We lost our daughter 2 years ago this March. Victoria McGrath was 23 years old, traveling on vacation with a friend. On their first day away from home, they were passengers in a fatal car accident. As Victoria's parents, we cried every day, for a long time. There hasn’t yet been a day where I haven’t thought, in some way, about her. While the grief no longer doubles me over on a daily basis, there are occasionally sharp barbs of sorrow. When I come across a picture of her unexpectedly. When I must dig through her belongings. When I read the news, and I see families ripped of their children – whether it’s a student lost in a shooting, or a soldier lost abroad, whether it’s a freak car accident, or an opioid accident – I feel a genuine gasp of pain, knowing, on some level, what those families are going through now.
Having had some time to reflect, here are four thoughts on how we have coped with our grief, and moved forward, which may be relevant to the wider survivor community.
1) Find a way to take care of yourself. As on an airplane, when the cabin depressurizes, the lights go off, the oxygen masks drop, and you’re instructed to pull on your mask first before helping others— you’ll be a much more effective helper if you’re able to breathe. In the wake of tragedy, that means taking time to attend to your own mental and emotional health, seeking guidance from your local house of worship or a medical professional, if needed. This is about triage – applying pressure, sanitizing, splinting, — so that you can be in a position to help your family heal.
Find a way to take care of yourself.
2) Pray to God. It matters less the specific words you use to pray – trust me, the right words can be especially hard to come by – and more that you’re able to talk to God about your unspeakably difficult situation. Personally, I believe the most important action an adult can take now is to give your children/young adults the chance to hear the words from the Bible – in my case, specifically, those are the words of Jesus Christ. I think my daughter is one of the people now in Heaven waiting for others to join her. For those of us here on Earth, it is not too late to come to the Lord, and not too late to try to understand Heaven. Not what you think Heaven is or what you want Heaven to be, but what the Bible tells us it is. I am able to say that I know I will see my daughter again.
3) We found an immediate way to remember Victoria. Of course, my family wanted to do something in Victoria’s name, but other people needed to heal, too. Three years before Victoria's car accident, Victoria was severely injured at the Boston Marathon bombing (2013) and her life was saved by a Boston Fireman and First Responders and Tufts Medical Center. And after Victoria's car accident, Jimmy Plourde and his family led an effort to raise funds and construct a playground in Dorchester. Joined by the Mayor of Boston, Chief of the Boston Fire Department, and the President of Northeastern University (where Victoria was a student), the playground came to fruition at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in April 2017. The group that did the design/construction was “Where Angels Play,” the same volunteer team that built playgrounds for the children of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. Some of those families attended our playground construction. Next, my home-town in Connecticut, near Newtown, also raised funds and constructed another playground in August 2017, this time in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for a large and worthy elementary school that did not have a playground. Currently, Northeastern University is also constructing a playground in memory of Victoria (class of 2016) as part of the large Carter Park project, where the playground will have a focus on accessibility for special needs children.
4) We are now addressing the longer term. We are finding a way to integrate the loss into our lives, making it part of our moving forward, carrying Victoria's vibrancy, which is more powerful than the loss. My family has set up a foundation now – that is, setting aside funds to donate to worthy causes that are arising. My family is doing this as a way to give back in ways that were important to our girl.
We have found something that represents the feelings of Victoria, making it our own.
Victoria was sincerely motivated to help children, special needs people of all ages, those that were on the margins of society such as homeless people, as well as US military veterans returning to civilian society who needed a hand. Victoria's family wants to continue her legacy, as Victoria's then-boyfriend did when he ran the 2017 Boston Marathon to raise funds to support their mutual spirit of volunteerism. We have found something that represents the feelings of Victoria, making it our own. We want to be a part of positive changes. Look at the people from Parkland, Florida - amazing. And we remember..... always, always, always, remember.