Anyone who has faced the loss of a loved one, especially the loss of a child, I can tell you that the only thing harder is to retell the story. It was with extreme difficulty that I sat down and put these words to paper. But if I am here at all, somewhat sane, coherent, and able to face the day, I owe it to Chuck Bergman. While Chuck and I met under the most difficult of circumstances, I have come to know him and see him for a gifted and talented individual. It is because of how much he has helped me that I can sit and share my story with others.
On a warm South Florida evening in mid June 2007, my life was forever changed. My only daughter and child, Yorhany Santi, was involved in a fatal car accident. Nothing could have prepared me for the next 12 hours, as I watched helplessly as the life drained from her body. I felt as if I were in a nightmare from which I desperately wanted to wake. That night I prayed and prayed to God not to take her, but my prayers went unanswered. I would have given anything and everything to have changed the circumstances leading up to that moment. Never had I so desperately wanted to turn back the clock, just to make a few simple decisions differently.
That day began like most other days. Yorhany was attending summer school to make up for a math class she had not done well in during the regular school year. She was going into 10th grade. I dropped her off at her school at 7:20 a.m. Ever since she was a child, we had a little game of who would get the goodbye kiss in first. That morning she was the one to get it in. We laughed, and I told her, “I love you; take care of you ’cause you’re taking care of me.”
And she smiled and said, “I love you mom.”
Most mothers and daughters have issues in their relationships. I considered our relationship to be above the ordinary. She was my entire life, having separated and divorced from her father when she was very young; it had been just me and her facing the world. We shared many moments together filled with happiness and laughter. Financially, it wasn’t always easy, but I tried to give her everything she wanted. Her happiness gave me mine. They say we live out our second childhood when we have children. I completely agree. I admit to being overly protective of her, but what parent wouldn’t be. The world is not a pretty place, and I wanted no ugliness to touch my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, we had disagreements, especially as she reached puberty. But the months leading up to the accident were some of the happiest times we shared together.
It was that summer that my daughter met her first official boyfriend. I wasn’t all that crazy about it. It meant that my baby was growing up. I met with a lot of resistance, coming from a close knit Cuban family; both my mother and sister did not approve so much of this boy. Their main complaint was that he was a couple of years older than her, and already drove. But I saw that he genuinely cared for my daughter, and I trusted her judgment that he was the person who made her happy and that he would, above all, keep her safe. When she called and asked if he could pick her up from school that day, I said, “Yes” without hesitation. They were to grab a bite to eat, run a few errands and be home by 6p.m.
About 6 o’clock, we spoke, and I reminded her that she was running late. She assured me they were on their way. We texted back and forth for a short time. Then she stopped responding to my texts and phone calls. I knew immediately that something was wrong. I got into my car and went to look for them with only a general idea of where they might be. It was at that point I received a call from a police officer informing me that my daughter had been involved in a traffic accident and was being taken to the hospital. They wouldn’t provide me with any details. By that time, my mind was racing with the fear and thoughts of what her condition might be. Was she in pain and calling out for me? The drive to the hospital seemed endless. The police officer who called me was kind enough to meet me at an intersection and escort me to the hospital. He stayed with me until I was allowed to see her. I should have known how serious the situation was, but I was in denial thinking everything would be alright as soon as I was allowed to see her.
On my way there, I called her father and her aunt because I needed to share my fears with someone, and I needed to hear from others that everything would be okay. None of us ever believed that she would not recover.
When I got to the hospital, I was told that she was in surgery. I still did not know what her injuries were. Shortly after the doctors met with me, they informed me that they had performed a CT scan and that the extent of her head trauma was too severe. Surgery at that time was not an option, and that the next 72 hours were critical. I sat and wondered how life could change so quickly from a day that started out like every other day. I felt as if someone had dropped a bucket of ice water on me. Yet strangely, and I can only express the feeling in this way, I felt warmth on my heart, letting me know that she was alright.
When we were finally allowed to see Yorhany, we thought everything would be okay. Even with the severity of her condition, outwardly she appeared fine. With the exception of a few facial cuts, she looked like she was in a deep sleep. In fact, the only trauma she really suffered was to her brain and a slight fracture to her left arm. She suffered no internal bleeding or damage to her spinal cord. We never stopped speaking to her, as we held on to the hope that if she made it through the next 72 hours, everything would be fine, and that she would recover.
As I mentioned before, during that night, I felt warmth on my heart reassuring me that she was alright. It was after her first serious setback that her aunt told Yorhany, through her tears, that everything would be okay, that she would look after me, and that she was free to begin her journey. She asked her mother, who had passed, to guide Yorhany and to watch over her.
The days that followed were equally horrific. Again, it felt as if I were in a cruel nightmare that never seemed to end. There were more decisions that needed to be made regarding funeral arrangements. No parent should ever have to make these types of decisions. As the realization of what had happened, and what I had lost, began to sink in, I became angrier at God for taking her. She was so young, barely having turned 15 years old. Why had this happened? Was there some lesson I had to learn, or had I done something to deserve this pain. All the while, I thought of the things she should have been able to experience, things that I would never share with her. Thinking about this just served to make me angrier.
The outpouring of sympathy was great and unexpected. I had always known that Yorhany had been popular and well-liked. In the months that followed, I was so very touched by the support of all those who had known her. Even those who had not were generous with their words and actions. I believed I was the only one lost in my grief, but I was wrong about that too. In the months and years that have followed, I must often console her friends, many of whom still post messages on her MySpace and on a Facebook page someone created for her. They told me what a caring and supportive friend she had been. How she had helped them through a particularly difficult moment or had simply been fun to be around. It was uplifting to hear from others what I already knew.
From the moment she was born, I knew how very special she was. Throughout her childhood, Yorhany constantly amazed me with her intelligence, sense of humor and maturity. At the age of 15, she looked 20. She was tall; her long light brown hair, honey colored eyes, and smile lit up any room she entered. Her voice was that of a little girl’s, forever my little girl. She was boisterous and happy with a heart of gold. To her friends, she was a wise advice giver and a natural leader. She kept everyone in line, including me. She often befriended the new kid or the not-so-cool kid. She had dreams of becoming a special education teacher or of joining the Peace Corps. She was, and still is, my hero and my reason for living.
After the funeral, I could not, and to this day still have not been able to, return to the home we shared. Going back reminds me of all the things I lost. Her absence is all the more emphasized when I’ve gone back there. I did have to go and sort through her things. I came across an assignment that she had written when she was in the eighth grade. I’ve added her words to this story so that you, the reader, can also know my daughter through her own words. I’ve left her writing in its original form including the grammatical errors. The title of her assignment was “My Best Friend, My Angel” and it begins like this:
Friendship is a powerful force throughout our lives. Friendship must contain love, honest, and trust. What makes a good friend? A friend that you can have the memorable times with, that makes you feel happy and comfortable with yourself. Friends are like soundtracks of our lives. They make us feel better when we have a first broken hearts or when we need them the most. Friends are there to heal you, to pull you out of sadness, to brighten your day, and to clear your mind. Friends are there with open arms, to comfort you and to avoid you from trouble. To keep your secrets and entertain you when you want to play. Friends are there, smile or tears. Friends are there, happiness or fear. Friends are fun and friends are smart. Friends are people you have a special connection with and a special friendship that cannot be separated. There are special people that take the time to listen to all your problems and give you the best advice. Someone you can be yourself around with. Unfortunately, all friends get into fights but they always forgive each other. Good friends do not judge you by beauty or popularity, but by your personality.
My best friend she is indescribable. She doesn’t judge me and she respects me. I have gained a bond with her that could never be separated. She encourages me to keep my dreams in sight, and shows me the obstacles of life and creates a smile on my face. She wipes all my tears away when I’m feeling sad and calms me down when I’m mad. She is my role model, sometimes I think she is perfect, even when I know she is human like me and you. Even when she does mistakes, she tries her hardest to fix her mistakes, that is what I love about her. This wonderful person is my mother. My mother has been here for me for the last thirteen years of my life, nonstop. She’s always whispering in my ears “I love you”. Even when I don’t express myself and tell her how much I love her, she knows that I love her a lot. Not only being my mother, she is my best friend and my angel, I pray to God every day, and I’m thankful to God that I have a mother like her. Yorhany Santi
As you may guess, finding these words, although giving me a great sense of pride, also made me incredibly sad. When you are lost in grief, it’s like you’re empty. It’s as if after all the tears have been shed, there is nothing left of your heart. The pain is so great that you feel a total void.
Misery loves company…when you go through something this devastating, you always come across others who have suffered similar loss. That is how I came to know Chuck. When I heard what Chuck had done for a mother who had also lost a child, I immediately set out to meet him. Many might say that people in such grief will hold on to the slightest bit of information given to them. I have never been a religious or even a spiritual person, never believed in an afterlife, never really gave much thought to it. I was lucky up until this point that I had all the people I loved alive and well in my life. I was one of those skeptics until my first meeting with Chuck. It’s very hard to single out just one thing about that session. So many people expect to hear some revealing piece of information when, in actuality, the details come out in bits and pieces.
A little over a month after the accident, I made an appointment to meet Chuck. I really didn’t know what to expect. I just needed to know about my daughter. I had so many questions. I remember as we drove up, thinking and asking her to provide me with a sign or an acknowledgment. I needed something that would let me know it was her and that Chuck was for real. What I really wanted was for her to acknowledge the “something” I had done special in her honor. I was hoping that it would come up in the conversation.
As we drove up to Chuck’s home, I felt so many things all at once. I was lost in my grief and sadness and caught up with the excitement and hope that I would be able to communicate with her. I knew that I would never really hold her or touch her, but I needed her to know how much I loved and missed her and, above all, that I was not angry at her. I wanted and needed to know that she was okay. But more importantly, I needed to know that I had not lost her completely.
After getting slightly lost, we finally came upon Chuck’s home in a lovely neighborhood outside of Jacksonville. It was certainly not what I thought it would be. It was a Sunday in late August. He met us at the door of his home and led us to a sunlit room overlooking an inviting back yard. Immediately I started to relax, as he began to make light conversation. The session was to be recorded, and I would later receive a copy of it. Before sitting down to write this, I tried to listen to the CD just to refresh my memory. But about half way through it I stopped, as I was crying so hard.
I now realize how important that first meeting was. Yes, I left there having connected with Yorhany. I knew that, regardless of our separation, the bond of love we shared was still very much intact. But I also realized that it was the first time I actually received a verbal confirmation from someone who had never met me or my daughter. Chuck was able to bridge and form a link between the existence in which we live with something more. The something we hope is out there, but which has never been confirmed, at least not to me until that first session.
Right off the bat, Chuck told me was that she was glad she had been the last one. I knew immediately that he was referring to that last kiss goodbye the morning of the accident. It had been the last conscious act between the two of us. As it turned out, it was the opening affirmation to what was to be a continuous flow of information between us.
He went on to describe events that occurred during the funeral. He told me that he wasn’t sure, but there was something to do with a malfunction. I could not help but smile through the tears, as I later recounted to him how the lights had flickered during her Mass, and that the Mass had been conducted for a short period of time without electricity. I had no doubt that she had a hand in this. When this happened, I looked at other family members knowing that we all thought the same thing; this was something she would do just to lighten the mood.
Chuck also went on to describe that during the funeral, I was wearing, or holding, something of hers. That it was something that had the colors green and yellow. Throughout the entire funeral, during the viewing, at the Mass, and at the burial, I wore her school jacket which was green and yellow, her school colors. I wore it as a symbol of her embrace.
He spoke briefly about the circumstances surrounding her accident. He said that it happened rather quickly; it was noisy and that everything was spinning. He told me that there was a slight pain to the side of her face, and then everything went black. After that, she felt nothing, but she knew what had happened. She knew that she was no longer living. This was particularly difficult to hear, but he was accurate in his account.
The night of the accident, the detective working the scene described how it had occurred. The vehicle had gone airborne and had spun on two axes until it was stopped by two trees. My daughter received a blow to the right side of her face, causing severe blunt trauma and fracturing her jaw. She fell into a coma and never regained consciousness. When the doctors performed the CT scan, there was little or no brain activity. As the session went on, he told me details about the accident that no one could know or even guess. I could not bear the thought that she had suffered any pain or that her last conscious moments were filled with fear. Chuck provided me with the affirmation that she felt none of those things, and hearing that gave me much-needed peace of mind.
My daughter always wanted a tattoo, but I felt that she was too young to have one done. Shortly after her accident, I, along with other family members, decided to honor her desire by having one done. The tattoo I had done was in a location not easily visible. Still being somewhat skeptical about Chuck’s abilities, and about whether or not the session was for real, I kept on asking my daughter in the days prior to the session to acknowledge the tattoo. This was the “special thing” I had done in her honor. This was the proof I was really looking for. During the session, Chuck told me that she kept on telling him to come over to me and raise my right pant leg. He thought for sure he would receive a slap to the face, so instead he simply asked me to raise it. When I did, he smiled and said he should have trusted her. And my daughter, having the sense of humor that apparently she still has, told him, Yes, you should have.
One of the things I found striking during the reading was the hand movements Chuck made. As a child, my daughter made a particular hand gesture when she was excited. It was really funny to most of us because when she did it, you knew she was really excited about what she was saying or what was going on. As best as I can describe it, she would hold out both of her arms and move her hands rapidly at the wrist, almost like saying hello but with both hands at the same time at about waist level. Sometimes, if she were really excited, she would jump up and down and move her hands all at once. She did this throughout her entire life. During the session there were a couple of times when we noticed Chuck mimicking the same gesture. We mentioned it to him at the end of the meeting, and he really couldn’t remember doing it. It may have seemed coincidental that he would do the same hand movements, but when conversing with him in regular conversation, he doesn’t do that at all.
Chuck asked us, or rather he told us, that we had gone through her things and mentioned that someone had laid on her bed and hugged her pillow. My very good friend, whom I refer to as her aunt throughout this piece, and who has been with me throughout this horrible ordeal, had gone into her room shortly after the accident, laid on Yorhany’s unmade bed, and held her pillow. We both had to go through her belongings to put them away or donate them. I can’t really say if this was another affirmation from Yorhany, or simply her not liking that we had invaded her privacy. He described her room and included the cherubs that decorated it. He also went on to mention that there was something about her room that she did not like, but that had been replaced with something bright. As it happens, one of the things she really didn’t like was her bathroom. We had made a sorry attempt when we moved in to paint the walls a dark blue and add glow-in-the dark stars. She hated it. So, perhaps to occupy my time, I set out to improve all the things she wanted to change about her room that I had not been able to do prior to the accident. That included the remodeling of her bathroom. I had the bathroom vanity replaced and, with the help of her aunt, we painted the walls a bright orange. I realized as we took on these projects that most of what I was doing was really to keep my mind occupied, ignoring the reality that she wasn’t going to be able to enjoy it. But when Chuck mentioned this, I was glad I had done it; she had noticed and she approved.
Her aunt and I made the trip up to Jacksonville to see Chuck together. Her relationship with my daughter had always been a special one. From birth, she was at my side and was one of the first people to hold her, feed her, and soothe her when she was inconsolable. The story of how those two bonded was a favorite one for my daughter’s. As an infant, she played with Yorhany by raising her up in the air above her head. One day while playing with her, Yorhany spit up formula. The spit landed right in her aunt’s mouth, and she had no choice but to swallow it. Their bond was sealed in spit. Gross, but she loved that story. Gloria and I have been friends for many years. She and I, both single mothers, often supported and consoled each other in difficult times. Yorhany spent many days in her company and in the company of her children whom she proudly claimed as her cousins. During the reading, many affirmations were directed to her such as her description as the “groomer”–someone who took care of others. She happens to own a Maltese Poodle mix that often required grooming. But Yorhany’s description of her was more accurate as related to her being a caregiver. She was just that during my daughter’s life and also in dealing with the details of her death. Therefore, it was not strange that Yorhany would describe her in this way. Her boys were also an important part of Yorhany’s life. It was Gloria’s eldest son who often picked her up at school that summer. Her relationship with the youngest can be described as siblings constantly bickering and teasing each other. It was no surprise that during the reading she snitched on him for smoking behind his mother’s back.
One of the things that Chuck spoke of was where Yorhany was buried. He said that she was in one spot, but that he felt that it was just temporary. She would be moved elsewhere. This was a little-known fact that he brought to light. Yorhany was interred in a temporary location. The building that would house her permanently was under construction. We did move her several months later.
In a subsequent reading, Chuck mentioned her displeasure at the length of time that I spent at the cemetery by her crypt. He told me that to be close to her, I did not have to be there, that she was everywhere. I had a special picture of her framed on the stone of her crypt. She also made sure to let me know that she didn’t like my obsession with kissing that picture all the time.
I left Chuck’s home physically and emotionally drained, but more at peace than I had felt since the hours prior to the accident. After I received the CD of the session, I often listened to it on a daily basis. My connection to Yorhany was solidified by the contents of that CD. I admit, having that connection is what kept me from a total breakdown. I have been back to see Chuck a number of times, and each time I am not disappointed. I have no doubt that he is gifted and sincere. What he has given me, no church, priest or counselor has been able to do.
While I have learned to manage my grief, I know that it will never go away. My anger at losing her at such a young age has not disappeared but has mellowed with time. I recently began taking a yoga class in hopes of learning to meditate and calm my mind. My daughter used to say that I had adult ADD. I have no doubt that she was correct in her diagnosis. I have found that physical exertion helps me sleep at night better than any medication. Often, I walk at a park, and recently a group of young ponytailed girls came across my path. All the tears and sadness swelled up inside me and spilled out again. I miss her terribly, as I anxiously wait being reunited with her. Two things have kept me from seeking that path: knowing that she is still very much at my side and not wanting to disappoint her. As young as she was, she was a “get ‘er done” type of person. She believed in keeping to her word and fulfilling her commitments. Taking that short cut would not honor her memory. I lived for my daughter, and as much as it pains me, I live for her still.
For me, grief is like being tunnel-visioned; you can’t see anything along the peripheral edge. The affirmations we receive from our loved ones are like side bars in a court room, not really part of the official record but important to the case. Chuck taught me to pay more attention to those side bars. They let you know that you’re not alone. For my family and me, the number 19 has great significance. It is the date of my birth as well as Yorhany’s. It was also the exit number off of the highway where the accident occurred. It comes up a lot on a daily basis, whether it appears backwards, forwards, or in between. It just so happens that Chuck and I share that number, too, for his birthday and mine are the same. I wish that the circumstances of our meeting had been anything but different, but reaching out to him was the best thing that came out of that evening on that summer night in 2007.
Chuck gave voice to the affirmations given by my daughter, and that voice let me know that she is well. He confirmed for me that the love between my daughter and me is stronger than the passing from the physical world to the metaphysical world. Love, it seems, does conquer all. Most importantly, it continues long after the separation of our soul from the physical body. I believe now that life does continue, and that those we love never really leave us. Only our form changes; our energies remain to take on new structure.
I miss my daughter every moment of every day, but it soothes me to know that she is still right here with me. I know that one day, when my time on this Earth is through, I will see her again. There are no words that I can offer Chuck that would express the deep gratitude and peace he has brought to my life except to simply say, “Thank you Chuck.”