Find the book
“Farewell My Free Bird” (Author Press, 2011) by Carol Noe is available at Signs of Life, 722 Mass.; The Raven Bookstore, 8 E. Seventh St.; and Amazon.com.
You know from the outset that this isn’t a happy tale: A 19-year-old woman is murdered in the California countryside.
But, from Carol Noe’s perspective, the story of her daughter’s life isn’t a tragedy.
“It would just be a sad story if it wasn’t for what God did,” says Noe, resident of Big Springs and author of the memoir “Farewell My Free Bird: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Life in the Dark World of Drugs and Prostitution … and the Phone Call That Changed Their Family Forever” — a book about her daughter, Angela; a book about faith; and a book about forgiveness.
The book traces Angela’s life from the spirited 18-month-old who “rescued” her baby brother by carrying him down the hallway to the precocious preschooler belting out “Jesus Loves Me!” to a tender-hearted youngster who delivered cupcakes to nursing homes.
Angela’s behavior changed when she reached adolescence and began to rebel. Alcohol and drug use led to running away and criminal activity. It was the proverbial roller coaster as Angela spent time in and out of hospitals and juvenile detention facilities, a vicious cycle of false promises to “do better.”
“We would get our hopes up only to have them dashed when she disappeared again,” Noe says.
Much of the book focuses on Angela’s troubled adolescence, decisions she made, and Carol and Keith’s efforts to discipline her while maintaining a sense of normalcy for their three sons, Carl, Travis, and Jason. It is clear that Angela’s life — as well as her death — “could have torn our family apart,” Noe says.
After her death, family members grappled to make sense of Angela’s short life. One brother was wracked with guilt, wondering whether he could have protected her.
Noe struggled with wondering whether she could have done something differently. She understood the anger other parents experienced who were in her position.
“We attended meetings of Parents of Murdered Children,” she says. “I didn’t want to be bitter.”
A couple of things kept the family together — and the bitterness away. The first was faith; the second was Angela herself, who seemed to reach out to them after her death.
Because Angela’s final moments were so violent, Noe was apprehensive about seeing her at the mortuary. She did not want to be reminded of the struggle her daughter must have endured as she fought off her assailant. Standing beside her daughter’s casket, however, she felt nothing but calmness.
“We saw how radiant she was. … Her face glowed with an unexplainable peace. There was a slight hint of a smile that spoke to us, ‘It’s all right, Mom and Dad.’ I could almost hear her speak it,” she writes. “I had a picture of the Lord tenderly holding my wounded daughter in His arms as she lay dying on the ground. I saw her totally oblivious to anything but His love and comfort.”
Another way she reached out was through poetry.
“She didn’t leave very many things,” Noe says, “but I found her book of poetry, and all I could say was ‘Thank you, Lord.’”
The poems expressed her daughter’s emotional anguish, and not only did they bring a deeper understanding of her daughter’s pain, but they provided the encouragement Noe needed to write her book, a project that she and her daughter had actually discussed while she was still alive.
“Once I found them, it was like, ‘Oh yeah, sure. This is what I am supposed to do,’” Noe says. “I could hear Angela saying, ‘Go for it, Mom!’”
After completing the manuscript, which included the poems Angela had written, she gave it to family members for their input.
“Each of our boys suffered in his own way, living with the idea that he could have done something,” Noe says. “After Travis read it, he understood that he could not have done anything to change what happened. Reading it set him free from his pain. … If he is the only one who benefits, then it was worth it.”
But he hasn’t been the only one helped. Noe began to share her testimony in public, speaking to women in prison and to a group of women during a mission trip to Honduras: “If my story can help anybody, please let it help.”
Noe has been humbled at the response.
“I always knew people had pain, but I was surprised at how many of them come forward to share it,” she says. “I add them to my list of people I pray for.”
These names go in her Bible, right along with the name of the man who murdered her daughter.
“The week after Angela’s murder, when I was thinking of him, I heard God speak,” she writes, “not in an audible voice but to my spirit … ‘There may be no one else praying for this man.’”
Initially, the thought of praying for him made her stomach churn, yet she did it out of duty.
“With time, I have realized that by my obedience to God, by praying that Angela’s murderer be set free from the chains that bind him, God was loosening the chains of bitterness and resentment that so easily could have bound my heart.”
Noe was learning about forgiveness.
“Because I forgive him doesn’t mean what he did was right,” she says, “or that there still isn’t anger and pain sometimes.”
These days, the pain comes from mourning what could have been, like when she attends weddings or baby showers. But she finds comfort in knowing what her daughter’s death has done for others.
“The joy that I have is what God did. That is where the peace is,” says Noe. “Angela just got to go home before we did.”