Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Just over a month ago was my nephew Mike’s wedding. He found the love of his life in Jenny Cirksey and he married her. I was honored to attend the wedding and help wherever it was needed, while my hubby, Jeff, officiated. This was his (our) second wedding in six months.
Weddings are exciting times. Much better than funerals. Seems we have gone to, too many of late to mention. With weddings there is so much fun, so much excitement, and sometimes a little drama, but there is always so much joy. Even with the planning that goes on behind the scenes. The thought process of what it takes to plan a wedding. Having a vision of what the bride wants and being able to pull it off, takes incredible thought and work. But to see it all go as envisioned, that is joy unspeakable.
Even the finances it takes to plan a wedding. Some, anyway. The elaborate and the grandiose, the flowers, the DJ, the photo/videographer. All of it costs money. And these days, it can easily be upwards of 20-30K. Nevertheless, it is all part of the excitement. Side note: You don’t have to be extreme to have a great wedding. My hubby and I spent less than $5k on our wedding. Got married in the backyard of the “garage” we were living in. It was anything but extravagant. But, it was memorable. It was exciting, and everyone we loved that we wanted to be there, was there. And guess what, we’re still married. Thirty-six years later. So many people spend so much money (and time) on their weddings and are not even married anymore. They invested in the wedding ceremony and not the marriage itself. Life happened. Things came up. Finances came to a head, one of the major issues in troubled marriages, and if they would have had half the money they spent on their wedding, maybe they would still be married or at least not fighting over the little they had afterwards.
Mike’s wedding was fabulous. It was elaborate. It was high-end. Very much so. My niece Kelly got married as well, just a few months before, that I was also able to help plan. Her wedding was just as spectacular as Mike’s. And my hubby and I enjoyed ourselves. At both. Especially given the few times we have had to do so in the last three years. We took pictures. We smiled, we laughed, and we even danced. We had genuine fun. And it did our hearts good. It made my heart smile.
But after all this, I awoke the next morning, sad. So very sad. It’s an amazing thing that even in the midst of feeling joy, you can experience pain. I had a deep cloud of darkness hanging over me while I looked out the window that morning and saw the sun, which could not be any brighter. It was as if the universe saw my heart and was trying to work itself through its darkness, overcompensating with the brightness of the sun.
The excitement of the wedding, (weddings), even as I type another nephew is getting married next year, which I will once again get to help plan; only highlights even more the absence of my Joe. I have five nephews. Each from a different one of my seven siblings. One married. One marriage to come. And another one, possibly on the horizon. And I can’t help but think and wonder about my Joe. How he would react to all this. Would he be next in line to catch the bug? Or would he have already been married by now? Funny, but ironic, that just a month before he died, he spoke of what he would wear to his wedding and how he wanted his dad to wear a white suit. (Joe, dad finally wore all that white we laughed about). All these thoughts flooded my soul. And I missed him.
I miss him. I miss that I will never know. I will never get to know. I will never have the answer to those questions. And I will never be able to witness the moment, as my siblings have, (and will), their “sons” getting married. I will never feel the excitement of planning his wedding and hearing him say ‘I do,’ to the “woman” he saw fit to `take the place’ of his mom in making him a better man.
And that’s where it hurts.
Yes, I’m happy for my nephews. I’m happy for my niece. I’m happy at the thought of marriage and excited about the planning stage and grateful that I have an opportunity to be a part of the process. So grateful. And I suppose I will be even happier when my girls find the one in whom their soul loves, too. And while I miss my Joe tremendously, and seemingly more and more with each passing day, their weddings yet helped (and help) to ease the pain… because although I am planning for them, I am planning as if I would for him. With all the excitement and love I have. From this day forward. Until.
As I continue to walk, in the shadow of my grief,
Joseph Malik Fannell
January 14, 1993 – June 5, 2015
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
This was the day. May 22, 2018. Almost three years to the date that Joseph was killed, this day, we finally got to face the man who killed my son.
I hear you ask, “Why do you reference him that way?” You see, though that man has a name; that name that personified the life he had prior to Joseph’s death, changed, the day he decided to run that red light. He killed my one and only son and that day, June 5th, (three years ago today) his name was changed. The man who killed my son. And it’s no longer a matter of forgiveness or moving on or any of that, for those that do not understand. I have forgiven, and my life has moved on, albeit, involuntarily, but it doesn’t change the Truth of that day nor of what happened, no matter what I call him or what his name is.
Our lives, our family, was forever changed that day. June 5th, 2015. No longer can we refer to things as they are. (Even that man’s name). Because dates like June 4th, the day of the incident; June 5th, the day of Joe’s death and May 22nd, take on new meaning. We now refer to our lives in reference points… before Joe’s death and after it. Terms like prior to, following, when [he was still here], up until, have become a permanent part of vocabulary. All kinds of references that point to his death. His absence. His not being here.
May comes calling and it isn’t the same. I hear Happy Mother’s Day from only two of my children, which only highlights that Joseph is gone and he will never utter the words, thank you Mom, again. His death has made a permanent scarring, where in subtle ways, these reference points play prominent roles in our lives, in network names and hashtags.
May 22nd, 2018, the day I saw my son’s killer for the first time ever. May 22nd used to have a whole other meaning for me. It was the day my husband and I decided to get married. The day of the proposal, over 38 years ago. Now it has become the day I finally got to see the man who killed my Joseph during the first day of his trial. Even our Anniversary, May 15th is thrown in, in the midst, and has become bittersweet. I’m happy and sad at the same time.
My birthday rolls round, still May. May 29 comes, and there marks the beginning of a cycle of remembrance. The cycle of remembering every single last detail of the events that followed that day. Reference points. How Joseph gave me a gift, “But it’s green,” he said, “Green is your favorite color.” So thankful that wisdom got the best of me, and I saw his heart of love in it hugged him and thanked him for the thought. Then it was time for dinner. He sat next to me at the restaurant we favored, as he normally would, asking me how the lump crab that I ordered tasted. References. Permanent marks on the calendar of my heart.
I remember the next day. May 30th. Another mark. We got up early that day and drove to Virginia to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday. Joe didn’t come with us, choosing instead to stay at home. And we didn’t see him again until Sunday morning at church, as we got up early that morning to make it there in time for Sunday morning worship. That was May 31st. The last day that I would see him. The last time I would hear his voice. Another reference.
That Sunday afternoon on May 31st, I had not spent too much time with him, but enjoyed listening to he and his dad as they watched or prepared to watch a basketball game that would lead up to the championship later that week. Crazy, how this year the same teams are in that exact position.
And Sunday night. The last Sunday night I would ever get to see him. I remember saying ‘I love you Joe’ before turning in for early morning travel to Chicago the next day, June 1st, and hearing him say, from the doorway of my bedroom, “I love you Mom.”
And as much as I love the ‘On This Day” app on Facebook, I so dreaded seeing pics to remind me of that final week. May 29 – June 5, 2015. Last Tuesday (my birthday), to this Tuesday, the date of the day my Joe died. And really not looking forward to the next seven days either, because June 12th rolls around. The day we buried him.
Reference points. All of them. Times and dates permanently etched into my memory bank.
May 22, 2018, a reference point. Yet another “after Joseph’s death.” Another day added, rather changed, on my calendar. The day I faced the man who killed my son and actually realized he didn’t matter anymore.
June 5, 2015, 3:22pm. Marked. Scarred. Forever referenced, as I continue walking,
In the shadow of my grief,
Sis. E and Joe’s mom
Joseph Malik Fannell
January 14, 1993 – June 5, 2015
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Joseph’s trial is over. Although Raymond Blinn, the man who killed my son, never admitted verbally what he had done, justice has been served.
No, certainly not the kind of justice that I dreamed of, what I wanted nor even the kind that could ever bring Joseph back, but a peace has been restored, that only God could bring. And for that I am grateful.
The judge read the determination… “It has been determined by the State of New Jersey, County of Burlington, that in the case of Evelyn and Jeffery Fannell, on behalf of the Estate of Joseph M. Fannell, as the plaintiff vs. Raymond Blinn, the defendant Raymond Blinn was responsible for the wrongful death of Joseph Fannell.” Not that we needed a court to determine that, but this land is governed by law, as unfair as it
may be is, sometimes.
After 2 ½ years those fighting on behalf of Blinn, finally came over to extend their long-awaited sincere condolences and apologies and with them all of a sudden, so did Patricia Blinn. Before I realized it, she was right there, in my face, greeting me and extending her arms to hug me.
A quick glance and all I saw was my daughter Brandi, as her eyes welled with tears and the next thing all I could do was hug that woman, the wife of the man who killed my son. First with one arm, which quickly extended to the other. I grasped her as she expressed her apologies at the loss of my son. Sharing from a mother-to-mother stance, and that she had a grandson the same age as my Joe. Here in this moment, what I wanted from the very beginning and never thought possible, not only an apology, but I saw firsthand in myself, the grace and mercy, love and forgiveness of God. The thing we talk about often but far less often, practice.
I was reminded of so much in that moment. The forgiveness of God and how in spite of what we do, He always extends His arms (both of them) to hug us. And God also told me this, in that moment, that I wanted from the very beginning, I did not receive until I let it go. That it wasn’t until I let go of receiving an apology, that I got one. It wasn’t until I said out of my mouth, ‘Raymond Blinn didn’t matter anymore,’ that it really didn’t. The whole time, the last three years, it has been a part of my confession, that driver never apologized. And it wasn’t until I changed that confession, progress took place. God reminded me that true forgiveness is receiving an apology that you will never get. And that’s what I did when I finally said, “I don’t care about the apology.”
And then God said this. And I often tell women how special they are in the eyes of God. I say it to the women in my church, I say it to the women at the Tea, however and as much as I’m led to. Women really are special in the eyes of God. We have His heart. God said, it was because of Abigail, the wife of Nabal, that David did not kill him. She went ahead and asked for mercy on the behalf of her husband. And because of that, her husband survived. God said it was because of Patricia Blinn, that her husband received the grace he had been given. It was because of her that he received forgiveness.
And it was because of God, that I was able to extend it. Only God.
God can do nothing for me, until I recognize the limit of what I can do for myself as a human being, which allows Him to do the impossible.
Forgiving, letting go and extending grace to the man who killed my son.
He is forgiven, because I am. And because I am forgiven, I am free. Justice (for me) has been served. And I believe that is what Joseph would want for any one of us.
Sleep in peace my Joe.
His mom, and the Lord’s servant,
Joseph Malik Fannell
January 14, 1993 - June 5, 2015
January 14, 1993 - June 5, 2015
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Woke up this morning with an all too familiar weight. A heaviness that comes in waves and sits on me. Collapsing me into seemingly a fetal position, rigid and unable to move. I hate waking up liking this.
Just coming off a trip to the Dominican Republic, Las Terrenas, known for its scenic landscapes, white sand beaches and clear water. For me it was the land of the beautiful beaches. Mi Paraiso, I called it. Stunning and breathtaking. Seems as though no matter where I am, or where I go, I will not ever and cannot escape the precious memory of my Joseph. Not that I will want to, ever… But even there he was in my thoughts as I compared where I was, my paradise to his. And I will certainly take his any day.
There are just some days that the memory becomes overwhelming. Locking me back to the day. I wake up and the first thing I sense is his absence. How his young and promising life was stripped away on that road. Taken by a man that lived his…
I remember the day I was told, the phone call I received, as if it were yesterday. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been (for anyone on this road called grief), two years, forty-five days, seven months… the day is like yesterday. The whole scene plays over in my head as if it’s a recording, never missing a beat. “You need to make your way back home,” the doctor told me over the phone, as I was over 800 miles away. The anguish of knowing I needed to get to him, immediately, flooded my soul.
There’s no more video game playing late at night, as I hear him laughing with his friends through the Xbox. There’s no singing in the shower, when I walk in the hallway near his bathroom. His room is not messy anymore and I don’t have to tell him, “Joe, pick that stuff up off the floor.” He left his room neat that last day, signifying even the more, he was not in a rush to work that morning. He was on time. For an appointment he didn’t even know he had. Sigh.
Joseph is not in his room. He is not home. He is not here. And his absence is so very present this morning. Again.
I remember my last birthday with him, just days before the “incident.” (If only I could turn back time). The gift he gave me, which at first, I didn’t understand and let him know. But grateful I had the wherewithal to thank him. I treasure that gift. The green duffel bag he gave me, because my favorite color was green. He knew that.
I am reminded this morning of the last words from him, as I said goodbye that Sunday night, “I love you Mom.” And that would be all I would hear, as he was gone the following Thursday. Joseph was funny that way, he didn’t like me checking in on him, when I was away, and so, this time, I didn’t.
I wake up and I remember every. single. detail. And it still hurts as the reality continues to settle in. Continues to dig its hole. Continues to get comfortable. This is it. Joseph is gone and try as I might to escape, these days will always be on the horizon and I am forced to accept what I never imagined to be.
On days like this, I wake up and I miss him with every breath that I take. Every fiber of my being yearns to see him, to hold him, to hear his voice and to feel his bear hug. Every breath that I take, it feels like I’m gasping for air and it hurts. To breathe.
And I HATE waking up to this.
In the Shadow of Grief,
Sis. E and Joseph’s mom
Joseph Malik Fannell
1/14/93 – 6/5/15
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Read something this morning: "Your faith struggles because it sees that moments of splendor, when your spirit is filled with Him, are immediately followed by the deepest darkness."
This text comes from a daily devotional I just purchased and began reading for the New Year. Today those words and others jumped at me, in particular "I fill you to the full with My light so that I can uphold you in the darkness."
Do not forsake the time you have with the Lord, even if a few moments. Those moments are your life. The Word is your life. God will speak words to you that will very often bring you over and through your trials. It may appear that it is not something you need to hear at that very instant, but believe God and know, it is yet something your spirit needs to hear. Allow Him to speak to you, to minister to you. In that quiet time, let Him show you His goodness. Let Him remind you of Who He is and what He is has brought you through.
I say all this to say this... before Joseph died, God was preparing me. He was filling me up with His spirit, filling me up with His power. Filling me up with His Word. Filling me with His light. 'In the darkness, My light shines bright.' Little did I know, He was strengthening me for the darkness that was to come. So, when it hit, when Joseph was killed, and that wave of darkness tried to drown me, dealing with Joseph's death, his funeral, the burial, and even all the human betrayal that came afterwards; I didn't lose it. I was not destroyed. Because God had filled me with His light. And that light overcame that darkness.
Yes, it might have looked a little dim at first, but it was yet enough. For even in the deepest darkness, if there is a flicker of light it will be seen. That darkness is not enough to keep you in the dark with just a little bit of light. So, though that darkness came, God's light in me overshadowed it by far and caused me to live.
God's Word is true, just as this devotional spoke to me today, "the time in the descent of darkness is temporary. It's a time that always ends in triumph." Things may not be what you want them to be. You may find yourself in the dark. But you’re yet here, because that light in you overcomes that darkness. And though you are there today, it’s only temporary. You will get through it. For thanks be to God Who ALWAYS causes us to triumph in Christ Jesus, the Light of the world!
And there shall be glory after this.
'Cause God is real, (in the darkness) and in the shadow of grief,
Still a servant of the Lord, and Joseph’s mom
In memory of
Joseph Malik Fannell
1/14/93 – 6/5/15
Thursday, December 28, 2017
Spent time with my family in Chicago this Christmas. Far cry from what I've become accustomed to… being at home, waking up on Christmas morning, lying in the bed listening to Joseph’s and Jasmine’s early morning laughter, as they try their best to stay quiet waiting for us to come downstairs. It was like that up and until that last Christmas we had together, December 2014. Didn’t matter how old they had gotten, at 21 and 26, they would still anxiously await Christmas morning and the time we spent together celebrating and opening gifts.
Ever since they were little, every Christmas morning we would pray, read Scripture and have a morning devotional about the birth of Jesus. We would sing a song or two and then we would pass out the gifts, sometimes opening them one by one (person by person), with all eyes on one, so that we all could share in the excitement over what was under the wrapping. Joseph seemed to have a little system of opening his, choosing to unwrap the more “interesting looking” presents first.
After the gifts, someone would go and make breakfast. In the latter years, that someone turned out to be Jasmine, who had to make some new dish she discovered in her cooking ventures. And usually around that same time, just before we got to eat, Brandi and Christian would arrive, and we would do the gifting all over again.
For years, all the day long, it would simply be “just the six of us.” And we would spend the day “playing” with new games or gadgets, watching Christmas movies, maybe a basketball game or two, while Christmas music played in the background; followed by a nice spread for our Christmas feast. That last year we did ‘A Little Taste of Italy’ from the appetizers to dessert, and even had a printed menu. But this was Christmas to us. Christmas as we knew it to be. The ghost of Christmas past it has become that I have tried so desperately to escape.
Fast forward three Christmases later, but ONLY a little over two years since we lost Joseph, here we sit on a cold Chicago morning, 15° at 8:54am, so unlike every other Christmas morning that I remember. There was no Christmas tree in the airbnb that we rented for the week, nothing about it in fact, said Christmas at all. We were in what Chicagoans call the South Loop, and unlike our neighborhood at home, there are no lawns draped with Christmas décor, and hardly any holiday lights on the street that we called home this past week.
The absence of Joseph is so apparent. And as much as we try to be normal, there is no normality to our life when part of it has been stripped from our circle. Of life. My heart screams for him this Christmas morning even more so, as I think of my girls (and Christian) and realize Joe is not here again, and Christmas can never be the same. Each one will take on a different meaning and present brand-new challenges to make it through. For me. For us. And this year was certainly no different.
We’ve made the most of what we’ve had to work with the last two Christmases, mostly because of Who we know the celebration is for. Jesus. As we are reminded of the hope we have in seeing Joe again, because of the sacrifice Jesus made. Born to die, so we may live. That’s what my spirit man says. But my natural stance, says, we can’t, I CAN’T, despite our being together, help but to be mindful of who is yet missing. Joseph. Taken away far too quickly and gone much too soon.
As I sat there in Chicago, I suppose that will never change. Whether we are in the comfort of our own home, which we elected to do that first year; whether we are in the warmth and the beauty of the island of Antigua, which we chose to do last Christmas; or whether we are in the bustling, windy and blustery city of Chicago, we, I will never escape what has become the ghost of our Christmas past. Trying to live on without Joseph.
By the grace of God, we’ve made it through another Christmas, finding joy in each of the activities Jasmine had scheduled for us, which included an escape room, the Field and Science Museums, the infamous Willis Tower with the glass floors, and an excursion through the Lost World of Jurassic Park Exhibit (something Joe would have loved). We even had the opportunity to attend our first Ballet. But the last thing we did, just the five of us, topped it off, as we had a waiter who introduced himself as Joe, at least three times. That was when we smiled and remembered that Joe was with us. And it was “just the six of us” once again, just like it used to be… even if for a moment.
Reminded me of something though, what the Who’s in Whoville sing from the popular Christmas tale of The Grinch, we got to watch again this Christmas… “Christmas day is in our grasp as long as we have hands to clasp. So, the ghost of Christmas past cannot haunt me if I continue to hold on to the hands I NOW have to clasp. And the memory of the one that I lost.
Yep. Christmas will never be the same again. I won’t hear the playful laughter of my girls and Joe having fun on Christmas day ever again. I won’t overhear their quiet chatter as they wait for us on Christmas morning. And I won’t ever be able to see the giant grin or appreciate the smile that really did light the room from my Joseph, again. At least until the time we get to see him in heaven.
And what a Christmas that will be.
Awaiting that day, in the shadow of grief,
Sis. E and Joseph's mom