the unbearable is borne with such grace

i wandered lost in detroit circling 11 mile road before pulling up to the home of f2fb friend #301 brenda jeffries.  i was late, my gps has something wrong with it.  as i pulled the mini up to the curb, i noticed movement behind the front door.  but i was distracted by the lot across the street.

“that’s my daughter,”  a voice said from behind me.


we hugged.  and then she repeated that across the street was her daughter.

at first i thought she meant that her daughter lived in the quirky little camper surrounded by tiny stone angels and plastic flowers brightening the gray city snow.  then i noticed the weathered posterboard of a young girl.

“that’s where the car was parked,”  brenda said, shrugging her head towards a clump of bushes.  “when raven was taken.”

six year old raven was playing on august 4, 2008 in the lot while the car idled.  brenda could check in every once in a while by looking out her window.  the other kids went home safely.  raven disappeared.  three days later, her charred body was found.  the police wouldn’t let brenda see her baby girl and it was left to her eldest son to text her pictures from the morgue.  the crime remains unsolved although brenda has a pretty good idea (and so do the police) as to who did it.  the camper is where people have sometimes gathered for vigils in raven’s honor.  the lot is owned by the city, as are many pieces of property in the neighborhood although brenda is as tied to the lot as any generation of farmers to their fields.  i put one of the stuffed animals that eastman has given me next to an angel.

brenda didn’t get out of the house much before–and going to the funeral was the hardest experience of her life on so many levels–but after her daughter’s murder, she found it unbearable to work at the store two blocks away where raven often hung out after school while brenda worked.

brenda finds it difficult to be in the house by herself and her three remaining children coordinate their schedules so that they can be with her as much as possible.  when i was there, her eldest son had moved in with her–his bedroom is at one end of the hall and brenda’s room (which she shares with all of raven’s possessions) is at the other end of the hall.

i went to use the bathroom and i couldn’t get the light to work.  then it dawned on me that the electricity had been turned off.  which may have explained the necessity for turning on the burners on the kitchen stove.   i met her adult children and her baby granddaughter — who is so adorable i nearly made the oft repeated compliment of “i just want to take this one home with me!”  for once, my mouth wasn’t as fast as my cautious brain.

we looked at pictures of raven and some dolls that brenda has for her.  we both share the catholic faith and there is a beautiful rosary dangling over a portrait of raven in the living room.  i noticed the prayer card from her funeral and then another card–one of raven’s best friends was killed in a car accident two years to the exact day after raven.

brenda is part of a number of agoraphobia support groups on facebook.  i never knew they existed until this year and they are generally closed and invitation only.  it’s one way in which facebook protects privacy.  a lot of brenda’s friends are from england.  her  adult children are her “safe” people–but she trusted me enough to take a walk with me.

we stopped in front of the store where she had worked.  where raven had played.  where she told me about her attitude about the amber alert.  oddly, while i was filming her, a dark nondescript car (hell, i can’t tell the difference between any brands) parked behind me.  the car and its driver stayed put, just watching–i felt kind of spooked.  in fact, i sort of felt like if i had brenda’s life i wouldn’t leave the house much either.

i drove away wishing i had a magic wand.  that i could make brenda’s life better.  that i could make raven come back.  i drove back through the snowstorm to chicago thinking that all the petty stupid things i get mad at my sons for–not calling enough, not cleaning their rooms, forgetting valentine’s day (!)–i needed to back up and count my blessings.  i made a promise to brenda’s eldest son that i would return and i will.

brenda, who bears the unbearable with such grace, has often sent me messages of encouragement or of support and i wonder where she has the energy and the stamina to care so much for others!

oh, and the car that pulled up behind me while i was filming brenda?  it followed me out onto lonyo avenue and up michigan until i veered off onto the 94 ramp . . . .

41 responses to “the unbearable is borne with such grace

  • sformolo

    Life is about living and life is about death. Nothing will bring back the dead so the only way forward is to go on with life by taking a small piece of the passed spirit with you. It is not about consuming yourself with a spirit gone and giving up life and dreams in the real world as we know it. Life has so much to offer and life long learning brings exploration, enrichment and fulfillment to our lives. To stagnate in a pool of memories surrounded by life that needs tending is a sin on humanity.
    “Are memories something we have or have lost.”

  • Marty

    What a heart breaking story it brought tears to my eyes reminding me of how hard life experiences can be to overcome and the need to be connected to caring kind people.

    • arlynnpresser

      martin, absolutely, and i have thought that i want more than anything to buy the family a bicycle (they already have one) and that way the eldest son can take his mom out bike riding. i know it sounds silly but i think that’s a good thing!

  • Kathryn McCullough

    Just read the interview you did with WordPress. It moved me, as I have used my blog to write a bit about bipolar disorder, among a number of other things. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  • Let's CUT the Crap!

    Thanks for sharing your story. You are one brave lady.

  • Cindy

    Dr’s know now that Anxiety is not psychological in any way, any DR who still thinks that should not be allowed to practice. It’s old 70’s/80’s thinking. I had this same anxiety disorder but it was caused by an ulcer I had no idea I had, caused when I took aspirin and naproxin for pain and it burned the protective lining of my stomach off and then I developed a severe anxiety disorder. I ate a no acid diet and when my gastritus healed, my anxiety went away. It took a year but it worked. I am now cured. It was hard to restrict my diet but worth it! That’s why food gives some people panic attacks… or you get them after you eat. Preservatives like MSG and sodium benzoate will also give people horrific anxiety and phobias. get off of antidepressants and heal the lining of your stomach and it will go away.

    • arlynnpresser

      cindy, i’m actually starting to understand that!!! i’ve been driving in my car and have had such horrific pain that i have been utterly convinced i’m having a heart attack. i don’t take antidepressants but i have been experimenting with prisolec. . .

  • Tamara mcClure

    Hi Arlynn,

    I just read your interview with WordPress and was moved to read your blog. I have just read a few of your latest and I must tell you that I find you a great inspiration! You are a strong and wonderful person to find a way to help yourself as well as others. Kudos to you and I look forward to reading more!


  • MDawson

    I just read your interview with WordPress and it really hit home with me. I just started my blog a couple months ago to talk about my life with mental illness (and other stuff). I also am agoraphobic, although I’ve gotten much better. Congratulations on facing your fear! I look forward to reading more of your posts. 🙂

    • arlynnpresser

      wow! congratulations sweetpea! and wordpress is great for keeping a record of one’s self!!! thank you so much for your encouragement!

    • Through Gray Eyes

      MDawson, I wish you all the best and so many blessings. I have agoraphobia too as well as clinical depression and OCD. I’ve tried to document my life story but I get bored with myself LOL. I think honesty is the best policy when you write about your life; I do hope you’ll keep writing and writing, sharing your story with everybody so others know that being mentally ill isn’t something we need to be embarrassed by. You never know who you will touch and who will hear your story and decide that day to keep going.

      ArLynn, thank you for your blog, for speaking out for all of us who survive agoraphobia. But most of all I am sooooo proud of you! It’s amazing what you are doing! I don’t even know you but my heart is just so full right now because you’re doing something that any of us with agoraphobia wish and try to do. I like to say I’m a recovering agoraphobic because I’m out there. I can do so many things that just 12 years ago I couldn’t do. There are still some thing I haven’t tried yet but I know that when it’s time I’ll do it.

      You’re a rock star!!!

      • arlynnpresser

        thank you so much and i am so liking the term “recovering agoraphobic” because it’s so true!! wow, and i’m fifty one years old and for the first time i do feel a bit like a rock star. . . .

      • MDawson

        Thank you Through Gray Eyes!! I hope my writing can someday help even just one person. And I know how you feel, getting bored with yourself, but you have to remember that everyone has a story to tell, maybe you haven’t found the right story, yet. 🙂 Keep trying!! You can definitely do it if you’re determined. 🙂

  • Christine Keleny

    It is so inspiring to meet people like Brenda. I’ve met a few “Brendas” myself. I’m glad you met each other.
    God bless.

  • meredith

    This is such a beautiful thing. I’m so glad wordpress put your story in my email. I think this is a wonderful, righteous way to live life.

    Good for you! And thank you, too. You are very inspiring.


  • Bold Wandering

    I read your interview and was so interested to read your blog. Thank you for sharing Brenda’s story and I look forward to reading the rest of your blog.

  • ForkYes!

    Thanks for posting and telling this story. If you decide to help Brenda somehow, like by setting up a PayPal fund, please post and let us know.

  • iangwyther1

    This story is so heartbreaking and overall well written. I wish you would use capital letter it helps to structure a piece and annoys the pedant in me but it will also put a lot off reading. I was moved and horrified by Brenda’s story though and wish her luck for her future.

  • mukkuvar

    Dear friend,
    Peace be with you.
    Come to India, to see this loving country that I love.
    Waiting for you.

  • Missus Tribble

    I have to deal with both high-functioning autism and severe epilepsy, and therefore became agoraphobic for fear of either behaving inappropriately or suffering a seizure in public.

    Therefore, I saw your WordPress interview and was inspired by your strength and bravery. I shall be folowing with interest and hoping to feel a little of your confidence come my way too!

  • Chrisdiana Westphal

    Dear ArLynn,
    Oh I thank You so much for Your posting! And making this interview with wordpress, I´ve just gotten. I´ve to say so much to it. You are such a great Lady! It´s very hard a work to face anxieties and life at all.
    I´m 43 years and the last 10 years wasn´t even easy for me, too. I was so depressed, in what for a world we must live. It could be almost something like paradise and what have we done to have so hard experiences for most of the people.
    Today, I was with my mother (83) on the graveyard. She had lost 60 years ago a little son of 5 days only. We cleaned and put in some spring flowers. She was happy about me helping her doing that.
    I´m also a mother. My daughter is 13, now, and I too, know the fears of her running away as a young child (about 4), discovering the neighbourhood, and I don´t know where she was.
    I would like to let some words for Brenda, too: Raven is such a nice name. What´s happened can´t be undone. We MUST accept in the long run, even though if we are so sad about it. The hardships for Raven are passed away, and I think about her name expressing her flying free, now, no pains are left. She´s just on the other side, that´s all. I´ve often heared about dreams of the dead ones, and had also some of my dead father (who died in 2004). I pray for Brenda to dream about her daughter, telling her that´s all o.k., now.
    And for the one, who has done this terrible thing, I´ve just read a book from His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, which He has written about 13 years ago: “Das Buch der Menschlichkeit”, in german. I can´t tell You the english title at the moment. It´s something like “The Book of Humanness” . In this He has written: “No person at all is born as a murder or a really bad person. Every one is just born as a little needy baby who wants others to take care of it and love it.”
    There are a lot of things in community, lot of cruelties, which makes some people like him. We have to face that things, too, and try to heal and to overcome…..
    Last decembre, at 2. Advent, I tried to began a meditation group for the third time. Again, nobody appears. I sat down, telling the air and the beings, who came even though I can´t see them, what I think about my meditation group and then meditated. Inbetween the meditation, I had an idea: “There´s nobody shining up, so just invite all!!!!!”
    The following weeks I concretisise my ideas and next sunday, from 5-7 p.m. I will sitting for the 14th time for meditation for the world and for healing and for consolation and confidence and just to fill up the needs and for beeing connected and for new ideas to come to make things better. One month ago, I begun to express this in wordpress. I´ve done it in english and german. The adress is: (the “c” in sciences I have forgotten and can`t change…..)
    I would like to invite You to take part and, if You want, tell others about it. I choose this time, because most of people are so much overworked to stand their lifes, that maybe at the end of weekend, they can be a little more open minded than the rest of the week. The time difference doesn´t matter. I´m in a meditative state about 12 hours before and 12 hours after.
    Also, I´m working in pharmacie and am very interested in homöopathie. I don´t know if the firma “Wala” has already expanded to USA. There are Globulis in German “Aurum comp.” which contents Gold, Incent, and Myrrha, the three gifts, Jesus and His parents got as a birthday gift from the Three Holy Kings. It is a very good medicament against sadness and depression! I say often: “It bring the soul in balance, again.”
    Oh, this was a long reply. I´m the sixth and last child of my parents and nobody would like to hear, what I´ve to say, here….. I hope, that I finally get the right words to express what I´m feeling and find understanding in the hope of changeing our ways of life…..
    (I´ve just got a packet, I ordered. The english title for the book of His Holiness is: “Ethics for a New Millenium”.)
    So, just get a big hugh from me through the web and much strongness to stand and face every day anew

  • northernhomesteader

    What an excellent idea. I have just discovered your blog and have enjoyed reading some of your posts. Nice to see Facebook contributing to face to face interaction. Well done!

  • Betty Kloppenburg

    I am honored that I was able to see into some of what you Brenda and you Arlynn experience…It is a beautiful yet sorrowful collection of experiences and feelings you have lived with and to have this method of getting them out there and then being willing to allow us the readers the opportunity to get a glimpse of them or feel them with you- thank you for this honor.
    Keep up the incredible work of moving ahead and gaining life!

    Peace to you, and grace from Him,

    • arlynnpresser

      i never know what i am going to experience with my facebook friends. sometimes it’s something happy and sometimes it’s sad. i always learn something new. i always come away awed by how complex and how interesting people are!

      • Betty Kloppenburg

        You have taken on quite an adventure here Arlynn, Thank you for replying with such care and concern to each and every post here…may it be filled with gracious moments shared with those who reach to you and may you find much strength and peace to be able to connect as you should with those you should…I believe it must be consuming to keep up with and I wish you the very best.
        You don’t need to necessarily reply, I was just admiring how much you have replied to each individual here and I just wanted to encourage you- thank you for your time and care- I see it!

  • Arif Malik

    My Dear,

    “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source.
    It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds;

    I am sad after reading ur story.

  • texandthecity

    loved your interview on WordPress News. thanks for your chronicle of healing and recovering from agoraphobia. i fought an anxiety disorder for most of my adult life … i too am recovering!! and i love that you are traveling and meeting your FB friends! Congrats, and God bless 🙂 (((hugs))) from texas. i will friend you on FB!

  • strader612

    I just read your interview with word press and I was like I have to got go to her page! And this was the first post I read. and it has truly touched my heart … I am fighting back tears. But this post has truly touched me. I like how you said you dont know where she got her strength from that she could encourage others. I find that to be remarkable.
    I encourage you as well to keep doing what you are doing this is awesome and inspiring!

  • dearsuburbia

    Wow! What a beautifully inspirational blog! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I also struggle with agoraphobia. So important to share these stories. Blessings!

  • Julia Kovach

    With all do respect, I don’t agree with reader, Arif. I don’t believe that love ever dies at all. People (not Arif, but others) are quick to give advice about letting go and moving on, about which way to grieve and for how long, but unless you’ve been Raven’s mom and unless you’ve lived her life, no one has the right to tell her she’s wasting the gift of life or anything else. No parent should ever have to bury a child. My heartfelt prayers go out to Brenda. And my congratulations to Arlynn…on another story, a very special story, that is very well done. xoxo

  • Joe

    Very sad! I was looking up old friends from my Lonyo and Michigan Avenue neighborhood in Detroit and came across Brenda Jeffries. I knew her in a prior lifetime when I lived in Detroit. Her story is one of many from that neighborhood. I am sad to see that Brenda’s case slipped through the social services crack and that she and her family were never given the help they desperately needed.

    The neighborhood around there is bad; people pray on the weak and get away with it. Poor souls like Brenda, abused by the system, fall victim to those bad people. Very Sad!

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