Freedom after tragedy - JJ Landis
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Freedom after tragedy


This date is one I can’t escape. It doesn’t kill me like it used to but I can’t shake its significance. My life changed forever today 32 years ago. Embarrassing sometimes that I even care anymore about August 4. But it sticks in my head and will not be ignored.


I spent the night at my dad’s house after visiting the county fair. My step-sis and I, both 12, were full after gorging on cotton candy and elephant ears.


In the morning we buzzed by my house, only a few blocks away, so I could grab some clean clothes for the day. I darted up the front walk of the bi-level with the one-car garage and the weed-dominated flower beds where I had lived all my life, ran inside and up the steps two-by-two. My brother could take the stairs three at a time, but my little legs limited my stride.


A purse was on the kitchen table—my mom’s. I called out for her, but she didn’t answer. The house smelled odd, but I had no way to pinpoint the odor. No reason to be suspicious, I grabbed what I needed and headed back out to the idling van with Dad and my stepsister. Off we went for a day of adventure.


That afternoon I found out why my mom hadn’t responded. I was at the nursery school my dad owned and operated—the place where I spent most of my summer days. School-aged kids with working parents attended the school in the summer as a day care facility. The older gang often went on outings in the afternoons while the little kids napped. Twice a week we swam at a YWCA a mile’s walk from the school. My dad invariably turned the walk into a trek through the jungle (creek beside the highway) and desert (vacant parking lot).


We went on educational field trips as well. That morning we had watched local circus acrobats practice. There were children my own age and younger who flew on the trapeze and performed all kinds of impossible contortions with their bodies. I dreamed of becoming an acrobat or a gymnast.


I was still high on hopes of a life in the circus when we returned to the school near lunchtime. As I entered the side door of the cement block building, I observed a police car parked along the street out front. Cathy, the cook, grabbed me and ushered me in for a chat. This was unusual, but I sat there obediently while she smeared peanut butter on Wonder Bread and tried to make small talk.


I was released from the kitchen about ten minutes later when Dad summoned me to the hallway next to his office. We stood still. And then. He uttered these words, “There has been an accident. Mom fell asleep in the garage. She’s dead.”


The odor in my house had been fumes from her car. She had been found by her boyfriend on the floor of the garage with a pack of cigarettes next to her, as though she had relaxed with a few smokes until she fell asleep.


I share things like this with you, reader, because I appreciate honesty and want you to be able to share with me. Open up your breaking heart to others and you will be free from binding and blinding agony.


Following my August 4 darkness came many more years of storms.


I squeezed my eyes to keep tears from falling – steeling myself against anymore hurt. I hid behind walls, miles thick, and pretended to be anything and everything to anyone who came along. Tangled chains wrapped my heart. My soul floundered.


I want people to know that no darkness can withstand the light of hope. Jesus Christ is hope. It makes no sense, Christianity, really. But basically there’s not much else to get out of bed for. We have two ways to live – with or without hope.


This did not come easily or quickly for me, but perhaps my sharing can speed up your process a bit!


It took me way too many years to figure out that I had a choice to make – I could be miserable and hopeless like my mom was. Or I could accept my circumstances and find a way to live a life that didn’t make me want to die. My days are not without hardship and my mind finds ways to tell me I am a loser, worthless, not good enough to have what I have.


Perhaps I am just a morbid thinker who likes to relive the yuck – but I offer to you who may be hurting and holding on to past agony the option of talking, sharing, writing. Quit hiding. If you’re not afraid of that which is trying to capture you, you can be free.

  • Even in laughter, the heart may ache
    Posted at 19:43h, 07 February Reply

    […] a personal history of depression and anxiety and a family history of suicide, I was determined to keep a straight head. I couldn’t wallow. I couldn’t let myself break […]

  • Peggy
    Posted at 10:50h, 17 August Reply

    JJ — I just read this today. The news of Robin Williams makes us think of suicide survivors we know (along with reminding us of our OWN dark times), so I’m sending you my thoughts, support, admiration and LOVE!!!! I enjoy your facebook posts and watching you and your fun family creatively making your way through life. And I enjoy your writing!! I’m sorry I don’t read it daily, but know that I binge read, and even if I don’t write comments, I enjoy listening to you think!!! Love, Peg

    • JJ Landis
      Posted at 19:40h, 17 August Reply

      Thanks Peg!!!

  • Kristi Griffith Betts
    Posted at 22:13h, 04 August Reply

    Truth. Beautiful, soul searching, gut-wrenching truth. Thanks for the reminder of hope. I feel so blessed.

  • Roselle
    Posted at 12:47h, 04 August Reply

    When we mark our “before ” and “after” moments, it makess no sense that the rest of the world keeps moving. Know that I’m marking your “after” moment with you today. And the cross…it’s the ultimate “after” isn’t it?

    • JJ Landis
      Posted at 18:28h, 04 August Reply

      Roselle, How I love you! JJ

  • Wendy
    Posted at 11:47h, 04 August Reply

    Big, bold, powerful God…… Big, bold, brave mad beautiful JJ

    • Wendy
      Posted at 11:48h, 04 August Reply

      Not mad!!was supposed to say AND…..AHHHHHHH autocorrect

      • JJ Landis
        Posted at 18:28h, 04 August Reply

        I kind of liked the “mad” part!

  • Kimberly
    Posted at 11:10h, 04 August Reply

    The most powerful writing comes from writing the truth .. in all of its gritty glory. Write truth and you will reach others even if they don’t want to (or can’t yet) publicly admit it. Write truth and others will know they are not alone.

    Excellent post, my friend.

    • JJ Landis
      Posted at 18:29h, 04 August Reply

      Thanks Kim. I feel honored to have your support and friendship!!

  • Paige Hamilton
    Posted at 10:16h, 04 August Reply

    It’s heartbreaking and yet so beautiful at the same time … all because you point back to the hope found in Christ. Without that hope, nothing (no tragedy, but also nothing wonderful) makes sense.

    By the way, I have a broken teapot on my dresser. It’s been glued back together, but there are still chips missing and gaps between the pieces so that it could never hold fluid again. Every time I look at the broken pot, God reminds me that it is through the tragedies and broken places in my life that His love can seep out. It’s through the cracks and holes that He uses me to bring His love to others. Because of that, I am no longer able to look at the heartbreak of divorce or infertility or PCOS quite the same way.

    With thankfulness, prayers, and love for you today … Paige

    • JJ Landis
      Posted at 18:29h, 04 August Reply

      Such a beautiful illustration with that broken teapot. So so true.

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