The irrefutable fact is that Alice Miller’s granddaughter doesn’t live here anymore.
Irrefutable and horrific.
In April 2013, the U.S. Army sergeant who recruited and seduced the 17-year-old Rockville High School honor student and star athlete, murdered her and killed himself. And, thus, her grandmother contends, Michelle Miller became “the face of collateral damage.”
“To the Army, she is just another statistic that they would probably prefer to forget,” Miller said. “Her family now lives with the loss … and continues a long journey through unimaginable loss and grief.”
Miller, a Potomac psychotherapist who was already a published author, felt compelled to tell “the story of Michelle’s bright life and her tragic death… All I can do is something positive in her name.” Her book, “All That Bright Light,” she said, is “the story of that sorrow, spirituality and the struggle to reach forgiveness.”
The original edition – printed in Michelle’s memory, and also in honor of the Wounded Warriors (“of which, she was one,” said Miller) – sold out at a reading. Proceeds of more than $3,000 went to the American Red Cross’ Wounded Warrior Program at Walter Reed Military Hospital.
Miller has another important agenda in telling the story.
“Many of the readers [of the original edition] have expressed outrage that the Army who, months earlier, had launched an investigation into the misdeeds of the sergeant, a predator with a history of encounters with young girls,” she said. “Had the Army acted on this knowledge, Michelle would be alive today.”
“It is too late to save our Michelle,” Miller acknowledged. “But if we had the amendments that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) is proposing [on how the military prosecutes rape and sexual assault], men like the sergeant might have been stopped and Michelle would be with us today. … perhaps this is a story that can save someone else’s daughter.”
Miller has written three other books, the third, “On Becoming A Swan: Gardens Grace and Psychotherapy,” a personal memoir she said she wrote with her granddaughter “looking over my shoulder.” The two were close, living about four miles apart, and Michelle’s professional goal was to emulate her grandmother. Having completed “Swan” just before Michelle’s death, Miller felt unable to look at the manuscript. It sat in a box for months until she self-published via CreateSpace. Miller’s previous titles are “To Everything There is a Season: A Psychotherapist’s Spiritual Journey Through the Garden” and “A Thyme for Peace,” a psychotherapist’s search for inner peace.
Miller’s family moved from Boston to Kensington when she was in elementary school. Back then, she aspired to be a journalist – that is, she said, after a career as a ballet teacher. Instead of dance, she proceeded from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School to study journalism and sociology at Penn State University. Post-graduation, Miller and her husband became youth group counselors at their church, where they ran a coffee house and served on a task force focused on youth and drugs.
Realizing she “loved working with kids and church groups,” Miller felt it “made sense to go do something…everybody was studying the problems, but nobody was doing anything.” A rented two-room apartment across from Montgomery Mall became the home of The Listening Post, a youth crisis center where anyone could drop in and talk candidly. She remembers all the tales of loneliness and isolation. The local police were supportive, and the Justice Department gave them several grants during its 4 1/2-year tenure.
Miller enhanced her academic credentials by earning a master’s degree in counseling at American University and a doctorate in clinical social work at the University of Maryland. She also took numerous courses in psychology.
Master’s degree completed, Miller moved on as a therapist, and then director, of Karma House for Girls in Rockville, a residential therapeutic community for drug abusers, most with a dual diagnosis. About two years later, while working on her doctorate, she briefly went into private practice and then spent five or six years as a psychotherapist for Metropolitan Psychiatric Group (connected with Psychiatric Institute), where “the collegial part was great.” She has had a private practice in a converted area of her home for about 16 years.
“I’m one of those lucky people who is doing just exactly what I want to be doing,” Miller said. “I love working with people, being a catalyst for people, guiding them to wherever they need to be. It’s work that feels valuable and important.”
Her goals now, Miller said, are to continue her practice and tend the woodland garden she created; to improve her writing and find a new publisher, and to become a better cellist.
“I have music in my heart, and I need to get it out,” she said, acknowledging her impossible dream is to be first cello with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Alice Miller counts her many blessings. But she will always have a hole in her heart.
Alice Miller’s books are available at amazon.com.