That moment in the church, showing up, felt intimate, despite the crowd. It felt like everyone in that building was sharing different parts of the same pain. There was warmth in that, maybe comfort even. I knew, though, that there were hard edges on the horizon.
We exited the church to a wall of cameras.
I had thought about this possibility. Not because of any prescience on my part. But because a cameraman had jumped out of the bushes at my parents' house a few days before, snapping pictures of me leaving the house, carrying the clothes we'd bury her in, and some family photographs. In those moments, the world turned even further upside down, if that was possible.
And that was when I asked my friend Samantha to bring me sunglasses. It was December, not exactly beach-season, and I've never been able to hang on to sunglasses for too long - often stretching them out by wearing them more on my head than over my eyes, or tossing them in the bottom of a work bag, only to be scratched beyond wearability. I didn't have any at the moment and I needed some. I needed to be able to keep my tears to myself, if I wanted. It was something I could control.
All the pictures of that day, of course, show me without sunglasses. I forgot to put them on. Carrying them felt good, though, even afterward in the weeks that followed. They were a boundary I could set, in the midst of a sea I couldn't control.
When the trial began in October of 2015, I was again in the midst of a swirl, not of my own making, with no role, no authority. Just waiting, watching, bracing for it all. "I'm trying to think of it as a ride," I'd say to my family and friends. "All I can do is decide whether to close my eyes and put my hands up or hold on for dear life."
In the spirit of trying to put my hands up - be present, feel the air on my face, hold steady - it was also, again, important to me to control what I could control, finding my equivalent of sunglasses in that windowless courtroom. It turned out to be two things: soup and Springsteen.
The soup part was easy. I had an amazing support crew behind me, plying my family with soup, lasagna, and even enchiladas. (Not to mention babysitting my boys, so my husband could come to court with me for opening statements, my brother's testimony, and closing arguments, driving my oldest to school, inviting us for Taco Tuesday at their house...I could go on. And another day, I will.)
Bringing my lunch every day, making that lunch healthy with plenty of vegetables, eked out just a bit of real estate in a day that was otherwise spent as part of a painful, personal audience. Nearly every day, the weather was mild enough to eat out in the little interior courtyard. And boy did I need the fresh air. Murder trials are unsurprisingly brutal and sometimes grisly. They are also procedural and plodding. The act of being in the trial of my mother's killer every day was important - and exhausting.
As I drove out to Fairfax from my home in DC every day, I had a routine. As I pulled up to my exit, I would turn on Springsteen's Land of Hope and Dreams. Part prayer, part mantra, I would sing, "this train, dreams will not be thwarted. This train faith, will be rewarded...you don't need no ticket; you just get on board." Borrowing faith and conviction from the Boss helped me square my jaw, and ready myself for whatever twists and turns that ride would take that day.
I still believe in controlling what you can control - - maybe now it feels more like, put your energy against what matters most. Last week, I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon in my son's 2nd grade classroom, just observing. I got to watch his sweet, sensitive hand shoot up with an answer. I responded when he beckoned me over, to show me what he was working on. I saw his head bent over the week's spelling test. I saw him do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first, and play mancala with a really good friend. (I was so delighted to watch, that I didn't even mind - much - that he'd rather play with a buddy than his good ole mom.)
My kids still don't know the story of what happened to their grandma. They will someday. There, too, I will control what I can - tell them what they're ready to hear, what they can handle, when the time is right.
Today, they know we light candles on December 5th, the day my Mom died. They know that I miss her, and that I am so sad she didn't know them. They know that she liked to do jigsaw puzzles, and that she wore tee shirts over her swimsuit and a floppy hat at the beach.
And, watching those little hands plunk, plunk, plunk the marbles into the cup, and look over at me and grin, well, today, that's more than enough.