I recently found this out when I shared the story of Cory with a handful of strangers. One woman piped up, eager to tell me that she felt worse for the driver than she did for my daughter. There aren't many things that can put me at a loss for words, but honey, that was one. I just gaped.
She hurried to add, "Well, you know what I mean. I mean your daughter is at peace and this poor woman has to live with what happened every day of her life."
Don't we all have to live with our actions? Frantically, I glanced around me, certain I was the subject of a prank, and there must be a tv crew somewhere to record this exercise in poor taste.
I mumbled that I would keep my opinion on that one to myself, and turned away from her, but she pressed on, "I'm sure that lady's life has never been the same, you know?"
And up from the fiery depths of my heart came a blast missile, shooting up and out of my mouth, as the blood still rushed to my face, "Yeah, well, I look at it this way- that 65 year old woman had 65 years. She had time to go to school, to get a job, to get married, to have children, to have grandchildren. My daughter will never have any of that...so sorry if I don't pity the driver who took my child's life."
As soon as I'd said it, I felt eyes on me, judging my capacity for human compassion. I struggled to throw out, "You know, I'm sure she's had a rough time, too, but... she is still alive. ALIVE."
The driver's advocate looked at me, every bit as puzzled by my response as I'd been by her original statement. We regarded each other dubiously. I thought to myself, she's obviously never lost a child. And she may have thought to herself, she's obviously never struck anyone fatally with her vehicle. We were at an impasse.
Driving home later, I questioned myself, why shouldn't I be angry? Whether what happened was intentional or not hardly mattered to my heart. Cory's death was an injustice. And furthermore, most accidents can be prevented with a hearty dose of caution.
Did people not realize this was my second go-round with the life-sucking five stages of grief? I was still in the process of accepting the fact that my daughter had a life long mental illness that impaired her ability to do many things when the accident happened in the first place. To get through all of that only to reach the road as a conclusion was beyond insult to injury.
The next couple of days, I wracked my brain trying to remember who had been angry when it happened, or since then. I even went to a few loved ones to ask where they stood with their feelings towards the driver, the police, God. My findings were as inconsistent as the rest of this whole mess.
The ones who held a seething resentment or a fierce desire for justice were the ones who'd been most closely enmeshed in Cory's life. This led me to wonder if the intensity of your anger when you're grieving is equal to the intensity of your love for the one who died. It was a thought that balanced a scale in my mind, something I have never needed as much as I need it now. I need things to make sense. I remembered a lovely quote I'd read about grief, "The joy you had then is the pain you have now. That's the price." C.S. Lewis, perhaps?
It all made sense to me until I asked my father. If he was angry, or had been angry, maybe there could be order in my world. But asking my dad to harbor ill feelings towards someone is like asking Mother Theresa to go t.p. someone's house with you. It's just not gonna happen. He spoke instead of Cory being in a better place, whole and no longer frightened.
I trudged out to my car with his gentle words ringing in my ears, feeling like the worst sort of person. Try as I might, I just couldn't be that good of a person. I am mad as hell. I seethe; I simmer; I boil. It disturbs my sleep. It affects my appetite. People have questioned if the anger is towards the driver, the cops, myself, or just the fact that it happened at all...that I couldn't prevent it or change it. Yes, yes, yes! Yes to one, and yes to all.
How I dream of waking up one day, and if not being able to see Cory walk through my bedroom door, could at least a Mark Wahlberg from The Lovely Bones or a Liam Neelson from Taken come in and just rant to me, outlining his plan to go after the person who harmed his baby? Rant! Rave! Be a DAD.
I've seen both Cory's stepfather and her biological father lose their tempers over the most inconsequential day to day disappointments, but kill off Cory, and they contain themselves like old biddies at a tea party. I get to look like the loose canon. I get to be the immature one. I get to fantasize alone about avenging Cory's death.
You know what, boys, that's fine. It's actually more than fine. I did everything else by myself, why not damage control, as well.
Am I bitter? You're damn right, I am. I've read that men who lose a child often react in anger and guilt, their need to be the protector of the family driving their emotions. Well, folks, there were years when I was both mother and father to Cory, so I guess this is the fall out. I will feel anger and harbor the irrational wishes for revenge. I will take on the guilt that I couldn't protect her, that I wasn't there. And why so passionately? Because I was the one who always was!
And my helplessness makes me furious. Whether I have to break plates or scream into pillows, I will not deny my anger. It is part of the process, and pushing it down won't help me get any further. I may have to take up chopping wood before it's all said and done, but I refuse to suppress my true feelings because it doesn't sound nice or look nice or fit the part of the graceful grieving mother.
Anger isn't a bad thing. It's how you express it that counts. That's what I always told Cory. I'll never forget watching the truly horrendous remake of Footloose with her, and how we giggled over the solo dance scene in the warehouse where the guy dances his anger out. Cory was so tickled, she could hardly speak through her laughter, "That's it, Mom. That's my new go-to right there. The next time I start to lose it, I'm just gonna....dance...it...out!" She stomped down one foot, put her nose in the air, and mimed swinging off of a pipe. We cracked up.
Don't worry, readers, I'm not gonna form a posse to go set the driver on fire where she stands. But I might write some strongly worded posts from time to time. And just for you, Cory Girl...I'm watching that movie this weekend...there may be some moves I need to learn.