My son, Joseph Malik Fannell, 22, was killed by a driver who ran a red light. This blog was created to chronicle the emotions and stages of my grief following his death.
Grief is a state of being. It never ends. We never get over it or through it. We just find ways to endure.
"If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, He will help you catch your breathe." Psalm 34:18
In the shadow of your grief, remember to breathe.
♪ Take me back, take me back dear Lord To the place where I first received You. Take me back, take me back dear Lord where I
I feel that I'm so far from You Lord But still I hear You calling me Those simple things that I once knew, Their memories are drawing me.
I must confess, Lord I've been blessed But yet my soul's not satisfied. Renew my faith, restore my joy And dry my weeping eyes.♪
Sometimes you get lost on the road to life, to living. You take a detour and end up someplace you have never been before. Lots of things going on where you are. People you are unfamiliar with, people that you have known or thought you did, who said that they will be there, always, only to leave you stranded as if you had a flat tire. While others cling on to you as if you hold the keys to life itself.
The buildings are huge that surround you appearing as if they are mountains. Streets become smaller, so much so that you feel like a pea in a pod as you try to navigate your way through them. What once was familiar, has all of a sudden become strange territory.
And you are lost.
Not knowing where to go, where to turn, but simply desiring to be there.
Back to a place where roads were paved and if you hit a bump, at least you knew how to ride it.
Back to a place where you recognize people for who they were and you kept them there as such.
Back to a place where you could canvass the neighborhood with your eyes closed, as the laughter of children guided your every step.
Back to a place where you may not have been comfortable with not knowing, but was certain you would know soon.
Back to a mostly dry land and if it rained, you were yet able to keep your footing.
You yearn to go back to a place of familiarity. A normal place. A place of security, of knowing, of innocence. Of believing.
Desperate to go back there, to where you were, you cry out for help. A phone call, a text to a friend, a family member, and yet no one can seem to get you back there (or desires to). Because back there, what you know, that road you were on, takes on a different form, and it doesn’t quite look the same. To you or to them.
So you continue to cry out and yearn for that place, long to go back… not as you know it of course, but back to where you might have left Him, …left him… when you took the detour or the detour took you. Presenting itself as a “you have no choice in the matter” exit.
Take me back, dear Lord, to the place where I first received You.
Take me back, to the place where I FIRST… believed.
I believe Lord.
Help me, my unbelief.
Help me to believe again.
Show me… show us, how to make our way back, wherever back may be in this journey You called life.
“But He knows the way I take and after I have been tried, I shall come forth as pure gold.” (Job 23:10)
I don’t know what to say to you. I just know I need to say something, so let’s just start there.
It’s been a little over two months now since the car incident. I can’t really call it an accident, since an accident is considered an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. You see as far as I can tell and from the police report itself, you ran that red light on purpose, intentionally, making a decision to change lanes to do so (avoiding the car that was sitting there). And since you have not taken the time to reach out to us to express your sympathy, I thought I would write.
This is not easy you know. We’ve had your name and address almost from the very beginning, but I have not been in the place to want to say anything to you,… kind. So I chose to instead to endure the silence, for a time.
Let me tell you a little about the person that you hit when you made the decision to speed through that red light. His name was Joseph. He was a real human being. He was the youngest of our three children, our only son and was 22. And you killed him.
Joseph was working. He was on his way to the office that morning, where he had been working with his dad for the last year. He was filled with so much promise as he began to learn the tools of the trade, and was excited at the prospect of “working among lawyers” he said.
He believed in God and went to church, where he was developing his ability as a spoken word artist. He also liked to sing, draw, play video games and shoot basketball. Besides leaving me, his dad and his sisters to mourn him, Joseph also left behind an 11-year-old nephew, who he was teaching to play basketball, every chance he had. And one day, Joseph said, he wanted to go back to the high school he graduated from, not only to perform his spoken word, but to talk to students about bullying, because he himself was. But now he can’t because you not only killed him, you snatched his dream away.
Joseph took a different route that morning than the one that I knew he usually took. But he decided to take the one that I told him was much easier and that his dad always took, Route 206. How I wish he did not listen to me that day! Somehow I believe taking that route, was just another way to pay tribute to his dad. He wanted to be like him more than I knew and was beginning to show that in little ways. But you also took that away from us, when you ran that red light.
Joe always drove safely too. He always had on his seat belt, and surprisingly as a young man, he maintained the speed limit. He liked cars, too. Muscle cars he called them. But yet in spite of the stereotype of young males who drive, Joseph drove with caution and control. But he didn’t see you coming that day. Oh, how I wish he did! You killed him when you made that decision to run that red light.
You see I have a picture that plays over and over in my mind. I see Joseph as he turned that roundabout to go across Amboy Road, on his way to work, thinking about what he would do once he got there, clueless as to what would happen… and then I see you, (somehow wishing I could go back in time to tell him), speeding through that red light--- and slam!
That is the running picture that keeps going through my mind almost every time I close my eyes and I remember Joseph. And sometimes it plays even when my eyes are open.
Joseph was on his way to work. He was on his way to work. It was not even 10:00 in the morning. He was three short minutes away--- and slam!
Cut off--- from life--- from me, from his family. You did that.
What were you thinking? What was going on in your mind? Were you distracted? Were you on medication? Were you supposed to wear glasses? Were you on your cell phone… oh no, were you texting!?
The red light was as clear as day. There are four them going across that bridge, sitting just above the road so that they can clearly be seen… How could you have missed them? All four… really? Oh how I wish there was a camera there! Reasoning tells me you had to see them. And when you did you made a conscious decision to go through them… anyway.
Are you not aware of what you did? You hit someone. You killed someone. It wasn’t an animal. It wasn’t a squirrel. It was my son. His name was Joseph.
Joseph was 22. You are 74. You lived your life. His, was only beginning. And yet you walk away with “minor” injuries, the newspaper reported, not even enough to warrant attention. You actually made the decision to decline medical treatment. My son was not given that choice. He died.
And yet YOU stay quiet. YOU don’t feel a need to reach out. YOU don’t express YOUR thoughts, YOUR sympathy.
Every time, every single time, that I need to go to the supermarket, I have to pass through that intersection. Just to get a few groceries, I have to live through the longest nightmare of my life. That running picture of what happened in the middle of that intersection. Just to pick up simple things, like ice cream, I have to live through the reality of knowing my son will never tell me “don’t forget the chocolate syrup, Mom” again.
Every time that my husband goes to his office he goes through that same intersection. It takes him less than 15 minutes to get there. And that same picture plays again for him… slam! And not only does he have to deal with the harsh reality of Joseph not being at home, he has to deal with it at work. Joseph lived with him and Joseph worked with him. And you took that away when you ran through that red light.
One morning as I prayed and asked the Lord to cover my children… I actually included Joseph. Now every time, every day as I pray, I pause when I call out their names, reminded that one is missing. I can no longer ask the Lord to cover Joseph, because Joseph is not here. And then the scene plays again and I have to suffer through the pain all over again, and the thought of the pain he must have felt when you ran that red light.
And you go on. Free. Able to walk the streets, able to go to the supermarket, able to cross that intersection, able to enjoy your life, the holidays, your family, go on vacation and live out the rest of your days. While my son can’t and neither can we… at least not without the reminder. Slam!
That’s where it ends every time I remember Joseph. Good times, fun times… slam! You killed him.
It came to an end and we are forced to deal with a reality we did not sign up for and certainly did not see coming.
I don’t know why I’m writing to you. What I want most of all are answers. Not that they really would make a difference, nor make any sense… But did you consider at least for one moment, what it might mean if you ran through a red light? Did you hesitate… for a second?
Traffic laws are made for a reason…. To protect…. lives. To protect someone’s son. You broke the law and you took away Joseph’s protection. You stole his life when you made the decision to run the red light.
I really don’t know what else to say to you. I tell myself I want to hate you, but the love of God won’t let me. I want so much to see you locked up, to make you pay, to make you suffer, to make your family suffer, as we do… but even that doesn’t quite feel right. I can’t say I want revenge, because it’s not mine to get. And it won’t bring my Joseph back. I know it won’t.
But I do want justice. I want Joseph to be vindicated. I want your license taken away, if it needs to be. I want every person who reaches the age of 65 (myself when I get there, included) to be tested every year, in order to renew their license. I want you to be punished for the wrongful act you committed… the reckless decision you made as you sped through that red light. You chose to do that… you chose to break the law and for that you need to be punished.
And I want to hear you say I’m sorry. You don’t have a right to remain silent in this case. And you owe us at least that much. You owe at least that much, to Joseph.
But you know what, even if you don’t, I forgive you. Not because I want to, but because I have to, realizing that not forgiving you will allow you to steal another part of my life, and remain silent in doing so, as the man who not only killed my son, but continues to kill me in the process.
Can’t say that I expect to hear from you. Don’t even know if you’ll ever see this letter, but I yet had to write it. For Joseph.
It’s been five Fridays since we’ve buried our son Joseph. And it’s been some kind of rollercoaster ride. Every day that has passed by, new questions arise. Why, Lord? How could You allow such a thing? It wasn’t supposed to end this way— And as each question gets ignored, seemingly, another question surfaces. With still no answers, we are left in the silence.
Locked in the imaginations of our mind, of what would have, could have, and certainly should have been, life goes on as we scramble to pick up the pieces in silence.
22 years old he was. Just realizing his purpose. Silence.
The dreams, the visions, the promises You made. Silence.
Friends have come— some who we thought were not.
Some who we believed were— only to discover hidden plans and agendas, promises made and broken. It’s something to find out that you do not mean to some, what you thought you did. Silence.
So many emotions. How can you be so high on life one day, only to hit rock bottom the next… again. Silence.
How can you be surrounded by so many at one time, never feeling alone, never left alone… not for one solitary moment… and become virtually invisible the next. Even more silence.
Phone rang at some points so much we could have been an emergency call center. The pain is still here— even more evident than it was before, why the silence? And why so loud? Nothing has changed. He’s still gone and we still have no answers.
Notification among notification, back to back, a buzz, a vibrate, a ding... constant and consistent. Yearning for that now. Trying to find some new sense of normal, holding onto those things--- the only things that still seem to be normal… a hairdresser appointment, a Mani and a Pedi… church. So simple. Feels somewhat familiar and sane for a moment, but somehow screams that it’s not. Loud.
Are you running…? I hear. Doesn’t matter… No matter how far I do, still can’t escape the silence. It beckons me. Calling out my name. “I’m still here!!!!” It says. “Don’t you hear me?” It’s sure loud enough to hear.
Answering it, I hold on. We hold on. We still have each other, I think. Always have, always will. Wasn’t that the way it was? Then I’m reminded …we still have each other… until we don’t.
Questions come once again. More silence. So very loud. Why are you screaming at me? I say.
It doesn’t even make sense. Is there such a thing as loud silence? I ask. Sometimes something is missing in your life so strong, that the mere absence of it, speaks louder than its presence. Absence… silence. In absence, there is silence. Talk about deep calling unto deep. The silence is speaking so loud, so deep, it’s deafening. Sometimes I can’t hear myself think.
When will it end, Lord? How do we go on Lord?
You answer… Be still.
Be still and know I am God.
You are God. But I still don’t understand, Lord.
How did You make me to contend with horses, but I can’t contend with silence?
Even tried to go shopping and it just doesn’t do it anymore. In the midst of a noisy and active mall, all I hear is silence, still. And it’s so very loud.
Be still. You said again.
Still your heart. Still your mind. That is where I am.
Remember Elijah and how He looked for Me. It was silent for him, too.
I am God… And I am in the still small voice of your silence.
Wait for Me there. And hear Me. It’s not so loud where I Am.
June 5, 2015, that was the day my heart died. On June 5th, I buried my son. Oh, the official service was not until the 12th but the burial took place way before that.
You see, when I received the news that my son, Joseph, had been in a car accident, immediately my heart stopped. I know, because I felt it when I happened to look up from the phone call and saw the expression on my daughter’s face, as she watched mine. And when it stopped, I stepped out of myself, and saw it pounding on the floor, placed at the bottom of her feet as if it was snatched from me and put there for my eyes to see. Then I picked it up as I found the strength to hold her and pray that all would be well with my son. But I lost it again.
As I made my way scrambling through the Chicago airport back to New Jersey, I had to go back a couple of times, to pick my heart up again, as I had left it in a few places: the cab on the ride to the airport, the restroom stall, on the seat in the airport lounge, and even on the airplane. Then when I arrived in New Jersey, after experiencing the longest plane ride of my life (although just short of an hour and a half). Somehow when your heart stops, so does time, it seems, or takes longer to pass, however you want to look at it. But when I arrived, I had to pick it up again, because I needed the strength to grab my luggage from the baggage claim.
I waited for a friend to pick me up and dropped my heart there at the terminal a couple of times, only to pick it up when she arrived and I embraced her as if I wanted to steal her heart and the life it had in it. Only I could feel her heart was broken too.
All I wanted to do was to see him--- if I could just…. see him. If I could just lay my hands on him and tell him I love him and how much I need him---- how much we all did… he will be okay, I thought, in spite of the prognosis I heard from the doctor, telling me from a New Jersey hospital that I needed to start my way back home from Chicago.
I saw my husband first, and as I saw the pain in his eyes, my spirit ran to hug him, and as I did I realized I didn’t hear his heart either. Apparently both of ours had stopped.
And so I picked mine up again and asked to see my son. If only I could….
As I walked into that room, 312A, they said… my heart stopped again as I saw wire by wire, plug on top of plugs, needles side by side, and machines, machines everywhere. And I picked it up again as I reached out to lay my hands on him. If only I could… I reached out to hug him (be careful, somebody said, “watch out for the wires.”). I held his hand, I kissed his forehead and I gathered up the strength to speak to him, words of life, (the Word is your life, I heard). “Joseph, it’s your mother. I know you can hear me. I’m back from Chicago. You can wake up now… You don’t have to be afraid, it’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay. We’re all here with you.” And I felt my heart flutter as I saw his eyelids jump---- “He hears me,” I said aloud. “Lord, just open his eyes.” I stood there for a while, unaware of anyone else, continuing to speak life to him, speak life over him, recalling the things he had done--- then the words he had spoken to me, last, “I love you mom.” And I felt my heart race as I remembered, my last words to him, “I love you too, Joe.”
The doctors came in and I chose to leave the room, taking my heart with me as I went into the private waiting room they had given us to “wait” this out. If that was possible, I remember thinking. In that room I saw faces of hope, faces of belief, faces of love--- I saw some who had their hearts ripped out as well, trying desperately to hold on to it, as I mustered every piece that was in me to speak words of hope to them. We shared stories of God’s goodness, how He healed this one, how He saved that one. What He was doing in the life of another, and then I told how I was diagnosed once and shared a blog about it--- Diagnosis: Devil Is a Liar--- there would be a part 2 to that blog I said…
That was the longest night of my life--- as I went back into 312A several times--- heart stopping --- heart revived with every movement of his eyes--- “It’s involuntary” they said. But I believed otherwise. I saw a raised eyebrow, I said. I even saw a teardrop. Then how could that be, I asked. It’s involuntary, they said again. And my heart would stop again.
How could I keep dying and come back so many times, I thought to myself. “Lord how many times can my heart stop and I keep on living?”
I found myself in the bathroom and the questions came--- and the doubt came, along with the whispers--- “every day Joseph would not leave your presence without you laying your hand on his forehead and praying over him--- every day. Every day, he would rub your stomach, call you “big mama” or some other nickname he happened to come up with; every day, he would touch your hair, hug you from behind or simply say, “I love you mom… can I have a hug?” And I interrupted my thoughts with “Lord I WILL NOT bury my son!” And my heart would stop again… “I got him…” “Keep believing,” I heard Him say.
I mustered up my strength after my heart got going again and I would go and look at him, speaking life to Him, again… holding his hand, kissing his forehead (carefully, not to touch the wires, I was told). Refusing to see what I saw with my natural eyes, but each time that machine alarmed, forced to see what was there. And my heart would stop again.
Friends came and as much as we resisted, convinced us to go home and rest. Not much of that happened, even though it should have been easy to do so, when your heart has been ripped from your soul.
Getting up the next morning was easy since I never really slept, and we made our way back to the hospital, hearts in hand, as heavy as they were to carry. Placed it back in my body as I saw friends who needed to be encouraged… but as I saw my Joe, lifeless, I lost it once again. But quickly picked it up to let that nurse have it for not watching over him, for not tending to him as the prior one did. “You are not by his side,” I told her, “you are NOT doing all you can… the other nurse never left him, and the second that alarm went off, she adjusted whatever needed adjusting.” And my heart stopped again, as she tried to explain “But I am.” Yet I refused to believe her, choosing instead to pick up my heart where I left it and continue to share it with my Joe… “Joe, you can hear me… that’s enough now, you can open your eyes…” recalling and quoting every Scripture, every Word that I have ever heard before concerning, life, living, healing and the promises of God. “You shall not die, Joe, but live to declare the glory of the Lord.” That’s what I said to him.
Hours went by and we were summoned into 312A again, and the doctor said, after performing the three tests to determine if your son was alive, he failed all three. Then the words that no mother (or father) ever wants to hear came out of that doctor’s mouth… I’m sorry, your son is dead.
And so was my heart. It completely stopped. I believed I died too in that moment. I stopped living. As I heard my husband wail, I quickly picked it up as I comforted him. I don’t even know if I had the strength to let out a whimper. I just remember thinking about all the talks I had with God. “This wasn’t supposed to be God. You said you had him. You said to keep the faith.” And since I couldn’t rely on God, I had to shelter my family from the hurt myself. So I kept my heart beating this time, for them, for Joseph. My husband and I gathered what strength we could from each other and we went and told our daughters and those in that waiting room with us… Grief shouted from the rooftop, piercing sounds, wails, screams, was all I heard in that room. No one was immune, that I saw, except me, as I just had a yearning to comfort and support. I hugged, I grabbed, as I felt my heart trying to get away from me again, but it didn’t.
And in that moment, I felt a peace that I know only God could have given me, as I felt my heart lock into place. “I got you,” He said. “Breathe. Just remember to breathe.” And those were and have been the very words I spoke to others who have loved Joseph, who have come to me since, distraught and broken. Breathe. Just remember to breathe. Inhale, exhale.
June 5th, that was the day. I buried my son. And I buried my heart. June 5th that was the day, God gave me a new one. That’s what He said when He told me to breathe.
This new heart still hurts though. It doesn’t quite fit like the old one does, but it works. Each time I am reminded of what happened on that day, it tries to escape my body, but God wrapped it so tightly in His love that it can’t. And I remember to breathe. “Just breathe,” God said.
June 5th, that was the day. The day my Joe died. Yeah, June 5th, that was the day my heart died. And my life will never be the same. “But it will get better,” God said, “as I remember to breathe.”