So I weep here, unabashadly unmanly, a blithering fool, with teardrops coursing over my fingertips, obscuring my vision, for people whose lives touched mine through fleeting connections or brief emails, or deeply thoughtful and witty banter, and who, through murder have left this world. It hurts even to breathe right now.
I am a private person and keep many of my emotions deeply from view. It is rare that I share my grief or vulnerability so publically, but this is grief that needs to be shared in a communal way. One that allows me to share stories that don't belong to me, but resonate within me, in a way that perpetuates the lives of those lost.
It seems horrifically unfair that time offers up such awful resonance that memories of the past--Columbine and Oklahoma City--are now stuck on memories of the present, amplifying the resonance of pain and loss.
On Friday last week, an amazing person who I am getting to know only in memoriam was struck down by her husband. Worse, her husband took their three childrens' lives, ages 2, 4, and 5, and then took his own life. I don't know where to start here...Francie Billotti-Wood was 33 at the time of her death. She knew my wife; my wife and she had enjoyed a time together about a year ago talking about childbirth and childbirth education as my wife purchased Francie's educator materials since Francie was preparing to move away from education to focus more on her family. Francie was well known to the First Coast parenting circles: LaLeche League, Attachment Parenting, etc. To that extent Irma and she were communal partners in looking to better our childrens' lives.
Francie moved to Maryland last summer but maintained an active presence in these same circles courtesy of Facebook. She was an amazingly beautiful person with an amazing wit and charm that touched me with a smirk and smile. Last week, as my wife has said several times, Francie posted a picture of a grilled cheese she'd made for lunch. The reason she posted it? It was the most perfect grilled cheese sandwich she's ever seen. Let's zero in on that one more time: she posted the picture of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Nothing about that story can possibly leave you without a smirk or giggle. But Francie was sincere, and that made her a child-like imp with amazingly endearing banter.
We'll never know if the sandwich lived up to its expectations. We only know that for that one glorious moment in time, that moment there, an entire personality was captured in a snapshot. For that one moment in time, Francie could be everyone's friend, everyone's crush, everyone's envy. Somehow she achieved in that pinnacle of bread and cheese a perfectly embodied moment of life, of living, and of joy.
Francie noted in her last blog, wittily called "http://whatamisupposedtodonow.blogspot.com/", that "... I am thinking that I am pretty lucky to be awake and to be thinking about such trivial things. How truly blessed am I to be thinking about being able to give back to my community, to get to stay home with my children, share time with my childrens' grandparents, and to have such wonderful friends that I care so much about...and to have my health and to be able to exercise. I am thinking how grateful I am!"
How can such vibrance leave this world? How can you measure the positivity of such a remarkable person? Usually you look to those who fill their world with joy and love and reflect their beauty back at them. You look to their children...
It is harder for me to type this now, because I cannot think of more hallowed ground than the innocence of childhood. Her children cannot serve as her legacy because they were slain too. Lost are her two sons, Chandler and Gavin, and her daughter, Fiona. What possible reason could there be to justify their losses? I am struck with utter throes of sorrow and fits of weeping when I look at their photos, their smiles...and I know that their mother adored them in ways that few parents truly adore their children.
Francie didn't expect to love them so deeply, she just did. She described the experience as one of crashing into parenthood. Life is indeed what happens while you're making other plans.
This grief is so profound for me, a stranger twice removed from the tragedy. I cannot quite get past a sense of guilt that I am feeling so deeply about someone who was not part of my life but who resonates so deeply inside me as being someone I shamefully hoped I could be in many ways.
And so...this sorrow I share with many and in particular her family and friends. For someone who glanced past my life, brushed briefly against me fleetingly for a moment, that such profound feelings can manifest, then I can not imagine the horribly intense loss those who loved her are feeling.
I hope so deeply that life in all its frailty will reward such wonderful souls with rebirth as new life, new hope, or new awareness. She and her children will forever exist if only as frozen moments in time, still life on an ever moving canvas that, inexorably, continues even in their palpable absence.