What do you say to a woman’s whose daughter has been murdered? Three times I’ve been faced with this question, and three times I didn’t know what say.
Today I looked down into a casket into the face a young woman, 19 years-old strangled to death by her ex-boyfriend who refused to let go. Her mother was my neighbor growing up and I still see her when she comes back on the block. Today words escape me as my sister and I both hug her inside the funeral home where her daughter lay in state.
Earlier this week, I am driving down Halsted and as I stop for the light at 111th, I roll down the window to a familiar face—the mother of a former student killed in a fight over the summer. Because I didn’t make it to the funeral this is the first time I’ve seen her since her daughter died.
“You know Marquita got killed,” she says to me.
I nod first giving myself time to look for the words. “Yes. And I was very hurt and saddened when I heard about it. How are the girls?”
“They’re ok,” her lips say, but her eyes and the so-so gesture with her hands say otherwise.
“How are you, I ask?
“How’s my girl? She still reading?”
She smiles. “Yes, she is. I’m about to go get them now.”
I nod and make my turn. What else is there for me to say? Twice in the same week near the anniversary of a friend’s death who also died at the hands of another. I remember like it was yesterday as it plays out vividly in my mind.
It is a breezy, over cast November morning. The screams of children running around on the playground punctuate the air. My school bag thrown across one arm, my purse in the other hand as I walk into the building, and head to the office to start my day passing out per functionary “Good mornings,” It is no different than any other day. Punch in, retrieve my mail and my keys from my mailbox and turn to look directly into the face of my dead friend’s mother. My world—in that moment—stops as I try to digest what is happening. Almost four years to the date when the police found Traci Todd’s dismembered body in the Beaubien Woods forest preserve, I am looking in to the face of her mother.
“I know you,” I say. “I used to be friends with your daughter Traci. We used to work together at Newsclip”.
A smile of recognition replaces the question that had just marked her face. She doesn’t remember me, but she knows I must have known Traci because I mentioned Newsclip. It was the last job Traci had before she became a flight attendant, and it was the last job in my other life before becoming a teacher.
“How are you I asked?” not knowing if it is the right thing to say. If there is such a thing as the right thing. Her daughter made headlines after being brutally murdered. It was nearly four years to the date. What else could I say?
“I’m doing ok,” she says nodding. “You know this is a bad time of the year for me. Thanksgiving is always bad because that’s when they found her.
It’s my turn to nod.
“How’s your other daughter?” I said steering the conversation away from Traci.
“And her boys, she has two boys right?”
She nods again, that same painful smile glued to her face. “You know Toddy’s little girl goes here. She’s in Mrs. Carol’s kindergarten class.”
What do you say to a woman’s whose daughter has been murdered? Pray that you never have to know.