From Someone Who Loved Cassie
By: Mary Haydal, her Mom

Last edit: October 7, 2003


We put on our emotional armor and went to the waiting room filled with people to tell them it was over. My sister did all the phone calling for us. The numbness filled me and remained for months. Someone grabbed me and said, "You can be bitter or you can do something about what happened to Cassie." I put a distance between me and everyone else in the world. An invisible wall went up. This would go on for over a year. We all did it. None of us really accepted that Cassie was dead. We all had our methods of escape, and I chose denial.

The ride home was the most oppressive experience I've ever had. The car was filled with gifts. Five of us were squeezed into the small car. No one spoke for 150 miles. We had all gone into the parts of the mind where nothing exists. The place where you go to block what has happened until you are alone and you can explode. We were mute with grief. Thankfully, Nicki had brought her CD player. She kept playing the theme song from City of Angels and handed it to her Dad and me to share. It was beautiful and peaceful and comforting. Nicki always does things like that. She quietly heals

I didn't know how the community would receive us. I didn't want to come home. I wanted to stay in the quiet cloister of the hospital.

The entire ten days we were at St Vincent's Hospital, it had continued to snow. It was as if the Lord insulated the earth, to shield us all from the ravages of reality.

The first sign of love from our community was significant. It was an act of love from the children. Everywhere we went, there were big plastic donation containers with Cassie's picture on it, and her story... they raised over $600 in all. They probably would have raised a great deal more, but Greg asked them to take the jars down. We were very humbled by that act of love. The children were so proud of what they had done. We were proud of them too.

As soon as we came home, we went to the funeral home to make arrangements. While we were gone, the town had been quietly preparing. The high school choir would sing at Cassie's services. Someone had paid for the cemetery plots for the family. We were told not to order food for the reception. The community had been calling the funeral home for days. They would take care of the food, reception hall, memorabilia and certain details of the services.

We had no idea how our daughter's death had affected the community of Miles City. When I reflect back, I'm still in awe of what people did for us. The kindnesses still continue. I will never be able to repay people with word or deed. They held us up at a time when we could not do that for ourselves.

The funeral parlor turned into a makeshift bedroom. A boy, Scottie, who was raised with Cassie had made a rod iron lamp with a coyote silhouette at the bottom and stars punched in the rod iron lampshade so when you turn the lamp on, the heavens appear. She and he had shared many campouts, years of school, hunting trips, fights, stories, laughter, holidays, horse rides, picnics and rides in the country.

Cassie played basketball for seven years both in school and on travel teams. Her favorite coach brought in a game ball nom her Freshman year. It was signed by all of the players, including Cassie. They included lots of pictures and a copy of a laminated note Cassie had written him. I was taken by how many pieces of her memory existed in other people. It gave me a great understanding of how one person affects so many in their lifetime. Even if that lifetime is short.

The memorial video was filled with about 80 pictures. How do you tell someone's life story in 80 pictures? We did the best we could. The video reflected all Cassie did in her short life: She took ballet, volunteered at the after-school program, played softball and basketball, hunted elk, deer and antelope. Caught her own paddlefish with her Dad. Listened to Hillary Clinton speak in Washington D.C. and she went to France with the French class.

Mrs. Clinton spoke at a volunteer conference. She spoke of how the soldiers in Bosnia shared food and played with the Bosnian children in the streets. It was the first time that country had ever witnessed volunteerism.

I looked over at Cassie, thinking the talk wouldn't interest her because she was only 12 years old. Tears were rolling down her face. Together we experienced D.C. We took bus tours, ate at cultural restaurants, slept in fancy motel rooms and learned history. She really loved it. Afterwards, we met her dad and sister in Cleveland, where we attended our first family reunion. It was a great time.

Her trip to France in June had opened her eyes to the world. It was a trip she had earned by working two jobs. Her friends in French Class made a poster board filled with pictures of their trip. They brought it to the funeral home. "Look at the bottom", they said. They had scribbled a quote from Cassie on the trip.

She said, "Guys, stop taking pictures of the buildings. Take pictures of the people. The buildings will always be here, it's the people that won't always be here." The girls didn't know one another hardly at all before the trip. When they returned home almost three weeks later, they were the best of friends. They vowed to all return to France together some day.

The girls shared at the funeral home that they never want to go back to France again, without Cassie. Our favorite picture of Cassie was taken by one of the girls on the trip. She is smiling a radiant smile, coming up stone, spiral steps. We put that picture above her hospital bed. It's now on her headstone. It reminds us of her climb to Heaven.

In every picture, throughout her life, Cassie is hugging someone. She didn't just put her arms around you, she hugged you with her soul. In every picture, her smile, radiance and warmth was evident.

She loved skiing, especially snow boarding. She enjoyed the Trails End Ranch Bible Camp. She had friends with whom she had formed such a bond that they would stop by from out of town whenever they were in Miles City. Some were from other states. I would learn several months later, when I took Nicki to that same camp, that Cassie's death had devastated the counselors and campers who knew her. "They continue to pray for us," the head counselor said. He struggled with his words.

Cassie went to Catholic school until 3rd grade. When we moved to Miles City from Billings, she attended the country school two doors from our home. The kids still remember the forts that they built there out of sticks, the animals in the pastures surrounding the school and the threat of using the outhouse if one more person plugged up the toilets. She was the only 5th grade girl tall enough to ever hit her head on the towel dispenser in the bathroom. One day, Cassie said sadly, "Mom, they don't talk about Jesus at this school."

She never missed a formal or prom. We buried her on the 20th of November and Winter Formal was three days later.

We encouraged her friends to continue with their plans. She would have liked that. Her date decided to go alone. When they had grand march, he entered alone and had them announce, "In loving memory of Cassie Haydal". Everyone in the crowded gym stood up and applauded. I would have like to have seen that, but it was too painful to go.

She loved birthdays. On her 13th birthday, we rented a limo and she and her Grandma and all of her friends went for a ride. For her 18th birthday, we were afraid she would drink, so we took her and her sister to Billings to the fair. They had a blast. We went to the mall and shopped for school clothes. It was a great time.

The girls had many animals during their childhood. They had sheep, goats, chickens, geese, dogs, cats, fish, turtles and horses. They bottle-fed calves, helped at branding, rode horses and held soft, fuzzy chicks and geese, Cassie hated feeding the chickens and she didn't show much remorse when, one day, we found chicken feathers all over the yard. Our dog had eaten them all.

She was free with her hugs, she loved to get hugs, and when I kissed her, she would always leave her face extended to wait for two or three more.

She was a great swimmer and when swimming lessons failed to work with Nicki, Cassie encouraged her and taught her to swim in one week's time.

She always waited until the last hour to get homework done, but she would spent hours writing many meaningful, deep poems that now touched us all... there were funny ones too of hunting trips with her Dad. She had a great sense of humor, and she always laughed.

Her room and car were always a mess, but she had a knack for decorating.

She looked good in everything she wore, especially red. After she died, one of the girls who went to France with her wrote a story about Cassie and how before she knew Cassie, she hated the color of red and thought it stood for anger. After she went to France with Cassie, she said the color now stood for warmth, love and laughter. I think we all feel that way.

How do you show in a few photos what her laugh sounded like, what her kisses felt like, what she looked like when she walked through the door of the kitchen with kids from the after school program or her girlmends, (always in time for supper)? How do you relay that smile and how you felt when those brown eyes, with gold flicks, focused on you? How could we share that ray of warmth and light that was always around her. She could break any bad mood.

She loved to leg wrestle. You had to experience leg wrestling with her to understand the advantage she had over all of us. She was always acting cocky when she challenged you. She knew she would win. She had a plan...she would lock you tightly with those long legs of hers. That was the moment when you knew you were losing...she would make you beg for mercy. You could make someone smile or laugh now if you ask them if they ever leg wrestled with Cassie.

There is a precious part of the deceased that can never be extinguished. The part that lives on in the hearts and memories of those left behind. If you have experienced a good deed, been hugged, smiled at, kissed or heard kind words from, the spirit in which that act was done will live on in you and carry through you to others as you enact the same acts of kindness. Death conquers our bodies, but not our spirits.

We all dreamt of Cassie after she died. What we did not speak of during the day, we envisioned at night in our sleep. Part of our morning ritual now, after her death, was listening to each other's dreams. "I dreamt of Cassie last night..." that would start the conversation. We would look hopeful and sad at the person who was sharing their slumbered sightings of Cassie.

We would dress early every morning after her death to greet the people who had arrived early at our home. We accepted humbly, the tokens of love. The stream of food was steady. It would continue throughout the day.

People brought fancy Mexican dishes, soups, casseroles, special baked goods, snacks, pop and special coffees. The most memorable "food moment", was the night our friend dropped off the 40 lb. Prime rib. We had just finished a hearty meal. (No one had eaten all day, so it felt good to sit with family, eat something delicious and rest.) We were stuffed! The door rang. Our good friends, who were especially fond of Cas, were standing in the dark, with snow falling on them. They were cold. They held a steamy prime rib that could have fed the crew on the Nemitz. It was cooked to perfection by a local restaurant. They stayed and visited, but not too long. Visiting was still hard.

The grieving mind cannot retain much that has no meaning, so small talk is not an option. It's ok to laugh, cry, hug and listen to a grieving person, but never give advice or engage in small talk. When they left, we loosened our belts, unbuttoned our pants and made the effort towards our small white stove. We gathered around the stove, like cattle at a trough. (Cattle line up pretty matter-of-factly), we did the same. We started slicing off pieces of that prime no arid talking. We were starting our healing process one bite at a time.

Two things happened to me at Cassie's death. My faith deepened and I went numb. I could not cry for my child. I was repulsed at her death. I was infuriated at her drug use. I did not get a chance to help her. I was not ready to let her go. I didn't make her formal yet. I hadn't watched her graduate, taken her to college, made her wedding dress or held her children. I wanted her back. I could not accept her death. I could not get over the shock of her .drug use.

I had asked for a private viewing. No family. No friends. I thought being alone with her would help me cry. I couldn't cry. I was so numb, I was trying to feel, but my mind and heart wouldn't let me. Surely there were rivers to cry, heaves to form and pain to show the world.

I walked into the funeral parlor alone. I approached the blue box. Nothing, nothing prepares you for the sight of your own child in a coffin. It is the most unthinkable, repulsive sight a parent can see. I studied her still form. I couldn't fix it. I couldn't help her anymore. How could I have let my child slip trom me? When did this happen? Why did she take drugs? Why couldn't she tell me...ask me for help? I must be a bad mother, I thought, to raise a child who would put the most dangerous drug in the world in her body. My God, I failed. What if we do the same thing to Nicki... I wanted to scream! I wanted to be dead, with Cassie.

I asked God, "Where is my real daughter. Bring her back. This is not happening." I begged, bargained and pleaded with the Almighty, and the still form remained. .

I took quiet inventory of my daughter. Earlier, her two friends had come to do her hair. The funeral Director smiled and shared that they visited and teased each other while they were working, as if they were all getting ready for the prom. Cassie would have liked that. I touched her hair. Then my eyes moved to her face. It was hard to recognize her now.

When the eye bank took her cornea, it caved in her eyes. She looked old. They took tissue trom her arms and replaced it with plastic wrapping. I squeezed the plastic. The new sweater we bought for her was dainty, off-white and thin. It did not protect the person touching her arm trom the shock of the plastic.

She wore her long jean skirt that she bought during her trip to France. Her necklace lay on top of the sweater. It was the first time I had seen it perfectly adjusted, because of the stillness. The body is always in constant motion. Even in sleep, there is breathing. I had never noticed before how the motion of our bodies creates energy in the things attached to it. Not now.

She had on all of her rings. A small, delicate rosary was carefully placed in her cold, cupped hands. Later, letters, flowers and stuffed animals would fill the area in the casket around her. They would remain untouched and be buried with her.

I boldly asked the maker of all things, "Why did you do this?" I was repulsed by her new look. I didn't want anyone to see her like this. I wanted to have the casket closed. I was upset and told the funeral Director's wife that they should close the casket. She explained that even though the donation of tissue and cornea had altered Cassie's usual look, 1 would have felt repulsed at the way she looked anyway. "You are suppose to feel that way, Mary, when you see your child in a coffm." She said gently.

She explained that the children and this community needed to see her for their own comfort. She explained kindly. I'm thankful she had the presence of mind to know what was best for everyone. The rest of the family would go through the same motion and wave of experience that I had. They all had to face the shock of what was left.

We welcomed the public at the funeral home on Sunday afternoon. They played the memorial video. Looking back, I realize how hard it was for the children to see someone their own age succumb to death. One of their own lay still before them. Forever. I wondered how those young minds would ever accept that.

It had been snowing outside for a week. By now the snow was pretty deep on the ground.

A man that Greg had worked with as an insulator a few years before, walked in. He had driven all the way from Minneapolis to hand Greg an envelope. The Union brothers had taken up a collection. He said "Everyone on the job was holding us in their hearts." He hugged Greg and left. He had to be on the job the next Minneapolis!

The coffin was deep blue. There were gold pens to sign the coffin. Friends and family wrote final messages and signed their names. A good friend stayed after the viewing to record every Message. "Watch over us", "I'll never forget you", "I will always love you", "I can't wait until we are together again". The French teacher who went to France with Cassie wrote something in French. I didn't know what it said, but to me it sounded beautiful anyway. We read and reread those messages that she recorded for us a hundred times.

It was time to go to the Rosary. We had been at the funeral parlor for four hours. We greeted, prayed, hugged and cried and watched the video. We were exhausted. I had to change my shirt because when the mothers arrived, they wept on my shoulder and soaked my clothing.

We drove to the church in the dark. Such fear gripped me when we entered the church for the rosary. It was so full of people. I held on to Nicki on one side of me and Greg on the other as we walked down the aisle to take our seats.

Father welcomed everyone. They played the video again.

The high school boys formed a half circle and sang a song called, "Gentle Annie". It was beautiful. Our extended family from out-of-town, were in awe of the tenderness and beauty of the service.

The church held 750 people that night. All of us prayed the rosary together. The Protestants, Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Mormons and the former non-believers, all knelt in prayer and participated in a ritual to find peace and comfort for themselves.

At the end of the service, we watched and held each other as all of those people filed past the casket. Every one of them stopped to memorize Cassie one last time. Some of them lay a rose inside the casket. The children were clinging to each other. They were devastated. When other parents went by, they could barely look in...that could be their child.

We all went outside to wait by the hearse for the casket. I will never forget the solemn sight of the senior boys carrying their friend's casket down the church steps in the dark. Big, cold, gentle flakes covered them. Their march was solemn, quiet and strong. The remorse hung on their faces. We shook in the cold.

Our eyes did not leave them. Our souls ached for them. I could not fathom that my daughter was in that box. My beautiful, gentle, Cassie was gone.

My brother stood behind me. My husband was on one side, my sister on the other. Nicki was in tront of me. We gripped each other in unison when the casket went by. Trying to stop shivering. We were all holding each other, but the warmth of the embrace did not insulate us trom the ache, and the cold grip of death on this night.

The funeral was moved trom the church to Nicki's grade school gym. It could fit over 1,000 people. So the members of the parish community went to the gym and put down carpeting, set up flowers, chairs, banners and an alter to give it the illusion of a church. Students would read scripture, ushers would escort folks in, the musicians trom the parish would play guitar and sing, and the high school choir would perform. It took hours of work by our community. It was beautiful.

My sister went ahead of me to the funeral home, before the services, to have some time with the young pallbearers. She had a flower for each of them. "Thank you for carrying our flower with such love." She thanked each of them, blessed them with holy water and pinned on their flowers. Tears were flowing. That was good.

The rest of the family started to show up at the funeral home. It was our last time to see our daughter. Now, the casket lid that I didn't want to leave open, I didn't want to have closed. I didn't want her to be locked inside that small dark place, alone. I tried hard to memorize her. I wanted to fill the empty space with all my love. I wanted to send with her every word of comfort. I wanted her to know I would never, never stop loving her. Finally, I reluctantly nodded to them to close the lid.

The gym was full. 1,000 people were staring at us as we paraded in. It felt awkward. We were so tired. One more service, then Cassie would be put in the ground. I was numb. I wondered how Nicki felt as we walked inside. Why did she have to go through such agony? She was only 12 years old. Why did she have to parade her grief?

The high school got out an hour early so students and teachers could attend the funeral. That meant so much to us.

The choir and musicians made the service beautiful! Their music was very comforting. Father gave a talk on drugs, which was very hurtful to us. We had asked that the services be just about Cassie's life. No drugs. He denied our request. We wanted him to talk just about her as a person. We had been public about her death and we had been honest about her drug use. We wanted to educate people, but at the funeral, we just wanted to remember our Cassie.

Her freshman year coach got up at the end and gave a beautiful eulogy. It was very hard for him, but it really added to the celebration of her life. We will always be thankful to Coach for that.

In all fairness to the priest that did the service, afterwards, we found out that because of his talk, a girl told her mother after the service that she needed help.

We did not know it at the time, but one of the TV stations from Billings was filming the last part of the funeral at the back of the room. We were shocked when we turned on the news that evening and saw our daughter's services. But several months later, a mother from the other side ofthe state, shared with me that the night the services appeared on the news, her young daughter, a couple of years younger than Cassie, had prepared a suicide note for her parents. She had the opened pills on the dresser. She could not fight her severe depression any longer. She was going to end her young life that very night, and then the news came on the TV in her room, pieces of our daughter's funeral played for that young girl. She went downstairs and asked her mother for help.

The ride to the cemetery was quiet. The grandparents rode with us. On the cemetery wall was a large sheet painted by her friend. "Soul mates forever. I love you Cassie. Love, Marissa".

The graveside service was brief, mainly because it was so bitterly cold outside. Father blessed the spot and presented us with the cross that was on the casket. The pallbearers formed a line and came up and hugged us one by one. Bagpipes played as we all filed back into the limousines. We went immediately to the reception to greet our family and friends. The high school friends of Cassie stayed. They could not tear themselves away.

Weeks and months after we buried her, we continued to find flowers, stuffed animals, cards and letters to her. They needed to express themselves only to her. It was private.

Most of our family left the next day; my older sister and my best friend stayed a few days to help with Thanksgiving. My friend drove from Iowa and was stranded in the snow. She missed all of the services. She was terrified of driving because she totaled her car coming out here to see Cassie in the hospital. She and her daughter were almost killed.

Her daughter, Stephani, said that she was dangling from the ceiling by her seatbelt; her mother was covered in snow, unable to breath, on the ground. They thought they were dying, but the daughter cried out, "Cassie!" She said she felt God's presence with them, and she knew they would be ok. The mother, my best friend Kristi, shared with me later, that she was actually suffocating in the snow that had seeped inside from her broken windows. She said, "I just remained calm."

Stephani crawled outside of the window and someone stopped to help them. The next day, instead of going home, the husband brought them the van, and they continued on until they reached snowbound Montana. They sacrificed their lives to come and be with us at the hospital. Those girls were raised together. We shared holidays. They were sisters of the heart. Our friends were devastated that they missed the services, so we shared our newspaper articles and the memorial video with them. Very little to offer to two friends who had been through so much...

I took a week off after everyone left. There were bills to pay, thank you cards to write and I wanted to watch the memorial video every day to help me with my grief. We had a "Thank you" ice cream party for the students of Sacred Heart School to thank them for their loving cards, gifts and messages. When the first group of students came in... the little ones, I tried to thank them, but their small, soft faces were looking so intensely at mine, my heart welled up in my throat and my gratitude could only be expressed by adding extra scoops of ice cream to their cones.

I went back to work a few days after family left. I could not be alone with my grief just yet. I walked into the office and looked over at my desk. Someone delivered a candle, there were flowers saying, "Welcome back". Every day someone brought a gift. Someone called. Someone stopped in to share his or her love, stories or concern. Everyone offered to do something about drugs.

My head could not process information. My thoughts could not veer far from Cassie's death. I felt damaged and useless. I went home at 3 p.m. with Nicki. Nicki was pretty much the same way. Greg showed up early too. We spent weeks going easy on ourselves.

Christmas was soon upon us. We decorated early that year. The house was filled with angels, candles and warm sayings. It felt good to come home and plug in the tree and garland. The twinkling, soft lights reflected our fragile mood.

One night, while I was at services, Jeanette, the office manager from our dentist's office came by. Instead of exchanging gifts with each other at the office, they had decided to donate their gift exchange money to our family. The Christmas spirit was a little more alive this year. We were so touched. I will never forget that act of unselfishness, or the love they extended to us. Generous gestures such as this one, I believe, helped me to open my family's heart to the world again.

I thought Christmas would be especially hard this year, but somehow it insulated us. The snow. The serenity. The church filled with angels and Christ's peace. We wanted to do something special because we knew it would be different this year.

None of us could bear the thought of standing with the other families in church on Christmas Eve. I stopped by the priest's house and told him the difficulty we were having. I asked if he would give me enough communion for our family, so we could have our services out at the cemetery. He agreed. Thankful, I took the special container holding the Eucharist in one hand and a prayer book in the other, eager to surprise the family with something special.

The family was hesitant about Christmas. No one wanted gifts. No one wanted to face the holiday without Cassie. When I told them of the idea of a special service out at the cemetery, they all stared blankly at me, but they agreed to try it... We drove to the cemetery in silence. I was indifferent to their discomfort. I was excited that I had special gifts made for each family member, from Cassie, with a locket of her hair in each one.

We lit luminaries around her grave. We read from the prayer book and took the communion. After our special service, I handed everyone his or her gift from Cassie. They all looked at me in such surprise. Each held there gift reverently, no needing to know its contents, only that there was something special from Cassie inside.

Nicki's was a small antique bottle with a chain that could have been a Christmas tree ornament. It had Cassie's hair wound inside of it. Greg's was a key chain with a small glass locket. Cassie's hair was carefully tucked in there and glued by a jeweler. Mom's was a jewelry box with Cassie's hair carefully placed in a tiny jewelry pouch. They stood in silent amazement. Everyone cried. For the fIrst time in weeks, I felt happy.

After they opened their gifts, I was so fIlled with peace and contentment that I fell back in the snow and made a snow angel for Cassie and signed my name. Greg raised his eyebrows and looked at me then he let go and fell back to make his own angel and signed his name. Nicki and Grandma followed suite. Happiness and peace fell on the whole family. The next two days were beautiful because we had found a way to connect with our daughter.

Days later, when I went back out to Cassie's grave, there were several more snow angels, notes and names written in the snow. People had placed candles, statues and more notes everywhere.

Sister Patrick Leonard Murphy came for Christmas dinner with another couple. You could tell everyone was hesitant when they walked in the door. What would it be like having Christmas dinner with the "grievers"? We probably would have felt the same way if we had been in their situation. We ended up sharing funny stories and laughing. It was a very beautiful Christmas dinner.

Sometime in early December, federal agents came to our home. They were investigating Cassie's death. We offered them coffee and we all sat down at the dining room table.

"Your daughter shouldn't be dead." They told us. They shared everything they could about Cassie's drug use. They were in the process of interviewing everyone who knew her. They answered a lot of questions for me. They also brought a level of truth about her drug use. We developed a kinship with these men that continues today. They were parents too. They shared with us events from their own lives. They were professional. They did their job. They were compassionate and treated us with such solace.

When they left, pain seared through me. I turned to my husband. The tears that had evaded me before came easily now. The reality of her pain, loneliness and addiction was unbearable. How had she endured the unbearable hell of addiction under our own roof, without us knowing? We wept together and crumpled to the floor from the weight of the truth and the feeling of hopelessness that had come from losing a child to drugs.

In January we started to draft a head stone. We wanted something special, of course. But because of the circumstances, we decided it must carry a message that would speak to people 100 years from now.

We chose a stone wider that the normal 36" stone for a single graves. The outside is rounded and has sculptured flowers on it. It reads, Cassie Baydal, August 14,1982 - November 14, 2000, Daughter of Greg and Mary, Sister of Nicole and on the bottom it reads, "Forever changed by your message, forever blessed by your love."

On the back is our favorite picture of her coming up a spiral stairwell in France. Her face is shining and beautiful in the picture. It really captured her warmth and sincerity. Underneath her picture is a poem she wrote, called The Flame.

The Flame
Way down past the sadness,
Deep inside the heart,
There burns an ever-going flame,
From which I'll never part.
It brightens all the darkness
And dries up all the tears.
It lightens up a path in which
to walk from all your fears.
But if your flame should ever
get blown out by winds of sin,
Just stay strong, say a prayer.
And light it up again.
Some lives may be broken
And you might have to mend them,
But no matter how intense the pain,
It never helps to end them.
You may not have much faith left
From where it all once came,
But as long as there's a spark of hope
You'll always have a flame.

By Cassie Haydal, November, 1996

It took months to prepare the stone. In the meantime, the funeral home put a tiny copper plaque with her name and date on it. It caught all of us off guard. It was every bit as moving as the stone would have been. It seemed to seal the burial. More angel statues appeared, crosses, candles, stuffed animals, single roses, and scores of letters and cards. All were frozen to the ground.

Spring was almost here and that meant the Prom would be here soon. I called Kim, one of Cas' friends, who was as tall as she was, to see if she wanted to sew a formal out of the material I had purchased for Cassie. The top was strapless leather with a v cut in the middle. The bottom was a straight black silk skirt. We spent evenings and weekends cutting, sewing and hiding our mistakes. We shared memories of Cassie. I learned a lot. Other girls started to show up with their material and patterns. We sewed three dresses in a couple of weeks. There was a lot of eating and giggling coming from our dining room. There were only a few tense moments. Finally, prom morning, the last dress was done. Kim had short, auburn hair, and the black dress was stunning on her. Jen, with her trim waist and red-dyed bob was sensational in her green satin, and Marissa, had the perfect figure for her snake-skin-looking blue formal. It was a great idea making the dresses. I was full of new, good memories.

The girls all came to the house the evening of prom and had their picture taken together. We smiled and joked as we adjusted fake boso~. When the last girl walked out the door, I turned to Nicki in the next room, who opened her arms and I ran over and we held each other and cried. No one needed to say, "That should have been Cassie walking out of that door."

Nicki and I decided that Cassie should have flowers too. We took beautiful flowers out to her. We lit hurricane lamps and placed them on each side of the grave. We left them burning. We knew others would be out. Sure enough, the next day, the kids started calling. They had all gone out after the dance and found the lit lamps.

Nicki spent the night at a friend's house. My husband and I knew that if this night brought such emotional weight, that graduation would be unbearable. He called that night and made reservations for graduation weekend, which was also Memorial Day weekend. We would go to Lake La Raunge, in Canada. We were escaping to the North.

We left days before graduation. On our way out of town, we stopped at the cemetery to leave a note for the seniors.

Graduation morning found many seniors with mixed emotions. While we were gone, thoughtful friends delivered yellow and blue balloons (school colors) to Cassie's grave. One of Cassie's friends lay daisies (the class flower) all over and surrounded the parameter with blue and gold candleholders, attaching more daisies to each of them. She took a picture so she could share it with us when we returned home. It was very beautiful.

They all met out there at noon in caps and gowns to acknowledge their accomplishments and say out loud what wouldn't be said at the school graduation ceremony. "Cassie's not here". The kids wanted to have an empty chair at graduation service, but the school didn't want to memorialize her death. They allowed flowers from the class to be placed on the stage in her remembrance. Once of her friends came to the house, to get the tri-fold folder with all her senior pictures on it. At the last minute, the principal let her put it on the stage. Some of the kids receiving scholarships didn't know it was up there. If you were sitting towards the middle and back, you couldn't see it.

One of Cassie's friends shared with me later, that when she went up to get her scholarship, she was taken aback when she saw the photos and she lost her composure. I tried to imagine her loss as she went to the front of the room to receive the largest scholarship that can be offered to a student from our community. It should have been the happiest moment of her life. She walked up excitedly to accept her reward for hard work and determination. As she reached the front, the pictures slapped her. Cassie would have never wanted that, although it made us feel good that her friend wanted her there so much that she went through the effort.

In the meantime, hundreds of miles away, we had left the cabin to go fishing. It was freezing, so we put on many layers. I wore a jacket with a fur-trimmed hood. In the afternoon, during the time of the ceremony, I hung my head over the edge of the boat I hid my face ftom the family with my hood. Reality pounded itself against me relentlessly. My pain was like a searing heat, which was turning my insides to liquid. I stared into the water and willed my grief into the lake. Though we had tried to remove ourselves ftom the weekend's cruel reminder, the truth followed us...

As a parent, I thought I had done everything right. We went to church. We prayed at night. I would lay with the girls in the dark and they would share their intimate thoughts. We would pray for their future husbands and careers. Cassie would grab me and ask me to pray with her about a problem. I would pray with her friends when asked.

She was involved in sports, bible camp, church classes, friends, family and community. We talked to our children daily about everything we knew about drugs.

At night, I would wait for Cassie by the kitchen door. I would hug her and smell her after she had been out. I was sure I would detect signs of alcohol or marijuana, if there were any. I knew my girls would never touch drugs. I thought because we were Christians, that there was a bubble around my children that other families didn't have.

I think back to freshmen year. We found out that Cassie was smoking marijuana. We took her for an addiction evaluation. They said she was not addicted to anything and she had three choices: Go to AA, work with a counselor or go to group therapy. They strongly urged her not going to group, because bad behaviors are openly exchanged there. Some of the kids were into tougher stuff than she was. So Cas and her friend both chose AA. The adults there were very welcoming and Cassie told me she was changed forever by their stories.

She always referred to her freshman year as her "wild time". I bought that. In Junior and Senior year, occasionally when something didn't seem right with Cassie, we would have long talks and she would be OK for a while. I attributed some of it to being a teen, working and going to school and being in love...But weeks before she died I questioned her about her dark circles, her weight loss and her absence from home. I begged her to tell me what was wrong. I asked her several times, and then I took her to the doctor twice. The first time was three weeks before she had the massive heart attack. The second time was just three days before November 4th.

I went to high school in the 70's. Some of the girls had anorexia. One girl died. Could that be what was wrong with Cassie? She had a good appetite and she was thin, but not skinny..I couldn't put my finger on it. I hoped that with time, the answer would be revealed. The answer was revealed to me in pieces, like a puzzle. It spoke to me through my daughter's eyes and actions every day for months.

What I should have done, instead of trying to interpret the symptoms myself, was to take her for help and let the professional interpret the symptoms.

My parents always treated me with respect. They always made me feel that I was trusted. I valued that as a teen and I did not want to do anything that might compromise such a gift. I thought trust was everything between a parent and a child. My parents never looked through my mail, room or purse.

Some of my friends rebelled because their parents were too strict or too snoopy, so I tried to create that same rapport that I had with my parents between my daughters and me. As a parent, I used my experiences as a measure of how to discipline and raise my daughters. I thought that if I had an open relationship with my girls, they would lead with good behavior.

I believe that even though families are close and parents have close relationships with their children, that children are bound to experiment as a part of declaring their independence. When children experiment or get in trouble; it is our opportunity and our privilege to coach them and prepare them for a time when they are on their own and such circumstances arise.

If our children have friends who smoke, drink, have sex, party and use drugs, they will too. Experts will tell you that taking drugs is a 30 second decision. If children have drugs in their environment, they have a 51 % chance of using them.

If our children try alcohol, drugs and sex, do we have a plan in place that will send the message, "We love you and therefore we are going to show you the consequences of your actions?"

When our children get into trouble or make negative choices, as parents, we seem to have a problem understanding that it is not about us! It is about our children. And our actions will relay to them their boundaries and family values. We will be giving them boundaries in which to operate that will keep them safe. The experience of receiving a consequence for an action can then be used as a tool for measure when they are no longer with us.

Cassie's story is a story of drug addiction, but more importantly, it is a story about the power of healing and love within each of us. The ability each of us has within ourselves to transform. We can turn a nightmare into a miracle. We can take devastation and turn it into a life worth living. We are all damaged...

When Cassie died, all I could think of was, this only happens to other people. For the first time in my life, something devastating happened to me and to my family, but if bad things can happen in my life, I believe the good things are mine to claim as well. Blessings are ours for the taking. We are vulnerable when we open ourselves to love. But a life without love is a life without hope.

Although a part of me died with Cassie, a new part of me was born that same day. I can't live for her, but I can carry her message to others.

I choose to remain vulnerable to love. I open my arms wide to inevitable pain. For in the greatest depths of pain exists the greatest beauty. It is where we find each other, our real selves, our Christ selves. It is where I will find Cassie.

Copyright 2001

From Someone Who Loved Cassie