At the last meeting of my support group, I watched members fill the room, making a point to say hello to new members and hugging those who were close to me. One person I always looked forward to seeing was Matt, especially now that he had been able to open up to Courtney. The news made me so happy. If anyone deserved to be happy, it was them.
“So, Mia, are you excited about going to New York?” he asked. I was afraid to look up. I was feeling so much anxiety from being excited, and also scared.
“Mia, I know Leo would want you to be happy.”
I fidgeted slightly in my chair and began to bite my bottom lip. “Mia, are you okay?”
“I am okay, Matt. I am just scared to tell my parents.” He tapped my shoulder. “I am sure they will be fine.” I frowned. “I hope so.”
“Trust me, Mia. They will understand.”
I began to feel a bit better, “You are right.”
“Besides, Leo wouldn’t want you to lose that opportunity.” I fought back tears.
He gave me a slight nudge on my back again as we got ready for the meeting.
Fifteen minutes later the meeting began, and a wave of anxiety washed over me. Thankfully, I remembered to grab a water bottle and took a few sips to help calm my nerves.
The main sponsor for our group came in and began the meeting with the Serenity Prayer. We all bowed our heads and recited the prayer together.
“Good evening, everyone. Today I am going to ask for volunteers.”
I am not sure what came over me, but before I realized it I was raising my hand.
“Mia Gerard, right?”
“Yes,” I said while my voice let out a small crack of nervousness. “Okay,” said the main sponsor, whose name was Mitchell Davis.
Mitchell had been through so much, losing his wife to a drunk driver five years ago. He wanted to do something to honor her and so he began our local support group: ”Divine Mercy Support Group.” It was attached to our local church.
I almost regretted my decision to speak. But as I looked around me I knew this was the time to do it.
“You can do this, Mia,” he whispered.
I inhaled and exhaled slowly as I got up and walked to the front of the room. It felt a bit like déjà vu. Suddenly, I recalled standing in front of the crowd at Leo’s funeral and how emotional I became. My heart raced and my hands, as usual were sweaty. Here I stood in front of a crowd of about 100 people, and now I am about to speak of Leo. I am hoping that this time I don’t break and can keep myself together.
I take another jagged breath. “Good evening. My name is Mia Gerard.”
“Hello, Mia,” the crowd said in unison.
I smiled and looked down at my feet. “Well, I have to admit I am a bit surprised I raised my hand, so you will have to be patient with me.”
“It’s okay, Mia. Take all the time you need,” says Mitchell. “Wow, okay.” I tried to hold back my tears.
“I have to say this is the first time I have spoken about Leo in a long while. The last time I attempted to do so, I was a mess. I even passed out. Okay, let me begin by saying Leo Dancy was the love of my life. Losing him has been incredibly painful. For the last six months, I have been trying to make sense of it all, and it still hasn’t sunk in. I know we are all here for the same reason. We may have each lost the person we loved through different circumstances. However, we are all here to try to make sense of this horrible pain. At least, that is the feeling I get each time I come here.”
A stab of grief hits me in the stomach, and I placed a hand up to stop it. “Wow, this is really difficult. I am trying so hard to keep it together!”
Mitchell stood. “Take it easy, Mia.”
“Yes, Mia. We are here,” calls out another person from the crowd.
Okay, Mia. Stay focused
I looked at Matt. He was trying to be brave and didn’t want me to see him cry.
“Okay, as I said, losing Leo has been something of a nightmare. But I have to add I was also angry. I just don’t think it was fair. He had his whole life ahead of him. There was so much Leo was meant to do. He turned 18 a week after graduation, and then he was killed. How is that right? Well, I say this is not okay! Leo was going to go to the University of Michigan. He had already been accepted. He wanted to be a doctor. Then, in an instant, he was gone. I’m trying to understand why all this happened, but it seems unreal! Oh, when I think about the person who caused it all, I just want to scream!”
The room got so quiet you could hear a pin drop. As I looked around, I noticed I had everyone’s attention. I carried on and tried to fight my nerves.
“Yes, when I think about the guy who caused this awful accident, I want to scream so loud! It angered me, too. How he was not thinking and was too busy texting and driving! Come on! He was negligent. Then he hit Leo’s car, and both Leo and Matt were injured.”
I could hear Matt’s cries from within the crowd. I am working hard to compose myself. Already, my voice sounds a bit broken.
“Here, take this,” says one of the girls in the front row.
I smiled at her and grabbed the tissue from her hand. “Thank you.” She nodded. “You’re welcome.”
“When I learned of Leo’s death, it was like a bad nightmare. I just could not shake a bad feeling in the air all that day. I tried very much to ignore it, but it just would not leave me. Then, my best friend Courtney called me. She had seen an accident on the news. She said she thought maybe both Leo and Matt had gotten hurt. I thought she was being overly dramatic, and I even poked fun at the fact she actually thought it was our guys who had gotten hurt.”
I paused again. “Well…She was right. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I remember hearing Matt’s voice on the other end of the call when I dialed Leo’s number. Then, I suffered a panic attack and passed out on the floor. My parents found me. Then Leo’s parents came and confirmed he was hurt. I begged them and my parents to let me go and see him. I wanted to be by his side. I have to say we never expected the news we received that day.”
“When we got to the hospital, the doctor on call told us Leo was gone. He had sustained very extensive injuries and was declared brain dead upon arrival. We were devastated. His body had been badly burned, as well, and he had to be cremated. Then I asked his parents if I could have a moment alone with him. Those last moments I spent with Leo were the most excruciating. He was gone. I knew he couldn’t hear me, but I grabbed his hand and told him I would love him forever. From that moment, nothing has felt the same without him. It has been so hard to breathe and get out of bed, but I finally made it a point to live. I felt bad about the pain I was causing my parents and my friends. So, I decided to try and push forward.”
“I think I am, slowly but surely. I have not felt like myself in months, and I am thankful to you guys for helping me through all this. I thought I was handling everything as best I could, but about two months ago I received a letter from the New York Dance Academy of Performing Arts. I thought that was all in the past. You see, I applied to several schools of the arts and the one in New York was among the ones I really wanted to go to. But then I heard back from The New York Dance Academy. Of course, I never expected to lose Leo. I was too distraught, and I let them know I was deferring. Now, after thinking it over and not knowing what to do, I have decided to go. Although I am still feeling a bit guilty about it.”
Once I walked back to my seat, I began crying uncontrollably. “It’s going to be okay,” Matt said in a soothing voice, while holding
me in comfort.
“We are here for you, Mia,” the crowd chimed in. I wiped the tears away. “Thank you all.”
“Yes, thank you, Mia,” said Mitchell. Then he walked up to the front and looked right at me. “First of all, I am grateful you decided to open up to us today. I know this took so much out of you, but I wanted to tell you that all those feelings you were having are perfectly normal. Leo is gone, and his death was tragic and unfair.
You have every right to feel angry, sad, and confused. But I am glad you are trying to push forward for yourself. Now you are feeling like you are at a crossroads. You are in the last stage of grief.”
“Now, all of you here know very well that acceptance does not mean in any way, shape, or form that you are okay with the loss. No, this is not what acceptance means. It just means that you know now that your loved one—in this case, Mia, Leo—is gone physically and is not coming back. Now you are trying to create a new life for you and taking the opportunity to go to New York is a chance to learn to start over. It is not about feeling guilty. I think this will also help you in your quest to heal emotionally, and I know you will get there.”
As he said this, I knew he was right. I am so glad to have found this group and I am happy to have opened up.
“See, I knew you could do this,” says Matt. “Thanks, Matt.”
Now to let Dean Array, and then my parents, know what I’ve decided.