Moving Forward – Finding Healing in Portraits

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August 30, 2020

There are some dates you never forget.

For Veronica Haley, it was March 1, 2015. “I was ironing and preparing to run to the store,” recalled Veronica. 

Jimmere, her husband of 18 years had asked her to finish ironing his shirts for work while he took their son, Ricci, 15, to basketball practice. Jordan, 14 at the time, asked to tag along. Not long after they left, the phone rang.

“Sometimes you don’t answer unfamiliar phone numbers, but this time I did.” She heard a male voice.

“Hello Ma’am, your son was in a terrible accident here on Stringfield and Highway 53…” the officer said.

Before the man could finish, Veronica and her 12-year-old daughter, Janae, jumped in the car and fled to the scene. As they got closer, her mind was trying to catch up to what she was seeing, “All of these flashing lights, sirens and traffic backed up…I KNOW that’s not my family!” she thought.

By the time she arrived, a female police officer stopped her from getting a close-up view of the wreck. She would later find out that a drunken driver going at speeds of over 70 MPH had struck their car, ejecting her husband and youngest son from the vehicle.

“They told me that the boys were being rushed by ambulance to the hospital and that I needed to go with them. I jumped in my car and we went to Huntsville Hospital’s Trauma Unit. It wasn’t until I got there and was sitting in the lobby that it hit me, “Where’s “Mere?”…I realized I hadn’t heard anything about him. After friends began asking about where he was, a nurse came and offered to take me to where my husband was.”

But instead of taking her to her husband, she was taken to her son’s rooms where they were being prepped for surgery. Ricci had sustained a stomach and back injury and Jordan’s arm was injured. Both boys needed permission to be taken into surgery. As she was signing the papers, she was silently wondering why they still weren’t showing her where Jimmere was.

The nurse then led Veronica to the emergency waiting room and told her to sit.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” Veronica recalled. “Monica, my twin sister and Lynthia, my best friend, were there, sitting with Janae…but no-one was talking, just silence.”

Suddenly a police officer walked into the room and said the words no spouse ever wants to hear, “I’m sorry ma’am, but your husband…” Before he could even finish, the shock hit her like a ton of bricks.

“I.WENT.OFF! I just lost it!” said Veronica as she remembered that surreal moment. “I just remember turning around and yelling, “I KNOW this man didn’t just tell me this!”

“I remember I was yelling and beating the bed! It took me awhile to come out of that,” she said. “They wanted to give me a shot to calm me but couldn’t because I had to make decisions about the boys. The staff let me stay in that room as long as I wanted. Then they escorted us to the ICU lobby where friends, family, co-workers and our pastors were gathered. There were so many people…I tried to go around the corner so I could try to grasp what I was just told. It felt like I was in a bad dream.”

“I found a wall and leaned my back against it, and slid down to the floor, sobbing and praying… “Lord I don’t feel you right now, I’m trying to hold on because I know I need to be here for the boys.”

Immediately Veronica heard the words of a familiar Bible verse, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ “I’m so thankful for that message because many days I go back to that verse and thank God that He has never left me.”

By that time her boys were waking up from surgery.

“The first thing the boys said was, “Mom, “Where’s dad?” recalled Veronica. “He’s resting,” I told them – I needed to know they were out of the woods before I told them what happened to their dad.”

After 3 days, friends and family helped to inform the boys, while Veronica was grappling with her own grief.

“I was navigating through all of the trauma that happened and as a result I compartmentalized my feelings,” said Veronica, of the days following the accident. “Jordan was in the hospital 5 days; Ricci 8 days…During that season I didn’t forget that he passed, but it escaped my mind because I was so busy listening to the doctors and helping the boys through their surgeries and recovery.…I was trying to get the kids right but I was a mess!”

Thankfully family and friends stepped in to assist with the details and begin final arrangements because it was too much to bear emotionally.

Although she didn’t have the strength to ID her husband’s body on the night of the accident, looking back, she wishes she had gone.

“For some reason, I feel like if I had gone and put my hand on him, he would’ve felt me one more time.” 

But even though Veronica has that recurring thought, one thing that brings her peace is knowing the depth of her husband’s relationship with God and that he wasn’t afraid to die.

“One thing about him is he knew where he stood with God…Mere wasn’t afraid,” said Veronica.

“He always told me, when he saw me struggling with the death of other loved ones, “Ron, you know we all got to leave here…Come on now Ron, we gotta get this together!’ He was such a realist, he knew where he stood with Christ. I have no doubt about that!”

And knowing where he stood is what keeps Veronica standing strong. “He would want me to move forward with being productive, she said. He would want me to be ok.”

But being ok doesn’t happen overnight. The days and weeks following the accident were some of the hardest of Veronica’s life. Thankfully her children have been a huge reason for her will to keep pushing. 

Recalling the day before the funeral, Veronica was trying to prepare her youngest son, Jordan, for what would happen the next day. 

“Jojo, tomorrow we are going to say goodbye to dad,” she said. “Are you sad?” 

“No,” said JoJo. 

“Why not?” she asked. 

“Because Dad said he was saved,” Jojo replied, matter of factly.

“Well I guess I need go have my pity party somewhere else!” Veronica said with a laugh.

Janae, now 17, is the nurturer who is always looking out for her mother. When Monica and Lynthia informed her of her father’s passing, she cried and immediately asked how her mother was. 

“That’s my girl!” said Veronica with a smile. “Janae is sooo much like her dad, she’s very in tune, very caring. We laugh all the time, dance and have our movie nights every Saturday night. She’s blossoming and I want her to continue to fly!”  

Ricci, her oldest son, now 21, is adapting well even in the face of trauma and tragedy. “If I could describe Ricci in one word, it would be RESILIENT,” said Veronica. “He is strong and a very good big brother.”  

Thankfully Ricci, who was driving the night of the accident, has very little memory of that night because he was unconscious for a short time following the impact. As for the drunk driver, Veronica has never felt compelled to pursue the man that caused the tragic loss of life.

“I did go to court once and after seeing the remorse on the other driver’s face, I thought, ‘What is the ultimate result of putting this black man in jail?’”

“Now don’t get me wrong, I was angry, but it’s not my personality to try to take him for everything he’s got. And it’s not going to bring Mere back, so why even put a pressure point on that?”

Now that it’s been 5 years since the accident, Veronica truly believes she has forgiven the man responsible for the accident and wants to continue putting her energy into her family and their healing.

“I have forgiven him,” she said. “I don’t think about him anymore. He has to live every day with the consequences of what he did. The Lord said He’d take care of him and take care of us also. I had to leave that alone for sanity and healing purposes. I have to be careful about where I place my energy.”

It’s been hard, Veronica said explaining that her healing has been slow and gradual. Significant dates are the hardest. Getting through Fathers Day, the annual anniversaries of his death and his birthdays are tough.

“It’s just weird and I have to remind myself sometimes that he’s not here…Mere was my only real boyfriend,” said Veronica, her eyes sparkling. “We met at Alabama A&M’s campus. I remember he asked me for my phone number. I told him, “If you want it, it’s in the phone book!” I guess he said, “Let me search these Yellow Pages, because he got my phone number!”

When we were dating, he left notes in my car, brought me flowers and took me out to eat all the time. His generosity was what I loved,” recalled Veronica. “And even in marriage, he just allowed me to be strong, independent in every way.”

Being so strong and independent during her marriage, it’s no wonder that Veronica has continued to walk in her strength after losing her husband. 

“People will look at you sometimes, and they want you to be sad,” said Veronica. “But I’m trying to take my mind in a different direction and move forward. I’m at my turning point. The past 5 years have been really hard, but if I keep going like this, it’s not going to change anything. He’s not coming back. I’ve got to start moving forward, for my kids…for me.”

So this year, Veronica began taking small steps to move forward. She got into therapy so she could assess and explore her feelings, begin acceptance and discover who she wants to be going forward.

“It’s really hard some days,” Veronica said about reliving her loss. “Sometimes I can talk about it and sometimes I can’t go there.”

But day by day, she’s making the decision to move forward. Although she retired after 26 years in education, she is currently a daycare director. Recently she began studying for her real estate license and will be taking the state exam in a few weeks to begin a new career and explore a new passion.

“I’m trying to get in front of this thing,” Veronica said. “Nothing’s going to happen if I don’t move forward…move toward healing.”

Another thing on her to-do list was to do a photo-shoot. Years ago, Veronica approached me at church and let me know that she wanted to do a family photo, but she wasn’t ready to wrap her mind around seeing the image of herself and her children without Jimmere. I told her to let me know whenever she was ready.

“The photo shoot was an important part of my healing because every professional photo I have up until this point is with Jimmere,” said Veronica, “And I wanted to see who I am, outside of what I USED to be, outside of what I loved the most (besides God) and outside of what I knew as my normal.”

Leading up to the shoot, we began discussing details of outfits, locations and ideas for the session. When she walked into the studio, her sister and best friends were there cheering her on as she changed into an elegant green wrap dress. The laughter and joy on Veronica’s face was pure and radiant as she enjoyed being herself in front of the camera!

After her individual session at the studio, we met her children at Ditto Landing where we captured their fun energy and laughter under a beautiful sunset.

After seeing the photos, I asked Veronica what she saw. “I see V!” she said without hesitation. “I’ve always loved who I was but now I’m on a different type of adventure. I see someone who can climb insurmountable mountains. Someone who thought she wouldn’t make it….After losing Mere, I said, “OK, How are we going to do this?” 

I’ve always thought of myself as strong but with this happening, The enemy kept asking, “How strong are you now?”

“But this photoshoot helped me to see my strength and beauty. I see someone who’s going to make it no matter what! I’m trying to do me. I’m not looking back, I’m moving ahead! It can look like a daunting task but when you have Jesus holding you, you’ll know His presence and feel it at every turn!

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