I was so terrified to ask that question because I was afraid of the answer. Stefanie was a fantastic kid, but she was a teenaged girl and we all know that no teenager tells his or her parents everything. As parents we are fully aware of this and manage to keep an eye on things without letting on—picking our battles so to speak—all the while praying that our children will make wise choices when we’re not around, even as we allow them to learn from their own mistakes, never dreaming of fatal consequences.
When a loved one dies, we’re left to pick up the pieces, and in hindsight, delve into the decisions that resulted in death. The facts we did not know come to light and leave us with so much anger we don’t know what to do with it. Along with this come all the futile “what ifs?” that torment us every waking hour.
I was very angry at Stefanie for many things, one of which was not telling us that David was trying to contact her again. She didn’t answer his phone calls, but she knew it was him. She knew we would follow through in getting a restraining order, and, perhaps, she didn’t want all the drama, thinking she could handle it herself—never truly fearing him. We’ll never know, but for a long time I was livid.
I was also full of rage at myself for not paying more attention, for not questioning her more and for trusting that she would tell us if either he or Melissa did contact her. He called her New Years Eve and the next day she was dead. My rage was fueled by guilt, something that I’m fairly certain no one escapes after a loved one dies.
Along with my anger and guilt was a fear that there would be some shame attached to the circumstances of my daughter’s death or from kept secrets that would surface during the trial.
I was fortunate. I knew pretty much all the “unpleasant” things in Stefanie’s life, and none of them would have ruined my life had they “come to light”, but the media is quick to label and judge and it was a big fear on my part.
Regardless of media involvement, as families of the deceased, we have to learn to live with whatever comes without shame, anger and guilt.
There are many techniques to help people get through this most difficult part, but a simple way is to find the silver lining in whatever way possible and generally this can be accomplished most easily through gratitude.
Shame, anger and guilt can keep us stuck in grief for years longer than necessary and, those of us left to carry on should not need to exist under this self-imposed sentence because of the decisions of others. Wasting the precious gift of life in this way is the only real shame.