The Ides.

Dad, Wendy, and Mom - Dec 1996
Dad, Wendy, and Mom – Dec 1996

Many of you know that I lost my parents, a sister, Wendy, and her friend on March 15, 1999 – the Ides of March.

Every year since then, I have marked that day: early on, I would stay home from work and be miserable.  It was too much to try to be ‘normal’ when I was grieving so deeply.  Between late February and late March, I faced heartache on days that should have been celebrated:  February 26, my parents’ anniversary; my mother’s birthday; Wendy’s birthday; and even my birthday, which was the last time I ever saw the four of them. 

Every one of those days was tough to get through, but not as tough as the day: the 15th, the Ides of March.  For a long time, I was unable to function on that day; it was overwhelming, and I couldn’t manage much more than taking flowers to the graves, awash in tears.  After several years, I would take flowers to the graves and spend the day in quiet reflection, but I no longer took the day off from work.  I would still be overcome with the memories, preferring to keep to myself that day. 

For the last few years, the day has passed much more easily for me.  If I let myself, I can easily be swallowed up in that quicksand of sorrow, but I don’t want to do that, because it’s hard to return when you sink so low.  So I have deliberately tried to go the other direction and find some happiness in that day; it’s tough but necessary.  This year, I am happy to report that I am attending a dear friend’s wedding.

In the last fifteen years I have become a different person.  That sudden and catastrophic loss changed everything.  My heart was shattered, but in healing, it became more open and loving.  I have become more compassionate; living through those terrible times when I thought I might never recover broadened my capacity for love and understanding.  My empathy for those who are struggling is deeper than it ever was.

But I am also afraid.  I am more fearful than ever before of things I cannot control.  I worry constantly, and I can’t seem to stop.  I know my anxiety won’t change a situation or make things better; and I know that being concerned and worrying are two different things.  But no matter what I tell myself, the worries creep in.  I no longer believe that things happen ‘to other people’ – they happened to me and my family – so I keep wondering what will happen next.  It is always — always — in the back of my mind. 

My mind reels with ‘what ifs’ for every situation.  What if that driver crosses the center line and hits me?  What if this plane goes down?  What if a prowler shows up when I’m home alone?  What if something happens to my children and I am helpless to do anything?  I am mostly able to manage the worries, but some days they take over, and when they do, I am an unreasonable, agonizing mess.  Nevermind that many of the things I worry about are not going to happen; that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that once the fear arises, all reason goes out the window, and I become a frightened child. 

I have also noticed that my memory is not as reliable as it once was.  I think the trauma of that incident was a huge factor.  My recall of those first days and weeks is rather muddled, which is understandable, but even long-term recollections of my childhood and young adulthood are gone.  Wiped from my mind.  I can’t remember movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, or things I’ve said and done.  This is one of the hardest things for me to accept.

My priorities are different now, too.  I used to envision myself having a successful career, great investments, and a busy social life.  Those things changed.  Now, I value time with my family more than I ever did.  After the crash I stopped balancing my checkbook and lost interest in building my investment portfolio; instead of hoping to maximize my profits, I only cared to have enough to pay for my sons to go to college.  I prefer gifts of time and experiences to material things, because I am always aware that time (and life) is short.

My internal turmoil during those first few years matched both the external chaos of the tragedy and the subsequent upheaval among my siblings.  It was an exceptionally difficult time for us all, and with emotions running so high, conflict was inevitable.  There was a lot of anger and pain, and I think we learned more about one another than we ever wanted to.  But that time also taught me to look deeper into people’s hearts for their motivations.  The roller coaster extremes of emotion, the irrationality, the impulsiveness, and the inertia that I experienced all taught me to take a second look at situations instead of merely reacting.  I try to see the underlying issues that make people act and react the way they do. 

Using myself as an example, I realized that stress and emotion cause people to do crazy things sometimes – things that are uncharacteristic of them.  At times, I was sure I was going crazy.  I lost interest in my life in general and sunk into depression.  I acted strangely.  I would hope that people who saw me like that realized that the crazy person wasn’t really me, but a product of what I was going through.  So I try to extend that same understanding to other people.  Who knows what their back stories might be?

Not a day has passed since March 15, 1999 that I don’t miss my parents and sister; the gaping hole in my heart is still there.  So I’m marking the day.  I’ll take flowers to the graves, but then I will go to the wedding and enjoy myself.  “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). 

I spent some time in the pit of despair, and when I crawled out, the world was different.  But I was different, too.  Not all of it was change for the better, but that is life. 

And life is still good. 


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Aging like a fine wine. ;-)

10 thoughts on “The Ides.”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Becky. I know each time you get ready to write about it, you open yourself up to the memories and emotions once more. But people so need to hear your story. To hear how hard it was, how much you still miss them, how it has changed your life, but most importantly, how you always end your writings about this: life is still good.

    You’re a remarkable woman, Becky Phillips, and I’m proud and touched to have you as my friend.

    1. Oh, thank you, Bobbi. I cherish our friendship.
      I feel sometimes like I was so young and inexperienced — naive, maybe — when it happened, and it taught me some hard lessons in a hurry. And now, older and wiser, I miss the person I was before in some ways. I was so trusting and so insulated by love. That’s not a bad position to be in, but it’s bound to change somehow. It was so hard to not have them to lean on when I needed them most.
      Looking back at what we all went through and the changes we all experienced, I can see that it was, and is, a huge lesson in life. Cherish what you have. Make your peace with God. Bad things do happen to good people. Love with abandon.
      But for everything bad, we had so many reassurances of love. And it really is true that life is good.
      Love you! xoxoB

  2. We are the products of our experiences and how we react to them. I, for one, am glad I no longer spend the day in misery. I have let go of a lot of baggage; not the baggage of regret necessarily, but more of missed opportunity. I wish I had asked more questions; I wish I had paid more attention. As much time as I spent with them, I wish I had spent more. I feel this way especially about Wendy. Time does do a certain amount of healing but the scars remain. At least the hurt isn’t as sharp or as deep. As we age, we shift our priorities and settle into that “older generation” outlook and expect less of ourselves. We do forgive more and try to live for the moment, knowing things can and do change in the blink of an eye. I look forward to seeing them beautiful and whole again, singing and dancing with us all. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Amen. You said it very well. I regret the missed opportunities, too. We all wish for more time.
      And I, too, look forward to seeing them again. Until then, I’m thankful for the rest of us, still a family, doing the best we can, and living with love in our hearts. You’re welcome. I love you. xoxoB

  3. This is a heartbreakingly beautiful piece, Becky. I relate in some way to everything you wrote. Nothing is ever the same after the loss of someone you love so deeply ….I can hardly stand to think of the depths of agonizing pain you and your siblings experienced after the loss of not one, but FOUR beloved people all at once. I’m so happy to read of your plans for tomorrow. You and your entire family, both here and in heaven, will be in my thoughts and prayers tomorrow. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in this piece-that couldn’t have been easy. Sending love to you….

    1. Thank you so much, Stacey.
      It was unbearable, quite honestly. It took a long time for me and my sisters to be able to get through a day without falling apart. Fifteen years gives me some perspective, but you never get over that loss. Thank you so much for your prayers. I’m a firm believer in prayer. Thank you for your love and support, and thank you so much for stopping by to read and leaving a comment. I really appreciate that. xoxoB

  4. Just when I think I have the ptsd under control- like seeing the footage of the new york commuter wreck and not going under- a doppler effect train whistle blows, a baby cries, and, poof! I am in a room filling with smoke, and…
    silly me, one look at the picture of your parents, and I am a puddle, and it all comes back, as real today as that night.
    i guess we never will truly “recover”.

    1. David, I am so sorry to thrust you back into the moment.
      As much anguish as this day causes for me, it must be tenfold at least for you, who was there. I can’t even imagine. I know that when 9/11 happened, it didn’t really hit me until a day or two later, when the people were searching desperately for their loved ones, hoping against hope. That is when I fell to pieces because I remember that hope and dread. I remember waiting for the remains to be identified. It was surreal for our family, but we weren’t witnesses. I hope it is getting easier for you.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. God bless you.

  5. You are an inspiration. My friend lost her 13 year old son in November and she is desperate to know if life can ever be okay again. she will be much inspired when I tell her about you.

    1. Thank you, Tric.
      I am so sorry for your friend. The loss of a child has to be the very worst thing. Please give her my love and assure her that yes, life can be okay again. It’s a new normal. If you read the post I linked to and the crash story I wrote for Bobbi’s blog, you know that’s how I see it — life hands you a new normal and expects you to deal with it. You think you’re going crazy, but the worst of it does pass and you can look back on it with a different perspective later. I would be honored to know that she might find some comfort in my words. She can contact me at any time. Loss is hard, and grief is exhausting. I’m glad she has a caring and thoughtful friend in you.

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