Our family in the spot where Abigael entered the River.

I am Tressa Bellows.

For most of my adult life, when asked about myself, I have started off with “I am a mom, of three beautiful daughters.” Our family of five, plus one dog, one cat and countless hamsters and beta fish, was remarkable in its beautifully simple normalcy–sleepovers, soccer games, pets, little family traditions like pumpkin patch trips, snow day crafts, end of year pool parties and themed birthday parties.

At 3:36 AM on July 22, that simple normalcy was rocked and we were forever changed. The Pennsylvania State Police banged on our door to tell us that our eldest daughter, Abigael had been declared a missing person by the Lane County Sheriff’s office in Eugene, Oregon (where she resided at the time).

Abigael had been swimming with friends in the Willamette River, when a bystander witnessed a powerful current sweeping her under the glacial melt waters. She did not emerge. We–my husband, Garth and two younger daughters, Eliza and Ivy–flew out to Oregon and for eight agonizing days. During those days, we waited, tried to make sense of it all, recruited and fed volunteers, vetted third party Search and Rescue teams, scoured riverbanks, hung missing person signs, did interviews and…waited. Until the body of our beautiful, vivacious daughter was released by the river, and we had to face the irrefutable fact that our beloved daughter’s life was over.

I have been changed by that experience. In many ways, I died in that river as well, because the Tressa that existed on July 21 no longer does. Now, my life has been divided into the before time, and the after time. In this after time, the emotions are immense and consuming and transformative. The magnitude and force of these emotions have to manifest themselves in some way, for me it is through words.