Tuesday, June 3, 2014

For Rhonda, On Kaitlyn's Passing

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed last Saturday, and I saw the picture of you and Kaitlyn you posted. It was the first time in quite a while I'd seen you show up, and since I thought it was a very nice picture of the two of you, I clicked the Like button. Then, I scrolled down a little bit farther, and I saw the post you put up just prior to that picture.

It was the one where you told the world that your daughter had taken her own life.

It was a gutpunch, and for a moment I felt I'd done something a little off by "Liking" that picture. But, that was only for a moment; then, I went back and re-read your words more carefully. As I did, I was struck by two things. The first was my respect for your act of putting your grief out in public. The second was the anguish you showed in asking "How could I not have known?"

I have a brief story for you. It does have relevance, I think, to your here-and-now, but I'm really offering it for the long run.

In mid-1995, I was, though I didn't yet know it, approaching the end of my first marriage. I had a house, a good job that was one of the solid stops in my career, kids...and a very unhappy wife. She started her journey towards the life she wanted to, and now does, lead. How did she do that? By coming out.
After 15 years as a couple, 12 years of marriage, and three children, she not only no longer wanted me, she no longer wanted my gender.

My world imploded in grief and confusion. "How could I not have known?"

As I began to deal with my new reality, I made some hard decisions. I believed that my children's day-to-day care was best left with their mother, and I believed that I needed to do everything in my power to keep them out of the middle of any nastiness between their mother and me. Those decisions still resonate in my life today, and they always will.

It was one other decision I made in those days that I want to share with you. You see, while of course I told my parents when my ex-wife and I split, I didn't tell them why. I didn't believe that I was strong enough to deal with demands they would make on me in light of the reason my marriage ended.

As their son, I deprived them of the chance to more deeply help me through the worst time of my life.
Rhonda, how could you not have known what your daughter was going through? Kaitlyn chose not to tell you. It's just that simple.

I don't know that I was depressed when I made my choices back in the 90s. I don't know that I wasn't. I do know that the stress I was under kept me from making my best decisions, at the time.
I really can't imagine what Kaitlyn went through, nor what you're going through now.
I can tell you, cliched though it may be, that Life Is A Gamble, and that you and I took the biggest gamble of all. We chose to have children.

It's our job as parents to feed, shelter, and love our children. It's also our tasks, if we're doing it right, to recognize our limits and let go, bit by bit, so that our children can test theirs.

You did it right, Rhonda. You did it right.

Originally published April 18, 2013

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