DEATH AND TRAGEDY - A Matter Of Degrees

(05/24/2006)

COMMENTARY by Drew Moody

All of you reading this have likely been touched by a death or tragedy - either personal or vicarious. Some tragedies, such as the 9-11 attack, the world shares.

But there are horrid instances, nearly unimaginable, much closer to home.

Last night, a second grade student experienced a wretched act no one should have to see. She witnessed the death of her mother and step-father.

We have that in common - witnessing the death of a loved one. I shared the death of my father due to cancer. His death was quite and peaceful. We shared something beyond words in the exact moment his soul left his body. An event to be experienced, one an explanation in words does injustice to.

The girl’s experience was much different.

Violence and bloodshed will haunt the memories of this innocent girl’s life forever.

In events I can barely imagine, it began as an all too common scenario, spousal abuse, restraining orders and then last night the step-father “snapped.”

Some of the events were witnessed by another adult who ultimately fled from the home to seek help.

The father hit the mother, knocked her out and threw her on a bed in the home. She was still in a semi-conscious state when the man screamed at the little girl, “You’re a ------, just like you’re mother.”

Imagine, the last words to ever hear from someone supposed to be “your protector.”

The mother regained conscious as the man asked, “Do you still love me.” She didn’t respond, or perhaps respond quick enough, and the sound of a gunshot silencing her forever echoed through the room.

He quickly turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.

It happened in a matter of seconds.

A man who jumped off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and survived said later he immediately realized as his footing traded steel decking for air that it was decision he was powerless to change. A realization that he knew he ‘could have changed’ all his problems, but the current one - falling.

My father saw the dark side of humanity during World War II. Likewise, I have many friends who were drafted into the Vietnam War and all their stories haunt me. Blood, stench, screams, sweat, the whistling of incoming shells, and bombs exploding so close the earth ripples. War is Hell.

Some children’s lives resemble a war. There are children who live through a Hell visited upon them by those who are supposed to love and care for them.

I’ve known adults who have survived abuse and the Hell of alcoholic parents regularly beating each other to the point of broken bones, stitches and hospital beds. One carries the scar of an ax that grazed their face - a reminder of days gone by - a present from their father.

At 42 years old, with those events far behind them it continues to impact their life. It warps their sense of intimacy and trust. And sometimes, sounds....a song, a squeaking door, unknown triggers...send them back into that space again in their mind.

I once worked for a Minnesota non-profit agency that often dealt with families in crisis. I remember receiving a call from a distraught father asking for visitation advice regarding allowing his young daughter to be permitted to see his ex-wife and her mother.

The mother suffered from mental illness and had attempted suicide on several occasions. It ended her visitation rights for a long while.

Time passed and the courts reinstated visitation. The mother’s welcome back present to her daughter was another suicide attempt. The 11-year-old daughter found her mother bathing in a pool of blood in the bathtub.

The girl called 9-1-1 for help and paramedics took her to a nearby hospital. I don’t recall the details of why the young child was left behind, but the daughter cleaned up the blood left behind by her mother’s act.

I gave the fellow advice, recommended a series of people and agencies for him to call. Then I made him promise me to get counseling for his little girl.

For some reason, I felt compelled to keep calling him inquiring about whether he had begun counseling as yet.

We were a referral agency and it wasn’t our practice to continue having a dialog with clients. But I kept calling him. Six calls and three months later he said they’d both begun counseling. Fear and his pride, I guess, had kept him from taking that step. He told me had I not kept calling he would have never gone.

A little more than 24 hours have passed since this West Virginia girl witnessed the death of her parents. She has no extended family to care for her. Her father long ago abandoned her and has said he wants nothing to do with her. The child’s future is a complete unknown.

She reportedly went to a family friend and said, “Will you be my mommy now?”

And it happened - FOR REAL - last night, here in West Virginia not that far away from Gilmer and Calhoun Counties.

May you never look the other way and think it’s someone else’s problem and fail to aid the suffering of a child. Or, neglect to report even a suspected incident of abuse.

These are tragedies that impact all of us. It is a sorrow we all bear.

As a friend once commented, "Hurt people hurt other people."

You can contact Drew Moody at  drewmoody@verizon.net


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