52. Golden Glitter

52. Golden Glitter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Golden Glitter

Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.

~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Sweet potatoes boiled on the stove. With my right hand, I switched the range fan to high while, with my left, I gripped the mixer that smashed the baked pumpkin for pie. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving and, as usual, my family would host the holiday meal. Following tradition, I had set aside Wednesday evening to prep the do-ahead food.

This year, however, my beautiful, intelligent, and energetic fourteen-year-old daughter wouldn’t be home to help. The constant chatter and laughter she brought to last year’s feast preparations were replaced by the silence of her absence.

I took a few steps across the kitchen to my iPod anchored in the speaker dock and skipped the playing song. I had thought Pandora would be safe. It wasn’t. Although I had only been cooking for an hour, the radio had somehow selected two of the songs sung at my daughter’s funeral.

Then the doorbell rang. I glanced at my watch. Eight o’clock. I wasn’t expecting anyone. My husband was working late; my young son and daughter were home with me.

Crossing the living room, I approached the front door and stood on my tiptoes to peer out the top window. The entryway was shrouded in darkness. Flipping on the porch light, I recognized a classmate from my daughter’s first semester of high school and unlocked the door.

I had seen her a few times before. Once I had spoken with her. Opening the door, I invited her in. Shaking her head, she held out her hands.

“This is for Jenna’s tree,” she said. Her palms cradled a flat wooden star that she had painted yellow and coated with five spokes of golden glitter.

“How did you know?” I asked. Then, before she could answer, I recalled the Facebook status I had posted two weeks earlier, announcing that my family would decorate a Christmas tree in memory of Jenna and inviting those who knew her to design heart ornaments to adorn it. Though many friends had responded, none from Jenna’s distant high school had participated. Until now.

“Thank you,” I said, as she handed the sparkling star to me. I wanted to say more but I was caught off guard and didn’t know what else to say.

“I have to go now. My dad is waiting in the car,” she blurted out. I was surprised to see the normally confident queen-of-her-class trembling. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She spun on her heels and ran to the car. Standing in the doorway, I watched her leave.

Stunned, I wandered back to the kitchen and turned off the stove. Without realizing what I was doing, I walked down the short hall to my bedroom, opened my closet door, and withdrew a manila folder. Sitting down in a wooden rocking chair in the corner of the room, I pulled out the printed copy of my daughter’s computer journal. Flipping to the next-to-last page, I found what I was looking for.

I had remembered correctly; her name was there. My eyes scanned Jenna’s words:

Your social infrastructure, your bullying, is the most hurtful thing anyone could ever come up with. I wanted to be friends with you, but you and your group completely excluded me. Words are painful. People’s feelings are not something to be played with. Even though it’s not exactly your fault that I’m gone now, being kind could have saved my life.

Leaning back in the chair, I forced myself to breathe deeply. My hurting heart thumped. I closed my eyes, and the tears fell.

A few minutes passed before I opened my eyes. Something lower on the journal page caught my attention —a prayer Jenna had penned only days before her death that I had forgotten was there:

Mom. That is probably the biggest thing I ask for. Please, God, you know how tired she is. I ask you, partly for my sake but mostly for hers, to give her a long break without any repercussions. Please send people to take some of this burden off of her shoulders. And, most importantly, bring her irrational joy.

With the reading of those words, tears cascaded down my face. Maybe the girl who gave the star was guilty of failing to include Jenna, of failing to be a friend. But I, too, was guilty. Guilty of being too busy working—too busy with the stuff of life that no longer seemed so important—to recognize the pain growing inside Jenna’s heart. Like every mom, I could replay a thousand memories, wishing I had done things differently. The survivor’s guilt pressed on me like a heavy weight. As I closed the journal, though, I saw the final words left by Jenna in her parting letter:

My family, I love you all so much, and I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I would hate to die knowing that you never forgave me for what I did.

Forgive her? I already had, even though, in a moment of despair, she had made a devastating choice that no one had seen coming—a choice that had shattered the hearts of her family and friends and sent aftershocks into the lives of hundreds of others who knew and loved her.

In that moment, I decided that I could—I would—forgive those who had intentionally or unintentionally hurt my daughter, just as I wanted them to forgive me and forgive Jenna, just as I had been forgiven by my God who loved me and gave His life for me. Because of this, I would even forgive… myself.

With the reading of Jenna’s words, forgiveness happened that evening in the rocking chair. But I didn’t know how real it was until six weeks later.

January 2nd marked the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s death. Gray clouds gloomed in the sky. A cold rain sprinkled down. I had just returned from my first trip to the distant gravesite and was expecting friends to come by in an hour to remember with my family when the doorbell rang.

Thinking some family friends had arrived early, I swung open the door. Instead, the girl who had given the star stood there, her long hair swooped over to one side.

“Please come in,” I said, and this time she did, extending hands that held a dozen yellow roses.

“These are for Jenna,” she whispered.

She looked into my eyes, and I looked into hers. With each of us fighting back tears, we talked. She told me about school. Then, after ten minutes, I wrapped my arms around her in an understanding hug.

“If you ever want to talk, I’ll listen,” I said as we embraced one another.

She nodded as she gave a slight smile. Without dismissing the need for change, we were acknowledging that the forgiveness was real and the healing of two broken, remorseful hearts had begun.

~Beth Saadati

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