A year after slaying, Giddings family still coping with loss

It took almost a full year for Karen Giddings to come out of the fog that surrounded her after her daughter Lauren's death.

As the numbness ebbed away, pain flooded in. Now, Giddings is trying to turn that pain into a focus — to keep the memory of her daughter alive.

"It's sort of being revealed to me in bits and pieces, and it may be coincidental that it's the one-year mark, but it's time," she said in an interview this week in her North Laurel home. "It becomes more and more evident that Lauren's not just away, (she's) not coming back."

Lauren Giddings, who was 27 and had just graduated from Mercer University Law School in Macon, Ga., went missing June 25, 2011. Five days later, her dismembered body was found outside her apartment complex, across the street from the school.

Later that summer, Lauren's neighbor, Stephen McDaniel, was charged with felony murder in the death of the 2002 Atholton High graduate.

McDaniel is still in jail after a judge refused to lower his $850,000 bond last month, according to the Macon Telegraph. According to court records, no trial date has been set.

Giddings said it was frustrating, at times, to think of how slowly the case has proceeded. Also frustrating, she said, is the fact that even though Macon police returned Lauren's body to the family for a funeral, not all of her remains have been found. Giddings said police "missed a window of opportunity" by not searching the property of McDaniel's grandfather, where the family thinks McDaniel may have taken Lauren.

"I think about how full of life she was, and to think about what happened to her, I feel like she would be so angry, so angry this happened to her. She didn't take anything laying down, and I can't imagine ...," Giddings said, her voice trailing off.

Several photos of Lauren hang on the walls of the Giddings' home. Seeing her daughter's face every day isn't as painful as one might think, Giddings said. Lauren's youngest sister, Sarah, 19, agreed.

"It would be more weird if we didn't have the photos up," she said.

'She truly loved humanity'

Karen Giddings still finds Lauren in quiet moments — in a song, a marching band, a magnolia tree in bloom or the inexplicable rustling of leaves when there are none on the ground. Giddings runs every day, and once, she said she saw a pink rose lying in the middle of the street. She had no idea how it got there, but a pink rose is something the family has taken as Lauren's symbol.

"Her patron saint was St. Therese," Giddings said. "And St. Therese promised she would 'let fall from heaven a shower of roses.'"

Lauren's mother said she can still hear her daughter's voice, urging her to live her life. It's advice Giddings said is fitting.

"She loved life," she said. "She had so many different groups of friends and all she ever wanted was for everyone to come together. Now, I try to focus on her being in that most glorious situation in heaven. She truly loved humanity, and I have to think that's what heaven's about: your love for humanity."

Last summer, after graduating, Lauren traveled home to North Laurel to plan a bridal shower and bachelorette party for her younger sister, Kaitlyn Wheeler. She was maid of honor at Wheeler's wedding, two weeks before her death.

"When you have a loss that's so close to you, it's not just losing your sister," Wheeler said. "You lose your friend, the aunt to my baby, and that one person you've talked to twice a day.

"When that one person is so close to you, they play 100 different roles in your life, so it's not just one loss you feel, it's 100 losses or more."

Wheeler, 25, is expecting her first child, a boy, this fall. The family is planning a baby shower — a task that would have fallen to Lauren. In more ways than just the shower, family members are picking up the pieces in the wake of their loss.

"I feel like I have to be a better sister," Sarah Giddings said. "I'm the only one Kaitlyn has."

A family of celebrations

The Giddings are a family of celebrations, Karen Giddings said, and though happy occasions like Christmas and Wheeler's upcoming baby shower are sad reminders of their loss, they will continue to celebrate Lauren's life.

"In true Lauren fashion, she would want the show to go on," Giddings said.

Giddings, along with Lauren's three aunts, are running the Iron Girl Triathlon in Columbia later this summer in Lauren's honor. The family is also planning a softball tournament, combining Lauren's love for the sport with her love for her Pekingese mix, Butterbean.

Underneath a curio in the Giddings' dining room, next to Butterbean's bed, is a pink bag that belonged to Lauren. She used it to carry her dog everywhere, Giddings said.

"She was obsessed with Butterbean," Giddings said. "She was a true-life 'Legally Blonde.'"

The Butterbean Tournament in Memory of Lauren Giddings will be held Sept.15 at McCullough Field in Laurel. Proceeds will benefit the Special Olympics, a cause Lauren championed.

Giddings said she would remember Lauren — her friend, as well as her daughter — for her love of humanity, love of God and love of learning. She recently found a box of Lauren's, containing spiral notebooks from high school, in which Lauren chronicled her busy life.

"It reminded me of all the things she's completed," she said. "Her junior year of school, she was taking AP classes, she was working, she was volunteering, playing a sport and was part of the dance club. I've been thinking of that, too. It makes me believe in God's design for her. Maybe her days were numbered, and that's why she did so much in such a short time."

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