Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Trauma and Healing


My spiritual journey took a sudden, devastating detour on the night of September 1, 2008. My only son was visiting a friend. She and Matt were talking outside of her home in a quiet neighborhood when out of nowhere, several shots rang out, and Matt was hit by one of the bullets. 
There are no words to describe what transpired inside of me as I was faced with the knowledge that my child had been a victim of violence.
After all, helping to decrease violence in our city had been Matt’s passion. Just 10 months before Matt was shot, he was elected to a seat on the Fairfield city council in December 2007 at the age of 21. He was the youngest person to have ever been elected to public office at that time. We were beyond proud.
The horrible call that night had to be a mistake. This could not be happening – it could not be our son, not Briana and TeaRae’s big brother. It had to be someone else. I prayed that this was a nightmare that I would soon awaken from.
A police officer was dispatched to pick our family up and drive us to John Muir Trauma Hospital miles away from where we lived in Fairfield. It was approximately 9:00 pm by the time the officer arrived. Our youngest daughter had already left to head to the hospital with another family member.
Word was spreading fast that Matt had been shot. Our cell phones were ringing nonstop as my husband Raymond, my oldest daughter Briana, and I sat in the cramped back seat of the police car. The seat felt like I was sitting on hard and slippery ceramic. My message to everyone that called was to Pray! Pray! Pray!
It was Monday, September 1, 2008, on Labor Day night. We were inching slowly forward in massive traffic as folks were returning home from their Labor Day weekend festivities.
The only thing that I could think of at the time was that I needed to get word to my boss that I would not be coming into work the next day. It is strange to look back now and notice how the mind works when faced with a horrifying situation.
 At this point, we had no idea what part of Matt’s body was hit by gunfire. It never even occurred to me that we were being driven to a trauma hospital.
 The last time I had been to John Muir Hospital was seven years earlier. My friend Melissa’s father had been in a terrible car accident on Interstate 80. Tom was in a coma. Many of us stayed several nights on the floor of the John Muir ICU waiting room. We waited with Melissa praying for a miracle. We prayed that Tom would heal and wake up. Tom died 12 days later.
It did not seem to us that the officer driving us to the hospital was using all the resources he had available to get us to the hospital quickly. We started yelling at him to turn his sirens on and get us there already! My God, my son has been shot! I will never forget my question and the officer’s answer as we were driving over the Benicia Bridge.   I asked him, “Do you know what happened to my boy?” His reply will forever echo in my mind: “All that I know is that he was shot in the head.”  Everything from that moment on until we reached the emergency room is a blur to me.
Upon arriving at the hospital, our family waited in the crowded but eerily quiet emergency room. The room was filled with city, county and law enforcement officials. I felt like a vacuum had sucked everything out of my mind, body, and spirit. I was an empty shell sitting there waiting for word about my son.  In that silent space, I literally felt God’s arms around wrap around me.
When I finally was led to the area where my son was, I was horrified to see him with tubes running through every part of his body. The image that I have of him lying there will never leave me. I can still remember the blood that was in his ear. I wanted someone to wipe it away from him.
 I was hysterical and horrified. Our beautiful Matt had been so alive just hours earlier when I stopped by to see him at his grandmother’s house. My son, who was doing so much with his life by helping others, was now lying there motionless. 
When I asked the emergency room doctor about Matt’s condition, he just said that Matt’s wound was “devastating.” What did that mean? Could he recover from devastation? My mind was flailing. I was confused and shocked. I just could not comprehend this situation.
 Being in a place of complete and utter powerlessness is both frightening and humbling. People began arriving at the hospital in droves. Matt’s friends were angry and wanted to find whoever did this to their friend. We all held hands and prayed.  As our prayers lifted, everyone came to a quiet agreement that Matt would not want more violence to come from this.
Our friends came wanting to support us. The news media was there for a story. It was all so surreal.
 I remember telling my friend Laura, “This is why I have been working on all that forgiveness stuff.” In that moment of clarity, I understood that God was preparing and carrying me. That moment was fleeting.
Nothing could be done for Matt. He was on a ventilator. We would know nothing more until the neurologist came in at 9:00 the following morning.
I was thinking of our daughters. How are they going to get through all of this? TeaRae had already shut down at this point. Briana was hysterical.
Like a mantra, I repeated in my mind, “God, Please clear our minds and heal our hearts.”
After several hours, Matt was transferred to the ICU. Armed detectives were assigned to him. The shooter had not been caught. It wasn't clear if Matt had been targeted and they couldn't take the chance of someone coming to finish him off. I never had the opportunity to sit with my boy alone. I am still so sad about that.
I thought, “How ironic, my friends and I are again sitting together, just like years before in that same ICU waiting room.” Only now our prayers for a miracle were for Matt.
There was no sleeping for me. I went in to see Matt several times. Nothing had changed. He didn't squeeze my hand when I asked him to. He didn't blink his eyes. He was just laying there, with the detective beside him, the loud sounds of the machines surrounding us. The blood in his ear was gone now. Someone must have cleaned him. Deep in my soul, in that quiet place inside, I knew that he was already gone.
At 9:15 the next morning, the doctor called us into the ICU. He informed us that Matt had zero brain activity. He showed us the X-Ray of Matt’s brain. The bullet had severed his brain stem and was still in his head. There would be no surgery. Matt would never wake up.
 Even though I had felt that Matt had already left us, I was not prepared to hear the finality in the doctor’s words. I am sure that no parent is prepared to hear that. Oh My God, Oh My God! How could this be happening? Why? What did I do? This is so crazy! God, please I will give anything. Please, let my boy live. My pleas went unanswered.
Everything went so fast. The next thing that I knew, we were in an office, and the donor network people were there to talk with us about donating Matthew’s organs. Matt liked the fact that he was a donor.  He was also proud that he had the much needed 0 negative blood. He donated his blood often.
Knowing all of this about my boy didn't make this discussion any easier. I was still completely in shock from everything that had already happened. And now I am expected to have a conversation regarding which one of my son’s organs will be donated. They asked if we would consider the donation of his eyes and his skin. It was all just too much to even try to wrap my mind around.
Matt was a very handsome young man. He was also a bit vain. We teased him often about how he had to have his hair cut twice a week. The answer to the donor network was No! Matt’s eyes and skin was not negotiable.
The beautiful correspondence that we have received from the donor recipients has been amazing. The gratitude they share with us for the gift of life that Matt gave to them is so humbling. I know that God is here.
Since Matt’s death, I have been on a journey of seeking. I have reached out and attended many different spiritual and religious teachings.
On my journey, I became friends with baseball Hall of Farmer. He is Buddhist. I began to attend Buddhist meetings with him and his wife on Monday evenings. We would chant for an hour and then feast on terrific Japanese food.
During this time a woman named Jenni sent me a message in regards to Matt’s gift to her. She mentioned that she corresponded with me a couple of years before, but I had no recollection. The email stated that she felt the need to write me and tell me that she is Buddhist, and when she meditates, she and Matt breathe together. Jenni had received Matt’s lungs. My heart smiled reading that, and I knew that my seeking was precisely what I was guided to do.
Jenni and I finally met in August of 2015 when she invited me to attend a celebration for Heart and lung recipients at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. Jenni is a beautiful human being. I’m forever grateful to have her in my life.
Our family has made it our mission to help keep Matt’s Dream Alive. His dream consisted of supporting our young people, helping to stop crime, and strengthening our community. Matt’s campaign focus was his dream and is now a part of our life purpose.
In December of 2016, my husband and I went to Soledad prison to meet with one of the men responsible for Matt’s murder. Gene Combs shared details from that horrific September 1st, 2008. He described his relentless craving for drugs that day. He needed to get them before he could attend his son’s birthday party at a water park. 
My heart ached to listen to him. Gene Combs repeated how he wished he would have just left and gone to his youngest son’s party. My tears were for that same reason. Everything would be so different right now if you had just left and gone to your youngest son’s birthday party.

As we are coming up on the ten year anniversary of Matt's murder. I continue to struggle to find forgiveness. One minute I think I have forgiven and the next minute I'm raging with blame. I have a lot of work to do and a lifetime to do it.

I have found much healing since the birth of my grandson last December. He has filled my heart with joy. I get to spend every morning with him. Little Ansel Kevin has opened a place in my heart that I didn't know was closed. I'm so grateful for this baby boy.
  I will never get used to Matt not being here. Learning how to find a life of hope, love, and forgiveness after the murder of my son has become the quest of my life.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

SEEING through different Lenses

National Crime Victims' Rights Week is over. The theme for this year was; Expand the Circle, Reach all Victims.  I wanted to share our tribute to victims and their families that took place on Wednesday, April 11th at the Matt Garcia Career and College Academy as well as my visit last Friday, April 13th  to California State Prison, Solano. The array of emotions, feelings, and thoughts can be overwhelming due to the vast differences between these two situations.

Every day is a reminder that our loved ones are no longer here. They were taken from us by heinous acts of violence. This past week has been another revealing one for me. The more I ask God to give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak, HE does!

The fact that a mom who lost her daughter, her grandson and her son-in-law to murder and then was denied counseling for her remaining grandchildren, (her 8-year-old grandson's cousins) due to lack of funding, is thoroughly insane to me! The funds that are available for counseling services are for immediate family only.

One of the things that happened after she spoke of the lack of services STILL for victims and their families; a woman introduced herself and said they have a trauma recovery group which has funding to offer her grandchildren counseling.  WOW! Thank you, God. Thank you, for speaking out and helping not only your grandchildren but many others who will live this horrific nightmare also.

 Besides grieving the devastating loss of our loved one/ones to murder, we believe we must help others who come behind us just as those who are living this already have helped us.

The services for victims' and their families are many, but they are still NOT ENOUGH! The perpetrators have most of the rights. The victims and their families are left to even more heartache, through the court proceedings, where many times, WE the victims and family members have very few rights.

I know of many victims families, and I, myself have been witness to not being informed of court dates and appearances or filed motions by the murderer/murderers, over and over again. For me personally, this had happened since 1999, when my cousin Kathy O'Brien was stabbed to death and thrown out of a car on a lonely road like a pile of discarded trash.

The court appearances that I was informed about was like being at a circus. The murderer of Kathy acted out by yelling profanities, threatening the judge several times, screaming and flailing. It was utterly insane to witness. The judge would ask the bailiffs to remove the murderer from the courtroom after calmly asking him to calm down over and over again. It seemed to me that the more the judge tried to talk to him and reason with him the more he would act crazy.

Although, while all of this was happening, we the family members of the victim was not allowed to cry loudly nor make any noises. If we did, we would be promptly removed from the courtroom. I got to witness this behavior countless times for over eight years. Where was Kathy's rights in all of this madness?

Kathy's murderer finally got sixteen years to life in 2007. Yes, eight years after he plunged a sharpened screwdriver into her body over fifty times! Again, where were Kathy's rights?

The fact that many of these same issues happened after my only son, Matthew Terrahl Garcia, was murdered in 2008 was and still is mindboggling! Where were Matt's rights?

Last year I was given the opportunity to appear at Kathy's murderers first parole hearing. The shock and horror of seeing this man's face again after ten years made me sick to my stomach. I felt the rage and anger burn inside of me. My skin was crawling.

He was still acting out, but in a different way than the last times, I had seen him. He came into the parole hearing room in a wheelchair. One of the CO's informed me that this was new. He had not been in a wheelchair until this day. He was incoherent at times, and he objected to what the parole commissioner was saying to him. They reminded him often that he was not in a courtroom and he could not object to what was being said. Their words went unheard. Witnessing these antics AGAIN was devastating AGAIN! These are typical situations that occur for victims and their families due to the rights of the accused. Change is needed!

We again got to be witness to all of the insane acts and unnecessary delays during all the trial proceedings and the many hearings following sentencing for the person who killed Matt. He has rights to several appeals following conviction. It's another circus that victims and their families are subject to.

Our family and countless other families are given a life sentence, and we will never get paroled.

On Friday, April 13th I attended California State prison Solano's "No more Victims" A day of Awareness, Acknowledgement, and Amends ceremony in the Level II gymnasium. This event was presented and attended by men who are mostly serving life sentences.

I have been coming here to CSP for four years now. Today was my second time speaking at their ceremony for National Crime Victims' Rights Week. This day a few other groups were here to talk as well as several of the men serving life sentences for murder.

Every time I come to CSP I feel nervous and a little fearful. It's intimidating to walk through the yard where hundreds of convicted criminals are watching you. I am mindful to stay between the thick red line that the inmates are not allowed to cross. Today, I was walking and talking with one of the other speakers, so I appeared a bit more confident while my insides were twisting and churning.

I felt a sense of calm when I walked in and saw Mr. Ward standing in the auditorium. Mr. Ward is a man in his 70's who has served 37 years for murder.

When I came to speak here for the first time years before, Mr. Ward was the first convicted murderer serving a life sentence to apologize to me for his actions in harming an entire family and loved ones just like mine because of his decision on the day he killed his victim. I didn't know how to respond to his apology except to cry. I had not expected to hear any remorse or apologies from anyone. I was confused by the empathy that I was feeling.

My heart forever shattered, and this man who had also murdered someone's child was standing before me accepting responsibility for the devastation and destruction his actions have caused countless family members and loved ones that will last for a lifetime.

Mr. Ward has donated $10 checks to The Matt Garcia Foundation over the years. It's not the money that touched me but the fact that he was making an effort to be a part of the solution now instead of part of the problem.

Several other men and I recognized one another from my previous visits. They came up to me and shared about how they remembered watching the news when Matt was murdered. Some of them cried as I shared about the phone call on September 1, 2008, which brought our family to our knees and devastated our hearts forever.

 I reminded them that every decision we each make every day affects more than just ourselves. The ripple effect of violent crime and murder is far-reaching.

Another group that was there to speak was Project Avery. It's a non-profit organization that helps to improve the lives of children whose parents are incarcerated. The program provides weekly retreats and leadership mentoring programs as well as life skills for youth aged 8-18.

I was so taken aback by the three teenagers who spoke about their parent/parents being incarcerated. They talked about how they felt alone and unable, to tell the truth about where their mother or father is because of shame. They now have a place to go where other young people are dealing with the same issues. These young people are brave and amazing. I was and still am honored to have been there to meet them. The cycle does not have to continue. There is HOPE!

We also listened to several men serving life sentences for their violent crimes. They shared about the harm they will never be able to fix for their victims or their victims family members and loved ones. They talked about what they are doing differently now. How they are dealing with their internal conflicts and childhood issues. I'm grateful that they are now willing to look at themselves although there will always be that part of me that says to myself, "You're too late, our kids are dead."

 I will continue to work on myself and allow God to clear my mind and heal my heart. This is a lifelong process. I know that! I'm willing to see things in my life with different lenses. I'm willing to open my heart and my mind to change.

Thank you, God








Saturday, March 24, 2018

Secrets can keep us sick

Several years ago I had sent my DNA to Ancestry.com. Over time since then, I have had contact with several newly found relatives. Many of whom are close cousins that I had never known about. It's been a fascinating journey to realize that I have family in many different parts of the country.

 I was recently contacted via Ancestry.com by a young woman. She also had her DNA completed through ancestry, and she found that we matched as cousins or second cousins. She has been searching for her birth mother for some time now.

She was adopted when she was born. The only thing she had was her birth mothers name. When I saw the name that she typed in that message  I nearly passed out. Oh my God! How could I have not known this?

Here we are 31 years later, and this young woman is searching for her birth mother. I cried as I felt deeply for her and for my cousin, her birth mother.

I texted her birth mother, and  I cried while sharing our newfound family with her. I cried for them, and I cried for all the secrets.`

You see, this new information has brought up some deep feelings that I have regarding my brother. Apparently, my father and my brother's father are two different people. We never knew this... nor do we really know for sure now. When I had asked my mother if this was true, she said "NO." I never asked her about again.

Our family has had secrets for generations. I remember my mother telling me when I was younger that she actually had another brother, named Don. She always thought he was her Uncle because her grandmother raised him as her own. She grew up believing that her Uncle Don was her mother's brother When actually he was her mother's son. Wow! This was Mindblowing information for anyone.

Our dad died when I was just nine months old. My mother was pregnant with my brother. The circumstances of his car accident in Canada always felt like a secret too. Growing up I never met any of my dad's side of the family. I had no way of contacting them. My mother would not give me much information. In my mother's defense, I believe she thought that she was protecting us. Although, I always felt like a part of me was lost.

I finally began a search for my dad's side of the family in 1992. I found several aunts, an uncle, and many cousins. My paternal grandmother passed away in 1988. Most of his family lived in Washington state. I flew there to meet them. This was one of the best experiences of my life. They showered me with love. They showed me movies of my dad when he was growing up. They even gave me photos to take home. I'm forever grateful to my Aunt Jacque and her family for opening their home to me. That piece of myself which had always felt lost had now been found.

The secrets run very deep. There are many. Some I know for sure while others have been rumors within the family. I had several secrets myself. It wasn't until I got into recovery and sought therapy that I realized how secrets will keep me sick. I had one secret that I was going to take to my grave. The only problem with that was that another person who was involved in the secret took it upon himself to tell my son, Matt. It ended up being a blessing because I was able to share everything that happened regarding the entire situation.

 I was able to tell my son how the decision I made on that day when I was sixteen years old changed my life forever. How I will have to live with that awful decision for the rest of my life. It was a teaching and learning experience for both my son and me. I cried with him and told him this is why we must be very mindful of the decisions we make in life. I was really messed up in the head for many years following that life-changing decision.

I don't know that I will ever fully forgive myself for the hurt and harm that I caused in my early years, but I do know that I made the best decision of my life at 23 years old. I asked God and others for help. I was ready to begin to be the best woman, mother, daughter, and friend that I was put here on this planet to be. Thank you, God, and thank you to all of the angels who have walked with me at different times on this journey of life.

Following the murder of my son Matt, my perspective changed on many levels. I became more open and honest. Matt's death shattered me but at the same time opened me in ways I never realized had been closed.

I now have a grandson, Ansel. I want to help give this precious innocent little boy a life second to none. I want him to feel love and never have to question if it's real. No secrets!

My message for today is honesty and openness. I have made many mistakes in my life, but I have also learned much from them. I'm grateful for my life experiences even the harrowing ones. I know that God walks this path with me and has orchestrated every single person who has walked with me for these past fifty-one years.
Here are several pictures of my dad and family. My son, Matt looked so much like my dad. It's incredible to me.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Where do we go from here?

Week #7

 As I write my gratitude summary this morning, I can't help but think of the parents, brothers, sisters, and loved ones and the victims of the horrific school shooting in Florida. I imagine them opening their eyes this morning and wishing, hoping, praying and begging God that it was all just a nightmare that none of it really happened! I cry as I type this, as our own nightmare is in the forefront of my mind. My heart aches for each and every one of them. 

The new normal; learning to live each day without your child, is a long and painful road. Learning to find gratitude, love, understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness in the aftermath of violence is my practice now. 
Holding my little grandson has made my journey both easier and more difficult at the same time. What kind of world is he going to grow up in? How will I protect him from the violence that continues to hover over us like a thick blanket of darkness?

 My answer...I will continue to step up and make a difference when and where I can. I will remind Ansel that good people live in this world also. I will continue to practice gratitude, love, understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness.

I will listen to our future leaders; these young people who really do know more than we give them credit for.

 God, Clear my mind and heal my heart. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Guide me to where you would have me go. Help us all. Amen

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Twenty-six days ago today

I know, I know, these past 26 days I've only written, posted, talked, ate, slept, and breathed, Ansel. I literally can not help myself, and I don't want to.

Our lives have been incredibly blessed. I thank God and Matt for the gift of a clear mind and an open heart.

Most assuredly, Matthew's death has been the most horrific and devastating life experience ever. The unfathomable circumstances of Matt's death; murder; presented me with choices and decisions that I never really thought of before he died.

Making the decision to live each and every moment with gratitude. The decision to see the good in every situation.  Deciding to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. These are choices that I have the opportunity to make in every minute of every day; if I choose to. And honestly, some days I choose not to. The point is, I have choices; as we all do.

Today, because of the choices I've made, my heart is opened more than it's ever been. I feel things on a  much deeper level than I did before Matthew's death. I have compassion and empathy for others that was always there; but not like it is now.

My children are my world. I love the three of them more than words could ever say. I also know that I could have done better. I will always hold onto some guilt that I wasn't a better mother to them. I don't allow those thoughts and feelings to overtake me, but they are there nonetheless; a part of me.

Now, I have this incredible opportunity to be the best grandma EVER! The love that I have for our new grandson is like nothing I've felt before. I'm crying just writing about the love that fills my heart.

I have many things in my life that are still out of sorts. I can fret over them, or I can choose to see all the wonderful gifts that are here now right in front of my face. Today, I choose to love and see the gratitude at every moment.

God, thank you for clearing my mind and healing my heart. Thank you, for giving me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Amen







Friday, January 12, 2018

I don't want to miss a moment

It’s nearly 9:00 am, and I’m still in bed. Raymond opened the blinds in our room, and I can see the thick fog outside. I remember when I was little growing up in Fairfield and when the fog rolled in we knew it was winter time. I’m not sure why but for whatever reason this memory has stayed with me.

I have been spending my days and several nights since December 30th, 2017 with my daughter, Briana and her husband Will and their precious newborn son, Ansel. My heart is beyond full of love for this amazing baby boy; my first grandchild. He is perfect!

Today at 1:23PM Ansel will turn thirteen days old. He has already changed so much since the day he was born. When he came out of his mother, and she placed him on her chest he was already raising his head.

I was astounded by his strength and alertness. Today he is even stronger and more alert. I don’t want to miss one moment of him.

I needed to have time off work to help Will take care of Ansel because Briana was so sick after her labor and then she caught a virus. I’m very grateful for my job that affords me this opportunity. I am blessed for sure.

I have to go back to work next week, and I know that the days, hours, and minutes will fly by. Ansel will be growing and changing at record speed. I don’t want to miss any of it.

I don’t want to take anyone, anything, nor any moments for granted. I want to breathe in each and every minute with openness and gratitude. I want to use all my senses to see, hear smell, feel, and taste all that this life has to offer.

I know that things are not all roses and rainbows. Trust me; I do realize this, as we all do, from our own life experiences. I found out last night that my brother’s step-daughters baby died. Our hearts ache for them. There are no words to bring them comfort. This is a loss that "time" will not heal. 

I also know that because of these very life experiences my world, my mind and my heart have opened more than ever before. I’m ready and willing to look for and be open to the beauty and grace that is all around me. It’s easy to see the chaos and havoc; it’s everywhere. The challenge, which has now turned into a practice for me, is to see the love, the beauty, the sacredness, the gratitude, the compassion, and the empathy that is everywhere as well.

God, continue to clear my mind and heal my heart. Thank you for giving me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Thank you for guiding my thoughts, my feelings, and my perceptions.

Amen 


Friday, December 29, 2017

Reflection

On this 29th day of December 2017, I can’t help but to reflect on the most significant and beautiful thing that has happened this year. Our eldest daughter and son-in-law became pregnant with their first child.

His name is Ansel. He was supposed to be here already. His due date was December 21-26th.  He is taking his sweet time to make his appearance. We will continue to wait for this precious little boy. What other choice do we have?

Nothing prepares you for the emotional toll it takes to watch your child go through pain. It’s tough, as her mother, to witness my daughter hurting. Her pregnancy has been a difficult one.

I must also say that it’s been amazing to watch her as she maneuvers her way through each new obstacle. I’m proud of the woman that she is.

Being powerless to help my child is not new to me. It’s the most painful place to be. The difference between this life event and the one nine years ago with our Matt is that Briana will be ok. We will have the gift of a new human being to hold, care for, and love when this is all over.

I am beyond proud of the three amazingly loving, healthy, and beautiful children that God allowed me and my fantastic husband, Raymond, to grow with.  I thank God every day for giving us the honor of being parents to the three of them. 

Soon, I will be given the gift of being a grandmother to baby Ansel. Oh My God! I’m so excited and grateful <3

Thank you, God, for clearing my mind and healing my heart. Thank you for giving me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Please continue to guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Amen