Sitting in my flower filled living room with my youngest daughter and granddaughter, tissues in hand, I contemplated the sight before me:  My eldest daughter was there with us too, as still and quiet as a mouse.  She in fact was in her casket and this was the day before her burial.

 A little pink blanket, years before, was placed in my arms and within it was a precious baby girl that we named Jessica.  Jessica was a sweet little thing, always cheery and, with her slightly bucktoothed smile and red hair, she never failed to bring a smile to our faces.  Through the years, though, she provided many challenging opportunities for us to practice our parenting skills- and as a young woman she had some trying times, and unfortunately struggled with alcohol and drug abuse.

 As my husband and I were on an overseas trip, Jessica in fact, finally took the bull by the horns and vowed to find a way out of her cycle of abuse.  She packed up her two children, who at that time were 2 and 6, and took them to her local Child Protective Services.  They agreed to place the children into foster care and she voluntarily entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.  Jessica stayed there for six months and it took another six months before the children were released to her- to a clean and sober housing facility in Seattle.  She had nothing- all of her possessions had been disposed of when she was evicted from her apartment.  The girl started over, literally and figuratively.  Jess was at Ground Zero with nowhere to go but up.  And up she went.

 For several years after her rehabilitation stay, Jessica studied for a career, mothered her children and thrived.  She was able to find a good paying job and rented a home.  Her family was now back together and she vowed to live a life that she and her family could be proud of.  She attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and formed a very strong network of stable and healthy friends and generally just enjoyed life.  We were delighted and proud of her- immensely so.  There had been many times that we had worried ourselves sick about her behavior and now we felt that everything would turn out well.  And it did, for awhile.

 January 21, 2008.  It had been a beautiful winter day, and as my husband and I sat on the couch in our living room, we both commented on the outstanding sunset.  It was a glorious one.  It was 5:30 P.M.  Later, as I was just preparing to go to bed, Jessica’s husband called and I could hear the sheer terror in his voice.  “Mom, there’s been an accident!  Mom, there was a head on crash and Jessica is dead!  Mom, come over, come over!”

 I leapt from the couch and raced to my daughter’s house next door.  She fell to the floor upon hearing the news, shrieking and sobbing.  We then raced to Jessica’s house where we were greeted by a Sheriff’s deputy and a chaplain.  The deputy had her driver’s license on a clipboard.  I thought I would faint from grief.  The crash occurred at 5:30 P.M. This cannot be true, this cannot be true.

 It was Martin Luther King Day and I hadn’t realized that Jessica had to go to work that day.  She had just left her office a little before 5:30 and, as usual, took a back road instead of the freeway because she thought it was safer.  Her theory, sadly, wasn’t a sound one.  Her vehicle was hit head on, by a driver that was traveling at 79 miles per hour.  The driver was only 500 feet from his driveway, and drunk.  He survived, she did not.  She was crushed in her car.  Our dear sweet girl was gone.

 For a strong, brave and successful person to die at the hands of someone that was drunk was such irony.  Jessica had been clean and sober for over nine years and for her to die like she did was such a heartbreak and unforgettable tragedy for all of us that knew her.


We held a private service at home the night before her public funeral service, and the children sat by her casket, playing.  She was dressed in one of her favorite outfits and although she looked good, you could see bruises under the makeup on her face.  Every bone in her body had been broken.  Both legs, both arms, her back, her neck- everything.  As her mother I was numb and unable to function- I just could not bear it.  And as we sat with her that night, we sat because we could not bear to let her go.  Her sister slept in the living room with her and had covered Jessica up with a soft blanket “So she won’t be cold, Mom…”  It was the saddest moment of my life.

 There were several hundred people at her funeral service and not a dry eye there.  We all cried and cried.  I can’t even remember most of the next year.  There was a trial for her killer and he was found guilty but it did not bring our girl back to us.

 In the five years since Jessica’s death our lives have changed.  Babies have been born, others have died.  We have holiday celebrations but they aren’t the same.  We think of her each day and pray that she is at peace.  We have been involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and work to prevent others from suffering from the devastating loss that is caused by drinking and driving.

 The day after Jessica’s funeral we were called to come to the funeral home.  I had given them some very specific instructions and intended that they be carried out.  As we walked to the crematorium behind the building, the door was open and we saw Jessica’s casket, ready to be rolled into the furnace.  And at that moment, after saying a quiet prayer of goodbye to my beautiful girl, I kissed the casket and the furnace door was closed.  I then took the longest, deepest breath of my entire life and pushed the button to light the flames. 







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3 responses to “THE LONG DEEP BREATH

  1. Toni

    Oh Joan. My heart breaks for you once again.

  2. :(* Heart Breaking
    ” May All Beings Return To Their True Nature and Be Free.”

  3. Sherry Barnhart

    Thank you Joanie, for sharing such a personal heartfelt story, filed with happiness and despair. This story should be published and shared in those that are shared with other MADD mothers, and those who are grieving from their loss. It is a stellar piece. Love and close hard hugs to you my dear.


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