True Crime Tuesday – “Just One Bite”

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I watch Forensic Files to fall asleep. Most people read or listen to soft music. I need the sound of Peter Thomas narrating to lull me into slumber. Although, he is no Keith Morrison. Anyway, a few days ago as I binged watched Forensic Files for the umpteenth time, I came across an episode that piqued my interest not for the dumb criminal… but to turn the tables… the senseless jury and several law enforcement members. This is Season 8, Episode 7, “Once Bitten”.

The crime is horrific. In Phoenix, AZ in 1991, a lovely vivacious bar tender, 35-year-old Kim Ancona, is stabbed and brutally murdered and left in the back storeroom of the bar she was employed at. The bar owner finds her the next morning and immediately calls 911. The cops are doing their detective work and asking the owner and fellow employees who could have committed this crime. A few of the employees suggest frequent bar patron, Ray Krone. Many of them found him odd. Kim found him attractive and according to her friends, wanted to start a romance with him. Because of this Ray climbs the suspect ladder.

What ultimately seals his fate is a bite mark found on Kim’s body. The bite mark clearly shows a snaggletooth on the top front teeth. They notice that Ray has a snaggletooth after obtaining his bite impression, His blood type (Type O) is found to be the same as the blood found on Kim’s jeans. They also find dark hairs on Kim’s body and assume they are Ray’s even though they are Mongoloid and Ray is Caucasian. Remember, 1991 is before we had more in depth DNA testing. He must be the guy, right?! I forgot to mention, the police found a footprint at the scene. Men’s size 9.5. Ray, poor Ray, wears a 10.5 shoe. But he did it. We know he did. Because the cops said so.

Ray is quickly arrested and brought to trial.

Although his shoe size is bigger than what is found at the scene, the hair is Mongoloid and he has a solid alibi (I forgot to mention that too), Ray is found guilty because the solitary Forensic Odontologist the prosecution puts on the stand, Dr. Raymond Rawson, says without doubt, 100%, the bite mark is Ray Krone’s.

As a side note, in the episode, they show the bite mark and show Ray Krone’s bite mark on top of it several times. Even I can tell they aren’t a perfect match ignoring the snaggletooth. The original bite mark was wider than Ray’s set of teeth.

Ray is sentenced to death in 1992. He is granted a 2nd trial in 1996. This time the defense puts 3 other Forensic Odontologists on the stand who all agree that this infamous bite more is NOT Ray Krone’s. The prosecution, once again, puts Dr. Rawson on the stand who is still sticking by his first testimony that it is totally Mr. Krone’s. So, you would think with 3 other Forensic Odontologists refuting Dr. Rawson that Ray would be cleared of the crime, that reasonable doubt about the stupid bite mark would be found…

Nope. Once again, this second jury finds him guilty and he returns to death row.

Ray educates himself in law while he is there trying to find some way of exonerating himself. The only evidence that has sentenced him to death is a bite mark that isn’t his. Ray’s luck turns around when Arizona, in 2001, created a new law that gave convicted felons access to the evidence in their cases as long as they continue to say they are innocent (frankly, doesn’t everyone claim innocence?!).

Ray has the evidence in his hands and time on his side because in the last 9 years, there have been tremendous advancements in DNA. He and his lawyers request DNA testing of the blood found on Kim’s jeans. The results come back…

… it is not Ray Krone’s! (I know, shocking, right?!)

There is a hit on the DNA to a man named Kenneth Phillips. Kenneth is of Native American descent (Mongoloid), wears a size 9.5 shoe and also has a snaggletooth. Oh, and at the time he lived 600 yards from the bar. Kenneth, a repeated violent sex offender & child molester (a real winner here), claimed he committed this crime while in a drunken black out. He said during interrogation, that he woke up with, literally, blood on his hands. Instead of going to the police, he just ignored it.

Ten years after Ray Krone was sentenced to death, he is released on April 8, 2002.

It is said that there was enough evidence back in 1991 to have put Kenneth Phillips on police’s radar for this crime, but they and prosecution members just ignored it and continued to pursue Ray Krone.

Ray Krone didn’t let his 10 years on death row after being innocent die down. In 2005, he sued the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County (and rightly so). He was awarded $3,000,000 and $1,400,000 respectively. He has become a huge activist in abolishing the death penalty and is the Director of Membership and Training for Witness to Innocence, a non-profit dedicated to ending the death penalty.

And Ray got his snaggletooth fixed.

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Moral of the story: Never judge a bite by its snaggletooth or sometimes it isn’t the criminal who is stupid.

True Crime Tuesdays – “What a Great Idea for a Novel!”

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Some criminals just stay with you. The first criminal I was introduced to was Jeffrey Dahmer. I don’t remember what I was watching but my father told me all about him. I think I was about 12 at the time. His acts were heinous. Killing young men, raping them and having them for dinner. I always wondered if Silence of the Lambs was based on him. Even at that tender age, instead of this disgusting me, Dahmer fascinated me. He has stuck with me since.

And so has Maryann Castorena.

No, she is not anything like Jeffrey Dahmer, but her stupidity is so remarkable I can’t stop thinking about her. I first saw her on Snapped, Season 17, Episode 3. I think my mind was a ball of confusion after the episode was over. I am not sure what she was thinking with her defense, but like I stated, her story (oh, what a story it is!) has adhered itself to some part of my brain, leeching on and not letting go.

Maryann met and started dating a man named Jose Hernandez back in 2005. Love was in the air that they moved in together. At the heart of this story is greed (isn’t it always?!). In 2012, Jose, so infatuated with Maryann, took out a $750,000 life insurance policy. He took this policy out at the insurance company Maryann worked at (convenient, right?!). At the time he put his niece as the beneficiary but question whether he could change that at a later date, say, once he had a wife and kids.

Well, of course Maryann was made aware of this policy and started to manufacture a plan to obtain Jose’s money. If only the policy were in her name already! Maryann was visiting her adult sons one day and met one of their friends, Anthony Delagarza, a member of the gang the Latin Kings. Not the best mother of the year knowing your sons are hanging out with gang members but hey, why not join in, right?! Delagarza claimed he wanted out of the Latin Kings and was working on it. He is truthful in this aspect. In December of 2012, he was officially “jumped” out or in other terms, beaten to a pulp.

But Anthony’s thug-life was not over. Maryann would make sure of that.

In early 2013, Jose had a change of heart and decided he wanted Maryann to have all his money, making her the only beneficiary of his employee stock options plan, his 401k plan, and his life insurance policy through his company. The other one stayed with his niece as the beneficiary.

Ah, it was go time for Maryann!

She started small, having Delagarza destroying the “beat up jalopy” for an insurance payout. This jalopy was a pretty new 2012 Nissan Maxima. Paying him $1,000, he blew up the car (add 1st degree arson to his list of offences). The cover story was that Maryann’s ex-husband did it for revenge. In return, Jose received $40,000 from the insurance company.

This event was so life altering to Jose, that he now changed his beneficiary on his other insurance policy leaving his niece with 60% and Maryann with 40%.

What Maryann never told Jose, was she was in love with someone else and married them July of 2013. She then returned and told Delagarza she needed a favor (seriously man, turn and run!). She wanted him to murder Jose. In return, he would get $50,000 of a 3rd life insurance policy Maryann was going to persuade Jose to take out. So in her charming nature, Maryann gets Jose to take out another $750,000 life insurance policy leaving her as the sole beneficiary.

Side note: Are you adding up the dollar signs in your head? Let’s see… $750,000+(40% of 750,000)+employee stock options, 401K and the other life insurance policy… Maryann stood to gain somewhere between $1.2 – $1.5 million!!!

Now, Jose had to die.

Late 2013, Maryann moved her husband (not Jose) to Michigan from Nevada. She then met with Delagarza several times to discuss the murder of Jose. Meanwhile, Jose now split that first insurance policy 50-50 with his niece and Maryann.

On January 5th, 2014, Delagarza went into action, borrowing a relative’s car and waiting for Jose to leave his apartment and accessing his car. At that time, Delagarza senselessly beat Jose with ball joint remover with a broken prong and left him to die in the snow. Maryann and Delagarzathen got rid of the weapon.

Okay, so why is Maryann Castorena’s murder of her ex-boyfriend so remarkable?! It isn’t necessarily the murder… it is the evidence and defense that is quite the story.

As police searched for Jose’s killer they subsequently interviewed Maryann several times especially since she stood to gain A LOT of money. In these interviews, Maryann was only so happy to give the police Delagarza’s name. Heck, if he was in prison and she wasn’t, she didn’t have to pay him the $50,000 hit fee, right?! (Because $1.2 million isn’t enough!) Well, Delagarza didn’t think twice about throwing Maryann under the bus telling them that she was the mastermind and that…

… she even wrote out the murder plan!

To coin a Yiddish term (yes, I’m Jewish)… Oy Vey!

Maryann had handwritten a note outlining the whole plan to kill Jose from hiding by his car, to beating him, every little aspect was written down. The police ate this up and started searching everywhere for this letter. Instead of burning said letter, the police found it crumpled up inside a book bag. Although I cannot seem to find an image of this letter searching on Google, Oxygen just show a glimpse of it in the Snapped episode.

So far Maryann has broken two of my rules seen in my prior post from March: “What Not To Do When Committing A Crime… The Stupidity of Criminals” . She has written out her murder plan (yes I know she is my example in this post) and she hired someone.

It is obvious that Delagarza was going away for a long time for first-degree murder. Now it was Maryann’s time for her trial. Maryann took that letter she wrote and created this whole defense on it. The defense: the letter wasn’t a murder plot, no, it was a story she heard two women discussing at a restaurant she was at and she thought it sounded like a great idea for a novel or movie!

Um… really Maryann?! Who the hell do you think is buying that defense?!

This “story” she heard and was writing was exactly the way things played out in real life with Jose’s murder.

Needless to say, the jury was not falling for this charade and Maryann is spending her days in prison sentenced to life with not possibility of parole. In the end, Maryann, was it really worth it?!


Maryann stays with me because of the letter. Her stupidity in not only writing the murder plot, but also not disposing it and then claiming it was a book idea is what boggles my mind. How do you get so absorbed in killing a human being for money that you totally miss the idea of being caught?! What goes through your mind as you plan the hit?! Do you really think you will get away with it?!

Maryann, my one advice for you… give up on your writing career.

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It Takes A Suicide…

July 6th was a rough day for the people in my town. Many somber faces questioning, “Why? Why would she?” They were clueless. All they saw was a happy girl who had a loving family and friends. A preteen about to start the 7th grade in a little over a month.

They didn’t understand. And how could they?!

Unless you have been there or have known someone who has been there, you can’t fathom what would make a person want to take their own life. I understand because I have had that mental pain before, I have suffered from suicidal ideation before. I know what it is like to want to leave the world.

It’s hard hearing when it is a grown adult. Harder when it is a teenager. Definitely the hardest when it is a 12 year old.

My daughter did not know this girl personally. Sophia is a grade ahead and never had any classes or extracurriculars with her. When I showed her a photo, she commented that she had seen her in the halls but that was it. Sophia was saddened to hear about this girl and wondered what we could do.

I, like many others… friends, family, community members, teachers… donated a bit of money to her funeral expenses.

But what more could I do?

How many times I had read articles recently about teens and even preteens in our area taking their life… too many. What could cause this? What could change to prevent this?

I had decided even before this child ended her life to speak to the school about further mental health education at the start of the next school year. Being a huge advocate, I was curious last year when my daughter discussed health class what she was learning. She told me that other than stress and coping techniques, there wasn’t much. We had discussed her anxiety disorder at the beginning of last school year with her guidance counselor. He expressed to us that he would meet with Sophia once a month to check in with her. How many times did he meet with her?

… Zero!

That was when the anger in me started to boil. It was beginning to rapid boil, a pot about to overflow with lava hot water. I was furious. Not necessarily in the case of my daughter because she had a therapist and parents who could recognize her anxiety. But what about the next child? What if that child had no support system at home? What if their parent(s) didn’t believe mental illness is real? What if their guidance counselor was their only support? What then?

That child could have easily taken their own life because no one checked in with them.

We received an email from the school superintendent on behalf of her and the middle school principal regarding the recent suicide of this young girl the day after she took her life. At the end of the email it stated that we should not hesitate to contact either one of them.

I immediately wrote them both an email.

I told them my story about how I was diagnosed at 14 with major depressive disorder but probably had it earlier. I reiterated what Sophia told me about lack of mental health education and wanted to know what the schools were actually doing aside from the one 2-hour grief counseling session. I really didn’t think I would get a response. To my shock, the superintendent wrote me back that same day, a Sunday, saying she would like to discuss this further with me. After much back and forth, we agreed to meet one weekday morning. My daughter came with me.

Prior to the meeting, I was pretty angry with school system. This was solely based off of what happened with Sophia’s guidance counselor and the lack of mental health education in health class. But I went into the meeting with an open mind. I highly doubted the schools did nothing, but I wanted to know what resources, if anything, were available. I was shocked to learn that aside from the 3 guidance counselors (1 for each grade in the middle school) there was a school psychologist and a social worker just for the middle school. All the teachers were learned in mental health first aid. They were using a Tier system model:

  • Tier 1: Mental Health Awareness
  • Tier 2: School guidance counselors, teachers, staff, school psychologist and social worker are brought in to discuss a child’s welfare
  • Tier 3: Police and/or Mobile Crisis Intervention is called

I was glad that was all in play. Very important. Then I asked:

“But what about the kids? What are the kids learning? Do they know where they could go if they are suffering? What resources are available to them?”

Both the superintendent and middle school principal agreed that this was an area they were lacking in. They did teach about stress and feeling “off” in health class but did not come right out and name the conditions (Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, etc.) which of course feeds the stigma. The principal did express that they were focusing this year on mental health awareness (last year was bullying). They wanted to know if I had any ideas.

Oh boy, did I!

I first told them the story of Sophia and her guidance counselor. Both seemed annoyed that the counselor did not check in with her and were going to make sure that didn’t happen again. They did express to Sophia that she should not feel like she is a burden and to come and see him (the principal) or her guidance counselor whenever she needed.

I said there should be some way to let the kids know that there is a suicide hotline and a crisis text line. They agreed.

I suggested having mental health first aid training for interested parents by supplying a place for it to be held.

I proposed having people who have been diagnosed come to speak to the schools via assembly. I had no shame, I will happily tell my story.

I asked that they let the parents know what resources were available as I, a parent advocating for youth mental health, had no idea. They agreed they would.

And then they hit me with something, a truth, but a big shock: Parents. How do we get more parents involved? After this young girl’s death to the time I met with them (about 2 weeks) I was the only parent to contact the superintendent. I was one of maybe 4 to contact the middle school principal. The dilemma is as simple as what the superintendent stated, “If it is not my kid, it’s not relevant to me.”

The superintendent suggested I sign up for the District Safe School Climate and Wellness Committee. This committee is comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, Board of Education members and even students. They meet about once a month during the school year. I quickly signed up. I am very excited about this and can’t wait for the first meeting.

At this point I was given homework. I am still trying to find answers to my homework. How do I get more parents involved?! How do I put the word out that their kids might be struggling and they might have no idea?! How do I get them to take suicide and mental health seriously when it is not “their kid”?!

And then, when all of the above is answered… how do I get these parents to interact with the schools in finding a cohesive mental health education program that can be used in school and at home for our kids?!

This child that ended her life… it shouldn’t have come to this point to create a year geared to mental health at the middle school. It shouldn’t have come to this point in asking parents to be more involved. This child should not have had to die for the rest of us to wake up. All this said, because of her, I will keep advocating for our children.

Rest in peace, sweet girl. May you not be in pain anymore.

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What Not To Do When Committing A Crime… The Stupidity of Criminals

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There is no denying the fact that I am a true crime fanatic. I live, breathe and sleep true crime. I watch true crime shows and documentaries. I listen to true crime podcasts. And, I read books devoted to true crime. With all this, I have deemed myself an expert… an expert on what not to do if you want to pull of the perfect crime.

My husband, who occasionally joins me for my Friday night “Wine & Dateline”, has stated many times about the stupidity of these criminals. I am not going to lie, these crimes are mostly murders. Please note, I do not condone any criminal act. My heart breaks for the victim and their family.

But, the criminal, the murderer, I have found myself laughing at many of them. I never in my wildest dreams thought this topic would be humorous, but it has become so.

Below is a list of what you shouldn’t do when trying to pull off the perfect crime. I honestly can’t believe how many stupid people believe they will never be caught that have done the following:

Using Your Cellphone

In this day and age, most of us are attached to our cellphones. We check our emails. We peruse social media. We text. And in rare occurrences, we actually make a phone call. The last two are a criminal’s downfall. Somewhere in between informing their ‘boss’, significant other, or anyone else, they forget that their cellphone will ping off of towers within their vicinity. So many Snapped episodes I have seen where the woman (because it is always a woman on Snapped) will constantly deny that they were anywhere near their now dead spouse, parents, or child. Then the cops show her her phone records. Really?! Are you that stupid to believe the cops would not look into your cellphone records?!

Using Your Credit Card

Similar to using your cellphone, do not use a credit card. So many episodes of Dateline and Snapped where the criminal goes to buy supplies and low and behold, pays with a credit card. Their own credit card. Really?! It is not only the credit card use that has solidified it was in fact you, but you are also caught on camera at the store. No need for receipts, law enforcement has already looked into your credit card purchases.

Keeping The Receipt

I just recently watched a Dateline episode, “Finding Venus”, where an ex-husband killed his ex-wife. He lived in Virginia, she in Michigan. He used a gaming buddy as his alibi. He even had this buddy pretend to be him delivering a check to his divorce lawyer. And, he would have gotten away with it if, a big if, he had thrown out a Walmart receipt. The receipt was found in his car from a location in Ohio along the drive from Virginia to Michigan. It gets better though. What was he buying on this receipt you ask? Gloves, a shovel and a tarp. The tarp wrapper was found at the scene of the crime. Yeah, not looking good buddy! If only you had thrown out that receipt…

Also, a big note to Doug Stewart, the ex-husband… it is bad enough you kept the receipt, but also, your outfit of choice when purchasing said items made you stand out even more. A striped shirt and surf shorts are not the way to go in the month of October in Ohio when you are buying murder supplies.

Using Your Real Name

Let’s go back in time. A time before social media. A time before cellphones. The year was 1986 and this crime happened one town over from where I live now. This is the sad murder of Helle Crafts, a Danish flight attendant. Her husband, Richard Crafts, a pilot, is now more famously known as the man who committed the Woodchipper Murder. Another criminal who thought he would get away with murder especially since they could not find a body. They had suspicions that Helle did not disappear but was in fact murdered with her husband as suspect #1. Problem was a snowplow had seen Richard on the side of the road with a woodchipper late the night Helle was last seen. This led the police to looking into rentals as the Crafts’ did not own one. Low and behold, on the rental agreement, although he paid in cash, Richard signed his own name. Doh!

Writing Out Your Murder Plan

When I first saw this on an episode of Snapped I was extremely amazed at the stupidity of this woman. Meet Maryann Castorena. She hired someone to kill her ex-boyfriend for his insurance as she was still declared the beneficiary. Not uncommon. Most murders are done for the insurance money. What makes her so ‘unique’ or just plain stupid, is she wrote the whole murder plan out for her hired help. When the cops asked her about the letter which highlighted every step of the murder, she claimed it was for a book or screenplay she was writing. She pleads with law enforcement that she overheard 2 women at a restaurant talking about this and thought, “Hey, what a great book/movie idea!”

Ms. Castorena… if you didn’t want to get caught, you shouldn’t have laid out the whole plot on paper.

Your Last Name Should Not Be Peterson, Period

If your last name is Peterson, just change it. Between Drew, Scott & Michael, you’re screwed.

It doesn’t matter if you are found innocent, you will still be guilty. Then again, you could just blame it on an owl!

And if you are a female with the last name Peterson, you will wind up being killed.

Not Paying Your Hired Help

I have seen many a Snapped episode where the instigator of the murder plot ‘forgets’ to pay their hired killer. As much as this killer does not want to get caught, you can bet if he or she does, your ass is going down with them… especially if you didn’t pay them. They will quickly tell the cops who hired them.

Paying Your Hired Help $100

Offering your hired help a mere pittance to murder your significant other will not work out well either. I am still perplexed at the people who agree to kill someone for $100. Really?! Let’s weigh the pros and cons: Pro, $100; Con (and most likely outcome) life in prison with or without parole. Does that $100 seem desirable now?!

(Insert head smack)

Please let me know if I left any off the list. Honestly, this list will constantly grow with all the advances in technology. I may have to write a follow-up to this in a year or two.

*Disclaimer: I am in no way encouraging any of my readers on what to do to commit the perfect crime. This is an article about how stupid 99.9% of criminals are. I am formally saying, do not commit a crime. Just don’t.*

 

 

Teen Suicide & Social Media

Over the weekend, a local 16-year-old girl took her life. A permanent solution to probably years of bullying.

And the bully laughed. Instead of stopping her, she watched her jump off the top deck of the mall parking garage. Then, she took a photo and posted it on social media warning people to stay away from the mall. If that wasn’t bad enough, she expressed joy that this young lady was dead and even remarked, “Rest in peace, bitch.”

It’s time we discussed teen suicide and the ramifications of it with the effects of social media.

When I was a senior in high school, a freshman took her life by hanging herself. We were all sad and confused. Even myself although I had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder four years earlier. I was still not fully aware of what goes through a person’s mind to think ending their life is the only way out. That quickly changed when I found myself sitting on the floor of my bedroom with a case cutter to my wrist debating slicing through a major artery. The numbness, the self-loathing, that feeling that the world would be better off without you in it. I understood then.

But I was in high school in the late 1990s… a generation without social media.

Now, I have a 12-year-old daughter. She is only 2 years shy of my first depression diagnosis and 4 years shy of the young woman who committed suicide. I constantly talk to her. She has known about suicide since she was eight because I was unwell and she was old enough to see that. Our discussion can be found in my post “Mommy Is Not Going To Kill Herself“. After learning of this teenager’s demise, I sat my daughter down for another discussion. I didn’t know if the school would bring it up, but I wanted her to know. I told her everything I knew. I told her about the young woman’s suicide and then I told her about the bully.

Her reaction was pretty much the same as mine as we are both highly emotionally and compassionate people. We were heartbroken upon hearing of this girl’s death. We were livid with the bully’s reaction.

How could someone be happy that another person committed suicide?! How can you express it on Snapchat and be okay with that?! How could you then degrade her by calling her a bitch?! I am sure like most teens she thought nothing would happen to her, that she is invincible. The local paper has pretty much kept the story hush-hush as these are minors and the police are still investigating.

The weird thing about all this… I had just watch Friday night’s Dateline concerning the Michelle Carter case. Michelle Carter is in prison for a couple of years because she coaxed her then boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to take his life. They were teens at the time. On the day of his death, he was having second thoughts and left his truck (where he would later die from carbon monoxide poisoning). Michelle told him to get back in and just do it. It is known as the “texting suicide case”.

This recent local event is somewhat similar. It involves teens and cell phones. I believe the Carter case has set a precedent. Will this local bully be charged with anything related to what she put on Snapchat? Who knows. There may be way more concerning the young woman and her bully on all forms of social media.

And that is the issue, isn’t it?! Social media. We can lay it all out there. Say anything we want and hide behind the cell phone or computer screen. The problem is, whatever you say on social media is there forever and it can come back to hurt you days or years later. But once again, teens think they are invincible. It’s time we told them they aren’t.

My heart breaks for the family and friends of this young woman. I am not sure what could have been done. Her parents lost a child. All these hopes and dreams they must have had for her, taken away by a teenage bully. The pain they must be going through. Then I think of the parents of the bully and the shitstorm that is coming their way. Are they in denial… my kid couldn’t do that, she is a perfect angel and so kind… or have they come to the realization that no matter how good of a parent they are, some kids can be mean, downright cruel and immune to others feelings, almost sociopathic. I hurt for those parents as well.

For  now, I weep internally (because of Lexapro I can’t externally). I cry for the young lady, her family and friends and for the parents of the bully. I am an empathetic creature and want to feel their pain. I will continue to talk with my daughter because I do not want her to become the bully or the victim.

It is Kindness Week at her middle school this week. Kind of fitting with recent events. Today is yellow or ‘joy’ day. I hope the school does mention this teenager’s suicide and the bulling. These kids are not little innocent beings anymore. They need to know because the person who is sitting next to them could be the one contemplating taking their life or the one causing pain and suffering to someone else. They need to know that death is permanent. They need to know that rude comments leave scars. They need to know the damage that can be done.

Teen suicide is real. If you know someone who is in trouble please push them to get help. If they are not willing, stand up and speak for them.2417122_1280x720

Reflecting On My Uncle’s Death

My uncle died last Sunday. I do not ask for your sympathies but instead offer you to bestow them to my aunt, cousins (both his children & grandchildren, and his brothers (my father and my other uncle). They are the ones who knew him well. I did not. Like his parents, my grandparents, I barely knew who he really was.

I attended his funeral service yesterday morning. I did not expect to feel much. I am not saying this to be cruel, but more to define the relationship I had with him. As I said, I didn’t know him well. All interactions I had with him were not loving but more sarcastic in nature. Then again, all of us Bergers are sarcastic beings (just ask my husband). As this is a way I express my love often, I now realize that this is probably how he expressed his admiration to his extended family and friends.

While at the service I found out things I never knew about him. He was a Yeoman in the Navy. He was the administrative assistant to none other than then naval officer and famous astronaut, Alan Shepard! He contributed to a music magazine and local TV station and in his 3rd career, he helped families navigate Social Services. I was amazed by this and admired all that he had become.

When I woke up the morning of his funeral, I did not expect to shed tears. I did not expect to feel melancholic. I did not expect my life that day to proceed much differently that most days. I drove to the synagogue, placed the black lace doily on my head and proceeded into the shul. I then found myself hugging every one of my relatives. A family reunion of sorts, one I wished was had on a more positive note. Upon each hug, I felt their tears. I felt their sadness. I felt their emptiness and absorbed it all. I sat through the service, laughing a bit here and there as my cousin’s husband spoke about him. And when it was over I said my farewells, hugged my parents and went off to work.

I thought I would be okay. I thought I would walk at lunch. I thought I would participate in the Zumba Class after work.

I was wrong.

I am an Empath and upon absorbing my mourning relatives emotions, my emotions were released. I do not mean this in a selfish tone, just more as a bit of a background into how I function. I was empty, constantly wondering why I was driving to work and not home or to the cemetery service 2 states away. I moved slowly as if I had to trudge through mud. I wanted to be alone, hide away from the world and sit with my emotions.

What were these emotions though? Was it just the feelings I had absorbed? Was it more?

Since his death a few days ago, I had thought more about mortality. In fact, I probably dwelled on it a bit too much. I logically know we are all mortal, dying from the day we are born (did I mention I am somewhat of a pessimist?!)… but when there is a death in the family, a death of someone you have known all your life, someone only a few years older than your parents, you tend to think of what is yet to come. My uncle was 8 years older than my father and roughly the same age my grandfather (his father) was when he passed away. There is a reality that my time with them is gradually decreasing.

But it isn’t just my parents mortality I am thinking about. I am thinking about my own. I will not be here forever. How will my daughter handle that? How will my husband handle that? I have come close with death a few times because of my Depression and I always say that my next episode with Major Depressive Disorder will probably kill me. Of course I am taking precautions to prevent a next episode as I will remain medicated and in therapy.

But, I cannot sit with these emotions forever. The Empath’s necessity in life is to learn to let go of the feelings and emotions before they become your own. So I took yesterday as a day to sit with them, to understand them, to embrace them (and drink with them as yesterday was a 2-glasses-of-wine day). When I went to bed, I let them go.

To my Uncle C : May you rest in peace. May you sing infinitely with Roy Orbison, Tom Petty & Elvis Presley like you used to with my father and my uncle B. May you sit and binge watch VHS movies on an old sofa in front of a tube TV. May you tell Elijah to come quickly and drink his wine at the Passover Seder before we all freeze due to our cold New England temps. May you watch over my aunt as she grieves for you and remind her you are still around. May you stay, as Bob Dylan says, forever young.