God's Most Beautiful Angel-A Mother's Grief

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July 28th

July 28th will always be a special but difficult day for us. It stands as a marker for two of the most important days of our lives. Two days that changed our lives forever. Two days that brought us happiness and sorrow…joy and unimaginable heartache.
July 28th 1981. It started out like any other day… with one exception… I was pregnant. We didn’t know what I was going to have and we really didn’t care as long as it was healthy. You see, we already had twins a daughter and a son. This baby would be our 3rd child. I think way down deep in his heart my husband would have liked another boy. Perhaps that would have altered events the future held in store for us…maybe not. At any rate we had a beautiful baby girl…JoAnna. She was born with dark hair and eyes and I thought to myself what a wonderful gift. I finally will have a child who looks like me.
As time went by her hair turned blonde and her eyes turned blue. What a joke on me! JoAnna turned into what most hot blooded males would call the all American girl next door. From the beginning she was independent, opinionated and had a mind of her own. With a brother and a sister only two years older than her it was survival of the fittest. She had to think fast on her feet to avoid being put in the dryer and tumble dried like a load of laundry. Two years later her brother did treat her to that experience. Her long blonde hair was standing straight on end when she was finally set free. I guess he forgot to use a dryer sheet. You can see how that would tend to make someone grow up fast.
And grow up fast she did. Life holds many trials and tribulations for those who try to mature too quickly and JoAnna was no exception. She experienced bouts of depression, ran away from home and was in a psychiatric hospital for 30 days. All the typical teenage experiences seemed like they were ten times worse in her mind. Depression will do that to a normal healthy person but compounding these issues was the fact that JoAnna was not your typical teen and considered herself anything but normal. She had a 40 year old mind trapped in the body of a 16 year old. Or so she thought. No one understood how she felt. Especially her father and I. We could not understand why she didn’t want to experience the joys of childhood. Why would anyone want to be an adult if they didn’t have too? How many of us have wished that we were young again? Me certainly.
The path JoAnna chose to follow was not all she had hoped. She graduated from high school at 16 years old and then couldn’t get a full time job due to her age. Finally she began lying about how old she was and landed what adults would consider a dream job. JoAnna was hired by a magazine that paid her to attend parties, restaurant and club openings. To put it bluntly she was paid to party. She got her own apartment living amid the excitement she had always craved. This however had its own price. It isolated her from her family and from those of us who loved her and wanted to nurture her. Oh we would see her occasionally when she needed gas money or cigarettes and we would oblige. Knowing only that we wanted to see her and that we were glad to have her home under any circumstances. One thing however was for certain for JoAnna the party had begun.
As time went by our other children had families of their own. Their dreams were coming to fruition. With the addition of grandchildren JoAnna became an Aunt. She spent more time with family than ever before. She enrolled in college courses and had finally decided that becoming an FBI profiler was what she was meant to do with her life. She was certain that there was good in everyone and wanted to help make this world a better place. At last we thought our patience and vigilance was paying off. We hoped that our baby girl was finding the peace of mind she had been desperately searching for.
Unknown to us she had found that inner peace while watching the sunrise over the ocean. JoAnna experienced that life changing moment while admiring the beauty of God’s handiwork in the sunrise. She decided that she had to be part of this infinite wisdom. Her soul found peace. In a paper written for an English class JoAnna wrote these word’s

“ I found the origin of my soul in the connection I shared with the sunrise, with the beach at that hour. With the tide, with the moon leaving us for just a while. Everything I thought was important was now trivial to God’s creation. My discovery was most important to the rest of my life. Standing there feeling like I was a part of something so miraculous and incredibly invigorating really did broaden my horizons.”

I am sure that she had no idea where at last these words would end up.
July 28th 2001 began as any other Saturday. I was up early. My husband who at that time worked nights came home from work around 9 a.m. as usual. We had breakfast, talked about the events of the previous day and he went to bed. I logged onto the internet and began playing cribbage. JoAnna was not home but that was not unusual. She often spent the night with friends. All was well with the world. Or so we thought.
After a couple of hours of playing cribbage and chatting with friends on the internet I signed off. It was JoAnna’s 20th birthday and there were preparations to make. She would need a cake and a special gift. After all you only leave your teenage years behind once. As I began to cook there was a knock at the door. Looking out the peephole wondering who that could possibly be my stomach lurched. Standing on the other side of the door was a uniformed officer. I think my knees began to shake even before I opened the door and asked the constable what I could do for him.
“ Is Billy in?” he asked. I replied “Which one Jr. Or Sr. ?” as our son is named for his father. “The owner of the ’89 Nissan pick up.” His answer stopped my heart. I asked him to come inside while I woke my husband. When he entered he asked “Are you the mother?” I knew then something terrible had happened. It was just like in the movies when a policeman comes to the door with bad news. I could barely breathe as I awoke my husband to inform him that a Constable needed to speak to him. As we entered the living room together the officer ask us both to sit down. Our hearts shattered into millions of pieces as he told us of the terrible auto accident and informed us that we had to call the medical examiners office! I began to weep knowing that the medical examiners office is a technical term for the morgue. They needed us to identify JoAnna’s body. The officer informed us that he was not allowed to leave until we had done so. He claimed there was no identification within the truck.
My husband’s hands were shaking as he dialed the number. I guess you always have that little ray of hope deep within your heart that an awful mistake has been made. We did. As my husband spoke I could see his face change. His expression went from one of concern to one of anguish. I knew then it was our baby. As I sobbed and explained that it was JoAnna’s 20th birthday the officer took me in his arms to comfort me. His embrace was one of a father. An embrace that said I am sorry for your loss. As my husband hung up the phone the officer moved to embrace him with the same care. My husband and I will never forget this act of human kindness. It was the solace we needed to begin making all the “calls”. Calls to family and friends notifying them of the tragedy which had befallen our family and cut short the life of our youngest child.
We used the paragraph from her English paper in the funeral program to comfort those still living. JoAnna was able to offer strength an encouragement to others through her own words by letting people know that she knew God had a plan and she was part of that plan.
There are 20 years of happiness, exhilaration and profound sadness that will forever be intertwined with each of us on the day that changed our lives forever. Twice. July 28th.

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