28. Joy Conquers Fear

28. Joy Conquers Fear

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Joy Conquers Fear

We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears. We must not demean life by standing in awe of death.

~David Sarnoff

It has been a little more than ten years now since the automobile accident that claimed my younger daughter’s life. She was vibrant, intelligent, involved and beautiful. She met each morning with a smile on her face. I never even had to wake her on a school morning.

There were none of those “dragging the teen out of the bed” scenarios with Amanda. She was organized, efficient, and dedicated. She had represented her high school at Girl’s State, at the Governor’s Ball, and in Washington, D.C. at various conferences. She had a beautiful voice. But the one thing people always mention about Amanda was her smile. She was always smiling.

A rain-slicked highway on a summer afternoon ended all of her promise, all of her potential, all of her talent, all of her smiles. She was only nineteen. My immediate reaction to the news of her death was one sentence: “My life is ruined.” I cannot begin to recount the following minutes and hours. It is the singularly most painful time of my life, of our lives — my husband’s, my older daughter’s, and many of Amanda’s loved ones.

Yet I remember, almost immediately, feeling another emotion nearly as strong as grief — guilt. I was a failure as a mother. I had failed to keep my daughter safe. While I was not driving the car or involved directly in Amanda’s accident, the guilt overwhelmed me almost immediately. It was my job to keep the children safe.

I had been a stay-at-home mom most of the time when my girls were babies and toddlers. My husband went to work every day. It was his job to earn the money to pay the bills. It was my job to take care of the children. When I returned to full-time work, I worked at my daughters’ school. I drove them to school. I was home with them in the afternoons. I supervised their activities and arranged their play dates.

I was the one who wouldn’t allow either of my girls to cross the busy four-lane highway to hang out after school with their friends at a local hot dog stand/gas station. I wouldn’t allow them to drink underage, even though many of their friends did. It was my job to protect them, and I had tried so hard. But I had failed.

The problem with guilt is the other emotions that accompany it. Along with the sheer grief of losing my precious daughter, I was also overcome by fear. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. What else would happen? I was afraid that my husband would have another heart attack, since he had experienced one just months before Amanda’s accident. I was petrified something horrible was going to happen to my surviving daughter. My husband and I both stood at the door and sobbed when she left several days after the funeral and returned to her home in Myrtle Beach. It was such a long drive, and she was so grief-stricken. I was afraid to let her behind the wheel of a car; however, she had obligations. She needed to return to her home. But I was nearly overcome with fear.

I read countless books about grief. I understood completely the accounts of women who lost their children and went to bed for weeks. I envied them. I wanted to be in a numb state, even in a coma, where I wouldn’t feel this pain.

Never has just opening my eyes in the morning been such an excruciating experience, because each day was another day without Amanda. Going to bed at night was just as painful. If I dreamed about her accident and her death, I would wake up sobbing. If I dreamed that she was still alive and we were happy, I would wake up sobbing. I dreaded sleep; it was not a solace or a time of rest.

I remember telling a friend that I would never feel truly happy again, because all of my joys would be overshadowed by the thought, “If only Amanda were here to see this.” It also seemed to me that, as her mother, I would be doing her memory a disservice if I went a day without mourning her. What would people think if I were laughing and joking? Would they think I had forgotten about her? For the first four years after her death, I visited her grave nearly every single day.

But I was reminded by more than one friend that Amanda’s life had been filled with joy. What type of memorial to her would it be for me, her mother, to carry this shroud of grief and pain around for the rest of my life? Her memory would be better served by my seeking joy and happiness than by wrapping myself in a cocoon of fear and anger.

So, today I choose joy. I seek beauty in nature. A beautiful sunset brings a sense of peace. The changing colors of the autumn leaves are a source of wonder. The ocean waves and their ebbs and flow connect me to the rhythms of the Maker himself. I have joined the choir again, something I had given up for many years. Music has always been a special passion of mine.

I find joy in the smiles and laughter that my little grandson brings to my world. I will not allow the fear I once had to control me. I still feel a need to protect him, but I will not permit my fear to smother or cripple him. And I am looking forward to another grandchild, a little girl, joining our family soon. I plan to snuggle, hug, rock, sing to and love her, just as I have her brother.

I am embracing joy. I will always mourn the loss of Amanda. There will be moments that hit me out of the blue, a stray song or random picture that will bring me to my knees in tears. But I will rise. And I will allow joy into my heart and into my life, for joy conquers fear.

~Kim Seeley

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