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.
Deciding to move on has changed the whole perspective of my journey (Surviving Is Not Enough). I am excited again about life and what the future holds. The changes are mostly internal right now and these changes are synonymous with giving up my grief. I don’t believe I would be able to move on and allow grief to be part of my life at the same time.
After the initial shock of Aaron’s suicide wore off, grief hit me with its full force. My dictionary defines grief as; “
As time went on, my grief attacks became less constant but the intensity remained the same. In the beginning I didn’t know how I would be able to take the constant barrages of emotional instability that grief brought into my life.
In retrospect I see how I put up the white flag of surrender by allowing grief to become a part of me. I accepted that it was always going to be by my side so I invited the unwanted guest to stay and live with me.
‘Give it time’ was a phrase I heard and read many times. It became a cliché, something people say for the sake of saying something positive. I believed it in theory but I couldn’t relate to it in practice. I felt there was nothing within my power to stop the grieving and I couldn’t see that far in the future for it to make any sense to me.
I had hoped that some day grief would just fade away and I would sneak out from under the hold it had on me. It had never crossed my mind that giving up grief could be a personal choice. I had accepted that it came and went at will, that I had no say in the matter. Its was true in the beginning. I was at the mercy of its raging storm.
But, I must admit, as time went on the attacks lessened and their intensity was manageable.
When I declared myself fit and ready to move on, for the first time I realized that leaving grief behind was something I had control over. I didn’t have to wait until it was out of my system, nor did I have to accept it would be with me forever.
I have moved on to continue my journey, leaving my grief behind.
Its two in the morning Rhonda’s phone beeps, a text has been sent. She turns on the light, grabs her glasses and reads the message half asleep. One of the kids asking if she was doing anything. If not could she pick him up from the city as he has no other way home.
My dear wife works twelve-hour days and to say she is tired at night when she crawls into bed is an understatement. Without missing a beat she texts back, “tell me where you are, I’m on my way.” She jumps out of bed gets dressed, grabs her bag and heads for the door in her pajamas.
Me with my eyes closed can picture her every move. This scene has played itself out a hundred times.
“May I remind you” I say, my eyes still glued shut, “that before he went out you told him he needs to find his own way home. You don’t have to do this”. .
“Yes I do” she says.
“Because I can, because I’m a mother, because that’s what I do.”
“Ok, you win, drive safe…..”.
Rhonda takes pride in being a mother, she loves it and she relishes the daily mundane challenges each child presents.
Broken arms, severe burns, heartbreak, bullying at school, low grades, health issues, sibling wars, police matters, teenagers, the list goes on.
Rhonda is right in the midst of it at all times, always ready to fix any problem big or small. She may not have all the answers but you can be sure she will go about finding someone who does.
One morning while having a cup of coffee together,(not many days after Aaron’s death), we were caught up in our own thoughts enjoying one of those special moments without having to speak. We were still in the “what on God’s good earth just happened to us” state of confusion.
We were understandably having a hard time accepting Aaron was no longer with us, that he would never show up unannounced anymore, that we would never see him again at a family gathering was difficult coming to terms with.
Breaking our silence Rhonda blurted out, “you can’t fix dead”.
She looked over at me to see if I had heard what she said, I did and I looked at her for an explanation.
She said, “you know, I have this philosophy in life that as long as there is a pulse,there is life and where there is life there is hope. When we have hope I have the belief that if there is a problem or one of our kids needs fixing it can be done. But you can’t fix dead. Aaron can’t be fixed anymore.”
We went back to sipping our coffee giving more attention to our own thoughts.
From time to time when we hear of a suicide our hearts go out to the survivors, the loved ones left behind. We understand the unwanted journey that each one must travel. We would look at each other and sigh, sometimes one of us would say, ” “you can’t fix dead”.
Now it impresses us even more that we can and should try even harder to fix those who still have a pulse.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
When Rhonda called from the police station with the news about Aaron’s death I wasn’t surprised. A father’s intuition.
When I hung up the phone I gave it a few minutes to sink in. I wanted to start making phone calls to the kids and break the news but first things first.
I went to the front door, opened it, stuck my head out and looked up toward the heavens. It was dark by this time and no one around to witness my outburst.
I screamed at God, then gave Jesus a what for. What I said is not printable and I wouldn’t want to repeat it even if it was.
I didn’t want to fall victim to His come back so I quickly ducked back inside for safety. Yeah, right, like running in the house would protect me anyway.
My outburst lasted no more than a fraction of a second. I was so ashamed of myself but I just felt I needed someone to be mad at and more importantly, blame.
I was mad at God for letting it happen, for not stopping Aaron and for just being so inconsiderate of how it was going to affect me and my family.
Hate is a strong word but it is the only one to describe my feelings toward God at this time.
But sanity prevailed. I needed to pick on someone my own size or better yet another human.
That little outburst at least got the anger part out of my system for the time being. It was replaced by a myriad of emotions from heartache, confusion, guilt and sadness.
Anger would have its chance to surface again but not now.
Somehow I made it through the next week, the funeral, family and friends and going back to work.
Anger was always close at hand, just simmering wanting to find a way to the surface. I felt more and more compelled to find someone I could hold responsible for this tragedy in my life to feed my anger.
It was time to play the blame game.
God got a free pass for obvious reasons, although there are still a few questions I’d like to ask Him but that will have to wait for another time.
I started with the prime suspect, me.
I would look in the bathroom mirror and stare.
“It’s all your fault” I said.
I needed to be more convincing.
“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT”,I screamed my head so as not to draw attention.
One more time I thought just to get the point across.
“ITS ALL YOUR FAULT” emphasizing each word as I said it.
With the finger firmly pointed in my direction it was time to tell me why it is my fault. Blame has to have a good reason.
- You’re a lousy father. (yeah good one)
- God is punishing you for your secret sins (no argument there)
- If you weren’t so caught up in your own world you could have done something to stop it. (ouch, below the belt)
I beat the crap out of myself on a regular basis.
But I wasn’t going to take all the blame, no sir. I was going to share the misery around a bit.
My dear wife was on my radar. She not only had to fight her own personal demons and battles but she also had no choice but to fight with me on mine.
If I was willing to take the blame because I was a bad father then she had to fess up to her part in the crime.
Over the course of time, I would bring up how I felt we as parents failed Aaron. We had to come clean and acknowledge what lousy parents we have been.
It would start off as a normal discussion about a seemingly innocuous topic. When she wasn’t seeing it I upped the volume until I was in a screaming match. Blame with anger, it never fails to get a rise.
It always ended in my dear sweet wife crying but God bless her, she never gave in. She knew she was a good mum to her kids and did the best she knew how. She thought if that wasn’t good enough then so be it but she wasn’t going to take the blame for Aaron’s death.
After many rounds in the ring I threw in the white towel of surrender. She was right, I was wrong.
I turned my attention to the one person who I could make the blame stick. Aaron himself.
I got so mad at him on so many occasions I thought my head was going to explode. After all he was the one who did it to himself.
I have his picture, a small three by five in a nice little frame sitting next to my computer. Over the years we have had many conversations. One way I might add as he never spoke back. Not yet anyway.
There were times I was so upset at him I would put his picture face down, like sending him to his room for being naughty. If I was really mad at him I put his photo in the bedside table drawer. I wouldn’t let him out until I forgave him.
I even remember telling him one day in the midst of one of my blame sessions.
“When I get to heaven young man I’m going to give your the biggest hug you could ever imagine, then I’m going to kick your ass”.
The good news is; I don’t get mad at God anymore. He forgave me. I don’t get mad at my dear wife anymore, I forgave myself. I don’t get mad at Aaron any more. I forgave him.
And I don’t get mad at myself anymore because I stopped playing the blame game. Not that I don’t want to from time to time, but now I know its not good for me.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
When we received Aaron’s death certificate it read “cause of death undetermined” meaning the coroner had not completed his findings on the cause of death. More than a month later I got a call from the coroner who wanted to fill me in of what he knew and to ask a few questions so he could complete his report.
He told me that there was no alcohol or drugs in Aaron’s system and then proceeded to ask some questions about his mental health and lifestyle etc. My answers were guarded, I think because I have a tendency to distrust strangers about my personal life and that of my family. It’s not that I was trying to evade his questions although I must confess I wasn’t making it easy for him to get a straight answer out of me.
He then asked if there was anyone else in the family who he could speak to that could shed some light on Aaron’s background. I directed him to my eldest daughter Lisa, who was most involved with Aaron at the time as he working in her cafe.
The next day Lisa calls and mentions her conversation with the coroner and how he felt that I was “in denial”. OK, fair enough but denial over what?
I knew that Aaron died. I knew that he walked in front of a speeding truck. I knew he would never be coming home. I knew he took his own life, I knew he would never be at another Christmas dinner or family function. So what was I in denial about?
It’s not like I was going to bed at night, reaching over and kissing my wife goodnight then say, “let’s get some sleep, I want to get up early so I can put the coffee on for Aaron when he comes home.”
No, I knew exactly what was going on.
There was obviously so many things I was confused about and didn’t understand but being in denial was not one of those things.
In saying that I must give the coroner the benefit of the doubt because delving into my memory bank I must confess he may have a case for “denial”,
The only person who knew about my loss from my work place as a mail contractor was my immediate boss. I never said a word to any of my work colleagues about my son’s death. I didn’t want any undue attention, I didn’t want any one to feel awkward around me. I am a very private person and I wanted to keep it that way.
The Christmas before April 2008 our dear kids all pitched in and gave my wife and myself Air Tickets and organized accommodation so we could go back to my home town in the United States for a holiday. I hadn’t been back for nearly forty years so it was a very special gift. We already had our tickets booked for June 2008. Two months after Aaron’s death.
We had considered postponing the trip as we knew we would still be quit raw emotionally. We were encouraged to continue with our plans as apparently it would be good for us to get away.
I asked Rhonda before we left for the states if it would be okay if we could not mention that Aaron took his own life.
My sister is my only living close relative along with her two grown married children. We spent most of our time with her. Of course she knew of the tragedy as it happened but I never told her that he intentionally walked in front of a truck.
Why? Because I was ashamed that one of my kids would do what I thought was an unthinkable selfish act. My pride got in the way and I refused at the time to allow myself to talk about it. I was confused and ashamed. Not in denial. I knew exactly what I was doing by not revealing the whole truth.
Was I confused? Absolutely.
Were there unanswered questions. You bet.
Was it a touchy subject for me? No doubt.
Was I in Denial? Not a chance.
But, and just maybe there could have been one small incident that could be interpreted and possibly sway the pendulum toward self-denial.
The week I went back to work after the funeral I was sitting in my van preparing to make a delivery at a shopping center. My eyes lifted just as a young man passed by. I didn’t see his face but from behind he looked and walked like Aaron.
I was miffed, could that be him? I had to see his face. I don’t know what I was thinking. Getting out of my van I followed the poor guy and I was off for my first ever stalking adventure. My short legs were having a hard time keeping up with this guy so I had to put on the after burners to get far enough in front of him to see his face.
Out of breath and far enough in front I did a stop and turn all in one motion like I was lost. I got a good look at this guy who looked nothing like my son. I felt pretty silly but not foolish enough to think if even for a moment that maybe, just maybe I was in a bad dream or worse, someone was playing a bad joke on me.
I will confess that for that brief moment and only the one time I may have been, just maybe “in-denial”.
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.
On April 29, 2008 my son Aaron walked against the traffic on the main highway leading out of town. Head bent down texting a friend, “it’s over”, he then walked in front of a truck and was killed instantly. Aaron was 28 years old, I was 59.
Six & a half years later I am starting this blog writing about my personal experiences as a father who lost a son. It’s not about Aaron and what he did and why he did it. I can’t speak for him. It’s not about his mother or brothers and sisters whose loss was in no way any less traumatic for them as it was for me. I can’t speak for them nor do I feel I have the right to.
But I do intend to be as honest about his suicide and its effect on my life.
I write in hope that I might be able to connect with others who may have had the same experience or who knows someone who did. I believe we are put on this earth to help each other in some way make sense of the truth in our lives whatever that may be.
At the same all these memories and experiences are like pieces to a puzzle. As I write, I hope each piece will find its way into the bigger picture.
I had to decide whether to write a private journal that I might someday turn into a book or a blog that I can immediately share my experiences with others who could use some solidarity and companionship through someone who has been subject to the same grief, heartbreak, anger, compassion, understanding and unconditional love because of the loss of a well-beloved child.
They say time is a great healer and for me this has been true. I tested my emotional metal by watching a video clip that a family friend put together for us to play at Aaron’s funeral. He used a song from one of Aaron’s favorite bands along with photos from birth to a grown man. In the six and a half years that followed I tried to watch it again one time about a year after his death. I got no further than the first few photos before I had to turn it off.
When I decided to write this blog I wanted to see how strong I have grown since that fateful day by watching this video clip once again. The turmoil that erupted inside was no less violent than the day he died, but I made it to the end. I had come a very long way.
When I was twenty two I was camping in the mountains of New Jersey for an extended period of time. I was going through the DIM (do it myself phase in my life) I had this massive hunting knife that made Crocodile Dundee’s double-edged look like a pen knife.
I was making my own bread at the time. This particular loaf was hard as a rock. I tried to slice a piece and my knife bounced off the bread into my index finger. It cut deep and hurt like the dickens.When my finger sewed itself up the cut must have damaged a nerve because whenever I touched it I felt a sharp pain. For many years that followed the pain from this cut was still quite evident and constant.
Eventually the pain subsided but the small scar remains to this day which reminds me of the mishap forty-four years ago.
The pain from Aaron’s death is still very painful when I allow myself to touch it. It is getting easier as each day or month passes but the scar I know will remain forever.
Everyone has their own way of mourning the death of a loved one. Everyone has their own healing process.
If I can help make that process easier for others by sharing my story then this blog will be worth its weight in gold.
Thanks for visiting,