This is a question that haunts me. No matter how many times I hear someone tell me that they did, I want to ask them myself. I want to hear it from them. I want to reassure them if I detect even the tiniest hint of doubt. I want a chance to tell them, “I loved you then, I love you now, I will love you forever”.
There are moments in our lives that are frozen in time. Those significant occasions that stay with us. A marriage, the birth of our children, you know what I mean. You probably just flashed on one of your own.
Then there are those moments that are very subtle, but no less significant. So subtle that if we tried to explain them to someone else, the significance would get lost in translation. So we don’t. Until now dearest diary. I am going to tell a long story, but I swear it has a point. Try to stay with me.
I write not because I would flatter myself in thinking I could help someone else through the telling of my story, and not because the writing of it is cathartic, but simply because I hope someone else will know that they are not alone.
And I want to know that I am not alone.
My story begins with the arriving home from my first day of kindergarten. I had been ecstatic to start school. I had packed and repacked my lunchbox for weeks before the actual day. I endlessly rehearsed walking back and forth to the bus stop, even though it was only steps away from my Grandma’s driveway (my Mother, Step-Father, little sister, and me were living with her in preparation for the big move to Hawaii after the school year).
Me and My Susan
My only trepidation was leaving my little sis Susan. At 5 years old I was not aware of why I was afraid to leave her. I just was. I loved my little pixy of a sister more than anything on earth. She was a literal living doll to me. We were only 2 ½ years apart, but had different fathers. My biological parents divorced when I was 6 months old, my Daddy stayed in Oklahoma while my Mother brought me back to California (where she had met him while he was stationed after being injured in the Korean War). My mother went on to meet and marry my Step-Father and viola, 9 months later my living doll was born.
Backstory done, let’s get back to that day.
5 year old me was walking up the driveway, anxious to tell my Mother and 3 year old Susan about my extraordinarily wonderful first day of school.
I almost made it to the front door before I heard Susan calling me from above. Huh? How could she be calling me from above? I’m outside after all. She would have to be calling me from the sky.
I turned around and followed her voice. Not on the roof. I continued to follow her calling me until I got to the big tree by the driveway. I looked up and dropped my cherished lunchbox, now forgotten, to the ground.
My Susan is so far up this tree that she is actually swaying with the breeze. I can still see her clearly. Her little pixy bangs rustled by the wind, wearing her little dark green corduroy pants with the elastic waistband, along with a great big fearless smile.
I froze in absolute terror. Oh.My.Gosh.
How in the heck am I going to get her down? I can’t climb past the second set of branches before I get paralyzed with fear. I know this because I’ve tried it before.
I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I must get her down before she falls the 40 ft. or so to her death. I’m guessing it was about 40 ft. My 5 year old mind really didn’t know footage yet.
So I began to climb. Brand new school dress and all. I get to the second set of branches and sure enough, I am frozen. She is laughing delightedly because she thinks I am joining her up there.
I started to cry. I told her I couldn’t go any higher and I am going back down to have Mom call the fire department. Like helping a treed kitten. I’d seen pictures of that before.
Right before my terrified and blurry with tears eyes, here she comes scurrying down like a monkey. From branch to branch with the speed and agility of something that lived in a tree. When she got to me I hugged her so tight that she couldn’t breathe, and she looked at me like I had lost my mind.
I lost my mind with terror that something could have happened to her.
This was the subtle yet significant moment I just knew that our Mother could not be trusted to make sure that nothing happened to Susan while I was gone. I knew she loved us, she was just so fearless of danger she didn’t know to be afraid for us. Or I was just afraid of everything for both of us. I made it my solemn duty to take over the job of keeping my living doll alive.
Our Mother proved over and over and over that she was blissfully unaware of what we were doing at any given time. She didn’t ask where we were going or what we were doing or when we would be home. She just assumed we would, and she ended up being right.
From that moment in the tree on, I was the bossy big sister. I had to make Susan understand what was ok and what was not ok. Climbing to the top of the tree was not ok. Ever. And she minded me.
That’s why I was afraid to leave her on my first day of school, I was just too young to know it.
I didn’t get to see my Daddy as often as I would’ve liked. After we had lived in Hawaii for a few years, I finally found the guts to march up to my Mother and announce that I would like her to divorce Susan’s father and marry mine again. As a problem solver, it seemed perfectly logical to me. I was tired of being afraid.
Whoops. My bad. That wasn’t a good thing to do. I would later (again after I grew up) realize that people who live in a fantasy world do not like to be faced with the truth. Yours or anyone else’s.
At 10 years old, I was promptly shipped (I flew actually) to go live with my Daddy in Middle America. A man I hardly knew (but I knew he loved me, I still don’t remember how I knew that, but I did) and a Step-Mother with two kids of her own and my half-sister that was the product of my Daddy’s and her union. They named her Sue (what a coincidence huh?). She was 3 years younger than me, so I considered her to be Little Sue.
I learned almost immediately that my Step-Mother, hereafter known as Step-Monster, was no better deal than the cruel and lascivious step-father I had left behind. Even before we arrived to their home from the airport, my Step-Monster had gone through my white purse (my mother may not be aware of much, but was awesome at making sure Susan and I were impeccably accessorized) and discovered a half-eaten candy bar.
I had eaten only half in case I was lost somewhere between Hawaii and Oklahoma and had to survive on my own for a little while. I was used to having to think these things through. As it turned out, I only made the connector flight at LAX by sheer luck that someone spotted me wandering aimlessly around. My Mother had failed to fill me in on what a connector flight was. See what I mean?
My Step-Monster put that half eaten candy bar on the shelf over the kitchen sink as a reminder of how selfish I was that I didn’t bring the other 3 kids in the house one. I offered to split what I had left, but she thought I was just being a smart aleck. I knew what being a smart aleck would get you with my Step-Dad, so it wasn’t something I indulged in.
I was intuitive enough to know that my Daddy couldn’t handle knowing what my Step-Father was like. If I didn’t mention it, I could pretend like it never happened. So I didn’t.
For a year I looked at that candy bar every time I did dishes and thought about how selfish I was. Once again, I didn’t realize until I grew up that the candy bar signified something far different, and had more to do with my Step-Monster than with me. I don’t believe my Daddy ever knew about the candy bar incident. He never did dishes.
Then came the day that I broke my arm at school. I’d been dumb enough to stand on a teeter totter and when someone got on the other end, I went flying through the air and did not stick the landing.
After my Step-Monster picked me up from the nurses office, she promptly took me home and did her own assessment of my injury. Evidently she decided it wasn’t broken and proceeded to shove it into a bowl of ice water to soak.
I have never known such pain before or since that day. I have been through 2 childbirths, too many root canals, bursitis, spinal surgery etc. Nothing can compare to how badly it hurt to have my broken arm pressed into a bowl.
After my workaholic Daddy finally got home and asked her why I was crying, the Monster informed him that my arm wasn’t broken, it was sprained and I was crying for attention.
It was another subtle but significant moment. The moment that I knew I was not safe there either. It was the same as the other family with one notable difference; I didn’t feel that I had to keep Little Sue alive. She was the apple of both her parents’ eye and my Daddy was such a kind man, his step-children were not at risk. In this family, it was only me that was a stand out. With all other things being equal, I felt an urgency from then on to get back to Susan.
The next day I stayed home from school because getting dressed was painfully out of the question. I had not slept because I couldn’t get my arm comfortable. I sat on the couch the entire day and did not move. I had to go pee but I dared not since it would require me taking my arm on the trip. My only ally (my step-sister who was the same age as I) was sympathetic but could do nothing to help me. I still appreciate that of her though.
When Daddy came home, I remember him taking one look at me and getting instantly enraged. I had never seen him angry before. A quiet transition for a quiet man, but a transition nonetheless. He was shaking when he told my Step-Monster to get her purse and get in the car because he was taking me to the hospital.
That was when he very tenderly picked me up and his voice broke when he whispered to me, “Don’t worry Baby, it will all be ok now”. And it was. Another significant moment. He was and forever would be my knight in shining armor. I felt loved, and safe as long as he was around. Which wasn’t that much.
At the end of that school year I was sent back to live with my Mother, Step-Dad, and Susan who had moved back to California by then. I would never leave Susan again. I told my Mom about my broken arm and the candy bar and other things the Step-Monster had done that year. Whoops again. My Mother and Daddy never got along after my disclosure. I learned to keep my trap shut.
I only got to see my Daddy a couple of summers after that. He begged me to come and see him and so I did, but I always had one eye on the Monster. I wasn’t 10 anymore. They were the best summers of my life if only because I had him and he had me.
As for Susan, it’s not to say that I wasn’t a typical big sister. She was beautiful and looked so different than me (I looked like our Mom) I convinced her she was adopted. She would cry until Mom assured her it wasn’t true. Then Mom and I would laugh. I got my wicked sense of humor from her.
And we grew up, Susan and I.
We were predictably out of the house as soon as we legally could be. I would spend as much time away from home as I could until that time. So would she. But we were always there for each other, no questions asked.
We had our first children 9 days apart. I accused her of not letting me do anything by myself. We laughed about it. I was already married and separated by then. Susan was married to her second husband by the time she had her oldest child at 18.
My Mother and Step-Father had also divorced. It was messy. All his dirty secrets had finally been exposed. My Mother never recovered after being forced to face the truth. She lost some of her marbles as a result. I hated that for her.
Susan would go on to have another child with her husband and then divorce (the second of 4 significant uncoupling’s for her).
It was around this time that I got the call.
There are those moments that are frozen in time because they are joyful, then there are those that are quite the opposite. When something so unconceivably tragic occurs that you are thrown off of your axis into a new plane of reality. Although nothing may change in your everyday routine, just knowledge of the event changes you, and consequently the familiar is suddenly alien.
An example would be on 9/11 when the twin towers were hit. I remember it vividly, like it was yesterday. It is still a horror that will never be reconciled. We as a nation will never be the same. In a moment, an entire country was of a single mind. A single shocked, grieved, horrified mind. I’m still very very mad about it.
Those moments occur in our personal lives as well. Except the rest of the world is going on as if nothing happened while our world has been rocked beyond description.
*****Warning – Graphic Written Content – Post Contains Description of Cause of Suicidal Death*********
When I answered the phone on Januarys 19, 1988, my Step-Sister was on the other end and said that she had called to tell me something and I needed to prepare myself. Prepare myself?
Daddy was dead. He had shot himself in the woods behind the dream house he had just finished building for himself and the Monster. In fact, that very night would be the first night they were to spend in the house, but he wouldn’t make it.
He was still sitting upright in his truck when my Step-Sister found him. He had shot himself in the heart and thankfully for her sake, the scene was not gruesome. Most of the gore had gone through the seat behind him and wouldn’t be visible until his body was moved by others.
She told me after the fact that I screamed. I don’t remember. Everything after that is a blur until the funeral. I flew back to attend the ritual, but mostly to talk to him face to face. I needed to know why.
I waited until it was just him and I in the viewing vestibule and posed the questions…Why would you leave us? Why would you leave ME? Did he know when he blew a hole through his chest that he had done the same to mine?
Everyone who knew him was broken hearted. But his kids, both blood and by marriage, were forever altered. I even felt sorry for the Monster, although I have never forgiven her for wearing baby blue house slippers to his funeral. Odd thing to fixate on I know.
I never said it out loud, but I suspected her of having a part in this. It was just easier that way.
Everyone told me he had been having heart problems for the last two years but he didn’t want me to know. He didn’t want me to worry.The fact that he shot himself in the heart was probably telling, but what was the catalyst? Was it that since the house was done his obligations were complete and he could go?
He had died with my phone number in his pocket. Why? Did he want to call me and tell me good-bye? Was it meant as a message that he was thinking of me before he left?
Everyone who saw him in the few days before he died said he was the happiest they’d seen him in years. So you had already planned it and were so relieved to be done with life that it rendered you giddy?
He stole a handgun from work, which is what he used to end it. He’d never stolen anything before in his life. The world was such a heavy load to bear that you couldn’t go on until your natural death that you obviously thought was impending? What about us? Did you think about what we would go through when you were stealing that gun? Did you care about the anguish you had to know this would cause?
Were you worried about the hospital bills and left to save the assets for the Monster? Please don’t tell me that’s why.
All these questions I asked him, but he did not answer. He was gone.
Over the years I have gotten over the anger. The betrayal. The bad example. The abandonment.
But not the love for my Daddy and not the pain of knowing that he left me on purpose. Whenever he comes to mind, the love and pain rush in together. That is his legacy.
Now that I am 5 years older than he was when he left, I understand that the world gets cold. It gets dark. It lets you down. There is every kind of pain. There is injustice. There is cruelty. I understand it a little better, but it still doesn’t make it ok.
I can’t speak for God, but I suspect he doesn’t like it when you do his job.
I know that Daddy is waiting for me. God let him have one more trip to Earth to warn Little Sue, my step-siblings, and I that suicide was not the answer. But that is a story for another day.
I don’t need all of those questions answered anymore. Just one lingers because I can’t remember the last time I told him.
Did you know how much I loved you?
Susan helped me as much as she could, but grief is a journey that is mostly traveled alone. Especially since she had never met him.
I’ll never be over it, but I’m at peace with it. Most days.
If you are reading this and are contemplating suicide, I am begging you not to. Please just take a moment to call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in the US. If you are not in the US, please reach out for help anyway you can. You are not weak, you are not alone, and you are not hopeless. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Every problem is temporary. Please don’t do it. Hold on.
Susan and I went on with our lives. Fast forward to 11 years later. I had one more marriage and one more child, this time our youngest children are 6 months apart. I am still married.
Susan had two more children in between the oldest and the youngest. From two more marriages. Both of them failed. That’s a total of 4 girls for her, a boy and a girl for me.
Birthday parties were always spent together. We could count on 6 birthday parties a year.
We spent every major holiday together, at my house. It was more accommodating for all of our clan, and I think it also was the constant in our lives. No matter what husband was coming or going, no matter what drama was playing out at the time, we could count on holidays being the same.
Christmas 1998 came and went. Then my daughter’s 7th birthday party in the first week of January 1999 found us all together again.
Then the unthinkable horror happened. This time it was a child. One of our children. This isn’t supposed to happen.
February 20, 1999, in the days of dial up internet, both my son and husband had been on the computer all Saturday morning. Evidently my Sister had been trying to call.
There was a knock at the door. When I answered it there were two policemen asking if I am who I am. I say yes. I am not accustomed to having police looking for me. It’s already surreal.
They say my Sister is at the hospital emergency room and needs me to go there immediately. I ask why. They say they can’t tell me. Since she works in an emergency hospital room as an imaging specialist I am not instantly alarmed. Until they tell me she is in a different hospital.
I did not know that this is code for somebody has died.
My husband drove us to the hospital emergency room immediately. Panic began to set in with me. After arriving,I gave the front desk my Sister’s name. I asked them to tell me what is going on. They won’t look at me then. They ushered us into a room. They told me to wait for a “family counselor”. What is that? Why won’t anyone tell me what’s going on? I was in a full panic mode.
The family counselor came in and explained that my Sister’s third daughter Alisha, had just passed away. I can’t accept this news. It’s only 3 days before her 12th birthday. She is a perfectly healthy normal kid. There must be some mistake.
The counselor goes on to coach me on what I am about to see. Alisha is still lying in a private emergency room. My Susan won’t leave the room where Alisha is until I get there. I need to understand blah blah blah. I don’t hear what else she has to say. I interrupt her and tell her I must get to that room now. With or without her help.
The counselor sighs and ushers me in. My husband stays behind with the kids.
This is a moment I cannot erase from my memory. I would like to. I would like to go back and not answer the door for as long as I can. But I have to help my sister. There is no going back to the not knowing.
I walk in the door and Susan is there with her 2nd daughter and Alisha. Alisha still has a tube taped to her mouth where EMP’s tried to revive her. She is beautiful and looks like she is just sleeping. Like the night before when I saw her at Susan’s. She had the flu, that’s all. Susan had taken her to urgent care just to be safe, and they gave her amoxicillin and sent her home.
I later learn the chain of events that led up to this moment.
Alisha was sleeping peacefully early that morning and Susan left a glass of water on her nightstand when she left to perform an “on-call” x-ray at a nearby convalescent home. She left her 15 year old and youngest at home sleeping also. Susan was only gone an hour.
When she came home none of the girls were up yet. She went upstairs to check on Alisha. She was not breathing and face down in her pillow. Susan called 911 and started performing CPR, but it was too late. The coroner would later rule that Alisha had died from a particularly virulent virus that had caused all of her major organs to swell and then fail. She had officially died of asphyxiation due to her airway swelling and cutting off her ability to breathe. The coroner said that even if my sister had been home when Alisha went into distress, it would have been too late already.
I didn’t know any of this at the time. I felt this was a bad nightmare that I needed to wake up from. Until I saw Susan. Then I knew it was real.
I cannot begin to describe the agony on her face. Her hands were out, and she was imploring me to help. Help her because her baby was gone and she didn’t know what to do. Help me. Please. Please help me.
I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do. I could not fix this. I was drowning in agony. My own, my sister’s, and that of my living niece in the room was more than any one of us could bear. Time stopped. The world stopped.
I finally convinced my sister that we had to leave. They had asked us to do so many times now. It’s past time to say goodbye. I have no idea how long we were there.
When we left the hospital my sister collapsed just a few steps outside the door. She couldn’t go home. Alisha’s jacket was still where she threw it when she got home from school just 2 days earlier. Her books were where she left them on the coffee table.
I took her home with me, along with her other two daughters (the oldest who is 17 lived with her father at the time). My husband made the funeral arrangements. It was too much for Susan and I. Susan stayed sequestered in my upstairs bonus room. I dealt with family when I had to, the rest of the time I was with her.
The funeral was beautiful. At least everyone told me so. I was singularly focused on my Mother and Susan. My Mother had lost one of her favorite grandchildren, and Susan was inconsolable. Susan went home a week after the funeral. That’s all I can say about it. It’s been 15 years and still Alisha’s death is excruciatingly painful to recount.
This time there is peace in knowing that God took her for reasons we can’t know. He wanted her and took her in the time that he was always going to take her. I’m trusting him on this.
I am still left asking the question…
Did she know how much we loved her?
We bear the pain without Susan now.
She made it almost 2 years. Susan blamed herself. There was no convincing her otherwise. I set her up with the best psychiatric care, I talked to her every other day on the phone, we moved my son into her apartment to keep an eye on her after her 2nd daughter went away to college. He was 19 then and not getting along with my husband. It seemed like a good idea. I had no clue what I was setting him up for. None of us did.
I knew Susan was struggling. She was so thin and it was increasingly a chore talking with her. She was angry. Angry at God, angry at life, angry with herself. She was depressed, but who wouldn’t be? We all were working through a tremendous amount of grief. She was on medication. I thought with time she would come around. I was completely unaware of what was coming. Did she? I don’t know.
She made it to the first month of the 21st century in the 3rd Millenium.
January 23, 2001. The phone rang at 4:30 in the morning. This is never a good thing. My hubby was at work on the graveyard shift, so I wondered if something happened with him when I picked up the phone.
It was my son telling me that Susan was gone. Gone where?
******Warning – Graphic Written Content – Post Contains Description of Cause of Suicidal Death*********
She is dead. He had come home from a Super bowl party and found her in the upstairs bathroom, still sitting cross legged where she had bled out. The scalpel she had stolen from work was still in her hand after cutting her Carotid Artery. Her 7 year old daughter was downstairs asleep on the living room floor.
My son had seen all this. At the tender age of 19 he had the presence of mind to call 911 and the youngest daughter’s Dad to come and get her. He only lived a block away and got there in time to whisk her away still sleeping, before the emergency vehicles even arrived.
To this day this has been our secret. Just the three of us. We never told the youngest that she was home when her mother left. I know how it feels to have someone leave you on purpose. I thought it would be even worse to know that she left you on purpose knowing you would be alone in the house. What if this child had awoke before my son got there? The thought makes me shudder still.
I am still mad about it. Mad for the girls who lost their sister and now their mother. Mad for me. Mad for my Mother who lost her daughter, and I quite honestly don’t know how she holds onto the marbles she has left.. Mad for my kids, one of whom lost an aunt, and one who lost an aunt and his innocence.
I cognitively know that I did everything I could to keep her alive. But there is still the 5 year old girl inside me that feels like she failed. She is on the 2nd row of branches and can’t reach her baby sister at the top of the tree before she falls.
The only thing I remember from the rest of that day is the conversation I had with my husband, and the one I had with God. My husband came home immediately and started notifying family and the like. I don’t even remember what anyone else did.
I retired to the bonus room upstairs where I had housed my beloved sister less than two years earlier. I gazed out the window and said to God with certainty, “This is too much, you’ve gone too far. I’m not going to make it this time. It’s too hard. I’m not equipped. I’m done”. I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday.
I wasn’t asking him, I was telling him. I was never going to leave this room again. I could feel myself slipping into the deep end of the pool of insanity and not be able to get back out. I would go there where my Daddy, Alisha, and my sister never died. I could make that reality whatever I wanted it to be.
And then he answered me, “It would please me greatly if you could wait until tomorrow. That’s all I’m asking of you”.
I hadn’t expected an answer, but I considered it.
I couldn’t do it. I replied, “No God, I can’t make it. Tomorrow is too far away. I can’t hold on that long”.
His reply was instantaneous. “Alright. I would be well pleased if you could hold on for one hour”.
Had I already slipped into the pool and was really just having a conversation with myself?
No. I knew it was God because I would never use the term “well pleased” if I were talking to myself.
I considered it. An hour was a long time to be surrounded by this much darkness, but I would do it. Only for God. It was too much to hang on for me, my family or Susan’s girls, for my Mother, for anyone else. I would hang on for one hour for God only.
I am happy to say it has been 119, 580 hours since that one hour.
In this time I have witnessed 5 incredible children grow into beautiful human beings. I have been present at the holidays, the weddings, the graduations, the laughter and the tears, the ups and downs that is the rhythm of life.
Thank you God. Thank you for being well pleased if I would hold on for one hour. It wasn’t easy, and I am still left with the question that tears at my soul because I can’t remember the last time I told her.
Did she know how much I loved her?
When I see her again, I intend to kick her butt. Right after I hug her so hard her wings pop off. I know she is with God, he sent a message through to me. Another day I will tell you about that dear diary.
If you are reading this and are considering suicide, I’m begging you to hold on for one more hour, and in that hour call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in the US. If you are not in the US, please reach out for help in any way you can. Most importantly, know that God will be well pleased that you held on.
By the time we reach the second half, each of us has suffered loss. We’ve traveled our trail of tears. Some of us multiple times. We feel alone when the smile gets too heavy. But we are not alone. We have each other. We are all still here, and God is well pleased with us for it.
If you are busy taking a selfie, put your phone down. Look around. You may be the last hope of someone who is desperately trying to hold on. Pay attention.
As the survivor of the death of a child and the suicides of two of the most important people in my life, trust me when I say there is a time when you get back to good. I didn’t slip into the pool of darkness. You don’t have to either.
Until next time dear diary.