See Me In My Red Coat: The Art of Showing Up

Within 24 hours of my Mom's murder, I knew that I would give a eulogy at her funeral. I was scared, broken, and angry. I was staying at a hotel with my Dad, whose house was a crime scene, to keep him company. I couldn't keep food down. 

But I knew something: I knew that for as important as my Mom had been to so many people, and to the community, she was always a Mom first. Even better, she was a great Mom. The woman for whom I'd made mix tapes as a teenager, who would gleefully call me late at night, in the weeks before a planned concert at the 9:30 Club to say she was in "stay up late training." That woman. She needed to have one of her kids stand up there for her. I would do that. I could do that. I had to do that. Blessedly, it was also Something To Do. It was a way to Show Up for her, even in my grief and her absence and this pain.

That did not mean, however, that I knew what I wanted to say.    

Days passed, and I wondered when the words would find me. I was sure that they would. But, I was less sure that I was going to make it through the eulogy without breaking down. I asked to have the eulogy printed and handed out and for the family priest who would preside over the funeral service to be ready if I needed him. 

Two days before, in the middle of the night, the words came. They woke me up from a deep sleep and I typed furiously so I wouldn't lose them. Words about superheroes and silliness, words that I hoped would help the people who were devastated without understanding exactly why. Words that would let me show up for my Mom. 

We sat in one of the front pews of the church. I mostly didn't turn around, as I heard the church fill up. People came over to offer condolences. I saw a lot of faces I knew. It wasn't until it was my turn to stand up and go forward that I realized people were sitting in the aisles, standing along the back. The place was packed to the gills. I remember standing up there so clearly. My cousin stood next to me, along with Father Walsh. I started and my voice cracked. I took a breath. And then my Mom was holding me. 

And so I read, in a clear voice. I even got a laugh. You can read it here. It was a moment of pride and purpose, even joy, in the midst of a haze of sadness and pain. Showing up can do that, I've found.

It took almost twelve years, but I got to show up for her again.

This time, it was for jury selection. Jury selection took 3 days. Though procedural in nature, I had to be there, to show up. I didn't want to miss a minute of the trial. And I wanted to be wearing my red coat. It was important to me for the potential jurors to know, from the very first time they stepped into the courtroom, that there were real families whose lives were in the balance. Real tragedy. Real feelings. I thought that, from one day to the next, it would be easy for me to blend in. That's why I needed to wear my bright red coat. Day in, day out, I wanted the potential jurors to see that coat. To notice, that woman is here again today. She's probably not a random trial watcher (there are those! who knew?) or a member of the press (no laptop out). Who is she? Which victim does she belong to? I wanted to show up for my mom, to represent her and my dad and my brother, as publicly as I could, while sitting silently in the 3rd row of the courtroom.

And on that third day, at 6:00pm, we had a jury. A jury I had stopped waiting for long ago. I cried as the judge swore them in, writing in my notebook, "11 years, 10 months, 2 days, 6 hours." That's how long it took from when my Mom was taken from me for a jury to be sworn in, to try Charles Severance, the man eventually  convicted of her murder. 

I ran 15 miles today, and with every step, thought, "this is me, showing up for her." Twenty-six miles, one for every year I had her holding me.