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It's not even quite 9pm on a Friday night, and I am the only one awake. Or at least, the only one up and awake. David has to wake up at 11:20 tonight and go meet up with another professor and five students, and make a 7 hour drive to attend an all day conference, then another 7 hour drive back home. So he's in bed. I am so nervous about this I could vomit. I have a lot of anxiety in general, but my biggest fear when it comes to David is that he will die in a car accident, and obviously fourteen hours on the road in the middle of the night... it's a bit terrifying.

I was reading a little bit about generalized anxiety disorder today. I used to battle with panic disorder pretty badly, especially in the first couple of years of our marriage. I'm a lot better now in that regard, but I have developed new worrying patterns. After a long time of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy, I have gotten to a point where I can't even recall the last time I had a real panic attack. Possibly a couple of years ago, maybe longer. But now I have obsessive worrying thoughts about bad things happening to other people I care about. Which is exhausting in a different way.

I know why I am this way. I didn't used to be this way. I used to be very carefree and fun. I miss that Heather. In December 1998, I was engaged to David, who was living in Utah and working two jobs. I was working full time at a marketing research company, where I'd been for three years, and living at home with my parents, sister, and niece. David had just been out for a long weekend visit and flown back to Utah on Monday morning. On Monday night, I was sitting in the living room of our house, looking through an enormous binder of wedding invitation samples, while my mother was working on something in the kitchen. She and I were the only ones home. There was a knock at the back door. We weren't expecting anyone and lived out in the country, so it was odd. Two men in suits were at the door. They came inside and introduced themselves as detectives from Evansville. They asked my mother to sit down. She was freaking out and grabbed the first chair she saw, which happened to be a child-sized wooden desk chair, and sat in it in the middle of our living room. The detectives took seats on either side of her, one on the sofa, and one on the easy chair. I was sitting behind her in my dad's recliner. The older of the two detectives said, "We think your father may have been involved in foul play." This struck me then, and still does today, as a very odd way to say what came next: "His body was discovered today floating in the Ohio River."

At that moment my mother turned around in her ridiculously small chair to face me with a look of disbelief and horror on her face. At that moment, though I didn't realize it until years later, something switched inside my brain. I could no longer be carefree. I would never again have no fear of anything bad happening to myself or anyone around me. That moment changed me, for the worse.

When ensued was a nightmare of learning the grisly details of my grandfather's death. It took several days for everything to come together. I had to do things I never would have expected. I had to call people and tell them the news. I had to be there for my mother. I remember coming into the house from work a day or two after the news, and finding her unwrapping a Christmas present from under our tree, something she had already bought and wrapped for her dad, and her sobbing uncontrollably. And all I could do was hug her. And she said, "Someday you'll have to do this for me."

My grandpa was murdered by his son, my uncle and my mother's only sibling. We only have Uncle Steve's side of the story, so who knows what parts may be missing, but as he tells it, he had come back to grandpa's apartment late in the evening, drunk, and was angry when no one answered the door. My grandpa was working third shift as a security guard. So early in the morning when grandpa finally got home, Steve was really ticked. They went inside the apartment and an argument followed. Both men had strong tempers. It became physical and, though Steve claimed to have blacked out and unable to recall, he beat his father so severely that he died. The coroner called our house with the autopsy results a few days after his body was found, citing multiple blunt force trauma as the cause of death - broken ribs, broken jaw, lacerations, bruises and more. Once Steve realized his father was dead, he put the body into the bedroom. He then went out and bought methamphetamine, got high, and this went on for about 2 days. Then the body began to smell, so he wrapped him in a comforter, put the body into a wheelchair with a baseball hat on top, wheeled him down the elevator and into the back of grandpa's car. He drove his body to the river and dumped it in, where it washed up later the next day. They recognized his work clothing and called the company owner, who made the identification.

This all happened about two weeks before Christmas. It was a strained Christmas that year, to say the least.  I was supposed to be happy and planning my wedding and instead I was helping my mother plan a memorial service. My ward let me down big time when not a single person showed up to the service, despite me having told both the Relief Society president and the bishop. It was a blow to me spiritually as well. But also good in that, it made me realize I had a testimony of the gospel, not based on affiliation with particular people. I had sacred spiritual experiences in all of this madness.

But like I said, it flipped a switch somewhere deep in my brain. I got married in April and for awhile was okay, though I did have some mild depression, crying fits, and inability to focus, so I was taking a low dose antidepressant. Then in December, I got my first panic attack. A week later, it happened again. I ended up in the ER because I had no idea what was happening to me. They thought I had taken cocaine, I was so jacked up.

I worry constantly. Some days are better, some are worse, but I know that I worry far more than 'normal' people. I am often jealous of other people who can go through life with so little worry. I do feel like if I worry about something enough, I can make it not happen. I know that is unreasonable, but I feel like it. I also try to imagine actually going through horrific things - my child being kidnapped, my husband being killed in a car crash - and imagine the actual funeral, or police investigation, and dealing with life insurance companies, and what would I do with the rest of my life - where would I work, would we have enough money to live. . . I am always tired because my mind is always spinning. Even when I'm engaged in something, in the back of my mind, it's always spinning out horrible scenario after horrible scenario.

My uncle was sentenced to 28 years in prison. It is generally assumed in Indiana that you will serve half your sentence and then be paroled. So he should have served 14 years. However, his health deteriorated in prison. Years of drug abuse had taken their toll. He started to have kidney failure, was in and out of the hospital, and finally, in April 2009, he died at the age of 54, in a hospital, in handcuffs, with prison guards outside the room. Though my mother and his daughters had been to visit him a week before, at the time he died, he was alone. I like to think I've mostly forgiven him, but I do think it somehow fair that he did not get to choose where or when he died.

I have a recurring nightmare that I've murdered a homeless man in a brown suit. I don't know who this man is in real life - he's not someone I actually know or have seen. In the dreams I am never in the act of murdering him, but have already committed the murder and am either burying or hiding him, or hearing about someone else having discovered his body and worrying that I will be revealed as the killer. What disturbs me most about the dreams is that I don't feel remorse for having killed a person, but only fear that I will be found out.

I don't blame all of my problems on this one occurrence. But I do blame the shift that occurred inside my own brain on this event. It made me distrustful of others, and fearful of the unknown. I think more than anything, I never want to relive the detectives at the door scenario. I think that is part of why I always want David to text me when he gets somewhere. If he didn't arrive in time, I want to go look for him. I do not want to wait at home for the cops to come and give me the news. I think in some odd way I am more afraid of the delivery of the news, than of the fact of his death itself. I know that sounds silly.

But I'd better get a bit of sleep so I can start my twenty-four hours of worry.


  1. Oh, Heather. What a traumatic loss you and your family have suffered.It is no wonder that you suffer anxiety. Anxiety is such a terrible, terrible thing. I have had bouts of it - but like you realized one day that I had gone quite a while without a panic attack. I think its very brave of you to share your story and also probably freeing. I am so sorry that you are dealing with such worrisome thoughts. Lee just did a huge research paper on Job - what he learned was that Job's anxiety of what could happen was worse than the reality. I am going to pray for the peace that surpasses understanding...

  2. Oh Heather, That's horrible. We had a traumatic family experience in our family (not as traumatic as yours, but still traumatic)that most people in my family found out about right before Christmas (I didn't because I was on my mission and they hid it from me until after). It took me years (and like I said it wasn't as bad as yours) to get over. And I still have my moments and certain fears associated with it. It did help to write about it. I actually attribute my point of freeing forgiveness (in my case a lot of forgiveness was necessary and I'd kind of forgiven/tried to forgive for a while, but just not really gotten there)to writing an essay about it--lots of essays actually, that I worked on for years. I don't know what that did, but somehow it helped me a lot. So I'm glad to see you're writing about it. I hope it helps you too. Or will with time. Also, I know that my experience really helped me a lot to understand the atonement. Ironically, at first I felt an almost complete absence of the Lord in my life, but as time went on, I saw more and more his hand as it had been there and as it was. So that, in the end, that bad experience has really strengthened my understanding of and feeling of the atonement. I hope that this is happening and continues to happen for you too.

  3. Kara I'd love to read Lee's paper sometime. I think that is so true - the fear of the unknown is so much worse than knowing and dealing once something has happened.

    Jean I'm sorry you had to go through that too. I never forgave my uncle to the extent that other family members did. I never wrote him, spoke to him on the phone, or visited him. But I did take his name to the temple last year. And a temple worker asked David if he knew the person (seeing the date was so recent), and David said yes, but... and before he could finish, the man said, "He's in a better place now." And I think maybe he was right. Murder might be the only sin where it's easier to fully repent after death, when you can ask forgiveness from the person you've wronged.


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