This has been a tough year for me, mortality-wise.
As I approach the first anniversaries of two separate deaths, two separate mysteries, a third beautiful young girl is suddenly, inexplicably gone.
I do not know Isabel Celis. But every day, I think of her.
I think about her family — her mother in particular — and the endless agony being endured. I wonder how Becky Celis gets out of bed in the morning… and frankly, how she brings herself to lay down at night.
“How should we act?” — Becky Celis
I was sleeping too, just before my world spun off its axis. It was morning. I heard the door to my bedroom open, heard a choked voice gently call my name. I bolted awake. Something was WRONG.
My best friend’s eyes. I will never forget the panic, the agony, the despair in those eyes.
“She’s dead. Oh, God. She’s dead.”
It echoed and echoed and echoed. (It still won’t stop.)
I held my friend like an infant, rocking her. “Why?” she howled. “Why?!?!?!?”
It was a week before I could sleep again. It wasn’t just the horrific images that floated past my eyelids as I tried to doze off — I was actually afraid of waking up.
My friend shut down in the weeks following the drowning. Just stopped. To this day she is a shadow of herself, dragging through one day after another, completely devoid of emotion. A huge chunk of her is missing. It’s like her soul is slowly bleeding out.
“We just don’t understand…” — Sergio Celis
A month later, I held my phone in shaking hands. Another friend. Another dead child.
I listened to the voice message again. And again. “This can’t be happening.” Again.
Though 2,500 miles separated us, I could feel my friend’s heart in shreds. My arms literally ached to hold her. I hugged my own daughter, sobbing.
Even secondhand, the pain was impossible to bear.
Months passed. It didn’t get any easier. My friend struggled to keep her family together. Struggled to keep her job. Struggled to keep herself sane. One of the most social people I’ve ever known, she barely left the house. She couldn’t laugh. She couldn’t smile.
There were so many questions, so many doubts, so many regrets. It became glaringly obvious to me that the pain of suddenly losing a child is impossible to comprehend. And even harder to communicate.
“Just keep praying.” — Becky Celis
In the past year I’ve watched my best friend turn into someone I barely recognize. I’ve witnessed a happy family decimated by guilt. I’ve learned that there is no “right” way to grieve, and that unanswered questions are the cruelest of demons.
Which is why I cannot find it in my heart to criticize the Celis family. Why I will not engage in speculation or censure their behavior during this excruciating time. Why I refuse to indulge in ugly gossip. Why I will continue to believe in the possibility of Isa’s safe return.
Because until you find yourself holding the hand of a fellow human being who has been devastated by the unimaginable pain of a stolen child, you simply don’t know of what you speak.
*I apologize to anyone who had to see my sloppy train-of-consciousness notes for this column. I’m still learning the system and thought I’d cleared them before posting. My bad. Lesson learned. Thanks for your patience as I navigate through these new waters!