Christmas Day 1999 - A joyous Christmas morning - and in a different way this year. David and I had our own Christmas exchange here at home by ourselves - the first time in thirty years. The last time we exchanged gifts alone was the first Christmas in Nigeria, 1968, one month before Matthew was born. I am overjoyed with the simplicity of having our own Christmas - alone once more. Today we savored each gift, unwrapping it slowly and enjoying the beauty of the gift and the joy of the giver and recipient. The room, filled with Christmas music, was otherwise quiet with our own voices.
Mom and Dad had decided to come to our home for Christmas that year. After their beautifully quiet Christmas Day alone, they joined the three of us in our apartment on the 26th. Her entry following that visit was the third and most important thing I needed to “hear” from her to have complete closure. As I write this today, it is the week of Christmas twenty-two years later and I am sobbing. These three pages, written in blue ink, are by far the best Christmas present I have ever received. I’m not sure when I first read them, because they are towards the end of the journals, but these specific words, after all we had been through, have brought me comfort over the years and the necessary peace to move forward without her.
December 28, 1999 – Sunday, the 26th we went to Heidi, Jarrod, and Jordan’s house. What a treat to spend leisurely time with them. Heidi had made gingerbread men for her tree, then painted them and attached buttons – all hung with plaid ribbons – how neat. She said earlier when making them, “You’d be proud of me, mom” and yes, proud I am. How different a woman she is from a year ago. I began this journal with fears and anxieties about Heidi and her behavior. I worried for her physical and mental health, and I worried for Jordan. So many worries. She was living in a cold bedroom, no job – why wouldn’t I worry?
I remember when Heidi was born, Dr. Wilkinson said, “She’s a fighter.” Yes, a determined young woman whose ability to take charge and fight for herself has led her on an amazing journey this past year to where she is today. In one year’s time she has gained stability (mentally, physically, and economically) and found a new job, home, and man – all of which she loves. She’s happy – it’s obvious in her face and body. And Jordan has survived well too. An alert, bright, creative child, she has weathered the storm of the past year and has been strengthened by it – although she doesn’t realize that yet.
I look at this young family and sense with deep pride the determination and commitment to a fuller, meaningful life. I’m pleased that Heidi made a personal decision for herself, and grew through the darkness into the light of life… I am grateful to God for the strength and courage of this new, young family. I now see my daughter in the kind of work, home, and relationship that I felt she was destined to enjoy.
I remember that day clearly as we examined the homemade ornaments, their painted bodies and the feet that had been nibbled by our cat, Garcia. She was very comfortable in my presence and could see that Jordan was thriving with Jarrod and me. We were operating as a team around her. We were on the right path, one different than I had ever been on, and we were becoming a family. Ah, my final round of redemption. My decision to embark on a new life had not been a selfish mistake after all. I had not ruined my child, she would emerge stronger from the storm, and her life would be irrefutably different because of it. I had made a difficult decision, one that I knew she would not support, but I had envisioned this ending from the beginning, and she had not. She had needed time to let the sun rise and burn off the fog.
Every daughter needs to hear these words from her mother. In a strange way, these words have meant more to me in the years following her death than they ever would have on that day. They say, “I see you. I see your potential and that you are truly capable of becoming who God created you to be.” These words and others like them that were never spoken, tell me time and time again that these journals were intended for me. I believe she understood her reality and knew that someday I would need to know her heart and this was a way I could feel her presence. In the last twenty years I have found myself many times wishing that she could see me again, needing her to know that I have stayed the course. The proverbial “she’s watching you from above” is sometimes not enough. I desperately want her in my life, by my side, tasting the sweetness with me. There are, however, things I’m grateful she did not see, for I certainly would have disappointed her again. I have fallen hard on dry barren ground plenty of times since her death, but I have gotten up, dusted myself off and become better because of my scars. Perhaps it was her voice that called for me to get up.