An Unexpected Answer to a Desperate Prayer
More than a decade ago, my wonderful 18-year-old daughter, Mary Dee, was murdered in an apartment where she lived with her mother in Shreveport, Louisiana. Her killer, an 18-year-old ex-boyfriend, then took his own life. The immense mourning that I felt affected me in ways that are deep and difficult to describe—like a force still reshaping me today. (See Challenger, Oct.-Dec. 2007, “Carried Through the Valley of Death.”)
No one has the power to undo bad things or to replace them with good things, no matter how deeply we want such power. After Mary Dee was taken from us, I found myself trusting in, relying upon, and clinging to God’s promise that I could have peace and that He would overcome the brutalthings I could not change.
Nearly nine years passed before God answered my prayers and His peace anchored my soul.
In the aftermath of my daughter’s murder, two burning fears—both common among parents of murdered children—enveloped me. First was the fear that those who had known Mary Dee might simply forget her in the drift of time, as if she had never existed. Second was my dread that Sarah, only five years old when Dee died and who would not have a lifetime of days together, would never really know her older half-sister.
As a result of these fears, two specific purposes crystallized in my heart: Mary Dee Haddox, my daughter, must be remembered, and Sarah, my daughter, must know much more about her departed half-sister…somehow.
Prayer became the only possible avenue to accomplish these purposes, so I asked God to heal our wounds and mend our lives: Oh, God, keep her memory alive! We remember Mary Dee, but, does anyone else remember her? Please, Lord, here my plea.
Remembering Mary Dee
We did the small things we could do:
․We enlarged photographs of Mary Dee’s high school senior-year portraits and mounted them in our living room so we could see them every day.
․I established the Mary Dee Haddox Memorial Scholarship Fund at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana, where Mary Dee grew up. Several young women have been aided through the fund, and applicants get Mary Dee’s photo and biography.
․We made videotapes of Mary Dee in lively interaction with friends and family, and playing with little Sarah, and shared them with Mary Dee’s mother, grandparents, and with my sister’s family. We would watch and remember.
Could Sarah Know Dee?
My concern that a very young Sarah would never have more than a vague and hazy image of her sister had no simple answers. Sarah would go through her life with someone missing, and that seemed too big a price for one so young to pay. My heart ached that Sarah had so little to recall of her sister. I feared that the stories, photos, and videos—relics from the past—would not be enough to help Sarah really know her older half-sister.
Our efforts to give Sarah more of her sister were such tiny and merely symbolic things. In the years after Mary Dee’s funeral, my wife Judy, Sarah, and I would visit her gravesite in Shreveport on significant days— Dee’s birthday (September 7th ) or the anniversary of the day she was killed (December 14th ). Sarah, just beginning elementary school, would write notes to “Dee,” tie them to helium-filled balloons, then release them skyward, remembering her sister and letting go of her, too.
We also shared snippets of Dee’s life with Sarah—little stories and funny moments that held unique memories for us. Now they would be kept in Sarah’s heart as precious tales of their brief time together.
Beyond what we could do to bring Mary Dee’s days into Sarah’s world, there was always my prayer: Dear God, Sarah needs to know and remember and love her sister who is no longer here—somehow. How can Sarah be blessed with real, living, vibrant knowledge of Mary Dee? Oh, Lord, Sarah must know, really know, and have a kinship with her sister— but how, Lord, how?
I wondered why God didn’t answer my pleas, though I had no idea of how they could possibly be answered, as I had no answers myself. Still, I prayed expectantly for a way to link my departed daughter’s memory with my precious Sarah.
By this time nearly nine years had gone by since Dee was killed. Sarah had grown into a teenager and entered high school. Her life took on a faster pace and the days raced by. It seemed impossible to keep a lively impression in her heart of her sister’s uniqueness; the gaps were too large, too far in the past.
Sarah, now an only child, would never have a true idea of what it would have been like to have her older sister in her life. I could not do that for her. So, I had to trust God. Perhaps He could give Sarah a vibrant, palpable, lively impression of the sister she would not see again in this life. At the end of my self-action, I chose to trust God.
I continued to pray: Please, Lord, let Sarah somehow truly get a sense of how much her sister loved her and what it would have been like to know her Big Sis. Only You can give her such a gift, in your wisdom and in your time.
One day, God’s answer to my prayers began to unfold in an unexpected way…
I received a message on my voice mail from the secretary at First Baptist Church, McKinney, Texas, where I am a Bible teacher and deacon. Someone who had known Mary Dee for most of her life wanted to talk to me about her. The church doesn’t give out members’ phone numbers, but the secretary agreed to call and give me the phone number of a young woman named Rebecca Posey.
I was curious to know why Dee’s longtime friend was calling, years after Mary Dee was taken from us. I could choose to leave that door closed, through fear, doubt, and hopelessness. Or, I could open that door in trust, faith, and hope. I decided to call.
“Becca,” as Mary Dee called her, said she had wanted to contact me for a long time, to remember Dee, to somehow connect with her dad, to… talk. And we did. We talked about Dee’s personality, her relationship to her family, and the joy Dee had when Sarah—her “little Sis”—was born. We also talked about how Mary Dee had died, how we had all been shattered on that day.
I told Becca how much I missed Dee and recounted to her some of Dee’s fun years and some of the years after the divorce, when Dee was sometimes suspended between her parents. I shared Dee’s last words to me as she boarded a plane to Shreveport after a weekend in Dallas, her famous “Thanks, Dad!”—the same phrase she used whenever I gave her money, clothes, books or gifts.
I also told Becca of my two fears— that Mary Dee would be forgotten in the onward rush of time, and that Sarah would grow up lacking a sense of what her sister had been like.
As the phone conversation and the afternoon wound down, Becca suggested that she meet Sarah, and soon. She was sure she could give Sarah a fresh view of how funny, lovable, and alert her sister had been. I liked that idea.
Sarah Meets Becca
And so it was that Sarah met Becca in our home in Fairview, Texas, nearly nine years after Mary Dee was murdered. The two talked energetically, as if they had always known each other. Becca told Sarah tales of her years of friendship with Dee, and unfettered laughter and the phrase “You’re kidding!” punctuated their conversation.
Sarah was getting a close-up experience of how her sister had lived, how she related to others, how she embraced her days, her friends, her life. And Becca was the ideal messenger, so much like Mary Dee in manner, bringing vivid, first- hand stories of Mary Dee, like a gift to Sarah.
Becca told us how Mary Dee had loved us, how she was “crazy” about Sarah, and how she had tried to handle the difficulties of being a child of divorce. Their talking and giggling gave me a comforting sense that Sarah was getting a taste of what Mary Dee had been like. Sarah was getting a perspective on Mary Dee’s entire 18 years on this earth. Getting to know this close friend of her sister was giving Sarah a deeper sense of the sister she had lost.
Mary Dee became more for Sarah on that day, somehow; and I was certain my prayers were being answered.
We attended Becca’s pre-wedding party in Longview, Texas, on Saturday, September 6, 2008, one day short of what would have been Mary Dee’s 28th birthday. Sarah and Becca embraced as if they had not been apart at all since their first visit. They began to talk and laugh like two… sisters.
Today, each seems to view the other as a stand-in for the wonderful young woman who is missing from their lives. They talk and remember the girl they both loved, Mary Dee Haddox. I can see it and I thank God for it. Mary Dee’s little sister draws close to a living, breathing person who lets her experience what it might be like if Dee could be with her now.
Now, my prayer is simpler and filled with gratitude to our Creator…
Oh, Father, thank you for your infinite wisdom, grace, mercy and love. You, Lord, have more than addressed my concerns, calmed my fears, and answered my prayers. You, Lord, have blessed my house.
A Note From Becca…
“Mary Dee will never be forgotten, I promise you. I think of her when I see cardinals, lightning bugs, ladybugs, butterflies—things that are free and just make the world pretty. As much as her death hurt me (I was so confused and angry), I wouldn’t take back the years that I knew her for anything. She was such an angel.”
(Charlie Haddox is a Dallas-based management consultant, a Bible teacher and deacon at First Baptist Church of McKinney, Texas. Sarah is now a thriving 16-year-old, driving, singing, and a junior at McKinney High School.)