I know what I was wearing. I know where I was sitting. I know exactly what I was doing as if it is frozen before me when I heard the local news break into the programming to announce the shooting at Trolley Square.
Trolley Square is where my husband, Jeff, and son, AJ, were shopping for last-minute items for Valentine's last February 12th. Alex (my daughter) and I jumped to our feet and madly dialed Jeff and AJ's cell phones simultaneously. There was no answer; I knew it was not good. In my heart, I knew that our life as we knew it would be dramatically changed. I knew, somehow I knew, Jeff was gone.
One year later, our family is slowly moving into our "new normal." Each day over the last year me and my children have gradually carved out our new reality without my husband, their father. Our life without Jeff.
This year has been laden with emotion, grief and tears. But also, interestingly enough, great growth. We have gained an appreciation for the resiliency of the human spirit. When my father and I bent over AJ's hospital bed several days after the shooting to let him know what had happened to Jeff, AJ looked up at me and asked, "What are we going to do, Mom?" The grief was overwhelming and very easily could taken the life out of our living. But the decision was made by our family at AJ's bedside: We were going to try and be positive and work toward bringing happiness back into our lives. Given the choice, we were choosing forgiveness over bitterness; we were choosing happiness over hopelessness. It hasn't been a straight line, but we have moved in that direction.
The spring and summer were spent running AJ to speech therapy, physical therapy, psychological therapy and doctors appointments. I spent most days in my car and in waiting rooms. The shot to AJ's head has left him with a brain injury, but he has steadily improved, and his prognosis for a full recovery is hopeful. ...
AJ returned to school under the "special programs" umbrella and has been going about four hours each day. This month he added a few more classes and is now attending school full-time. He continues to be bothered by crowds, so the school allows him to leave class before the halls become congested with students. He is currently working at a 9-10 grade level and we plan on celebrating his graduation in June. He tries very hard in school, and I am very proud of his hard-earned progress. Issues of socialization, decision-making, word finding are still areas where we are seeing some struggles. But, considering the serious nature of his brain injury, he is doing great.
We are often asked about his prognosis. There is not a hard and fast timeline for recovery each brain injury is different. "Give it time" the phrase we hear over and over. We work, we wait, we watch and AJ is getting better.
We have also worked hard at making sure Alexandra (18) is not overlooked or forgotten through this difficult journey. Her spring was very tough as she worked through the immediate grieving process, but she seems to be emerging from this phase with her beautiful smile again. She is a senior at Bingham High School and plans on walking with AJ at graduation. She is an officer with the Bingham High School Dance Company and is very busy being a normal teenage girl.
All three of us have been meeting with a wonderful Psychologist who specializes in trauma. We have been participating in a type of therapy called EMDR. It has worked miracles in helping us deal with our tragedy. In part of our therapy, AJ and I returned to Trolley with the assistance of our therapist, and were able to handle that visit quite well.
Life continues to move forward, our oldest daughter Korrina and her husband Rob are the proud parents of four beautiful children, the fourth being born this January. They are still living in Idaho. Jeremy, our oldest son, moved back in with the family immediately following the tragedy and provided us with great strength and moral support. He recently transferred with his job to New York City and is adjusting to the "big city" and is succeeding.
There have been so many wonderful, heart-felt expressions of kindness, sorrow, empathy, solidarity and all have buoyed us up. Recently Jeff's former employer, ING Company, organized a charitable foundation called "The Walkerthon" in honor of Jeff. This group is raising money for donations to worthy causes in honor of Jeff.
During the annual meeting in Phoenix last month, ING announced this effort, its goals, and paid tribute to Jeff as the inspiration. Our family was included in this event, and we were honored and touched beyond our abilities of expression. This is one example of how we have been lifted by a thoughtful spirit of caring that has carried us through this year.
So despite this tragedy, we have experienced many great blessings. A door may have closed, but many windows have opened to let the light in. The kindness and love extended to our family by the wonderful people of Utah, in particular, and others throughout the country has been indescribable. We have found, continue to find, great comfort from every note, flower, kind word and prayer offered on our behalf. We have learned the value of relationships. Without support of a patient family, many wonderful friends and our compassionate, attentive community, the journey to where we are now and where we hope to be is impossible, unthinkable.
From our hearts, truly, thank you, thank you, thank you ... and God bless you.