Thanksgiving, Part II


As Thanksgiving approached four years ago, I wrote in this space about how thankful I was.

At the time, only three months had passed since the death of my youngest daughter.

I was inspired to write the column, however, because another bereaved parent had said that Thanksgiving is a joke when you are grieving for a child.

After initially agreeing with him, I had to admit that I did have much to be thankful for. And now that several years have passed, I have much more.

In the months that followed Thanksgiving 2012, my daughters and I had to weather our first holiday season without Lanie, the trial and sentencing of the driver who hit her, Lanie's 25th birthday, and the first anniversary of her death.

It was a year of sheer hell, and the years since have been no easier. I could never have made it through without tremendous support.

And that we have had in abundance.

Almost as soon as a "ghost bike" was placed on the spot where Lanie died, a complete stranger (who I've since met) began placing flowers on it. She said Lanie's story had touched her, and she has made regular trips to the site ever since.

My friend Jim, who was the presider at Lanie's memorial service, began the ritual of texting me a prayer every Sunday night at the moment of Lanie's death (10:14). In four years, he has missed only one Sunday – while he was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery.

During the week of the trial, friends and even mere acquaintances endured the hours in the courtroom with us. Strangers left cards and gifts on my doorstep.

My neighborhood playgroup moms, whose children once played with Lanie, supplied meals for me and my family that week. They also gathered with me for dinner at the restaurant where Lanie worked, and have marked anniversaries of Lanie's death with cards, gifts, and mementos.

‘That’s the one’
One playgroup friend, Marybeth, knew well what a special relationship Lanie and I enjoyed.

On Lanie's third "angelversary," she gave me bottles of Lanie's favorite wine, and attached a card that was so special I have copied it to keep me with me always.

In her note, Marybeth describes how she picked up a card while browsing in a store. She had not looked at it yet when she distinctly felt a tap on the shoulder, but whirled around to see no one there.

She is convinced – as am I – that it was Lanie who tapped her on the shoulder to say, "That's the one."

The card reads, "Even if she wasn't my mother, I would have wanted her for a friend."

Another playgroup mom, Mary, made me a street sign that says "Lanie Lane." I take the sign to bike events and festivals, where Peter Francisco and Paige Hawkins have generously provided tents so I can hand out literature about bike safety and the dangers of distracted driving. At those events, I often wear a name tag that identifies me as "Lanie's Mom" – made for me by another playgroup mom, Rose.

The Richmond policeman who was first on the scene when Lanie was hit sat through every day of the trial with us – even his days off. Joey has been a continuing presence in our lives, and never fails to remember the anniversary of Lanie's death – often stopping by the ghost bike to visit (and slow traffic) as we deck the bike with lights every July 29.

Holidays continue to be miserable, but my boyfriend Greg gives me his frequent flyer miles every Christmas so that I can visit my oldest daughter in Spain. My boss, Tom, has been understanding of my need to curtail work hours, and has helped me with Lanie projects, such as a pay-it-forward card and a car magnet with a message about the dangers of distracted driving.

I often hear from Lanie's friends when they go to a place or taste a wine that reminds them of her. And when Lanie's classmates at Maggie Walker held her 10-year reunion, they not only welcomed me to reunion events, but allowed me to send photos to be displayed at the dinner – then sent a card afterwards describing memories of Lanie.

‘Favorite people I wish I’d never met’
A number of people who were only acquaintances before Lanie died have become friends now – such as Karla, who walks with me almost every Thursday at Hollywood Cemetery, where Lanie is buried.

Hollywood walks have become one of my favorite forms of therapy, and I've had the privilege to share them with everyone from fellow Maggie Walker parents to the occasional tourists I meet there.

On my most recent visit to Hollywood, I came across my friend Bob Olsen, who volunteers for Find a Grave. Within hours of mentioning to Bob that I'd like to see a photo of Lanie's memorial tree on FindaGrave.com, he had put pictures online and sent me the link.

And then there are the many people who I now call friends who I would never have known, if not for Lanie; I keep their names and stories in a file labeled "Favorite People I Wish I'd Never Met."

The file includes prosecutors who advocated for Lanie at the trial, our attorney for the civil trial, bicycling advocates, and the wonderful, caring staff at Hollywood Cemetery. It includes fellow bereaved parents like Pat and Sharon and Gray and Lori, who remember Lanie's birth and death dates and make a point to let me know they are thinking of me.

The file also includes George Throop, the fitness advocate who took an unplanned break from his 4,500-mile, three-year walk across America when he cut his foot on a broken vase while paying homage to Lanie at the ghost bike. Believing that the unwanted layover in Richmond was not a coincidence, he looked me up online and has now become a treasured friend of the family.

And the list includes Janet Brooking at Drive Smart Virginia, who has helped me ease the pain of Lanie's death by getting me involved in driver education initiatives -- particularly those aimed at reducing the incidence of distracted driving.

Thanks to Janet and the connections I have made through Drive Smart, I have been able to travel around the state making presentations about Lanie, giving TV interviews, and going on police ride-alongs looking for distracted drivers.

Thanks to Janet, I recently met the latest addition to my Favorite-People-I-Wish-I'd Never-Met list: Lauren Taylor, an anchor/reporter at WFXR in Roanoke who has made it her mission to fight the deadly epidemic of distracted driving.

With the help of Lauren, her colleagues, a state trooper, and a fellow family member of distracted driving victims, I was able to spend a day in Roanoke filming a project that I feel certain will open some eyes.

As I told Lauren, the day was exhausting, energizing, and uplifting all at the same time. Any time that I am around people who share my passion for preventing needless traffic deaths, it gives me hope that that maybe, just maybe, Lanie's death had value – because it may have saved other lives.

While Lanie's death was a horrible waste of a young and promising life, knowing it could help prevent similar deaths makes it less of a waste.

Working toward that goal has been the best therapy of all – and it is an opportunity for which I am very, very thankful.

To read the Thanksgiving 2012 column, visit http://henricocitizen.com/index.php/Opinions/article/a_time_to_give_thanks_no_joke1118

To read more about George Throop, visit http://henricocitizen.com/Opinions/article/cross_country_walker_hits_the_lucky_seven0705.
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