Not a Hurdle but a Letter to the Illinois State Legislature in Support of Constitutional Amendments to the Victim Bill of Rights

27 March 2012

Dear Illinois Legislator:

I write in support of the pending House Joint Resolution constitutional amendment to ILCON Art. 1, Sec. 8.1, known as Crime Victim Rights.

My perspective is different than most. For twenty-three years I practiced Criminal Defense law in three states, Ohio, New Mexico and Arizona. My son was to join me in that practice and all was going to plan until October 17, 2010 when he was the victim of a robbery gone bad; two young men decided they wanted the lap top computer he was carrying home from the college library. They shot him, killed him and they took his computer, leaving him dead on the black asphalt.

Within thirty days of his death, the Tempe Arizona Police Department arrested two men on First Degree Murder charges. That was in November, 2010 and as of the date of this writing, March 2012, only one case has resolved. The remaining case, a death penalty case, continues its plodding course.

So, out of the clear blue sky, I suddenly found myself, along with the rest of my family, in a criminal justice courtroom, but this time as victims. Not alleged victims, as I so callously referred to victims in the past; real victims of real bad men.

The death of my son, and my continued experience with the Criminal Justice System as an attorney and a “victim,” has caused me to re-evaluate many long-held philosophical positions, inside and outside the practice of law. And, slowly, as I viewed the courtroom from the perspective of the “victim’s bench,” I experienced a fundamental shift in my perception of the role of the victim in the Criminal process.

Prior to my son’s death, I believed the victim played no role and was wholly irrelevant to any proceeding in the Court. What I now conclude, through reflection, is not only is there room for the victim in the courtroom, but that “fundamental fairness” dictates that the victim play a small role in the proceedings; to at least give voice to their concerns regarding their own safety and the safety of the family unit. The “natural law” that guides constitutional principles does not lay fallow throughout time; it evolves with our society. Just as the law regarding the rights of the accused changed in response to government excess, so now must the law react to protect the victim from the excess of today’s criminal defendant. It is sad, but true.

The criminal process for victims, I have found, is a cold and sterile world of its own, whose inhabitants are conditioned to be unconcerned about the rights or interests of crime victims. My family and my son appear no more than an afterthought, introduced at the beginning of the hearing, and silent thereafter.

In addition to being acquainted with the courtroom from a new perspective, I have become involved with, or have met, scores of other victims of crime. They are a silent group, isolated by their own grief, by their fear of the defendant, by their own guilt and by their ignorance of the criminal process. And, very early in the process, they realize that they are relevant to the criminal process only in so far as they are relevant to the crime itself.

None of this is to say that the Legislature should attack the Constitutional Rights of the accused. In point of fact, the House Joint Resolution proposing the Constitutional Amendment to the Illinois Victim Bill of Rights is a very good example of striking a balance between these twin concerns; the rights of the accused and the safety and well-being, both spiritually and physically, of the crime victim.

For example, the proposed amendment at Section 8.1(a)(10) does not compromise, in any way, the right to reasonable bail. Instead, the proposal recognizes the right to bail but simply puts into law what Judges should do routinely anyway; consider the danger posed to the victim by the defendant when considering the terms of release after arrest and conviction. This, in no way, limits the Courts power to release the accused or the convicted, it simply gives the victims safety required consideration.

These proposed amendments to The Victim Bill of Rights grant victims of a crime a presence in the courtroom and in the process, because otherwise, we are just ghosts, spectators of an incoherent system, outsiders to a process designed to minimize or completely ignore our pain; a mute with something to say but no way to express ourselves, not even sign language. Victims do not want to interfere with the system, but over two hundred years, the Criminal process has evolved so skewed against any fair treatment of the victim, that, at times, the Criminal process feels more like a play than reality; that the case number represents nothing, least of all, my son, and all the sons and daughters who have been felled, through no fault of their own, victims who end up simply a corpus delecti, whose life is reduced to being no more than an element of a crime, a matter of proof.

The balance of the proposed amendments are designed to require the Courts and the Prosecutors to simply tell the Victim’s what is going on in a file. It seems to me that it is a fundamental right of human existence to be aware of, and to know about, proceedings that directly affect one’s future, one’s security, one’s existence. How can one deny the basic tenet that when a third party is making decisions that directly affect your welfare, and the welfare of your immediate family, that one should at least be informed and permitted presence to voice one’s concerns.

I can also tell you that I utilized Arizona’s version of the Victim Bill or Rights simply to draw the Court’s attention to the threatening behavior of a defendant and his family in a manner that hid their actions from the Court and lawyers involved. I wrote a motion and asked the Court to end the behavior which put everyone on notice as well. The defendant’s step-father was eventually banned from the courtroom and me and my family are escorted to our vehicles.

Without the Victim Bill of Rights there was no way to bring this behavior to the Court’s attention except through the prosecutors, who have other things to do. I took up no more than five minutes of court time.

I have practiced criminal defense law for more than two decades. I know the importance, in a free society, of protecting the rights of the accused. I know that nothing in the proposed amendments will infringe on those rights. And I now know, from the vantage of the father of a murdered son, that a free society can no longer tolerate the unfairness with which crime victims are treated. I urge you to pass the amendments and let the People of Illinois, through their vote, have their say and I would hazard to guess, it will pass.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.

Sincerely,

Daniel Joseph Marco

father to Zachary Joseph Marco, deceased

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Posted in bereavement, Crime Victim Bill of Rights, grief, grief murdered child, grief recovery, grieving parent, inspiration, life after death of child, loss of child, parent of murdered child, victim of crime bill of rights, victims and the courtroom, victims of crime | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Not a Hurdle, A Draft of My Speech to the Maricopa County Victim Assistance Division

LESSONS OF A CRIME VICTIM

YOU ALL ARE VICTIM ADVOCATES FOR A REASON, I GUESS, AND I DOUBT THAT REASON IS MONEY.

I WORKED FOR THE STATE ONCE MYSELF; THE BENEFITS AND RETIREMENT ARE GOOD BUT THE ACTUAL PAY CHECK SUCKED.

ANYWAY, I SUPPOSE SOME OF YOU TOOK THIS JOB OUT OF A SINCERE DESIRE TO JUST HELP PEOPLE. OTHERS OF YOU MAY HAVE JUST FALLEN INTO IT AND DECIDED YOU LIKED IT. I SUSPECT SOME BECOME VICTIM ADVOCATES AFTER AFTER HAVING BEEN THEMSELVES, A VICTIM OF CRIME.

I SUPPOSE THERE ARE AS MANY REASONS AS THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE ROOM. SOME GOOD AND ALTRUISTIC, SOME MAYBE CYNICAL. BUT WHATEVER IT IS, EVERY MORNING YOU WAKE UP AND CHOOSE TO BE HERE.

I DID NOT.

IT IS NO STRETCH TO SAY, I’D RATHER MY SON WAS ALIVE AND I’D RATHER HAVE MY OLD LIFE BACK, THAN TO BE HERE TODAY.

I’D RATHER BE BACK WORKING IN OBSCURITY AND PISSED OFF ABOUT ALL THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE THAT TEND TO IRRITATE US ALL; FLAT TIRES, HAIRCUTS, THE CARDINALS AND THE BROWNS. THINGS THAT SEEMED SO IMPORTANT NOT SO LONG AGO, NOW SEEM SO TRIVIAL.

YES, EVEN WITH ALL ITS IRRITATIONS, I’D RATHER HAVE MY OLD LIFE BACK, MY LIFE OF AMBIGUITY. WHEN NO ONE CARED WHAT I HAD TO SAY.

BUT, HERE I AM, TALKING TO A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHOSE FUNCTION IS TO BE A LIAISON BETWEEN A CRIME VICTIM, AND THE COURT AND THE PROSECUTOR.

I, ON THE OTHER HAND, AM IN A PLACE I DON’T WANT TO BE, TALKING TO PEOPLE I DO NOT WANT TO MEET (UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES) JUST TRYING TO MAKE A POINT.

SO WHAT IS THAT POINT?

I AM JUST GOING TO TRY AND GIVE YOU A PERSPECTIVE. IT’S THE PERSPECTIVE OF AN ORDINARY GUY THRUST INTO AN EXTRA-ORDINARY SITUATION. A GUY WHOSE SON, WHO WAS DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG, WAS MURDERED. A GUY WHO HELPED CATCH THE PUNKS THAT MURDERED HIS SON AND WHO WAS A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY.

WITH THAT AS BACKGROUND, I AM GOING TO TALK ABOUT GRIEF, A SUBJECT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT.

SO, HERE WE GO

ALL OF YOU, I AM SURE, WORK ON CASES INVOLVING MURDER, RAPE, ASSAULT, ROBBERY, BURGLARY, AND THEFT.

EACH ONE OF THOSE CRIMES, CAUSES ITS VICTIM TO EXPERIENCE SOME LEVEL OF GRIEF, NONE MORE OR LESS INTENSE THAN THE OTHER.

GRIEF, UNDERSTAND, IS RELATIVE. THE WORSE THING TO HAPPEN TO SOMEONE IS THE WORSE THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE, PERIOD. THERE EXISTS NO GRIEF OLYMPICS. THERE IS NO GOLD MEDAL OF GRIEF. I LOST A SON, IF SOMEONE ELSE LOST TWO CHILDREN IS THEIR GRIEF GREATER THAN MINE? NO. IF SOMEONE IS RAPED, IS THEIR GRIEF NOT AS GREAT AS MINE? NO.

THE WORLD OF GRIEF, BY ITS OWN NATURE, HAS TO BE A WORLD WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, WITHOUT DEGREES, AND WITHOUT CLASS DISTINCTIONS. IT IS A LONELY PLANET, WITHOUT PETS, WITHOUT PEOPLE, WITHOUT CARE.

AND THE MOMENT YOU CAST JUDGEMENT, YOU MINIMIZE YOUR CLIENT’S GRIEF AND TRUST ME, WE PICK UP ON THAT IMMEDIATELY.

EACH OF YOUR CLIENTS IS UNIQUE. THEY ARE BORN OF THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE.

WHY?

BECAUSE THEIR TOOL BOX, THE THINGS THEY USE TO COPE, IS THEIR OWN, FILLED WITH THEIR PERSONAL HISTORY; HISTORICAL TEACHINGS FROM THEIR PARENTS, THEIR GRANDPARENTS, THEIR SIBLINGS THEIR TEACHERS, AUNTS AND UNCLES. WHAT FEW TOOLS THEY DO HAVE TO DEAL WITH THEIR GRIEF IS ALSO SHAPED BY THEIR OWN PERCEPTIONS AS THE OBSERVER; SOMETIMES WARPED, SOMETIMES NOT.

GRIEF, LIKE A FINGERPRINT, IS UNIQUE TO THE INDIVIDUAL. AND UNLESS YOU HAVE AN IDEA ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON INSIDE YOUR CLEINTS HEAD, YOU WILL REMAIN PERPLEXED, INEFFICIENT, AND YOU WILL BE A BURDEN TO YOUR CLIENT. I HEAR IT ALL THE TIME.

SO, ANYWAY, EACH OF THOSE CRIMES, I MENTIONED EARLIER, MURDER, RAPE ASSAULT, ETC, CAUSES A FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT IN THE VICTIM’S BELIEF SYSTEM AND IN THE VICTIM’S WORLD VIEW.

EACH OF THOSE CRIMES, OR ANY CRIME THAT IS IN ANYWAY PERSONAL IN NATURE, RAISES HUGE QUESTIONS IN THE VICTIM’S MIND REGARDING THE OVERALL GOOD OF MANKIND, THEIR PLACE IN THE WORLD, THE SECURITY OF THEIR UNIVERSE, THE TRUSTWORTHINESS OF OTHERS, AND, SURPRISINGLY, THEIR OWN GUILT ASSOCIATED WITH THE CRIME ITSELF.

EVERY TRUE VICTIM, WHEN YOU MEET THEM, HAS JUST BEEN, AT A QUANTUM PARTICLE LEVEL, CHANGED.

AND THEY ARE STRUGGLING WITH THAT FACT. AND THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO VERBALIZE IT. AND THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO HANDLE IT. AND THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO RECOGNIZE IT.

NOW, ADD TO THIS MIX THE FOREIGN UNIVERSE OF THE COURT ROOM, AND THE INCREDIBLY INEFFICIENT AND COLD ARIZONA LEGAL PROCESS, AND YOU HAVE THE REAL POTENTIAL FOR PERSONAL CHAOS AND MAYHEM.

AND I AM SURE EACH OF YOU HAS WITNESSED IT.

AS VICTIM ADVOCATES, YOU STAND IN THE EYE OF THE STORM SITTING, NEXT TO A TEMPEST. YOUR FUNCTION IS TO BE THE SAFE HARBOR, THE PLACE WE, AS VICTIMS OF CRIME, CAN GO, FOR INFORMATION, FOR SUPPORT FOR GUIDANCE AND ASSURANCE.

THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS A VERY HEAVY BURDEN TO CARRY.

WE, AS VICTIMS, SIT IN THAT COURT ROOM NEXT TO YOU AND WE NOTICE EVERYTHING: EVERY LAUGH, EVERY SMILE, EVERY TURN AND NOD OF THE HEAD; EVERY HANDSHAKE, EVERY WHISPER, EVERY JOKE! OUR SENSES, ALL OF THEM ARE TUNED AND HEIGHTENED. WE SEE AND HEAR EVERYTHING.

AND WE EVALUATE, EVERYTHING, IN TERMS OF THREE LITTLE WORDS THAT FORM A SINGLE QUESTION:

DOES ANYONE CARE?

DOES ANYONE CARE?

DOES THE JUDGE CARE?

WHO CAN TELL? OTHER THAN THE ROTE RECITATION OF VICTIM RIGHTS AT THE BEGINNING OF EVERY HEARING, READ ALOUD LIKE A COP READING THE MIRANDA CARD TO A SUSPECT (I JUST GOTTA DO THIS) HE OR SHE DOES NOT SEEM OVERLY CONCERNED WITH OUR PRESENCE.

DOES THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY CARE?

DEFENSE ATTORNEYS, TODAY, SEEM TO WANT TO BE LIKED BY THEIR CLIENTS. THEY JOKE, THEY FIST BUMP. THEY SHAKE HANDS AND PUT THEIR ARMS AROUND THEIR CLIENTS. IT’S INSULTING. THESE ARE THINGS I NEVER, EVER DID. I NEVER LIKED MY CLIENTS AND THE LAST THING I WANTED WAS TO BE LIKED BY THEM. RESPECTED? YES. FEARED? YES. TRUSTED TO FIGHT? YES. BUT LIKED? NO. THEY WERE BAD PEOPLE.

TO ME THEY WERE SIMPLY A BUNDLE OF WALKING, TALKING CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. NOTHING MORE, NOTHING LESS.

A GOOD DEFENSE ATTORNEY HAS BRED OUT OF HIM OR HERSELF THAT ABILITY TO CARE ABOUT A VICTIM. PERIOD. TO FEEL IS A MISTAKE.

DOES THE PROSECUTOR CARE?

WELL, THEY HAVE A JOB TO DO. THEY EVALUATE THE CASE IN LIGHT OF FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCE THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT THE VICTIM OF THE CRIME MAY BE A SON OR DAUGHTER, OR A PARENT OR RELATIVE OF THE PERSON SITTING ON THE VICTIM’S SIDE OF THE COURT ROOM. THEY ARE CONCERNED WITH RULES AND PROCEDURES; NUMBERS LIKE RULE 8, RULE 15, RULE 15.1 THINGS THAT MAKE NO SENSE TO THE AVERAGE CRIME VICTIM. NUMBERS, IT SEEMS, HAVE REPLACED LATIN AS THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF THE COURTROOM. EITHER WAY, IT MAKES NO SENSE.

PROSECUTORS TEND TO BE FOCUSED ON THE TASK AT HAND. AND THEY HAVE LIMITED TIME BETWEEN HEARINGS AND EVENTS

BUT

I HAVE FOUND THAT THE PROSECUTORS DO, IN FACT, CARE; THEY JUST HAVE LITTLE TIME TO SHOW IT.

AND THEN THERE IS YOU. THE VICTIM ADVOCATES.

IN THE “DOES ANYONE CARE?” DEPARTMENT YOU HAVE A FUNNY ISSUE TO OVER COME; ONE YOU MAY NOT HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT.

TO A VICTIM, AND I HAVE TALKED TO QUITE A FEW, YOU ARE VIEWED AS BEING PAID TO CARE.

TO LOOK LIKE YOU CARE, IS YOUR JOB.

IN OTHER WORDS, RIGHT OFF THE BAT, YOU HAVE A PERCEIVED SINCERITY ISSUE TO OVERCOME, IF YOU WANT TO.

SO, YOU DO SOMETHING GOOD, AND THEY THINK, WELL, HE OR SHE IS GETTING PAID TO DO THAT.

IF YOU SCREW UP, MIS-STATE A COMMUNICATION, A VICTIM ASSUMES: “NOT EVEN MY VICTIM ADVOCATE CARES. I AM JUST A FILE, THEY THINK, I AM A NUMBER, AND ALL ANYONE WANTS IS FOR THE FILE TO CLOSE.”

YOURS IS A CLASSIC CONUNDRUM – A RIDDLE WITH NO ANSWER.

FOR EXAMPLE, A LAWYER, IS PAID TO WIN. WHEN WE WIN, THE CLIENT SAYS THAT’S WHAT I PAID YOU FOR, NOT THANK YOU. I SUSPECT THE SAME IS TRUE FOR A VICTIM ADVOCATE.

LET ME GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE OF THE TIGHTROPE YOU WALK.

IT IS A STATEMENT MADE BY MY OWN VICTIM ADVOCATE. IT WAS A PERFECTLY LINEAL, RATIONAL COMMENT, BUT ONE THAT PISSED ME OFF BECAUSE OF WHO I WAS WHEN THE STATEMENT WAS MADE AND WHERE I WAS AT IN MY GRIEF OVER THE LOSS OF MY SON.

IT SHOULDN’T HAVE MADE ME ANGRY, BUT IT DID, AND IT DESCRIBES HOW CLOSELY YOU NEED TO EVALUATE WHAT YOU SAY TO A CRIME VICTIM, A PERSON WHO LOOKS AT EVERYTHING, THROUGH THE GREY FOG OF GRIEF.

DURING ONE OF THE ENDLESS, BLOODY, STUPID, WASTEFUL AND INEFFICIENT STATUS HEARINGS IN ZACK’S CASE, OUR VICTIM ADVOCATE, COMMENTING ON THE _______ THAT FILLS THE DEFENDANT’S SIDE OF THE COURTROOM, LEANED OVER TO ME AND MADE A VERY INNOCENT AND INNOCUOUS STATEMENT:

I CAN’T WAIT TO HEAR ABOUT HIS (MR. HARPER’S) CHILDHOOD, YOU KNOW, TO UNDERSTAND HOW HE GOT HERE.”

THAT WAS IT! SOMETHING, I AM SURE, ALMOST ANYONE WOULD WONDER ABOUT.

MY REACTION? I DIDN’T SAY THIS, BUT I CERTAINLY THOUGHT IT:

WHO GIVES A F________ ABOUT THIS LITTLE SH_____’S CHILDHOOD. HE SHOT MY SON. I REALLY DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT HIS F_____________’IN CHILDHOOD!!!”

AND I CONCLUDED: “MY SON’S CASE IS SIMPLY A CLINICAL EXERCISE FOR HER.”

NOW, WHEN I SAY THIS OUT LOUD, IT SOUNDS SO STUPID TO MY INTELLECT, MY WESTERN MIND. BUT IT’S NOT. NEITHER THE VICTIM ADVOCATE’S STATEMENT NOR MY REACTION TO IT WAS WRONG OR STUPID, THEY BOTH ARE JUST TRUTH.

SO, WHAT DO YOU DO?

IN MY OPINION, ACCEPTING THE FACT THAT EVERY PERSON YOU ARE DEALING WITH IS EXPERIENCING GRIEF AND THAT GRIEF IS MULTI DIMENSIONAL AND NON-LINEAL WILL HELP YOU OUT IMMENSELY. IN MY OPINION, THAT UNDERSTANDING WILL HELP EXPLAIN YOUR CLIENTS REACTIONS TO SEEMINGLY MINOR THINGS.

IN MY OPINION:

FIRST, AND AGAIN, CAST AWAY ALL JUDGMENT. REMEMBER, THERE ARE NO SHADES OF GRIEF. I LOST A SON. THAT DOES NOT MEAN MY GRIEF IS GREATER THAN THE PERSON WHO LOST A GRANDFATHER OR GRANDMOTHER, OR A WOMAN WHO WAS RAPED; OR A PERSON WHOSE HOME WAS BURGLARIZED.

GRIEF CANNOT BE MINIMIZED. IT IS PERSONAL, IT IS PAINFUL AND IT IS BRUTAL IN A COURT ROOM.

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU THOUGHT, ABOUT A CLIENT, “MAN, HE NEEDS TO COUNT HIS BLESSINGS AND MOVE ON?”

NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!

UNDERSTAND

WE LIVE IN A WORLD CHAINED TO INTELLECT. OUR WORLD, AND I MEAN THE UNITED STATES, CANADA, BRITAIN AND WESTERN EUROPE, PREACHES LIBERTY AND FREE WILL BUT, WHAT I HAVE FOUND IS THAT, IN POINT OF FACT, WE ARE NOT FREE, WE ARE A SLAVE TO OUR OBSESSIVE NEED TO INTELLECTUALIZE EVERYTHING. THAT SUCCESS IS MEASURED IN MONEY. AND HAPPINESS? BY THE BOUNTY OF THINGS POSSESSED.

EVERYTHING, LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, CAN BE REDUCED TO A THOUGHT, A SCALE, A GRAPH, OR A BANK ACCOUNT.

YET,

THERE IS NO GRAPH, NO SCALE OR ANY BANK ACCOUNT THAT CAN EXPLAIN A COLD BLOODED MURDER, A RAPE, A ROBBERY OR AN ASSAULT. AND DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE HAVE THE HIGHEST MURDER RATES IN THE WORLD, MURDER , OR ANY OTHER PERSONAL AFFRONT, JUST DOES NOT FIT INTO WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

THAT’S WHY NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT. THAT’S WHY PEOPLE WHO GRIEVE ARE DRIVEN TO SUPPORT GROUPS CONTAINING ONLY LIKE INDIVIDUALS. WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT IT.

IN FACT

WE ARE MOST COMFORTABLE WITH PEOPLE WHO DISPLAY STOICISM, SOMEONE WHO SUFFERS QUIETLY AND SEEMS IMMUNE TO PLEASURE OR PAIN. THE STOIC, OUR HERO.

IT IS EVIDENT IN OUR MEDIA.

THINK ABOUT THIS:

BRUTAL CRIME IS SO COMMON NOWADAYS, THAT WE HARDLY GIVE IT A SECOND THOUGHT. IT BARELY EVEN MAKES THE NEWS! WE ACCEPT IT AS A GIVEN IN OUR SOCIETY; AS A PRICE WE PAY FOR FREEDOM. UNTIL IT HAPPENS TO US. AND WE ARE AS SURPRISED AS CAN BE WHEN, INEVITABLY, VIOLENCE TOUCHES OUR DOORSTEP.

SO, WHEN SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS, IT MAY BE A STRY ON THE NEWS AND AN ARTICLE IN THE PAPER BUT THE FACT THAT IT HAPPENS JUST FADES AWAY. AND WHAT WE ARE LEFT WITH IS AN EMPTY COURTROOM, FILLED WITH A FEW OF ITS PLAYERS, AND THE VICTIM SITS ON A BENCH, IN FRONT OF A SIGN THAT SAYS RESERVED FOR VICTIMS, ALONE, FORGOTTEN, A MERE DIGITAL DING IN GOOGLE.

YOU THINK THAT MAYBE, SOMETIMES, THAT’S HARD FOR YOUR CLIENT’S TO HANDLE?

YOU BET IT IS.

DO YOU THINK THEY’LL EVER MENTION IT? NOT A CHANCE.

NEXT, WE ARE THOUGHT THAT EVERYTHING IS LINEAR. THAT THE MERE PASSAGE OF TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS. EARLY ON WE LEARN THAT THE NEXT PET REPLACES THE ONE THAT JUST PASSED. THAT AT LEAST YOU HAVE TWO CHILDREN LEFT AND THAT YOU MUST PULL YOURSELF UP BY THE BOOTSTRAPS FOR THEM. THAT YOU HAVE TO MOVE FORWARD. FOR THEM.

THE PROBLEM WITH LINEAL THOUGHT, I HAVE DISCOVERED, IS THAT IT IS ONLY TWO DIMENSIONAL AND IT ONLY MOVES FORWARD. THAT IS NOT WHAT IT IS LIKE FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS JUST SUFFERED A TRAUMATIC, LIFE ALTERING EVENT. BECAUSE WHAT HAPPENS IS WE TRANSFORM INTO THE MULTI-DIMENSIONAL.

NO CLICHE APPLIES. CLICHE’S MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD, NOT US.

LINEAL TIME DOES NOT HEAL, THE VICTIMS OF BRUTAL CRIME, LOSE ALL CONCEPT OF THE PASSAGE OF TIME; WE ONLY DEAL IN EVENTS. WE HANDLE EVENTS THE BEST WE CAN AS THEY ARISE, AND JUST WATCH THEM SLIP BY.

OUR INTELLECT WARS WITH OUR EMOTIONS. OUR PAST SHAPES THAT BATTLE.

OUR OUTWARD APPEARANCE BELIES THE PAIN FELT INSIDE. WE FEEL MISUNDERSTOOD.

EVERYTHING WE TOOK ON FAITH IS SHAKEN. OUR BELIEF SYSTEM IS ALTERED OR IN SOME, DESTROYED.

THE PROBLEM YOU HAVE, AS VICTIM ADVOCATES, IS THAT YOU ARE DEALING WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE, AT THE MOMENT YOU MEET THEM, MOVED OUTSIDE ANYTHING INTELLECTUAL OR LINEAL. THEY ARE ON NEW GROUND, SOMEPLACE UNFAMILIAR, UNWANTED, AND UNWARRANTED. THEY ARE CONFUSED.

IT’S LIKE WALKING THROUGH A STRANGE HOUSE AT NIGHT, WITH NO LIGHT, CONSTANTLY BUMPING INTO COUCHES AND WALLS WITHOUT ANY KNOWLEDGE OF WHERE THE LIGHT SWITCH MAY BE.

AND THEY REACH OUT TO YOU TO BE THAT LIGHT SWITCH. TO HELP MAKE SENSE OF THE DARK. TO BRING PERSPECTIVE TO THIS WEIRD VAN GOUGH PAINTING THEY SUDDENLY FIND THEMSELVES IN.

AND I DO NOT ENVY YOU.

WE ARE ONLY HUMAN, YOU AND I.

I UNDERSTAND HOW EASY IT IS TO BECOME CALLOUSED AND HARDENED BY OUR JOBS. TO PUT A WALL UP BETWEEN US AND THE EMOTIONALISM OF THE OTHER PERSON, OUR CLIENT. TO REPLACE EMPATHY WITH APATHY OR ANTIPATHY OR INDIFFERENCE. IT’S HARD TO WEAR OUR EMOTIONS SO CLOSE TO OUR SKIN, DAY AFTER DAY, YEAR AFTER YEAR, CASE AFTER CASE. ONE FILE BECOMES LIKE THE OTHER, ONLY SOME DRIVE US MORE INSANE THAN OTHERS. THAT HAPPENED TO ME AS A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, TO AN EXTENT.

YOU HAVE TO FIGHT THAT FEELING.

MY FATHER USED TO TELL ME THAT EVERY CLIENT IN THE OFFICE IS BRINGING TO ME THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN THEIR LIFE TO SOLVE. IF I DID NOT TREAT THEIR PROBLEM, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, AS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN MY LIFE, I WAS MINIMIZING MY CLIENT. THERE WERE NO SMALL FILES IN OUR OFFICE.

SO, AS I WRAP UP, WHAT DO I HOPE YOU TAKE AWAY FROM ALL THIS BLUSTER:

THE PEOPLE YOU TALK TO DO NOT HAVE A BROKEN BRAINS, THEY HAVE BROKEN HEARTS. YOU CANNOT INTELLECTUALIZE GRIEF. YOU CANNOT APPLY TRADITIONAL WESTERN LINEAL THOUGHT TO EMOTIONAL TRAUMA.

LET ME GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE.

IN MY PRACTICE I NOW REPRESENT PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN PHYSICALLY INJURED. THEY MAY HAVE SORE BACKS AND NECKS, BROKEN BONES, THAT SORT OF THING. AND THE EASIEST CASE, BY FAR, THE ONE THAT MAKES MORE MONEY THAN THE OTHER, IS THE CASE THAT SHOWS UP ON AN X-RAY. IN THESE CASES, THE ADJUSTER CAN SEE THE SOURCE OF THE PAIN. IT IS “OBJECTIVE.”

AND IN MOST CASES OF PHYSICAL TRAUMA, NOT ALL BUT IN MOST, THE PASSAGE OF TIME, WITH OR WITHOUT MEDICAL INTERVENTION, DOES, IN FACT, HEAL THE WOUND OR KNIT THE BONE.

THAT IS NOT TRUE OF A BROKEN HEART. YOU CAN’T X-RAY IT, YOU CAN’T SEE IT, WEIGH IT OR QUANTIFY IT. IT IS THE ULTIMATE SOFT TISSUE INJURY. IT JUST HURTS, EVEN JUST TO MOVE.

THE PEOPLE YOU DEAL WITH ARE NOT THEMSELVES, THEY ARE STILL DISCOVERING WHO THEY ARE,

WHO THEY WERE IS AN INSTANT, DISTANT MEMORY. WHO THEY ARE GOING TO BE? WELL, THAT’S NOT EVEN A GUESS.

AGAIN, I DO NOT ENVY YOU DEALING WITH THE LIKES OF ME. YOU ALMOST CAN’T HELP BUT MAKE A MISTAKE. BUT IF YOU GO INTO EACH RELATIONSHIP WITH AN OPEN MIND, AN OPEN HEART AND MOST IMPORTANTLY OPEN EARS. IT WILL BE FINE.

TAKE CARE NOT TO JUDGE.

TAKE CARE NOT TO PITY.

DON’T EXPECT US TO MOVE ON.

DO NOT APPLY YOUR PARADIGM TO MINE.

DO NOT EXPECT PATIENCE OR KINDNESS OR FORGIVENESS.

YOU ARE DEALING WITH THE MOST HUMAN OF SOULS.

Posted in bereavement, grief, grief murdered child, grief recovery, grieving parent, inspiration, life after death of child, loss of child, parent of murdered child, Uncategorized, victims and the courtroom, victims of crime | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hurdle Sixteen: Of Grattitude and an Empty Chair

An empty chair.  That is one of the saddest things about the holidays, these days.  That fifth chair at the table.  Zachary’s chair.  Empty air.  A missing voice at the table.

I need not explain it, mostly because I cannot.

I think, though, that I could easily bog down in pity and piety and anxiety and loss; although I don’t suspect that anyone, least of all Zachary, would find that a very good way to spend Thanksgiving Day.  There is a purpose to this day, a uniquely American, statutory day, that transcends gluttony and football.  There should be, at least for a moment, a pause of gratitude for the things we have, for the things we have lost; for what is to come, and for what might well be.

There is a certain satisfaction in stopping and looking around the house, large or small, mansion or not; in looking at the kids, no matter their current temperament; apprising the things we have accumulated, needed or not, and thinking; you know, despite it all, despite the roadblocks and speed bumps,  despite the challenges and roundabouts, despite the arguments and tantrums and headaches and set backs, I’ve done OK, and I am thankful for that. I might not be where I want to be, but where I’m at is better than maybe I ever thought I could do or would do or even deserve.  And I’m thankful for that.

It’s funny, having just written that, but before Zachary died, I admit, wholeheartedly admit, that enough was never enough and more seemed just out of reach.  It is hard to be thankful when you feel you’ve not gotten yours, yet.

But that empty chair.   That empty chair, reminds me to see, hear and touch what is now, and to give thanks for each sensation, thought, feeling and emotion, because they are fleeting and then they are gone.  That is not, in my opinion, fatalistic; it is realistic. And it’s not a downer, it is the quintessential moment. 

Last night I had dinner with a couple of friends whom I really enjoy passing the time with, whom I really like, and for once, that was enough.  Just being was enough, and I’m thankful for that.

Tomorrow, I will see my family; there is a roof over their heads and food on the table, and I am thankful for that.

And yes, tomorrow, I surely will look at old photos of Zack, and cry and reminisce and I will stare at that empty chair, but that chair is only significant because of who Zack was and the memories and thoughts and feelings he inspires.

And I am Thankful for that.

There’s always a place at the table for you son, I know, we never eat alone.  The chair is never really empty.  And that’s enough.  I am thankful for that. 

Thanks, Zack.

Posted in bereavement, grief, grief murdered child, grief recovery, grieving parent, holidays and loss or grief, inspiration, life after death of child, loss of child, parent of murdered child, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hurdle Fifteen: First one Down and a Lifetime to Go

Hear the Bells Chime, They Tell the Time, Count Now with me, The Time Must Be, One, Two, Three. . .

That was the first song Old Man Soward taught me on the Piano probably  40 years ago.  Every time I hear a grandfather clock chime, I am transported back into that little room, in that little music shop, on old Medina Square.

Time.

To pass the time these days, I watch a lot of documentaries. There are countless varieties of documentaries but ones that really fascinate me are the ones about the concept of Time.  Time is such a weird thing, it only flows forward, and you cannot turn it back, yet we live in the past because we can never actually see, hear, feel or exist in the exact present.  It takes time to turn stimuli into impression.

Anyway, the picture above is a shelf in my house that has the nick-knacks of life that parents collect over the years, stones from the river of time. Photographs and Memories, father’s day cards, things like that.  And right in the middle, I put a clock, an old-fashioned alarm clock that I have to remember to wind every day. And it is there for a reason, not decoration.

Look, I know my kids don’t look or even act like the kids in those photos.  The girls are now 16 and 20, and Zack, of course is dead.  But I look at that clock, right in the middle of the photos and think to myself, I don’t care how many times that minute hand circles round.  I don’t care how many hours, or days, or years or decades pass because the passage of time does not change one unalterable fact of my life.  They will always be my babies. 

We remember our cats as kittens and dogs as pups. We remember our grandparents as great cooks and fun to play with, our parents as vital and filled with life.  And we remember our kids, holding our hands, asking to be held, asking to play and wanting to jump up, again.

It’s been one year to the day since two entitled thugs decided they wanted Zack’s computer and shot him for the taking.  The hands on that clock have made their round trip 8,760 times since then.  Yet still, when I think of him, I feel his five year old hand clutching mine as we walked through the woods, I hear him pushing Legos about his room as he searched, endlessly, for the exact right piece, and hear his voice: Dad, you wanna go outside and shoot baskets? Dad, how’s it going?

Hear the bells chime, they count down time, you’ll always be, this age to me, One, Two, Three . . .

You parents with young children, take a good look at them.  Ten years from now, they will have changed, everywhere, to the rest of the world, except to you.

The passage of time will not change that.

Death will not change that.

Zack, my baby boy, love to you always.


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Hurdle Fourteen: A Silent Birthday Wish List

I have always prided myself on not using other people’s words to express my thoughts.  While I enjoy reading, and I am often inspired by quotations, I try not to rely upon them.  I often think, while scrolling down my Facebook page, that if people would just read quotes, rather than cut and paste, and then put them into their own words,  relevant to themselves, what would come out would be just as profound.

However, this morning I am a bit off kilter.  I woke up at about 4 am as usual and hoped I’d wake up inspired to write something eloquent and meaningful as today is Zachary’s 22nd birthday (Is he 22 today? Or is he always going to be 21?  I just struggle with that question for some reason, and have struggled with it for months now) but nothing seems to be coming out that fits the day.

One reason that I couldn’t write was because I had a song playing in my head, on a loop, and it wouldn’t stop.  .  .

The song is the late George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give me Peace on Earth)” I had not heard this song in years so I did not understand why it was playing so loudly.  It got to the point where I went onto the  internet and found some simple sheet music, to play poorly on the keyboard, just to sort of drown it out, or put it to rest.

I tried playing for a couple of hours and kinda got the melody down then decided to look it up on YouTube, and there it was, of course.

Understand, I am just one of those guys who puts no stock in birthdays.  I tend to mark the passage of time by counting the hairs in my comb, as opposed to the candles on a birthday cake.  And, I am also the kind of person who, when I want something, I go out and buy it rather than waiting for a gift, leading to the dreaded conversation:

“So, what do you want for your birthday this year?”

“Ummmm, well, nothing.”

“You’re impossible”

“Sorry, buy me some sox.”

Zack was the same way.  As he got older, he looked less and less forward to his birthday, treating it more as an annoyance than anything else.  He pretty much received default gifts of shorts, shirts and video games because he never asked for anything in particular.

But, as I was playing, poorly, the song above I read the words on the song sheet and it hit me.

This song, a song I had not heard in many, many years, was not just a song, it was a birthday wish list, from a son, now gone:

Give me love, —- give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me, free from birth.  Give me hope, help me cope with this, heavy load. Trying to touch and reach you with heart and soul.  Oh My Lord.  Please take hold of my hand that I might understand you.  Won’t you please, Oh won’t you

Maybe birthdays can have significance.

Happy birthday Zack!  I read your wish list.

Zack, as much as I want to, I can’t give you life.

I can give you love.  And I can help you cope (won’t you help me?) but peace on earth?  Maybe you can give that to me for my birthday, although, alas, given the nature of human beings, maybe our peace lies elsewhere.

Take care son and thanks for 21, or is it 22, wonderful years.

And thanks for the song, to you both.

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Hurdle 13: Going Home, Again

 

There’s a story in the Bible, found at Mark 6, 1-6 and it goes kinda like this:  Jesus had started his ministry.  He had already performed various miracles and healed various sicknesses when he decided to take a trip to his home town of Nazareth.  The problem was, when the people of Nazareth saw Jesus walk into town, they did not see a prophet, or the Son of God.  They saw the kid that left town.

To His hometown folks, Jesus was still the little kid who lived there just a few years earlier; who played in the streets and had brothers and sisters and friends.  No matter what he said or did, they just saw the carpenter; he was still Mary and Joseph’s son.  So, they seemed to resist the idea that this familiar, average kid, the carpenter, could possibly have become anything other than ordinary.  They outwardly doubted he had any extraordinary powers or prowess or knowledge. 

Jesus, frustrated, said “‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” Mark further described:  “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

I can identify, in an odd, sorta backwards, upside-down way, with what Jesus felt during his homecoming.   You see, I just went home for the first time, really, in about ten years, and I just did not know quite what to expect.  How would I be treated?  I mean, my son was killed in a botched ROBBERY, and I had been in the media and stuff and those things change not only you but people’s perception of you.  I wondered if people just might treat me differently if for no other reason than I feel so different from the guy that bolted town. 

As it ends up, I should have harbored no anxiety.

In point of fact, like Jesus, the people of my home town did not consider me to be any different from the guy that pulled up stakes and left town ten years ago.  I was, for a week, just Dick and Shirley’s kid; the kid that played baseball in the field, football in the front yard and tag in the school parking lot.  I was, briefly, just the guy who hung out with friends, who played Army in the apple orchard and who made wise and unwise choices over the years.  To be sure, there were plenty of hugs and “sorry for your loss” along the way but this was different. 

There is something visceral about your home town.  Home does not belong to you, you belong to home.  The familiar smells, shapes and images; familiar streets and intersections all collide somewhere between the now and memory.  Familiar faces.  Tim, and Kathy and Cheryl, Jack and Karen and Martin and Mary Beth, CJ and Amy and Vicki and Tom and Tonya, Tracy and Darlene and Brenda,  Steph and Sandy and Kieth, Scott and Deb and Jim and Jessica, Amanda and Ann and Bulldog, Ronnie and Jennifer, and Ken and Pooh and Sally. And Rick and Cherie and Ken and Mom and Dad. All faces so familiar in the mind’s eye but maybe with a tinge of time on the side. 

Yes, the house still stands where Zachary was born, where he tore wall paper and played in his Johnny Jump Up.  The scars still remain.  The yard where he and his sisters played still bear the signs of holes dug and trees climbed and planted.  The woods are still there.  Their marks are still there.  I looked and I remembered, my kids at age 8, 6, and 2.  

But through it all, I was just Dan. 

For a week.

So, understandably, Jesus may have been frustrated when he returned home and was just one of the gang, but I was not.  It is nice to have a past, with people who share common experiences, who started by saying “Sorry for your loss”, but soon followed up with “Do you remember when?” 

One can go home again.  But leave your baggage behind.  Because when you walk over that County line, you’re just the kid that left. 

And for some people, that just isn’t so bad.

Because home is not necessarily where one’s heart is, home is where you’re comfortable enough to just be yourself; warts, pimples and pain.  For one, it may be a place they left.  For another, it’s the place they are. 

But for me, home is everywhere, because now I remember how it feels.

 

Mark 6:1-6 “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own house is a prophet without honour.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

 

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Not a Hurdle, Just a Draft of My Speech

What follows here is not a hurdle post.  It is just a draft of the speech I give at meetings like the Rotary Club the other day.  I vary from the text, so I am not just reading and I do not think it gets very good until the end but that is your call, not mine.  

AS MANY OF YOU KNOW, MY SON, ZACHARY MARCO, WAS MURDERED WALKING HOME FROM THE ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY, ON OCTOBER 17, 2010. HIS MURDER RECEIVED NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL NEWS COVERAGE AND HAS REMAINED IN THE LOCAL MEDIA EVER SINCE.  

FOR THE FIRST THIRTY DAYS AFTER HIS MURDER MY EXPERIENCE AS A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY KICKED IN. I HAD HANDLED CASES LIKE THIS BEFORE AND I WAS FAMILIAR WITH THE MEDIA. BECAUSE OF MY BACKGROUND I KNEW TWO THINGS, TWO FACTS, AND THEY SCARED ME TO DEATH. 

FIRST, WITHOUT ANY WITNESSES, I BELIEVED ZACK’S CASE WOULD BE VERY DIFFICULT TO SOLVE UNLESS THE POLICE FOUND THAT LAPTOP AND CELL PHONE AND, IN MY OPINION, THEY HAD NO MORE THAN 30 DAYS TO FIND THEM.  

SECOND, I KNEW THAT ZACK’S CASE HAD A MEDIA SHELF LIFE OF NO MORE THAN 72 HOURS UNLESS I COULD COME UP WITH SOME KIND OF HOOK TO KEEP THE MEDIA INTERESTED.   I NEEDED THE MEDIA BECAUSE I HAD TO SAY THE WORDS “LAP TOP AND CELL PHONE” OVER AND OVER AGAIN, LIKE A COKE COMMERCIAL, UNTIL IT WAS DRUMMED INTO PEOPLES’ HEAD. 

SO, I SPENT THOSE INITIAL SLEEPLESS NIGHTS THINKING UP AS MANY WAYS AS I COULD TO GET ON TV, IN PRINT AND ON THE RADIO, TO SAY LAPTOP AND CELL PHONE SO PEOPLE WOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT. FINALLY, ABOUT THREE DAYS AFTER ZACK WAS SHOT, AND DURING WHAT I ASSUMED WAS MY LAST INTERVIEW, I OFFERED THE NON-SHOOTER A DEAL: TURN IN THE SHOOTER AND I WILL FIND YOU A LAWYER, PAY HIM, AND I WILL COOPERATE DURING THE PLEA BARGAINING PROCESS. THE MEDIA WAS INTERESTED AGAIN. 

SO, FOR THE NEXT 26 DAYS I WAS IN THE MEDIA AND I GOT TO SAY LAPTOP AND CELL PHONE PROBABLY 100 TIMES ON TV, IN PRINT AND ON THE RADIO.  

IT WORKED. A CITIZEN FOUND A BAG WITH A LAPTOP IN IT, COULD NOT REMEMBER ZACK’S NAME OR MY NAME, BUT CALLED THE POLICE BECAUSE SHE HAD SEEN SOMETHING ON TV ABOUT A MURDER FOR A LAPTOP. THE POLICE CAME AND FINGERPRINTS DID THE REST. 

AFTER THE PRESS CONFERENCE ANNOUNCING THE ARREST, I JUST ASSUMED THE MEDIA ATTENTION WAS OVER.  

IT HAS NOT BEEN OVER.

I HAVE TO ADMIT, I HAVE BEEN QUITE PERPLEXED REGARDING THE REASON WHY THE MEDIA CONTINUES TO SHOW INTEREST IN THE STORY. I HAD SPENT SOME TIME REFLECTING ON WHY ANYONE WOULD STILL BE INTERESTED AND REALLY I CAME UP BLANK.  

THEN, JUST THE OTHER DAY, I WAS TALKING TO A GUY. HE CALLED ME OUT OF THE BLUE AT THE OFFICE, AND HE OFFERED HIS CONDOLENCES. I GET A LOT OF THOSE CALLS. BECAUSE HE HAD JUST WATCHED A NEWS STORY ABOUT MY SON I ASKED HIM WHY HE THOUGHT THAT THE STORY REMAINED SO INTERESTING TO PEOPLE – 

ANYWAY, HIS ANSWER WAS (AND I AM PARAPHRASING) “IT IS BECAUSE YOUR SON IS EVERYONE’S SON. HE WAS A GOOD KID, WALKING HOME FROM THE LIBRARY, NOT FROM A PARTY. HE GOT STRAIGHT A’S IN THE HONOR’S COLLEGE. HE WORKED HARD. HE TUTORED OTHER KIDS. HE HAD NO DRUGS IN HIM, NO ALCOHOL, IT WASN’T 2 AM, IT WAS 9:30 ON A SUNDAY NIGHT. HE WASN’T WHERE HE DIDN’T BELONG, HE WAS ON UNIVERSITY IN TEMPE, A WELL LIT STREET. ALL HE HAD WAS A CASE WITH A LAPTOP COMPUTER IN IT AND HIS CELL PHONE. WHEN WE PARENTS SEE THAT STORY, WE NOT ONLY WEEP FOR YOUR SON, WE CRY FOR OUR CHILDREN BECAUSE HE REPRESENTS OUR KIDS.  HE COULD HAVE BEEN OUR CHILD.” 

WHILE HE TOLD ME THIS, FOR THE FIRST TIME, I REALLY FELT THAT OUT OF THIS ASH HEAP OF GRIEF AND DESPAIR, OF WONDERING, AND CRYING, AND ANGER, THERE WAS A WISP OF HOPE, AN UNDERSTANDING THAT ZACK’S DEATH REALLY  CAN BE TURNED INTO SOMETHING USEFUL, AND GOOD. 

ANYWAY, THE GENTLEMAN WENT ON TO SAY THAT HE HAS A DAUGHTER AT ASU AND THAT EVER SINCE ZACK DIED, HE CALLS HER MORE OFTEN. HE TELLS HER HE LOVES HER DURING EVERY CALL AND EVERY CHAT.  ZACK’S STORY SHIFTED HIS PRIORITIES A LITTLE. 

HE IS NOT THE ONLY ONE TO TELL ME THAT. ZACHARY’S DEATH, SO TRAGIC AND SO DEVASTATING TO ME AND MY FAMILY HAS HAD A POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES. 

FOR EXAMPLE. I RECEIVED AN EMAIL A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO FROM A FRIEND WHO TOLD ME THAT HE WAS TAKING THE DAY OFF FROM WORK, SOMETHING HE NEVER, EVER DOES, JUST TO SPEND A DAY WITH HIS YOUNG CHILD, TO TAKE HIM TO GET ICE CREAM, AND HE IS DOING IT BECAUSE OF ZACK’S STORY. IT MOVED HIM TO EVALUATE HIS OWN RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS KIDS, AND HE CHANGED THOSE RELATIONSHIPS FOR THE BETTER.

 ZACK ALREADY AT WORK FROM HIS GRAVE! 

ONE OTHER EXAMPLE IS A FACEBOOK MESSAGE I RECEIVED, PROBABLY IN NOVEMBER, FROM A FATHER WHO TOLD ME THAT HIS SON WAS PLAYING A VIDEO GAME AND WANTED TO SHOW HIM SOMETHING ABOUT THE GAME. THE FATHER’S NORMAL REACTION, HE SAID, WAS TO IGNORE THESE REQUESTS BECAUSE HE THINKS VIDEO GAMES ARE STUPID AND A WASTE OF TIME.  

INSTEAD, HE SAID HE PUT DOWN HIS BOOK AND WATCHED AND LISTENED TO HIS SON EXPLAIN SOMETHING TO HIM THAT EXCITED HIS BOY, SOMETHING THAT REALLY TURNED HIM ON. AND HE ENJOYED SEEING HIS SON SO FASCINATED BY SOMETHING, and, HE SAID, HE WOULD NEVER HAVE SPENT THAT TIME WITH HIS SON IN THE PAST. ZACK’S STORY CHANGED THE WAY HE LOOKED AT HIS OWN SON, THE TIME THEY SPEND TOGETHER. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MOMENT. 

AT THE END OF HIS MESSAGE HE WROTE “I KNOW NOTHING WILL MAKE YOUR SON’S DEATH EASIER. BUT THE TWENTY MINUTES I SAT WITH MY SON PLAYING A VIDEOGAME, I DID IN HONOR OF YOUR SON, ZACHARY. MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY SON WILL NEVER BE THE SAME. I HOPE THAT HELPS IN SOME SMALL WAY” 

IT DOES HELP, I SUPPOSE, BUT AT THAT TIME I RECEIVED THOSE EMAILS, TRUTH BE TOLD, I RESENTED THE FACT THEY HAD THEIR KIDS. I THOUGHT, THAT’S NICE, BUT I’D RATHER HAVE MY SON BACK. BUT THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. SO INITIALLY, I RATHER BLEW THESE COMMENTS OFF. I WAS NOT READY TO UNDERSTAND THEM. 

SO THE QUESTION BECOMES, I GUESS, WHEN SOMETHING REALLY BAD HAPPENS TO YOU, WHEN YOUR BUSINESS FAILS OR WHEN WORK IS REALLY GETTING YOU DOWN, IF YOUR MARRIAGE IS TANKING, OR YOUR PARENTS DIE, YOUR SPOUSE DIES, OR YOUR FAVORITE PET NEEDS TO BE PUT DOWN, OR YOU LOSE A CHILD, WHAT DO YOU DO? 

HOW DO YOU TURN IT AROUND? 

WHEN YOUR GRIEF IS SO GREAT, WHEN YOUR MOOD SO DEPRESSED, WHEN YOUR HEART FILLS WITH MORE HATE THAN LOVE, WHEN YOUR FAITH IS SHAKEN, WHEN LAUGHING HURTS AND CRYING IS SIMPLE AND YOUR WORLD, SO COMFORTABLE, SO PREDICTABLE, SO EVEN – –  IS FLIPPED OVER SIDEWAYS- – –  

WHAT DO YOU DO? 

MY ANSWER IS? NOTHING! 

WHEN YOU ARE READY, THE ANSWER JUST COMES. WHEN YOU ARE READY TO RECEIVE IT, IT JUST COMES. YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW YOUR GRIEF. IT WILL TAKE A PATH TOWARDS OTHERS OR AWAY FROM OTHERS. EITHER WAY IS OK. BUT SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE, SOMEWHERE ON YOUR PATH, SOMETHING WILL STRIKE YOU AND IT WILL CAUSE YOU TO POKE YOUR HEAD UP OUT OF THE BLACK HOLE THAT YOU’VE BEEN LIVING IN AND YOU WILL LOOK AROUND AGAIN. 

FOR ME, IT WAS THOSE E-MAILS, AND MORE LIKE THEM, AND OTHER COMMENTS ON MY BLOG (MYSONZACK.WORDPRESS.COM) OR MANY OF THE COMMENTS FROM FRIENDS ON FACEBOOK. YOU SEE, MY ANSWER WAS ALREADY THERE, I JUST COULDN’T SEE IT. 

ONE DAY, LESS THAN A MONTH AGO, I WENT BACK TO RE-READ SOME OF THE LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF E-MAILS AND LETTERS AND POSTS I HAVE RECEIVED SINCE ZACK’S DEATH. AND IT DAWNED ON ME: 

MY SON, IN HIS DEATH, HAS HELPED PEOPLE ALREADY! 

HIS DEATH, WHILE DEVASTATING TO ME AND MY FAMILY, CAN BE A SYMBOL OF NOT WHAT IS JUST BAD IN THIS WORLD, BUT WHAT CAN BE GOOD. HE CAN CHANGE PEOPLE’S LIVES. HE CHANGED MINE THE DAY HE WAS BORN. HE CHANGED OTHERS THE DAY HE DIED. 

SO I DECIDED THEN AND THERE, TO GET THE ZACHARY MARCO FOUNDATION CHARITABLE STATUS AND GET THE DARN THING UP AND RUNNING. AND WE ARE GETTING CLOSE.  

WHEN I DO, ORGANIZATIONS LIKE YOURS AND MINE ARE GOING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE’S LIVES. WE ARE GOING TO MENTOR THE YOUTH, KEEP THEM IN SCHOOL, GIVE THEM SCHOLARSHIPS, HOPES AND DREAMS, TOGETHER. WE ARE GOING TO HELP PEOPLE WHOSE LIVES HAVE BEEN SHATTERED BY CRIME, PUT IT ALL BACK TOGETHER BECAUSE IF WE DON’T DO IT, NO ONE ELSE WILL. THERE IS NO QUESTION IN MY MIND ABOUT THAT. 

MY SON HAS ALREADY MADE SURE HIS DEATH WAS NOT IN VAIN. HE HAS, FROM HIS GRAVE, ALREADY MADE A DIFFERENCE.  

IMAGINE WHAT WE CAN DO! 

THANK YOU.

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