Dear Morgan,
Scrap lumber, that’s what it really is, a pine board about 7 feet tall and 2 inches wide with a hole drilled in the top. Your grandfather made it. Actually he made two of them, one for each ofyou kids right after you were born – your special “grow sticks.” Poppy made the grow sticks so that the sprint of time couldn’t erase the dramatic changes that babies undergo to become adults. Rather than inscribe a door frame with ascending hatch marks to note yourincreasing height, you always had your grow stick hanging in the bedroom to record that progression. All three bedrooms: The first in Charlottesville that you shared with Alex when we brought you home from the hospital. Your second bedroom was here in Roanoke – a small room, but big enough for your crib and the room you insisted on because it was next to Allie. You took possession of your third and last bedroom, as a middleschooler when you moved across the hall to a more spacious room that would better accommodate sleepovers and loud music. Your grow stick was installed next to the closet and you kept growing and recording the miraculous transformations life brings.

It is infinitely precious for me to translate the scratchy marks you made on that board next to the closet. Naturally the top mark is Dan, tall papa, rock of our family. I remember each and every notation on the wood. How excited you were when you were “officially” taller than me – 3/01. You were 12. As a little girl you were amazed to see the mark that showed “ how big I was when I got borned.”7/24/89 you were 19 ½ inches long. The lowest marks near the ground are really hilarious, where you kept the pet record. I smile to see that our kitten Zeb was 7 inches tall on 9/92. I recall the difficulty your 3 year old self had taking that measurement; though it was not nearly as hard as making your parakeet Opal sit still long enough to be recorded on 4/99.

For the record Morgan, you have shrunk to a dimension of 10x10x4; the size of the cigar box where you now reside.

Memories permeate the marks you inscribed in the wood grain of your grow stick. Contemplating it is bittersweet but the sadness is tolerable because we had much fun with the silliness of the task. What is still excruciating beyond bearing is the flip side of the board. That’s where you planned to chart the growth of your own children, your anticipated family. Those beloveds who will never exist were also stolen from us. The unmarked and forever empty expanse of wood on the flip side is invisibly inscribed with pain, a virtual Rosetta Stone of loss.

In the midst of agony Morgan, your family chooses strength. We choose survival. We choose love. Wecontinue to choose, insist upon, and embrace growth.
Always, 241, Mama

10 Responses to “Gil Harrington’s Thoughts from April 30, 2012”

  1. Cory says:

    Thinking of you and Dan this Mothers Day morning and sending love and good energy your way. Morgan is not forgotten and has profoundly touched many lives. Thank you for your continued writings and insights. Peace and blessings, Cory

  2. tcaros says:

    Fingerprints are an interesting thing.. I’ve often wondered why we have unique fingerprints. Similarly, DNA uniquely identifies us. God had a purpose in making us unique and we discovered how to use that identification to solve crimes and determine who people are.

    It’s amazing what they can do with DNA. On December 21, 2011, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released a statement that identified the body of 13-year-old Ima Jean Sanders of Warner Robins, Georgia who had disappeared in August 1, 1974. The DNA led to her finally being recovered and the identification of her killer. This was 37 years later. DNA is a powerful thing.

    The 13 year-old Ima Jean Sanders was hitchhiking at the same time John Paul Knowles was carving a path of violence and murder across the country. Two events unconnected, then unsolved until someone compared samples under a microscope.

    DNA is everywhere, it’s like a breadcrumb trail that doesn’t disappear. It exonerates some and convicts others, it unites families, and uncovers secrets.. all by uniquely identifying the donor.

    I believe someday we will make it extremely difficult on them, the bad guys, by using DNA and microchips.

    To prevent crimes we will need technology in microchips to actively monitor the whereabouts and safety of our children. At the same time a National DNA database, required samples at birth would serve as a scientific deterrent. How many criminals would risk committing a violent premeditated crime if they already were in the database from birth?

  3. Ann H Tearle says:

    Still here, Gil, still praying for you and your family. Still praying the perp/s will be found. Morgan’s brightness will never fade, and she will always be relevant. Loving thoughts and prayers always, go out to you and yours, Annie

  4. Lisa King Stratienko says:

    Since I had the pleasure of meeting your parents, it is with an extra smile and with extra pain that I read this post. My daughters and I talk about Morgan, a girl they never met but feel connected to through the love and affection I feel for you and Dan.I tell my girls about our days in Charlottesville, your wedding and about your incredible kindness to me. I hope you can feel our love and support across the miles. We are still here as well.

    Lisa, Maria and Analisa

  5. Pippi says:

    Dear Dan and Gil. Just wanted to let you know I think of Morgan often and that long year we all tried so hard to help find who took Morgan away from you.

    Bless your hearts for carrying on. One foot in front of the other when you can hardly walk. Step by step and day by day.

    The Ying and Yang of life. Love taken away in a second. Hold on…hold on tight.

    We understand your pain and your struggles and your wanting to throw in the towel during difficult times.

    But know that your courage keeps other strong. They draw on you and say “if they can do can we”.

    So you do make a difference to people you don’t even know.

    I think of Morgan today and all that she would have been. But I also think of Morgan and how very lucky she was in the wonderful life she lived because of her family.

    Love, Pippi

  6. Gina says:

    Every time I visit here, my heart just breaks in many, many pieces. I look at that indescribably beautiful face and those gorgeous, happy eyes so full of hope for the future. Soon, I hope soon, you will get the justice, but never the closure you so deserve. My sister said that at least there IS a word to define what everyone searches for when life goes bad.

  7. Ray says:

    So sad, thank you for having the courage to share with us. I lost a sister to murder.

  8. Angela says:

    I just want to thank you for all you are doing. I can only imagine the pain you must be going through, and think it is amazing that you have chosen to advocate, to reach out, and to persevere.

    I have a 19 year old daughter, also the apple of my eye, also making her way in the big, complicated world. Last night I sent her the new sketches of the attacker you are searching for. She has the invincibility of youth, but she promised she would take the time to really look at those images.

    Sending love and strength your way, and strength to all families who are forced to endure something like this.

  9. Roberta Kernan says:

    Another incredible essay from Gil Harrington. A remarkably beautiful memoir in the making by an extraordinary writer and loving mother.

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