A Soft Place To Fall

This is my role in my family. Amongst my siblings. Amongst my children. I am the comfort zone when life gets too rough to stare at right in the face.

It was my brother’s sentencing today and my sisters needed that soft place. I debated whether or not to even go into the city for the hearing because I haven’t been able to bring myself to even so much as look at my brother. I have only been able to write. That is safe. It allows me to process all the things that have happened without having to stare my demons right in the face. So I wasn’t sure I would be able to go. But then I found out my younger sisters would be in town for it and I knew they would need me. Or at least, I’d like to think that they need me.

I’ve never been to a hearing like this before. The sentencing process for someone who has plead guilty to their horrific crimes. No need for a trial of his peers. Just time before a judge to pass down a sentence. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I watch all those shows where the system is so corrupt and the people with money have judges in their pocket. I have a very cynical nature. Realistically, I knew that this hearing wouldn’t be like a TV show, but I just didn’t know what to expect.

The judge was OLD. I will admit to rolling my eyes when he walked in because I automatically assume that he’s going to be that old school, victim blaming, male chauvinist man like a lot of other men of my father’s generation seem to be. I couldn’t have been further from wrong. He first explained how he expected the hearing would go. He lined out the rules of sentencing. Read each of the 17 charges and told us what the min/max sentence was for each charge. Explained the types of things that he looked at (criminal history, drug/alcohol abuse history, etc) when determining what was fair and just. Then he told us a story.

Years ago (and by that, I mean DECADES) when he was a prosecutor he had a case that he was researching. The defendant had committed despicable crimes. He was a raging alcoholic. As the judge delved into this man’s past he learned that 20 years previous to this man’s arrest, the man had a little child. The child had died. The man carried the child’s casket on his lap between the funeral service and the cemetery, where he buried his child. He turned to alcohol to numb the pain of such a severe loss. The alcohol abuse turned to petty crimes, which turned to larger crimes, which turned to the despicable crime that the judge was investigating. The judge then said to us, “I tell you this story to let you know what I learned: Nobody is all good and nobody is all bad.”

My two younger sisters began to cry. I was sitting in the row behind them and reached up to touch their shoulders. Somehow just willing that simple touch to reassure them and give them the comfort that they needed.

The judge continued on to explain other procedures about the sentencing process. He acknowledged that things like this were very difficult on the families and said that there would be counseling available for us if we felt like we needed it. I’ve never heard of this. The judge got choked up as he talked about the pain that families went through when a loved one had committed such a horrible crime. He showed a great deal of compassion to those of us who were sitting in the courtroom. I was completely not expecting that. I was expecting something a bit more clinical.

After going through all this, he permitted the prosecutor to address him, then the defense attorney, then my brother. He listened to each party. Then he gave us the number. 235 months…just under 20 years. I was expecting worse. Mom was expecting better. (Mom’s head has been buried in the sand for the past almost two years over this.) Then the judge adjourned. And my younger sisters lost it. Completely broke down. I walked up to my baby sister and hugged her. Kissed her cheek. Made sure she was OK. Then she and my oldest sister wrapped their arms around Mom and walked her out of the courtroom. I turned to my other younger sister and she said, “A hug would be good.” She clung to me, sobbing into my neck. All I could do was hold her and pet her hair and let her fall apart. When she was ready, I wiped the tears off her cheeks, assured her that everything was going to be alright, and sent her into the hall with the others. 

Dad and I were the only family members in the courtroom and we turned to leave. The judge was still sitting at his bench watching us, as he’d been doing since he dismissed the court. I looked up at him and said, “Thank you, your honor. Thank you for your compassion.” He stood up and walked towards me, so I went back to the front row of seats to greet him. He shook my hand and said, “This isn’t easy for families. If you think that any of your family would benefit from counseling, please get with the defense attorney and let her help arrange what she can.” His eyes welled with tears and he became choked up as we spoke. I did not expect compassion from a judge. Yet here was this old man, concerned for a family that was clearly in pain, offering kind words and encouragement.

We headed out with plans to visit the grounds of the Arch. The weather was windy, but warm(ish) and we thought it would be good to get some fresh air and clear our heads. My younger brother who came into town for the hearing requested that we have fun, and that we not waste anymore time rehashing everything that had gone on over the past few years. We put on our smiles, had some laughs, had some really good frozen custard, and tried to pretend that we could possibly move on from the pain.

My drive home was exhausting. I’d had only a few hours of sleep the night before because my baby sister arrived after midnight and then we stayed awake talking. About EVERYTHING! Then an emotionally draining day with my family. Then….nothing. Just silence. Silence and my racing thoughts. Silence and wondering if my own tears would find their way to the surface. Just silence.

Mark met me at the door when I got home, wrapped his arms around me, and just held me. My soft place to fall.

6 thoughts on “A Soft Place To Fall

  1. I kind of feel like I intruded on a private moment, but I’m SOO glad I read this! You are an amazing woman!! And I’m so glad to be friends with you, and learn from your compassionate example! Thanks for all you do for our amazingly crazy family!!!!

    • I am SO glad to friends with you, too. I learned compassion from you, ya know.

      Warning….not every post in this blog is compassionate. Proceed with caution.

  2. It’s tough “being” the “soft place to fall” as I know you oftentimes are. Thankful you have a “soft place to fall” and for your kind heart and huge shoulders. God made you that way. Proud of you and thankful you are my friend. Love ya!

    • Thanks, Heather. The judge was amazing. I wish this whole thing was done, but I feel like I’m still processing so much and wonder if it will ever truly be “done.” :/ Thanks for the hugs!!

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