Monday, April 21, 2014

Michaela in Klaas Kids Newsletter
Last month, Marc Klaas asked if I would submit an article to be included in the Klaas Kids Foundation newsletter, along with the varied stories of other families who have endured the tragedy of lost children. And of course, I was happy to do so.

I have tried to figure out the best way to post it on dearmichaela, but an indirect link is the best I can figure with my limited computer skills.  So you can go to this page and click on Spring 2014:

I want to thank Marc for inviting me to do this, and giving me the opportunity to spread the world of Michaela's story. I pray that it would reach where it needs to reach ... and while it is Michaela herself that I want most to reach, I have no idea of where else it might need to go. If I am never able to find my daughter, if I am able to help another person travel the road of grief and loss and come out whole, that is a gift to me, because it means Michaela's suffering was not for nothing.

Since this is the Klaas Kids newsletter, I just want to say that there are a lot of nonprofit organizations out there to serve missing kids, and quite honestly some of them seem to take in millions of dollars while doing not much more than sitting at their desks. From what I have been able to observe, Marc Klaas is not afraid to leave his desk and get his hands dirty. I have seen him tirelessly helping families of the missing, setting up searches. I attended the 20th anniversary of Polly's kidnapping a little while ago and was able to see the search teams that Klaas Kids is setting up to work around the country. And you know, Marc doesn't have to do this. He did not get trapped on the endless treadmill of searching for a child who could not be found; yet he stayed to help those who are.

Polly Klaas will always be very special to me personally. My youngest daughter was literally born during her memorial service, and we had it on the television in the labor and delivery suite. My youngest is my only child to be born after I had lost Michaela. It took a huge leap of faith and courage to step off that cliff again and open my heart to this love whose true price I had come to know. The significance of that cannot be underplayed.  Not only was Polly present at the time, but she brought Michaela into the room as well, as the television station we were watching broadcast photos of other missing children just as her sister Johnna was being born.

At any rate, may these words go with God to whatever distant corners where they might be needed.

Michaela, I love you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Did God help you?

Just wanted to tell you, Michaela, that I haven't forgotten you. I have been struggling with some spiritual things lately, about God and who he is and whether he is good, and what I believe. I have been posting blogs about them in my other blog, at I used to post everything here, but I don't anymore. This is your blog. It is about you, just you. But at one point or another, even faith is about you.

I always tell people that my falls from faith are not related to what happened to you. It's not that I have trouble believing in God or in God's ultimate goodness because he allowed you to be kidnapped, and because he didn't save you. But in all honestly, I think my faith journeys are tied more deeply into you than I would outwardly believe. Both times that I fell from faith followed on major devastating events regarding you. The first time was just before the one-year anniversary of your kidnapping. The second time was shortly after the whole thing about Jaycee ended. On both of those occasions, my heart and spirit were so broken ... well, even though I said that it was something going on in my head that caused me to leave my faith, it is entirely likely that my head was just following my heart and spirit. There have been times in my life that pain was so great I longed for the disconnect of insanity.

You also played a part in my embracing faith. I remember when I came back the first time. It was January 24, 2004. I was driving past Neighborhood Church, the one with the three gigantic crosses, and I was arguing with God and telling him that no I didn't want to be a Christian when the thought struck me that you were a Christian, Michaela, and I thought if you had died you would have gone to heaven, and if I wanted to see you again in heaven that I should go back to the Lord. I haven't had such thoughts this time in my struggles. This time, well, if I don't believe then that must mean it's not true, so you wouldn't be there anyway.

Although, I do want to believe.

I was thinking the other day about a dream I had many years ago. I had a dream in which I was dying, and I was saying goodbye to your brothers and sisters and to your stepdad, and I was telling them that I'd see them again but that I was going to see you now. My spirit started to be pulled up out of my body and up through the ceiling in the corner of the room and suddenly I was terrified that when I came down on the other side you wouldn't be there.  I woke up then, so I never found out.

Faith is a difficult thing in this world. We know so much and we think we are so smart. We have been so far, to all corners of the earth, into the sky high above the clouds, and into the far reaches of space. We have walked on the moon, but we have not seen God, and we have not found heaven. But when you stop to think about it, as much as we know, there is so much that we don't know. We don't know where the universe begins and where it ends, or if it does, and if so what is beyond the end that contains it, and where does that end? The same with time. How could it have had a beginning? What would have existed before the beginning? How does something come from nothing, and if it didn't where did the something come from? It seems to me to be the height of arrogance for people to trash the idea of believing in God considering the vast, mysterious and unknowable universe of which we are so tiny a part.

Before you were kidnapped, I had taught you a few things. I had taught you that whenever you were alone and lonely that all you had to do was look in your heart, and I would be there with you, always. And I am. I also taught you that whenever you needed help and I wasn't there to help you, that you should turn to God, and he would help you. I hope that he did, my sweet girl. I know that he didn't bring you home to me the way I wanted him to, but he could have sent angels to minister to you. He could have taken the fear and pain away, and could have just scooped you up into his arms. Like all things, I will know the truth about this one day. Like so many things, for this day I will just have to hope and pray, and have faith.

I love you, Michaela. Forever.


Monday, March 24, 2014

I just miss you....

I had a small vision of you this morning, of the way you would come out of your room after I'd put you to bed, and tell me that you loved me. You would spread your arms as wide as you could to show me how much you loved me.

This little vision stabbed me through my heart with sorrow, as I wanted only to gather you up in my arms and hold you and tell you how much I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you, and I just miss you oh so much, Michaela.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Love and Fear

Last week, Michaela, I was at church and someone told me she had been praying for me, for us, for years. She said that she had prayed I would receive the answers I need.

That statement kept coming back to me during the week, like there was something in it for me to figure out, and it finally dawned on me that maybe that prayer hadn't been answered because maybe I don't really want answers. It is, after all, an established fact that every single time it seemed as though I might find out that you were dead, when the lead fell through I did not feel any disappointment that the case did not get solved. I just felt pure relief that it wasn't true.

I have to tell you also that there is another feeling I have recognized lately. People have asked me a number of times if I felt guilty over what happened to you, like maybe I shouldn't have let you go to the store that day. And I have always said no, I don't. I honestly don't think I did anything wrong by allowing my daughter, who was almost ten years old, go two blocks to the neighborhood market with a friend.

But on a deeper level, I have come to see that I do feel guilty, terribly, horribly guilty and unworthy. I have also said that yes, life goes on, and it should, and I am pretty sure you would have wanted that for me as I would have wanted it for you. Yet deep down inside I feel guilty for every moment of life I have enjoyed since you have been gone. I feel guilty for every minute that I spent doing something else besides looking for you, reaching out to you. I have talked before about how children who have been kidnapped, or even who have run away, are often reluctant to come home because they feel ashamed and unworthy because of what they have had to endure. Well, that is probably no match for the feelings of shame and unworthiness I feel for not having found you, for not having saved you.

The human mind and heart are such complex things. So often we have no idea what is really going on in them. So often we have no idea why we do the things we do. One thing seems completely unrelated to another, and yet they are not.

Just know, Michaela, wherever you are, that I love you. There has never been a human being on the earth who was more loved, more adored, more wanted, than you were ... than you are. I know that we will see each other again, one way or another, here or there. And in that day, the love we have for each other will be so bright it will forever burn away the shame, the fear, the sorrow, and we will know that we are worthy of that love.

God bless you, baby girl. I love you forever.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Libby left home today...

Jamie and Libby
Dear Michaela, today your baby sister Libby left home. Well, she has left home before, has lived in various apartments with various friends, but always within a few miles of home. Today she packed up her stuff, loaded it in a truck and a trailer, and moved to Oregon.

It's not the ends of the earth, I know. She will be back to visit, I know also. One of her friends is getting married and she will be down here at least once a month for the next few months for wedding stuff. And the world these days is so small. We have the internet, email and facebook. We have cell phones, text messages, and facetime. We have photos and videos that can be sent from there to here in seconds. It's not like it was when my mother moved to the United States from England to marry my father back in the 1950's. Back then most of those things didn't even exist, and a transatlantic phone call was so expensive they were only made for emergencies. There was only the mail, and that took a couple of weeks each way. I have thought so often how awful a thing that was.

Also, Libby is going to a good place. She has a good life waiting for her in Oregon, good people, a really nice guy who loves her and will take care of her, a good job, things she richly deserves, and I am very, very, very happy for her.

But still, when she left I cried. I couldn't help it. In those last minutes before she left, her entire life played over in my mind. I saw that little girl she used to be, with her little fountain pony tail on top of her head, that sweet smile. That's the Libby you remember. I saw the exquisitely beautiful young woman she has grown to be, both inside and out. She is like the light without the shadows, just pure sunshine. Mmm, a little stubborn sometimes, and she takes way too long in the shower, but she is so lighthearted and funny, even in the hard times. She has a gift for making everyone around her feel comfortable, even me.

I will miss her.

But as she left, I couldn't help but think about when you left. I know Libby is going to something good, and I know I will see her again. But you, my sweet child, were swallowed up by the darkness. I cannot find you. I cannot see you. You cannot come home to me.

The other thing about Libby is that she never stopped loving you, Michaela. You remember how you would get annoyed with her because she always wanted to be with you, a little three year old following you everywhere you went? Well, in her heart she still follows you. Next to me, she is the person who holds you most dearly, who invests her heart and soul most deeply in you.

Sometimes this blog is hard to keep. Sometimes it is hard to keep finding words to say to you. Sometimes I am slapped in the face with the realization that probably, most likely, you will never see my words to you. But I have to find a way to keep reaching out to you. I am a paralegal and I work in an immigration law office, so I see people from all over the world. The other day a man came in who was from Dubai, in the UAE. I thought about launching into a discussion of how I had a missing child and how a few people from around the world had told me that she was in the UAE. But I didn't. Instead I just said, "Oh, I hear it's beautiful there." "No, it's not," he said. He told me that it was hot, like 120 degrees, and asked me how I would like to live in a place that was that hot. I thought about my stay in Las Vegas a few years ago, and how when I walked outside the air conditioned buildings I felt as though all the moisture was sucked out of my skin. And I thought about you, about the remote possibility that you could be there, and I felt this pressing need to find you and save you from, of all things, the oppressive heat.

Oh, Michaela, I don't know what to say, except that I love you, today, tomorrow and always, wherever you and and wherever you have been. I want to tell you that as much as I miss that little girl I lost, and as much as I grieve over missing the last 25 years with you (oh my Lord, how could it possibly be so long?), you need to know that as much as I have loved each of my children when they were little, I love them even more now that they are adults, and the same is true for you.

I am here. I am waiting for you, always. You have a wonderful family, warm and funny. If you came home, I guarantee you would be smiling and laughing in pretty short order.

Meanwhile, I will just keep saying these things, as many times as I have to, unless and until the day comes when I don't need to anymore.

Love you forever, baby girl.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fly, my love

This video was made for Michaela's birthday this past week. It contains wishes for Michaela from far parts of the earth. I particularly love this video for the love in it, and also for the music, which is "Fly" by Celine Dion.

I am sure that there are many possible interpretations of the lyrics, but when I heard it the first time, my thoughts were that I would have played this song for my mother on that last day, as I gave her permission to leave me, as I assured her I would be okay, that she would always be with me in my heart:

Fly, fly do not fear
Don't waste a breath, don't shed a tear
Your heart is pure, your soul is free
Be on your way, don't wait for me

I would have played this song for my Bella, as we had her put to sleep:

Past the planets and the stars
Leave this lonely world of ours
Escape the sorrow and the pain
And fly again
Fly, fly precious one
Your endless journey has begun
Take your gentle happiness
Far too beautiful for this
Cross over to the other shore
There is peace forevermore
But hold this memory bittersweet
Until we meet

There are so many feelings swirling inside me. The primary one, honestly, is just a longing for this to be true. I absolutely do not believe in the heaven and hell scenario. In my mind, my heart, and my spirit, I do believe that there is more to life than the bodies we wander through this world in. It makes the most sense, it fits with the evidence I have seen, and it fits in with the vast unknowable reality of the universe (take a minute and ponder the beginnings of the universe, the concepts of infinity and eternity, and clearly the notion of our spirits living beyond our bodies is nothing compared to those things). For myself, I don't fear death. I kind of view it as a great adventure, and honestly if I am wrong I figure I won't know and won't care. The only thing I fear about my own death is leaving others behind who will suffer.

I don't like suffering. It makes my heart ache. People I love suffering, people I don't know suffering. One of the things that bothers me most is animals suffering. I have a dear friend, the friend who actually came to my house to put my Bella to sleep when she was no longer able to breathe. She is perhaps the most sensitive person I have ever met, and yet this is part of her work, putting animals to sleep. When we first met, I asked her how she did it, and she said that every day she takes comfort in the fact that she is alleviating suffering, whether she is removing animals from abusive situations, helping them to find new homes, or bringing a final end to ultimate suffering. In her spare time, she works with people who are dying, in hospice.

My youngest daughter has always had a huge fear of death. From a very young age she suffered from an overwhelming anxiety that if I left her at school that I would die and not come back for her. This fear of hers is really difficult for me, because, well, one day I will die. Since Bella was put to sleep, we went to the animal shelter and adopted two little dogs, but the best thing is that she started working as a volunteer at the shelter. Our local shelter is a really, really good one. The animals live in a good environment, and they are really loved and well cared for by staff and volunteer staff. They do not euthanize animals without good reason. If they are unable to find homes for them, they send them to rescues, to fosters, or to no-kill shelters. So it is a good place for my daughter to be. When she takes the dogs back to their kennels after walking them and playing with them to keep them socialized, the dogs are sad. It is a soul strengthening position, to learn to be able to open your heart to the suffering. And sometimes there are animals who have to be put to sleep.

Putting an animal to sleep, particularly one you loved but any animal actually, well, we don't do that with people. We shoot them up with morphine or whatever it takes. But when an animal is suffering, we end the suffering. We want to end that suffering. For my Bella, she had cancer which had spread to her lungs and she had become unable to breathe. She could not rest because she could not lie down. During her last day, my daughter and I sat with her the whole time, supported her, stroked her to keep her calm. She was a chocolate lab, and even in her anxiety over not being able to breathe, she would still smile at us. If life is located anywhere in the body, though, it is the eyes. To look into the eyes of a dog you have loved for nine years and see that soul, that life, and think of extinguishing it is really painful. I need to look into her eyes and not just assure her that her fear and suffering will end, but that she will be able to fly. I told her, in fact, that as the dog in "The Art of Racing in the Rain" believed, in her next life she would be a human being.

Eyes. I just finished reading a book, "Come Back to Me" by Melissa Foster, in which a character talked about never again seeing "the cornflower blue" eyes of someone who had died. I thought of my mother's eyes, a beautiful gray-blue, and I wished that on that last day of her life I had asked her to open them, just to see if she could, just to see them one last time. She'd been in the hospital for three days, unconscious or asleep most of the time. She'd opened her eyes once the day before she died, seemed as though she wanted to say something but had difficulty talking. Or perhaps I had just interrupted her, as I'd jumped in and said, "look who came to see you," and pointed to my children. She had nodded and smiled briefly before going back to unconsciousness. One of my regrets in life, finding it necessary to speak myself instead of being quiet to see if there was something she needed to say. Wasting that moment with my own activity instead of spending it looking into those beautiful gray-blue eyes which I was never to see again.

Oh, God. Grief is such a living thing. My mind seeks to wrap itself around it, to define it, but that just cannot be done. It lies in wait between the sleep and the waking, where you can fall into its depths.

And then, of course, I thought of Michaela's eyes. Whether she is alive, or whether she is not, I have not looked into her eyes for more than 25 years. I may never see them again. I have to say that, yes, this song made me think of her death, and I just hope that the lovely woman who made this video and chose this song does not think that she made a mistake. I have said before, although I'm not sure people have really heard me, that I do understand that Michaela is probably not alive. I do understand this. If you were to ask me if I believe that Michaela is alive, I honestly have to say that no, I don't think she is alive. People don't get that because as long as I don't know she is not alive, I will continue to behave as though she is alive and I will keep reaching out to her, looking for her, trying to find her, because if she is alive I believe she needs me to keep doing that. The worst thought is the thought of her suffering for all these years.

The worst thought is the thought of her feeling abandoned. I know that in the early hours after she was kidnapped she expected to be rescued. She knew there was a witness, she knew the police would be called. She just had to wait for someone to rescue her. I was haunted then by the passing of time, by how it would feel to Michaela as she waited and waited and help didn't come. When was it that she gave up? That was what haunted me about the possibility of her death, not just the fact that dying would involve physical suffering, but the giving up, of her facing the knowledge that this was the end, that she was dying, that she would never come home.

But if she died, she was also escaping an awful and terrifying reality. One person I know and respect who gave a reading on what happened to Michaela said she had been drugged soon after being kidnapped and never really came out of that, so she did not suffer. And honestly, that is the most important thing to me, the most important thing to me is for my child not to suffer. I just can't bear the thought of that. Rather than her suffering, I would give up seeing her again to let her fly.

Past the planets and the stars
Leave this lonely world of ours
Escape the sorrow and the pain
And fly again
Fly, fly precious one
Your endless journey has begun
Take your gentle happiness
Far too beautiful for this
Cross over to the other shore
There is peace forevermore
But hold this memory bittersweet
Until we meet

But for her, she was so young, and her light was so brilliant, it would just be completely wrong for it to be extinguished. The only way it could be okay is if it was not an ending, but the beginning of a journey. And I believe this. But I don't know, and neither do you. Near death experiences are interesting, but even they are not incontrovertible evidence of anything. They could be a dream, a snapping of neurons. Visits to mediums, well some are pretty convincing, but again, they are not incontrovertible proof. All we can do is believe, and so that is what I will do, believe that the end of this life is but the beginning of a journey.

Well, I often get choked up or shed tears while I am writing this blog, but this one today actually had me sobbing. Pam, I know that was not your intention, but I hope you know that it is not a bad thing. It is the reality of life, that death will come, as it is the reality of love, that grief will follow one fine day, one way or the other. It is part of the beauty of a sunset that it will fade quickly.

Michaela, if you are out there and you read these words, please know that I will never stop trying to find you. If there is anybody else out there who knows that Michaela is not alive, and who can tell me the truth and end at least one part of this torture, please, please tell me. You can write to me at, or leave a comment on this blog anonymously.

Cherish life. Believe.

Thank you to Celine Dion for sharing this beautiful song with us. I went to itunes and purchased it so I could listen to it again and again.

The Imposter

I just saw that the show "The Imposter" is airing on CNN tonight so I thought I'd write about it in case anybody else wants to watch it. It was on last week, but mysteriously it was only one hour long and quite obviously ended in the middle of the story. Tonight it is two hours, so hopefully it is the whole story.

"The Imposter" is a documentary, the story of a young man in Spain, who it seems was not having a good life and decided he needed to change it. He placed a call to the police from a phone booth saying he was a tourist and had found a young boy, 14 or 15 years old, who was very scared, and the police should come and get him. He then sat in the phone booth with his hoodie and his hat pulled down low over his face. The police showed up and questioned him, and he was unresponsive so they took him to a children's home. He was comfortable there, housed, fed and cared for, but remained unresponsive to the point where they said they were going to fingerprint him. Afraid of what they would find, he told them he was American and had been kidnapped. He asked them to give him access to the office at night so he could call his family in the United States.

Instead, he called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and pretended to be a police officer who had found a missing American child and needed to figure out who he was. NCMEC went through their files and came up with a boy who had been missing from Texas for three years, since the age of 12. They sent a photo by old fashioned fax, a pretty poor black and white image, and he told them yes, that's it, that's definitely the boy. The family was contacted and without much thought or delay, the missing boy's sister hopped on a plan for Spain to get her little brother and bring him home safely.

Meanwhile, the Imposter had seen an actual photo of the missing boy and he realized he would never be able to pass himself off.  The missing boy had light blonde hair and blue eyes, while the Imposter had dark hair and brown eyes.  Of course his features were not the same, and the Imposter was 23, not 15. He was afraid of the moment when the sister laid eyes on him and said no, that's not my brother.

That's not what happened, though. The sister embraced him, told her family, he has grown so much, he is so grown up, but yes it's him. I'd know that nose anywhere. She took him to the embassy, got him a passport, and took him home to Texas, where the family proceeded to accept him. His sister had shown him family photos so he was able to recognize many family members, and also claimed to have amnesia. He was taken into the family, and that's as far as I was able to see. Honestly, I wasn't sure I needed to or wanted to see more, although I probably will tonight.

It all seems pretty incredible, doesn't it? That a family member would accept a 23-year old with brown hair and brown eyes as her little brother who had been missing only three years, and who had pale blonde hair and blue eyes? Okay, the hair perhaps could be accepted, but the eyes? Yet I kind of recognized this. It is something that has haunted my half remembered dreams, someone who isn't quite Micheala, but who I try to wishing into being her.

Recently a girl came to my attention, who said she thought she might be Michaela, who others had said was Michaela. One person had even gone so far as to post a photo on a social media site saying "Michaela Garecht has been found! I'm so happy!" He left messages for me, even one that was supposed to be from this girl, saying thank you for never giving up on me.

I had my doubts. I'd had a lot of emails from this guy over the years, and if he really thought Michaela had been found why was he posting about it on a social media website instead of calling the police or sending me another of his emails? But I notified our detectives, and they notified the local PD and an investigation was set into motion.

Then I got a photograph of this girl. Now people send me photographs all the time, or links to facebook or other websites, and all of these are for generically gorgeous girls (often actually "escorts" or porn stars), and not ever have I see a photo that I thought, oh, that could be Michaela. But this girl ... well, there was so much of a family resemblance in her that it took me back! She was not the generically gorgeous type. Not made up and coiffed. But the cheek bones, the smile, the teeth, the nose, the eyes ... well, she looked to me like a combination of me and Michaela's oldest brother.

Our police and FBI agents went to visit her, and you will all be happy to know that they went the full mile and took DNA swabs. But she gave them a birthdate of 1992. That, of course, is several years after Michaela was kidnapped, and 13 years younger than Michaela. I don't think the best brainwashing could have convinced a 15 years old that she was really only 3 years old. So in spite of the striking family resemblance, there was really no way it could be Michaela. Our detective offered to take me to meet her but I declined, and the reason I declined was because I just had a feeling that even though I knew it was impossible, I would want to make it true. I wouldn't have left a rock unturned perhaps, but we have science. Let science do its work and leave the heart out of it. The heart is too tender, longs too much to find a way to escape the pain.

This is what I recognized in The Imposter. It seems pretty incredible that a family member would actually believe that this 20-something with brown eyes was her blue eyed baby brother. The whole story brings up so many questions, of course, and perhaps they are answered in the part I didn't see.

I have to say, it is heartbreaking also that there are people whose lives are so bad that they feel a need to be someone else. How many ills in this world would be cured if only we would love our children. How about if we put our needs aside for the needs of someone else? Do you know how much better the world would be if this was the norm? You wouldn't have to watch out for your own needs and protect your own rights all the time because the rest of the world would be doing it for you, as you were for them! You would feel so secure you would not feel in need, but would feel an abundance that could overflow to others.

There is one thing that can short circuit even the circle created by selfless love, and that is drugs. Drugs can cause you to forget who you are. They use up your resources and leave you in a far worse place then the one you were trying to escape to begin with.

Following is a story about The Imposter. If you are around this evening at 9 p.m. eastern standard time, tune into CNN and watch it.