Stumbling Toward the Light

"We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly" -- Madeleine L'Engle

A collection of thoughts and messages I wrote after my daughter died May 17, 2000. Primarily this blog is concerned with grief, bereavement, the death of a child, hope, courage and a tough faith journey.

Location: Kansas, United States

Husband, father of four, friend, dog owner, owned by a cat, Episcopalian, last liberal Republican left in the U.S.

Monday, December 11, 2006


[A message to the DayByDay list written July 29, 2004]

An email friend asked me how I was doing earlier this week and I responded that I was a yapping dog running in circles chasing my tale. My friend responded that I'd made an interesting Freudian slip in myanswer.... chasing my "tale" rather than chasing my "tail."

I've been thinking about my friend's observation. July 30, tomorrow, will be Rachel's 12th birthday. The past couple weeks I have been writing to DayByDay more often than I usually do. I have also sat down and written friends, family, strangers.... anybody with an email address... endless writing, telling tales..... Chasing my tale.

It had reached an obsessive level (my writing) until my friend wrote back with that comment and I stopped and sat and did some thinking. What is my tale and why the heck do I feel the need to chase it? And am I just running in circles doing this? So this morning I sat down and started writing my tale. I apologize for the length but wanted to share it with you.

I come from one of those dysfunctional families we never saw on TV thirty to forty years ago. My Dad was a violent alcoholic and when I left home at 18 never to return for any length of time I was determined never to get into a mess like that again.

In my warped way of seeing things at that time I figured that the best way to avoid all the pain and messes in life was not to get closely involved with others.... not to love because love was a sham.... a "Brady Bunch" fantasy.

Fast forward about nine years. I got married. I met this wonderful person who saw life (and still does) as a hard journey only made better by walking it with people you love and who love you. She loved me, trusted me and I found myself, unwillingly at first, being drawn to her and slowly opening my eyes to her world. I loved back, trusted back. We got married and began a family.

Early on I discovered that I had few redeemable parenting skills. I was like a kid suddenly finding himself the CEO of a major corporation...... scared and stumbling. I went into therapy working through my rough childhood with a great therapist, watched other parents closely and learned a helluva lot from Diana and our older kids, Kenny, Amanda and Emily. I look back now with some regrets as I know I put them all through hell at times trying to figure out what I should do. Twenty-four years later I'm still stumbling but not as much and I don't always hit the ground quite as hard any more.

By January, 1992, Diana and I had been married for eleven years. We had three children, all in school and were up to our hinies in bills, grass (I don't mow as much as I should), kids' activities, jobs, etc. I was still stumbling through marriage and parenthood but I hadn't repeated the cycle that my parents had.... substance and physical abuse. Then we found out that we were going to have another child, due in July.

What at first seemed to be a financial and familial blow to our family, Rachel Diana Sowers, arrived (three weeks past her due date during a horrendousthunder storm) on July 30, 1992, much too early in the morning... And life took a sudden turn.

The bills were still there, growing faster than the grass in the front yard. Our house, too small to begin with, was filled with more furniture (2nd hand), more clothes and more noise.

But there was something different about babyhood this, the fourth time around. I did something different with this new child. I took a month off from work (Parental leave) so Diana could get back to her job. I found myself chief caretaker of an infant, carrying her around the house, cleaning up stuff that came out of her from every place possible with disgusting regularity, and.... my greatest triumph....finally figuring out how to burp a baby.

Rachel still got cholic though and it was summer and we had no central air conditioning in the house. So I spent many nights walking her up and down the hall under the attic fan singing every song I knew to her. One night while I was walking with her, dead on my feet, barely awake but realizing that she'd finally fallen back to sleep, I thought, "So this is bonding?"

Truthfully, I was very happy to return to work and relax after that month of "Mister Mom" (And have nothing but praise for you parents who do it 24/7). But that little girl had split open my heart and burrowed her way inside me during that time.

We all raised Rachel. Diana, Kenny, Amanda, Emily and I changed diapers, took her for walks, played with her, read to her, listened to her sing "Eensy Teensy Spider" for the 9,472nd time. She engaged us, enlightened us, enthralled us, entrapped us, enthused us and at times enraged us.

One morning (she was about four), a couple days before we were scheduled to have family photos taken she took a pair of scissors, snuck off to her room and "made her hair look better." In the end I took her to a barber who cut most of her hair off just to try to even things out.

At first I was royally ticked off at her and she was in tears. Then one of the older kids started making comments about how Rachel must have been trying a new Cyndi Lauper or Boy George look. Giggles turned to laughter and we took the family photo with "Boy George" wearing a pretty dress and very strange hair.

Then shortly after her seventh birthday in August, 1999, Rachel was diagnosed with leukemia. Nine months of treatment, trekking back and forth between Topeka and the hospital in Kansas City.... and she was dead in May, 2000.

The pain of losing her was so hard at first that I found myself falling back into doing what I did as a boy during bad times....closing my mind/heart to everything. I walked through the world like an actor in a play saying my lines, fitting the role, "Bill Sowers," well while curled up in a protective ball on my insides. I can remember sometimes thinking..... "If only I hadn't loved. If only I hadn't given myself to others, I wouldn't be hurting like this." Funny how we fall back on these sad defenses. And how truly sad that, at first, I was so wrapped up in my own pain that I
couldn't see all the pain of others around me.

Slowly I opened my eyes and unwrapped my balled-up self and began crawling out of myself. As I did I saw the heartfelt grief of others who also hurt at losing Rachel and hurt for all of us, her family, at our loss. I also saw my family wounded. We began to reach out for each other and, holding on for support, and have slowly moved ourselves upward and then on down the path.

Four years later Diana and I are getting ready to send Emily to college... August 15th. She will be the last to leave this little house with the too high lawn. I sit here looking at the photos on tables, the cedar chest and the walls in our living room. We have an unbelievable number of photos up in our house. Each is a reflection of a life well lived. Each is also a symbol of that love that has bound us together from the very beginning and still binds us to each other. How could I wish any of these wonderful people had never happened?

I write a lot about Love. I write that God, my God's other name is Love.

But Love is not an easy thing. It is not a cute little angel sitting on a fluffy cloud strumming a harp. It is a power, a force stronger than anything else imaginable. It splits open our hearts and burrows deep inside us. It lifts us to the stars and sends us reeling into a pit of dark sorrow. It has come to me many times in my life and tomorrow I will remember it breaking into my world like a sudden summer thunderstorm and taking me on a journey standing outside to watch Kansas sunsets, up and down unexplored paths through rolling fields looking for pretty rocks, and up and down a hallway softly singing lullabyes to a small child in the middle of the night.

I will never regret that journey or loving the person who took me with her down that path.

This is my tale that I chase. Sometimes I do go in circles with it but more often than not it continues to lead me forward into new places, new ideas, new friends... more opportunities to love and be loved.

Happy birthday, Rachel.