical. I’ll dream about her. I’ll dream I’m holding her, loving her or something physical, even sleeping in bed with her and holding her. I don’t dream about her often but when I do that is the kind of dreams I’ll have. I will wake up momentarily thinking or feeling that she is alive. That comes from the joy. It’s a good experience. If there is a need in me to hold her and hug her and love her again, I’m assuming that there is, the dream will satisfy that for a period of time.

I didn’t look at it as a life lesson when I started MADD; it was just how I was feeling. People think I’m very altruistic, I’m not. Starting MADD helped assuage my anger and deal with my pain by avoiding it. There was also a fear that it would happen again to my other children, because it had happened once before. It wasn’t because I wanted to save the world. When they interviewed me for the movie about Cari and MADD, the producer said, “Why do you do this?” I said, “You don’t understand. I don’t have a choice.” It was my nature. I never believed you had to accept things as they were.”

Adoption: It’s About Time!

“Be all the parent you can be – adopt!”

“If you want to change the world, become an adoptive parent.”

These fictional adds proclaim the reality and need, across this country, for people to become adoptive parents and provide homes to children who are currently living in foster care, orphanages or state run institutions. Newborns, preschoolers, adolescents and teens are waiting for security, love, commitment and yes, sacrifice. Parenting requires the endless sacrifice of one’s ego, vanity, time and selfishness, whether it’s through adoption or birth! It’s not for everyone. Some people don’t want it and some can’t hack it.

Parenting puts you on the front lines of changing society. Teaching children how to live with the reality of emotional pain and loss, in the context of a secure and safe environment, is one of the greatest gifts we can provide future generations. To do so not only heals the wounds of abandonment, abuse, and betrayal, but also helps prevent additional pain, violence and acting out as our children become adults.

I think the title that comes closest to describing the experience of parenthood is, “The Agony and The Ecstasy”. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It can be a long, arduous, painful journey that requires us to take it one day at a time. Yet the rewards and the joy are far greater than any pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! Your heart can overflow with love and pride when you see your child grow, make a new discovery or accomplish something they never thought possible.

Becoming a parent quickly removes any pretenses or misconceived perceptions and expectations one may have previously held about parenthood and oneself. It puts a mirror to your soul and makes you look honestly at your reflection.

Since the age of sixteen I knew I wanted to have children and created a lot of convenient images and fantasies of what that would be like. When, at age twenty-six, my first child was born and the reality of how much attention they needed hit me full force (night after night of interrupted sleep and demands), I fell into months of postpartum depression. The reality that I was now responsible for another person for the rest of my life ran me over like a runaway crib!

As my daughter grew older and we had another child, two and a half years later, my heart for them both was filled with all the love, wonder and compassion I had expected, along with the unexpected. The next hurdle was learning when and how to say “no” or “yes”. It wasn’t as easy as it had sounded in the books!

Then, when the children were about five and seven years old, another unexpected event took place. I got divorced. We had just adopted a five-year-old boy through the county, before our divorce, so I had to go back to court and adopt our son as a single parent. Luckily, in our area of the country, this situation was not a problem for the county adoption agency or the courts, but it was a problem for me. It was exhausting! Luckily I met an incredible woman and eventually remarried. Though she made sure to not act like a substitute mother, she was and is an incredible support and is now called “Mom” by one and all.

After navigating divorce, single parenting and the adjustments of a new family, I thought I would never have another child, birth or adopted, but once again we were called or I should say “asked”, if we would “take in” another child. We said yes, having no idea what we were in for. That’s when our foster daughter moved in to our home. She was fourteen years old at the time. If I’d thought it was difficult learning how to parent the younger children as they grew, it was nothing compared to the needs and circumstances of an abused teenager. But, with the help and support of friends and family and the county foster care programs social worker, we all made it through with, as they say, “flying colors”.

Because every human being is different, children offer a unique insight into human nature and how we come to be who we are. There are some that need and want more limits, structure and guidance and others that need physical and/or emotional care and attention. Some are shy and withdrawn, while others won’t stay put and talk up a storm! Sometimes you need to be with them every minute and at other times you need to let them go and explore the world on their own terms. What they (and we) all have in common, is a need for unconditional love, presence and safety.

If you cannot or have not, physically had a child and/or you already had a birth child or two, I strongly encourage you to consider adoption. The challenges of bonding, dealing with previous losses, conditioning and fears are sometimes different then those of birth children and sometimes the same, but the attachment and love you feel for them (whether they physically come through you or someone else) is just as powerful, awesome and fulfilling.

The new add campaign says, “Parenting. It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure!”

The Infamous Boomerang.

She’s off fighting for the causes she believes in and putting her body and heart where her mouth is. She graduated from college, demonstrated in Seattle, worked for Americorps VISTA in Albuquerque New Mexico, completed medical school and is now a practicing physician.

No, I’m not speaking about an extremist expecting the world to follow their belief system, I’m speaking about my once cantankerous daughter Darcy. She’s mellowed during her years as an intern and having a baby last year has given her a new perspective on pretty much everything, but she still teaches me a lot about standing up for your self and others.

Before, during and after a Thanksgiving holiday several years ago, Darcy had several heated debates with various family members, including myself, about politics, business, world trade and health care.

Watching her adamantly and forcefully presenting her case; gave me pause and a fit of quiet bemusement. I thought about the infamous boomerang. Everything I’d thrown out in my younger days was being regurgitated back in my direction. It was like looking in a mirror at myself thirty years ago, when I too felt the world was falling apart and only radical and instant change could save it.

I agreed with a lot of Darcy’s ideas and beliefs, but not always with how to achieve them. She wanted to rid the world of fire breathing dragons and she wanted it yesterday! She believed so strongly in her views that there was little room for disagreement or looking at things from any other perspective.

At one point in the conversations held during that holiday, she said, “Maybe when I’m older and have kids I’ll feel differently.” She was right. I don’t think she feels differently, but how she presents what she feels is much easier to digest.

Is it simply age and responsibilities that change a person or could it also, hopefully, be a combination of increased understanding and deeper insight into life’s realities and accepting the limits of what we can and can not do to make the world a better place to live? Or, could it be that I’m not willing to risk as much as I did in the past and have become complacent? Have I become too conservative and set in my ways or did she need to grow up and look at things differently?

I’ve worked hard to be able to work at a job that matches my convictions and beliefs and am living a life that is congruent with my perception of what is needed environmentally and socially. My actions, for the most part, match my rhetoric. I pick my battles instead of trying to fight them all in one fell swoop. But, is that enough? I believe so, but maybe it took her young eyes of determination, questioning and insistence upon change to keep me looking in the mirror to see if mine were still open?

How Old Are You?

It happened right before my eyes and I didn’t see it. How could I have missed it? How could I be so blind? My son, Brendon, had grown from a little boy into a man. It was his eighteenth birthday and we were flying to London, England; the land of Dickens and Shakespeare; the place he’d wanted to visit since junior high school.

It wasn’t their famous authors or history that he was interested in, it was the pull of a large, exciting, cosmopolitan city filled with nightlife, plays, clubs, art and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

This was our trip; a father and son fulfilling a childhood dream, spending time together without any of his brothers, sisters or other parents. The journey ended up being more than a travel adventure. For me, it was a wake up call and reminder of life’s limits; of values and validation; of remembering what’s important and letting go of what isn’t.

Brendon ended up making a lot of decisions, deciding what to do, where to go and how to get there. He read the fine print on the train or bus schedules; the print I couldn’t read; the words that were a blur of small letters to my aging eyes.

“You need some new glasses,” he said. Imagine, my son telling ME what I need!

“It’s this way,” he’d say, referring to the right direction to visit a certain district or tour.

“No. No. It’s over here,” I’d insist.

Nine out of ten times he was right. Imagine, my son, the little boy I’d carried in my arms and on my back, telling ME which way to go! My son, walking longer and farther day by day, finding his way to a late night club by himself; not wanting me to come with him. Imagine that!

Not only did his independence and energy make me feel old, but it also instilled a new found respect and appreciation for who he is and how he lives in the world. He was kind and considerate to all those we met and responsible enough to have the courage to ask for help when needed. I was proud to be his father.

Being with my son outside the U.S also opened my eyes to the advantages and disadvantages of living in America. Though it’s still difficult and not everyone in The States is feeling financially stable, it was still a lot cheaper for food, rent, utilities and gas here, than it was in England. Petro in Great Britain costs the equivalent of five to six dollars per gallon (as it does throughout most of Europe) and groceries run about fifteen percent more. In general, there’s more space in America than in England. Houses and apartments are like little gingerbread boxes there and the toilets (rarely referred to as bathrooms) are just big enough to squeeze into and close the door.

On the other hand, the English seem to feel much more connected with a larger community, not as isolated as our country can be. Their coverage of the news was more diverse, including all the worlds’ peoples and countries, not just there own.

The Brits’ live IN history, surrounded by centuries of monuments, castles, museums and ruins. Their past seems more alive at times than the present, whereas we in the U.S. tend to view anything over two days old as ancient or irrelevant.

Best of all, the English seemed friendlier than I had remembered when I visited twenty-odd years before this trip. Everywhere we traveled, whether it was in the beautiful green countryside, small Elizabethan villages or in London, with its numerous historical sites and exhibits; people would say, “Lovely.” Giving us change for a purchase the clerk would say, “Lovely.” Opening a door for someone entering or leaving a building resulted in another “Lovely. Thank you.” When responding to a statement about an object, person or event, we’d hear another “Lovely, isn’t it?”

Much to Brendon’s embarrassment, lovely became my favorite word. I started repeating it, with the best British accent I could muster, day in and day out. For me, it implied an appreciation and acceptance of the momentary human interaction, an acknowledgment of the beauty and joy available at our fingertips. When people asked about our trip, it’s easy to sum up my love of Brendon and our time in England together in one simple word “Lovely”.

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