Writing book helped grieving Arlington Heights mom heal
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Ten years ago last August, Barb Mangi and her husband, Joe, received the call no parent expects and every parent dreads.
It was a Chicago police officer informing the Arlington Heights couple their youngest daughter, Dana -- a kind, compassionate and fiercely determined 25-year-old Prospect High School and Loyola University graduate -- had been murdered by a friend.
Struggling to keep herself, her husband and their oldest daughter, Sarah, together, Mangi began writing a journal. She poured out her anger and grief over the loss of Dana, who was weeks away from pursuing her lifelong dream as a first-year student at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine when Patrick Ford strangled and stabbed her in his Wrigleyville apartment.
A year later, during a memorial service for Dana, a friend suggested Mangi write a book. Last week, her self-help memoir, "Reawakening: Return of Lightness and Peace after My Daughter's Murder," was published. In it, Mangi describes how faith helped her heal.
Tragedies like hers often test a believer's faith. Not Mangi. She never lost her faith in God. As she began writing, she realized, "the Spirit was always there with me, guiding me."
The road to healing wasn't easy. For years, Mangi considered Ford a "psycho monster."
But something changed in March 2010, when Ford pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder in exchange for a 35-year sentence.
In her poignant victim impact statement, Barb Mangi said, "I refuse to live a life of hate or revenge."
She didn't imagine her words would have an effect on Ford. She was wrong.
"Toward the end of the hearing, Patrick Ford asked the judge if he could speak to us," she said.
"He turned around, faced us and told us how sorry he was in a very emotional, short statement."
His words evoked compassion in Mangi that left the grieving mother conflicted.
"I felt traitorous for these feelings," she said. "But, within a few days, I realized my heart had been opened to accept that he was not just a monster, but a broken young man with feelings who had done a horrible thing and now would pay the consequences for what he had done."
A few years later, in 2012, Mangi was part of a team leading a women's retreat at St. James Church in Arlington Heights.
She shared her "faith journey," including her forgiveness of Ford, with the participants. Although she never intended it as therapy, Mangi realized then writing a book could help her as well as other people.
"I didn't know if I could find the words," said Mangi, who finished "Reawakening" last December after working on it over the course of four years. "I don't believe I could have done this on my own ... I feel strongly that the spirit guided me."
Finishing the book "showed me how much I had grown in being true to myself and finding my own way to healing," Mangi said. "I had become a stronger advocate for myself in my life. Overall, I am a happier, emotionally healthier woman now than I was before Dana died, in spite of the fact that I will miss her every day of my life.
"Yet I know that she is always with me as my guardian angel."