By Lorene Holizki
The love of my life, Kalei Jasmine Mahealani Holizki was killed instantly in a head on car crash on August 20, 2001. She was 16 years old.
When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police communicated that information to me, the words were quite simply unimaginable. I know this to be true because from that moment on I shared that information by saying, “Kalei is dead, d-e-a-d. Dead. I don’t know what that means!”
It took years for me to fully comprehend my daughter’s death and learn how to live without her by my side. That comprehension and the lessons that came with gaining that knowledge eventually made it possible for me to understand, or said in another way, to stop spelling the word ‘dead’ when associated with Kalei’s name. The unimaginable had become imaginable.
Like the many that came before me and sadly, the many that will come after, during the past 14 years I experienced all the ugly, heartbreaking and yes, even beautiful parts of grief. When the really dark parts (or grief demons as I like to call them) tried to prevent me from reaching for a future worth living, I turned to what I do best- analysis – in order to make sense of what was happening to me. Not only was that action comforting to me, but I guess you could call it the noise of intense thinking, would sometimes drown out the howls of pain coming from my heart.
Day after day, I studied and wrote profusely — good or bad — no subject was considered off limits. By the time 2011 arrived, I had thousands of pages of analysis and lessons written. By then, I was far enough along on my grieving journey, and I was becoming more engaged in day-to-day living again. I was even able to acknowledge the future when mine called out, “What about me?” I chose to answer that call, and four years later I self-published Forever Kalei’s Mom, a story about life, death and more life.
In the months that have followed, I have grown even more. I have shed the victim persona that often comes with surviving an unimaginable event such as the death of a child, and my body, previously hunched over to protect my wounded heart, returned to an upright and powerful stance. I offer support to grieving parents, talk endlessly to the non-grieving about what I have learned, and I post a weekly blog on my website that covers a myriad of lifetime material. I was now managing, rather than just reacting, to my new world and different life.
But make no mistake, as alive as I feel now, there are still days when — almost like a comforting mantra — I continue to ask, “Kalei, why did you have to leave me?” Then there are the odd unimportant, plain old Tuesdays, when a grief demon decides to take a shot at me hoping it still has the power to send me back into the darkness. While I have learned how to fight that monster, sometimes it’s nice to get a little help with the battle. This is that story…
My cousin Danny, an amateur photographer asked if he could take a black and white photograph of me for a project he was working on called Home of the Brave. The artist in him wanted to capture the feelings emoted by those who have experienced a difficult life event. I agreed to participate.
After the choosing the photograph that resonated with both of us, Danny turned to the part he chose to complete on his own, adding a story to go with the image.
When he messaged me that everything was done, I quickly opened his blog. While I love the picture, because to me it portrays life, all of it, it was his words that forced all the air out of my lungs. This is an excerpt of what he wrote:
“I am convinced, however, that reading my cousin’s book has made me a better person.
I know this to be true because I did not judge Lorene when she laid herself down in front of Kalei’s marker and silently folded her hands on her chest. Surrounded by the comforting silence of the cemetery, I witnessed a beautiful, spontaneous expression of a mother’s undying love for her daughter.
I finally got a chance to see what Forever looks like.”
When I was done reading, I could hardly contain my excitement — actually I totally lost that battle! With a big grin on my face I yelled, “He gets it! He really gets it! My book and the words I worked so hard on is making a difference!”
And then, I cried.
Not from sorrow but from gratitude because for the first time in a very long time I did not feel judged by the way I choose to grieve for my daughter. For me, that is a pretty darn good #oncomingalive moment.