Michelle Jeffreys is in a far different place than where she was six years ago. Then, she struggled under the darkest cloud of grief and despondency. Her 14-year-old daughter, Zoe Raine Galasso, was among four students whose lives were taken when a freshman at Marysville Pilchuck High School shot five friends before killing himself.
“I know this is a lifetime of grief that I will be enduring,” Jeffreys, 43, wrote in “My Rainbow to Keep,” a new book about her family’s unthinkable loss and her journey toward healing that she hopes will help others.
The author, a 1995 Everett High School graduate, was Michelle Galasso when the tragedy occurred on Oct. 24, 2014. She had taught yoga at the YMCA, and was a civilian employee and fitness coach with the Navy in Everett. She and Zoe’s father, Mike Galasso, were going through a divorce at the time, she said.
Today, she is remarried and lives nearly 3,000 miles away in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Along with her 23-year-old son and Zoe’s brother, Rayden — to whom the book is dedicated — she and her husband, Simon Jeffreys, now have a 3-year-old daughter. Charlotte, their little girl, is nicknamed “Lotte.”
Jeffreys was recently back in Snohomish County for an Oct. 17 book-signing event in Marysville and to visit her son and parents, Rich and Helen Miller, in Everett. In an interview Wednesday, she talked about the beautiful daughter she describes as “forever 14” and of the new life that has distanced her from so much pain.
“It’s tough coming back. It’s just hard because you’re that person,” she said. Here, although years have passed, Jeffreys said well-wishers will sometimes give her hugs as though her loss just happened.
Her husband is in the Navy, a boatswain mate 1st class. It’s been freeing, since their marriage and move to Virginia in 2016, to meet new friends. She only shares what she wants, and when she wants to, about the Marysville shooting.
“After we moved, I felt a sense of peace and calm,” she wrote in the book, which is titled for a rainbow drawing Zoe did in kindergarten. “I could finally breathe again. … I embraced the prospect of making new friends and not being immediately associated with the tragedy.”
Jeffreys’ book covers that nightmarish day in 2014, and learning that Zoe had died at the scene in the high school cafeteria. What followed, after Zoe’s funeral, was a frenzy of media attention, as well as heartfelt support from family, friends and the community. After the shock of those early months came a time of sinking into the reality of it.
Zoe was gone, and her mother couldn’t see living without her.
“Everyone rushes to your side in the beginning. Year two is awful,” she said.
Despite her fitness background, Jeffreys said that second year found her falling into destructive habits. She wrote of self-medicating and of smoking cigarettes. She saw a counselor at first but said she put on a brave face and made little progress. By the third year, she had a more helpful therapist who continues as part of her healing.
“It’s lonely a lot,” said Jeffreys, who has often had the sense that “no one knows my pain.”
Yet she has learned, by writing a blog at www.healingthruwellness.com, that many parents know the pain of losing a child to violence. In sharing what happened to Zoe, she’s been in touch online with families across the country. The idea for the book grew out of her blog.
“People say, ‘You’re so strong.’ We all have it in us, or you just won’t survive. I’m not the first mom to lose a child and I won’t be the last,” she said. If just one person is helped, she said the book will have been worth writing.
In working toward wellness, “my grief becomes a little less heavy,” she wrote. Like getting stronger in the gym, “the weight becomes easier to bear.”
Jeffreys is now working on a children’s book, “My Sister, My Heart.” She hopes it will help Lotte know more about Zoe, a sister the little girl has seen in pictures and videos.
“She was so fun. Her nickname was Bossy Galasso,” said Jeffreys, recalling her teenage daughter as a jokester, a girl with a signature laugh. Zoe loved animals, playing soccer and creating art. “She was super inquisitive,” said Jeffreys, who believes Zoe may have become a veterinarian or a nurse.
A tattoo on Jeffreys’ upper arm mirrors a drawing Zoe once made of Peter Pan. It says “Never grow up.” The mother is struck by how the “o” sometimes resembles an “e” — which makes it “Never grew up.”
“I never thought I’d have another child,” said Jeffreys. Lotte, she said, has blue eyes and “looks just like Zoe.”
Jeffreys was here on Oct. 24, before returning to Virginia late last week. “For me it’s every day,” she said, talking about the sixth anniversary of that dreadful date. “Of course the day stands out a little more. I hate this word, but it sucks.” She and her son spent the day together, a belated birthday for him.
“We went shopping and had a movie night that night,” Jeffreys said. “She wouldn’t want us crying, being sad all the time.”
Julie Muhlstein: email@example.com
Book, blog, scholarship
“My Rainbow to Keep,” Michelle Jeffreys’ book about the loss of her daughter, Zoe Galasso, killed in the 2014 Marysville Pilchuck High School shootings, is available on Amazon.com.
Jeffreys has a blog addressing grief after loss of a child: healingthruwellness.com.
A portion of proceeds from book sales will benefit the Zoe Raine Galasso Memorial Scholarship. Donations may be made to the Marysville Rotary Education Foundation, c/o Zoe Raine Galasso Memorial Scholarship, P.O. Box 1875, Marysville, WA 98270.