ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — We had never met, but from her first email, our first conversation, we knew that we were sisters traveling on the same path at almost the same time.
It was a journey neither one of us had ever planned or wanted to take.
We were both mothers who had lost our children suddenly and far too soon.
And we were both mothers who, despite enduring a grief that dug deep into our bones, continued to walk along that same path bound for a future that for each of us had changed.
Kerianne Gardner of Albuquerque had read the obituary I wrote about my 23-year-old son, Devin Glenn, when it ran in the Journal on March 14, nearly a week after he had stuck a syringe of heroin into his arm, a habit he had managed to keep from me for nearly four months until his death later that day revealed his secret.
Gardner was a regular reader of obituaries, she told me. As a stylist who does hair for older clients, she sometimes came across names she remembered.
She hadn’t known Devin, had never heard his name. But after she read about him, how young he was, how sudden his death seemed to be, his name became one she could easily remember.
The next day, Gardner’s 16-year-old daughter, a brilliant, beautiful girl with a love of birds and a reserved sensibility beyond her years, put a .40-caliber handgun to her forehead and fired.
Aurra Gardner had been a straight-A honors student and was in her sophomore year at Eldorado High School. She was an accomplished cello player with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony and her school orchestra. She loved her family. She didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, didn’t seem haunted by any past trauma or boyfriend drama, didn’t dwell in the darker corners where despair hides.
“If you were to meet her, to meet us, you’d have thought she was a happy girl,” Gardner said.
Aurra was also her own worst critic, a girl who demanded much of herself, her mother said.
“She expected perfection from herself,” she said. “I used to tell her that it was honorable that she wanted to do so well, but what was important was that she was progressing and happy doing her thing. You don’t have to be perfect, I’d say. You don’t have to always be the star. Some days you will be the star, and some days you just have to show up. But for her, that was not OK.”
Recently, Aurra had become anxious and stressed, which Gardner attributed to the pressures of taking two honors classes and two advanced placement courses on top of her cello performances. Gardner said she started helping her daughter find a way to level the angst.
“We always had a good line of communication, so we spent a lot of time talking things out, doing things,” Gardner said. “We were close.”
A meeting was scheduled with teachers, the school counselor and administrators March 15.
But that morning, Aurra locked herself in the master bedroom, took the gun from its hiding place (because of a recent spate of break-ins in the neighborhood, she had been shown where the gun was in case it was needed, her mother said) and fired a shot.
She left no note.
As the family waited for the ambulance to arrive, Gardner said, she held her daughter’s hand and felt the last breath rush from her lithe body.
Those first couple of weeks were a fog. Suddenly, Gardner was tasked with arranging her daughter’s funeral and writing her daughter’s obituary. She remembered Devin’s obituary and used it as a guide as to how to write her daughter’s.
“Aurra was a cellist, artist, deep-thinker, declarer of interesting thoughts, builder of homes for birds, amazing and awesome student, sister, friend and daughter,” she wrote.
Five days after she buried her daughter, she read the column I wrote about my son’s death. It was published March 26 under the headline “A mother’s anguish.”
Like so many of you who have written to me, shared your own stories, sent flowers, books, cards and condolences, she had a mother’s anguish, too.
“I was a very attentive mom,” she said. “I tried to do the best for Aurra and my other children. I paid attention. But sometimes you do all the right things and you still don’t get the results you thought you would. Things happen beyond what we parents can control. They still happen in ways we never planned for.”
But in the depths of that fog, she, like me, found a way to keep breathing.
So this is the message she and I wish to impart on you, our fellow sojourners, on this path we never expected to walk: Keep breathing.
“Grief becomes a part of me, but I am not the grief,” she said. “Each day, I put one foot in front of the other and I keep going. I cry when I have to. I miss my girl terribly. But each day, even in the midst of great sadness, I look up and the sky is blue and the birds my daughter loved are singing. And I remember that I still have so much to live for, so much I love. I’m still breathing. I’m still glad to be here.”
It is a lesson she is still learning. And so am I.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.