As a family we have over the past 7 years refrained from talking about Aaron’s death. Rarely have I had conversations with any of my children about his passing and how it happened. If they talk about it among themselves I wouldn’t know.
As time passed each of us learned to deal with this tragedy in our own ways. I never broached the subject with my kids nor did they come for advice or a shoulder to cry on. In retrospect I wish I could have coped better, at least for the sake of my children.
At our yearly Family Day when we gathered each year near the date of his death. One year my ex-wife brought a picture of Aaron and placed it in the center of the picnic table as a reminder of why we were there. One of her older daughters lovingly rebuffed her and told her it wasn’t necessary because we all knew why we were there. His picture remained in place that day but never showed up again.
Our conversation at these outings was never about Aaron. It didn’t have to be, he was there with us, in each of our hearts and thoughts and we all knew it.
Someday I would like to be able to talk to each one of his siblings and get their story to get a better understanding of how Aaron’s death affected them, the things that they went through, the anguish, heartbreak and their own personal grief. Did they carry any guilt blaming themselves in any way, did they harbour any hidden memories that were too difficult for them to face. What fears did they encounter the days, months and years that followed. Did his death bring them closer to their siblings and our family in general or did they drift away inwardly if not outwardly.
As I reflect on their part in this family tragedy I was encouraged when I started to think about the physical ways that each one of them wants to remember and honour their brother.
Each year many of them meet at his headstone at the local cemetery on his birthday. I didn’t know this until my wife showed me a picture posted on Facebook of them gathered together one year. One of my boys who apparently couldn’t make it the year the photo was taken, had his own face superimposed in the photo and posted it himself to show that although not able to make it in person he was there in spirit.
At Aaron’s memorial we had a small photo of him printed and laminated and passed out to all who came to remember him. Each one of my kids has this photo either in their wallet or purse and even on their refrigerator in the their kitchen.
Quite a few have gone to the extreme of getting tattooed with his name or other messages on their bodies, keeping him forever remembered.
I am not a big fan of tattoos. I have none myself but I have come to terms with the fact that this day and age it seems to be ingrained in our western culture not much different to social media.
So when one of my daughters turns up at a family gathering one year with a huge tattoo on her outer thigh I was really taken by surprise and to be honest my reaction was not a great one. Then when she told me to take a closer look I saw it was a picture of Aaron permanently inked on her leg. It was her way of honoring his life.So how could I argue with that.
When my youngest child who is now eighteen told me she wanted to get a tattoo I froze. She is what is known as a “clean skin” and the last I thought would go down this road. She consoled me with the fact it would be a little one. When I asked what she was thinking of getting she proudly stated, “Aaron’s name”. Another one of my girls has a little message on the back of her neck with Aaron’s name so anyone standing in line behind her will know that whoever this Aaron is, is very special to her.
The boys went about it in bigger ways having their memories of him emblazoned on their chest or arms.
There is a story behind each tattoo, each visit to the cemetery and their personal bigger story locked away in each of their hearts.
Their outward manifestation of their love for Aaron needs no explanation or discussion.
Someday I hope to be able to have the courage to ask what lies inside their hearts and how that fateful day affected them.
Someday I will ask, but not today.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
The last time I saw Aaron we had a disagreement. It wasn’t an argument, no one getting angry just a normal garden variety unresolved difference of opinion that sent each of us on our separate ways feeling uneasy. I watched Aaron walk away and I couldn’t help but feel he left somewhat discouraged. I know I was.
I never spoke to him again and one week later he took his life.
I don’t believe for one moment that this little misunderstanding between us had anything to do with him committing suicide. I have no doubts about that.
I tried my hardest to recreate that day over and over again trying to convince myself that the conversation we had ended differently. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
In the days, weeks and months that followed that last memory and conversation with Aaron has haunted me. I just wanted to make things right, to know in my heart that me and Aaron were good, no bad feelings between us. But there are no do overs in life where there is death.
Growing up, Aaron and I had the normal father son relationship that you find in large families. He was one of the clan, no special attention (except as a baby) and not much personal one on one time. When he was of age and left home he spent a lot of time overseas, so much of our contact was via letter writing.
When he returned from living overseas, being away quite a few years, I had to get to know a completely different man. He was wanting to start his life over, settle down and look toward a career.
Considering his options he expressed his desire to study law and become a defense lawyer or a policeman. Now thats an oxymoron if there ever was one.
We did have one thing in common that was special to both of us. We loved sports, playing it and following it.
Aaron took everything very seriously and was quite intense so I knew how to get under his skin. When watching or talking sport I always took the opposing side. I loved seeing him getting riled up. On one occasion when we were watching the Rugby World cup he was such a patriotic fan, Go Aussies.
I said to him, “you know, Australia is my second favorite team in this world cup.
“Who’s the first” he asked.
“All the other teams” I told him.
He was fuming. He called me unpatriotic.
We also knew when to stop if we were barracking for different teams. An unwritten rule we had, nothing said after winning or losing. We could each walk away with some pride and no hard feelings. That was important to both of us. If we crossed the line, a simple hug and an “I love you” was suffice to make things right.
Revisiting that last conversation and meeting with Aaron I know I could never take it back or do anything to make it right. Eventually it did become a turning point in how I began to view each “last” conversation with all of my children.
If there any misunderstandings, bad feelings, harsh words, negative body language or anything that caused tension at the end of any exchange with any of my children no matter how old or how far away they lived, I made every effort to make it a priority to get things right, ASAP.
I would usually call, text or email my apologies, say I was sorry for how we ended our last encounter and try to move on. I’m so thankful my kids understand me and are always quick to forgive. Even if it wasn’t my fault. Ha
Of course this parenting technique is probably not the best example to follow but it has worked for me.
It’s not a permanent solution but I am completely happy with band-aid tactics until I am comfortable with knowing that not every disagreement and argument is going to lead to someone going over the edge.
But it does leave me with a peaceful feeling knowing me and my kids are good.