Last night was the night the truth came out about their dad's suicide. We were all laying in my bed-it was so cold and the heater pilot light had gone out so we were snuggling. I'm trying hard to remember all that was said. I think it started when Jamey made a comment unrelated to his dad and Tyler responded with a comment about her dad. She then asked me matter of factly "mommy, how did you know my daddy was dead?"
I said the policeman told me. She asked me, did they tell you how he died? Jamey was talking at the same time and I was hoping Tyler would not repeat her question but she asked me a couple of more times. Finally I launched into my one chance at getting the proper meaning across. Not glamorizing what he did and not insulting him, like he did a bad thing. What follows is the answer I gave my babies, to the best of my recollection on the wording and the order:
Well, you know how some people have an illness that makes them sick inside like grandpa Williams being in the hospital, and when grandma Winn was in the hospital. They had an illness, something that made them not feel good on the inside. Well what happened with daddy was kinda the same thing, only he wasn't an old person and he wasn't in the hospital.
Just the same, there was something inside daddy that was not healthy, it was more in how he felt and in his soul. He didn't want to be alive any more. (Jamey pipes up; you mean he killed himself?) They wanted to know what killed him, did he stab himself with a sword? I said he used a gun. But you can't kill yourself with a gun, they responded. How did he do that?
Then Jamey said you mean he got the gun and just pointed it like this (he mocks by aiming at his heart) I nod. Is that how he did it? I answer that I am not actually sure. Tyler and James had very different reactions. They were both talking at the same time. But I will separate their reactions here for clarity. Neither of them cried right away. I am sorry that it happened at bedtime.
Why did he want to leave us?
He must have not loved us.
I wished he were here, I would be the first to hug him.
Do we have that thing inside wrong with our soul?
I wished he wouldn't have killed himself.
I wished I never would have asked how he died.
I wish someone could dig him up and give him a new soul
I only had him for 4 whole years, that is not long enough.
Everyone in my class has a daddy, and I don't - it’s not fair.
I wish I could have him back just to see him one more time.
If I would have been there I would have stopped him, I would have taken the gun away and yelled no!
I knew he died at a hotel but I thought he died in a car wreck or someone else killed him.
How did he get a gun?
Most of my responses to Tyler agreed that it was not fair. But daddy did not make this choice because he didn't love us. He made this choice because that something that was missing in him had always been missing and different. Long before he knew me and long before he was a daddy.
I emphasized that he loved being a daddy. But somehow, because of what was different about him he thought it would be better for everyone if he were not here, of course he was wrong. He made a bad choice, but he was not a bad person. He did not do anything to get in trouble with the police. There is nothing wrong with our family-that's not the cause either.
It was an individual’s decision. Daddy is not the only person to make this choice, I gave Mrs. Linda as an example of a child who lost a parent to suicide. She is someone the kids all know and can relate their situation to. I told them when people make this decision it breaks the hearts of everyone who loved them, and it's never a good choice.
James - age 6
He killed his own self?
Did you see him dead?
Did the policeman see him dead?
How did he shoot his own self?
When I am grown up I will kill myself too, that way I can be with my daddy.
Jamey told me after crying his little eyes out "don’t ever say that again what you said". To be sure I understood what he meant I asked him and he said "what you said about daddy and the gun".
While Jamey was crying I tried to physically comfort him but he pulled away and when I dried his tears he said "don't do that, don't wipe them" I asked him if I could hold him or hug him and he said no. He also told me he didn't want to play with anyone tomorrow.
With Jamey I basically tried to reassure him that Daddy did not make a good choice. I told him the people who are left behind when someone dies suddenly are the ones who hurt, and if he were to kill himself it would be a horrible choice. And all of us would be hurting and angry all over again.
I wanted to be sure he knew that I don't have that sadness inside that would cause me to make the choice daddy made. I told him over and over that daddy had this inside him his whole life and it was not caused by myself or his kids or his parents or his job. I told them I would never leave them, what daddy had inside that was wrong with him was not going to happen to me.
It seemed like more than Jamey was ready to hear, and if it was I'm sorry. I certainly hadn't planned for it to unfold last night. Tyler obviously was ready to ask questions and unfortunately the conversation took place in front of James and Chad, who I thought was sleeping and he may well have been towards the end but he definitely heard enough to know how James died.
Chad - age 4
I wish my daddy wouldn’t have died.
I wish he never would have picked up a gun (these two lines were word for word because they startled me out of context right before dinner almost 24 hours later) earlier in the day he said "let’s talk about daddy died with a gun."
His idea was maybe a policeman dropped his gun and daddy picked it up.
In the course of one day I have talked to Mrs. Linda to let her know what happened. Contacted by message Mrs. Roberta (Tyler's old therapist), told Tyler's teacher just so she could be aware that Tyler is processing all of this information and could probably use a few extra hugs.
I also had a very pleasant conversation with Garry Naval, the school counselor, who asked my permission to introduce himself to Tyler and let her know that he is always there to talk to. Granted the permission of course. I've done all I can in one day, I will definitely bring the subject up to Tyler again, I want to give her the proper word of 'suicide' rather that saying 'killed himself' all the time.
I also want to go further on my explanation about him not feeling right inside by explaining that there is help out there for people who feel the way daddy did. People can get help when they feel that way, just like someone who is unhealthy in another way can get help. More later, and as I remember.
This morning Tyler and I talked just briefly. She has expressed an interest in the last two days to talk further. I gave her the word 'suicide' as the proper term for people killing themselves. I explained once again that daddy is one of at least 30,000 people a year who does this. I tried to give her an idea how many people that is.
I told her it's common enough that there are doctors, therapists and places for people to go who feel inside like daddy did, that it is almost a sickness the way it affects people and that if they do not get help they can very likely end up dead. She wanted to know if anyone else in daddy's family has killed themselves. She wanted to know if she was born with everything inside of her to be healthy.
I told her all the things she is feeling are so normal. After someone kills themselves we are always left wondering if they loved us or if we could have done anything differently. I told her that I go see Mrs. Linda once a week because I don't understand and certainly don't expect all this to make sense to little people. I told her I feel angry and incredibly sad, and that I don't think it is fair. I told her no matter what she feels, it's normal. I told her she will be seeing Mrs. Linda alone sometime next week after I meet with her on Monday night.
Which she so kindly shared with us.
Note from Jeri ~ While rebuilding this website and re-posting Kara’s story,
I contacted her to see how she and her family have survived their loss
of 19 years ago, almost to the day.
She was kind enough to reply:
TYLER is in a happy healthy relationship and is an AMAZING mother to my granddaughter.
JAMES is doing well enough though he has lost several friends to car accidents and gang violence. Very hard to see him continue to have to process untimely death.
CHAD is the most like his dad energetically. Completely entertains the room and has an equal dark mood and outlook to match.
They are all employed and are simply the best people I know, hands down.
They are also close to each other. I believe their dad’s death has marked them in different ways and that each of them has more processing to do. Two years ago at Christmas I gave them each a framed photo of their dad when he was about their age, and looking absolutely gorgeous.
There is no way my three children can deny the gene pool. Chad displays his on his wall.
The other two have it tucked away somewhere.
Had James lived, he would adore who our kids have become, they are genuine and loving.
My postscript: I never regretted being honest with sensitivity regarding James' death. I wanted my kids to not be embarrassed about how he died. They are though- but, I did my best to not strengthen the myth that there is something wrong with the family when there is a suicide.
I also strengthened my resolve and helped complete the circle by volunteering for years with a tri county initiative (since disbanded) on suicide prevention and grief services. I worked with dozens and dozens of families where there was sudden loss, not always suicide. I got a lot of pleasure and it was definitely part of my healing. I continue to be a grief buster in my role as an educator. There was copious amounts of training on dealing specifically with children in order to be a grief buster as well as a selection process based on our attitudes around grief. Apparently, I passed!
To this day, I would drop everything I am doing to return a phone call or meet in person if I was asked to help an adult or a child. I don't think that will ever change. There were one or two people who dropped everything for me in January of 1998.