Dealing with Tragedy as a Parent
I learned very quickly when I became a parent that it didn’t come with any kind of owner’s manual. It’s just as well, like most other guys I rarely read the instructions anyway so I probably would have just thrown the manual in the parent’s glove box and then complain because I didn’t know what I was doing. There are times though that I wish I did have a manual, it would make things a whole lot easier.
My wife Trina and I have five children; four daughters and a son. We hadn’t planned on having a large family but powers much higher than our own felt we needed to be blessed raising these kids. Throughout their lives Trina and I have attempted to teach them right from wrong and prepare them for the inevitable time when they would go out on their own.
For the most part I like to think we have been successful. None of the kids have ended up with their faces on the sides of milk cartons and the last time I checked none of their pictures appeared on the Top-10 list at the post office.
When the kids were small we worked diligently to try and make sure they learned right from wrong and made good decisions. At times that required us to trust our teachings and let natural consequences take their course.
We’ve tried to instill a level of faith in the kids. We’ve given them the freedom to explore their spiritual personality and were there to answer any questions they might have as they gain a personal testimony of their Heavenly Father.
Early on the trials the kids faced were trivial although in their eyes seemed insurmountable. Whether it be struggles with friends on the playground or having a little brother or sister ruin their favorite shirt Trina and I tried to be there for them but allow them to work through the challenges on their own. The goal was to establish a set of problem-solving patterns they could use when they got older and the challenges seemed greater.
There are certain things though that no matter how prepared you think you have made your children they still come up with scenarios you either hadn’t thought about or hoped they would never face. This week has been one of those times.
When Trina arrived at school Monday she was met by the school psychologist who pulled her aside and explained that an eighth grader at Aprende Middle School had committed suicide the night before. Trina works at the elementary school but the boy along with all of his siblings had gone through their school. Teachers and staff were taking it very hard.
As is the case with these types of things, information flowed quickly through the school system with fact mingled with speculation. Given that our kids also went to Aprende Middle School we wondered whether this boy was someone they knew.
Time seemed to stand still on Monday as we waited to pick up the kids and talk to them about this tragedy. As soon as they entered the front door it was all they could talk about. Stories abounded about what had happened but what we heard most was that this young boy had hung himself from a tree near the school because he did not want to face school and the bullying he was receiving. This of course is the story the kids are hearing and the local paper has not yet released that information.
I cannot even imagine the heartbreak that boy’s family is feeling at the moment. It is always tragic when someone dies but especially someone who had so much to live for. I cannot even comprehend how difficult it will be for that family to begin to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to move on; their family changed forever in one brief moment.
At Dakota’s soccer practice on Monday it was the topic of discussion. Dakota had not said much and when we asked whether he knew the boy he shrugged and didn’t seem to know. Several of the parents asked questions but we had no answers beyond what Trina knew from school.
Yesterday our kids went back to school and with that came the inevitable discussions surrounding the suicide. When you are young and in middle school or high school your lives seem to revolve around drama. Most cases that drama is self-imposed and trivial but in cases such as this it is very real and can be devastating.
Going to soccer practice last night Dakota was relatively quiet sitting in the back seat gazing out the window. Trina and I chalked it up to the pressure of playing soccer and starting high school.
The night before when we picked him up from practice he was glowing, eagerly discussing all of the fun he had on the field. Tonight his mood was substantially different.
At first I thought perhaps the coaches had got on him for not performing but he assured me that everything was fine. It didn’t take a psychic to see that something was bothering him. Despite my best efforts he didn’t want to talk.
When we got home he got out of the car but rather than go in the house he stayed outside wanting to talk to his mother. I left the two of them alone. After some time, Dakota came in and went upstairs. Trina came in with a solemn look on her face.
It seems this tragedy hit a little closer to home than we realized. The boy who ended his life was Dakota’s running partner at Aprende track last season. They had spent hours together running, pushing each other to be better and cheering each other at the track.
I stood at the bottom of the stairs as Trina told me looking upward to where my son had gone. I was frozen not able to move. I knew I should go up and talk to him but I had no words. I suddenly wished there was a parent’s owner’s manual that I could frantically look through to find out how to fix this problem.
But unlike a broken taillight on a car, there was no simple solution. There are no words that I can say that will ever make the events of this week less painful. I can talk about remembering the good times. I can talk about the importance of never giving up or how there is no place for bullying but none of that matters.
I can express that his friend is now with his Heavenly Father and is no longer feeling the pain or loneliness he had on this earth but all of that seems rather trivial. As a parent our kids look to us to keep them safe and make the bumps and bruises go away.
In this case I can’t. I cannot say or do anything that will bring back Dakota’s friend. No matter how much faith I have, there is nothing I can do except give Dakota a hug and be there for him as he tries to make sense of this tragedy.
I’d love to say that in time the pain will go away but I know that’s not true. I still feel the pain daily from when Trina and I lost our daughter and Dakota’s sister during childbirth. Despite knowing she is in Heaven and feeling no earthly pain that doesn’t take away the emptiness I feel.
So for now I’ll be there for Dakota and help him to cope with the fact that his track partner is gone. It will likely result in several conversations and possibly a few tears. In the end all I can do is be there for him.
Maybe it’s not so important to have a Parents Owner’s Manual as it is to know that no matter what it would say in the book the most important thing is to be there and to be involved in any way your kids will let you.