There is no good way to get the news that your daughter has died.
But looking back, I have to say I learned about Lanie’s accident in the best possible way.
I went to bed that Sunday evening around 10 p.m., and after trying unsuccessfully for an hour to drop off, I moved to the sunroom sofa to read. Although I can usually attribute trouble sleeping to late-afternoon caffeine, I was puzzled because I’d had none.
At 1:30 a.m. – still sleepless – I heard my oldest daughter, Leah, pull into the driveway. She told me there was an emergency and she and her boyfriend needed to come in. After leading me to the kitchen, Leah hugged me and broke down crying, delivering the news between sobs.
Of course, there would be no sleep the rest of that night or day. Looking back, I am convinced that deep down I must have felt Lanie’s death at 10:15 p.m. – that I somehow sensed our physical connection, at least, had been severed.
It wasn’t until much later that I was able to appreciate how lucky I was to hear this news from Lanie’s sister, and to have it delivered with a loving embrace. Many parents get this kind of horrendous news in a phone call, or from strangers.
Three months later, I am dreading the approach of the holidays – the worst time of year for anyone who has lost a loved one. And since Lanie was our “Christmas freak” (doesn’t every family have one?) and loved everything about the holiday, her absence will be felt extra hard.
Thanksgiving – the event that one newly-bereaved parent called “a joke of a holiday” – will be equally difficult, considering that Lanie and I spent last Thanksgiving together for five wonderful days, visiting her sister Jackie in New York City and touring some of Lanie’s favorite “foodie” destinations.
Just the same, I am trying mightily to catalogue things we can be thankful for during this, our first holiday season without Lanie. And even as we flounder about in the emotional wreckage left by her death, I have to say there is no lack of goodness to be found.
As Leah pointed out early in the week after Lanie’s death, the accident could have been so much worse. Lanie could have lingered on life support for weeks, leaving us to make wrenching decisions. And we all know Lanie would hate that.
Instead, as far as we know, Lanie’s death was mercifully quick. She never saw it coming, and she didn’t suffer. For that, we can be grateful.
Within hours of Lanie’s death, friends, family members, members of the community, and even complete strangers came forward to embrace and support us.
Our neighbors brought coffee and breakfast for my visiting brothers and their families, and housed them when space got tight. Another as-yet-unidentified neighbor mowed my lawn. The bicycling community surrounded us with care and concern, placing a “ghost bike” near the scene of Lanie’s accident and organizing a memorial moonlight bike ride to celebrate her life. Pescados on Oregon Hill provided water and sports drinks for the cyclists.
The staff of Osaka Sushi and Steak (Lanie’s workplace) not only posted a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the then-unknown driver who hit her, but also collected a substantial sum for charity in her name. Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, Lanie’s alma mater, provided its 500-seat auditorium for the memorial service – which overflowed nevertheless.
Lanie’s sisters worked with her basketball teammates, some talented musicians, and my friend Jim Cavanaugh to coordinate a service so beautiful that more than one person left it feeling cheated that they had not known Lanie.
My co-workers Tom Lappas and Diann Ducharme wrote beautiful tributes to Lanie.
Tom and others saw to it that I got plenty of my favorite form of therapy, attending almost every Flying Squirrels game in August and getting to shag flies at two VIP batting practices. My friend Jean Masters did the legwork for me when I couldn’t handle tasks such as pricing cemetery plots or getting stationery printed for thank-you notes.
Brandon Bruce of Groovin Gourmets donated and delivered a meal for eight, salvaging a family birthday party that fell at a time we did not feel like celebrating. Maureen Egan of Real Richmond has promised a food tour in Lanie’s honor for her March birthday, and Capt. Mike Ostrander of Discover the James has promised to name the first eagle fledgling after Lanie in June.
Friends and neighbors have taken pains to write at the one- and two-month mark, knowing that sometimes grief hits hardest after everyone else goes back to their routines. Friends old and new still send messages at random times telling me they are thinking of me and that they are ready with a listening ear if I need one. A JMU student I have never met recently wrote to say that the campaign to improve cyclist safety has reached all the way to Harrisonburg – and to suggest that Lanie’s death may have already saved other lives.
The list of kindnesses goes on, and on, and on.
In no way do I mean to downplay the pain and devastation this tragedy has wrought upon our family, or to deny that there are times I despair of surviving another day in the void Lanie left – or another night of accident images playing non-stop through my head. Her death can never be regarded as anything other than a horrible waste of a life, and any good that may result can only make it slightly less of a waste.
But I have been in this crazy cycle of grief long enough to know now that my worst nights are invariably followed by better days, new encounters, new kindnesses and new blessings.
Like any parent, I would have given anything for the choice to take Lanie’s place on that bike, and to allow her to live her life to its natural end.
I didn’t get that choice. But there are other equally unchosen paths that I would have taken right to the place I am now.
If someone had asked me long ago whether I would choose to be Lanie’s mom – knowing she would only live 24 years, and that I would have to go through this terrible, wrenching pain – my answer would be, “Hell, yes.”
And if I’d been given the choice to have Lanie for 24 years, or to have someone else for a lifetime, I would have chosen Lanie in a heartbeat.
And for the gift of those years, I can’t help but be thankful.
Citizen Staff Reports 05/16/2016
The theme for this year’s celebration will be “Our Heritage," in recognition of May as the Asian Pacific American Heritage month, designated by the U.S. Congress in 1992. > Read more.
The Founders Club of Sandston presented lifetime membership to Charles W. Sydnor at its 12th annual meeting last month.
Sydnor, who grew up in Sandston and later served as president of Emory and Henry College for eight years, was honored by Founder Club President Alice Taylor Baldwin at the April 23 event at Sandston Memorial Recreation Center. > Read more.
For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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