By Constance Gilbert
Tragedies make headlines and the TV news. If it bleeds, it leads—as if the violence and travesties, to which we’ve become so desensitized, don’t happen to real people. But horrible things, things of nightmares and novels, do happen to real people.
In 1995, the Saturday before Easter, Laurel and her oldest daughter went shopping for holiday basket goodies. They shopped for the three grandchildren and for Randee, the fourteen-year-old baby of the family. Randee stayed home to babysit her big sister’s two-, four-, and six-year-old children.
After dropping off Laurel at her house, her older daughter went home to quickly stash the packages. She heard the children playing in the bedroom, but Randee didn’t respond to her greeting. Maybe Randee hadn’t heard her.
The bedroom door wouldn’t open when she tried to check on the kids. We have to get that fixed, she thought as her six-year-old jiggled the doorknob, just so, to let her in. The children proudly showed her their tower of brightly-colored blocks on the floor between the twin beds and giggled wildly when the rickety structure fell.
But where was her sister? It wasn’t like Randee to ditch the kids.
She scouted through the house, calling out Randee’s name to no response, and found the other rooms empty. With growing trepidation, she walked down the stairs to the basement. I can’t imagine her horror when she found her little sister, lying in bright red blood on the floor. Dead.
As a nurse who has seen graphic, real-life injuries and observed autopsies, reading the killer’s appeal transcript haunts my thoughts. Randee was repeatedly and violently raped. One of her two attackers murdered her so she couldn’t identify her assailants.
Laurel and her husband arrived at their older daughter’s house in shock and disbelief. “They wouldn’t permit us see her,” Laurel told me. ”I can’t stress enough how good the police treated us AND Randee. They were kind, respectful, and always at our beck-and-call.”
That’s Laurel. In the midst of the most horrible moment in her life, she noticed the first-responders’ courtesy.
This story is really about Laurel, my friend and Randee’s mother.
Laurel always has a smile, sees the positive side of life, is compassionate and caring. She’s also the only housekeeper whom I’ve trusted to clean my office without moving or misplacing papers or other materials at the long-term care facility where we worked.
Occasionally, she’d stop by and say, “Mrs. G, do you have a moment?”
In the rocking chair next to the window in my office, she would rest her feet and ask for my input on common life issues. She always had encouraging words for me too. After that Easter in 1995, Laurel would sit in my rocker and cry for a few minutes before wiping her tears with a deep sigh and returning to her work with a smile.
It is Laurel’s grieving that amazes me. Everyone responds to losses differently. The Grief Cycle is not linear. We don’t go from point A to B.
Nor do we grieve alone in a bubble. Laurel grieved alongside her husband and three children—each in their own way. As a wife and mother, she tried to comfort her family through their anger and pain.
I experienced some of that chaos when family members disagreed about telling Laurel’s mother of the tragedy, who was my patient. Grandma had the right to know her granddaughter died. Besides, secrets are hard to keep in small towns—especially in long-term care communities where TVs, papers, and gossipers spread news quickly.
I gently shared Randee’s loss to spare Grandma the discovery in a less than savory way. She cried in my arms, lamenting that granddaughters shouldn’t die before their ninety-year-old grandmas. Lots of anger was hurled at me the day. I like to think I was Laurel’s shield from the family’s frustration and grief for a little while.
Laurel says she found support and stability through her work. The love of staff and residents in the retirement community enveloped her like a cocoon. While at work, she could leave conflicts at home and take a break from the police investigation that lasted for years. She could retreat into my rocking chair to shed a few tears in private or to “talk” even when there were no words.
When Laurel emerged from that cocoon, back to living life in real time, there was no bitterness. She has a special, unique spirit and is thankful for the fourteen years the Lord lent Randee to her.
Author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote:
“The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, suffering, struggle, loss and have still found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Laurel is one of the most beautiful, wonderful, amazing people I know.
“[Randee] was very loved and spoiled by all,” Laurel shared. “Her siblings were nine, ten, and thirteen years old when she was born. We all were proud of her. A week after her death, she would have been inducted into the National Honor Society. She planned on attending Michigan State University to become either a child psychologist or a veterinarian.
She was a bright light to all who knew her. I am thankful for the time she was loaned to us.”
For anyone experiencing loss, Laurel wants you to know there is no right or wrong way, nor “acceptable” length of time for dealing with grief.
Randee’s father lost his will to live and died three years after the murder, never knowing the two suspects were convicted in 2002 based on DNA evidence.
As in many rape cases, the perpetrators were not strangers. They took advantage of Randee’s sister’s absence. Randee could never have defended herself against two men, one who weighed more than 200 pounds and had prior convictions. As the killer, he was sentenced to life without parole. He was twenty-six. His seventeen-year-old friend left prior to the murder and was sentenced twenty-five years to life in prison.
Laurel hopes her story will help other families through their losses.
Rape is far more common than most of us imagine. Sexual intimacy isn’t an easy conversation, but our children need to understand their vulnerability. I watched a three-part documentary on Netflix that BBC produced entitled “The Detectives” to inform young adults and their parents of the truth about sexual assault and how to prevent becoming a victim. “The Detectives” could be your golden teaching moment. Myriad articles on this subject are also available online.
May Randee and Laurel’s experience touch your heart unlike any newspaper headline or TV reporter’s lead story.
Special thanks to Constance Gilbert for this Tenacity to Triumph story. Connie is a retired nurse who moved to Central Oregon to be a nearby “gramma”. She, too, has survived losses, which led to her heart’s desire to encourage others through written and spoken words. Numerous periodicals have published her short stories, and she regularly posts on her blog consheartstrings.blogspot.com, which always ends with “Selah − think on this…”