" The Elephant in the Room"
The collaboration below describes a painful experience that involves violence and suicide. Please if this is a topic that creates anxiety or hurt for you please skip it. We understand. However, Kirsten bravely shares her experience being directly touched by this topic and feels she can help be a powerful voice in prevention.
Without much warning just over a year ago, Kirsten’s father killed her mother. Kirsten tells us this incident is her “elephant in the room” and tries her hardest to explain the crisis and the pathway towards restoration of her heart. How does one start “handling” something as terrible as this?
When Kirsten wrote her introduction to her blogging idea I sensed her discomfort. My previous experience with her always centered on her expressing her deep hurts and feelings through art, our alone talks, and cooking. I knew asking her to write proved risky--- writing wasn’t where her passion lies. But I also knew I had this friend who has survived only what I can describe as a “personal living hell.” I had no idea how to go about being the right kind of support. I followed her cues and took any chance I could to be there when she was ready to connect.
And I understood that an opportunity for healing lay in asking my “Thelma and Louise” friend to write. Pensive, but brave as always ,she took to the task. I can only imagine her typing and deleting from the comfort of some chair in her home. I can see her journaling with a pencil intended for drawing portraits and landscapes on fancy paper. And I can envision with each line her erasing, scratching the words out or turning to new pages until she has to walk away from the words for a few days. The act of writing about her trauma most likely reopened profound wounds barely healing over.
Before you dig into her story here are a few details to help it all congeal for you. Kirsten grew up in a small mountain town and enjoyed the comforts of her parents’ lifestyle. She possessed talents in many areas and excelled in a variety of academics and activities. Yet despite the “perfect life” one may assume Kirsten lived her family experienced some fractures I am unable to accurately explain.
Below is how Kirsten’s unwelcome elephant stomped into her world, ravaged her heart, and left her to pick up the pieces of grief:
If you read my intro for Blogprints I'm sure you noticed the big elephant I put in the room: a big, powerful, frightening elephant that I don't often, or really ever, talk about. So finding the right words may be difficult - bear with me.
When I've tried to talk about it with those I know - many I once called friends and family - I was met with uncomfortable dismissal or outright denial. I've had to make some tough relationship choices and I've lost a lot along the way. Turns out, people don't like to talk about when your father kills your mother and all the complicated feelings that go along with that. I don’t blame them though.
So, if you read on and it makes you uncomfortable, you can choose to stop reading, turn a blind eye, or you can be brave and be a silent ear and shoulder for a stranger. It is the internet after all. I'll never know if you look away. I also understand that a story like mine can trigger people. This is fair warning and I understand if you turn away for that reason. I want to share how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder impacted me and continues to root itself in my daily world. And I wanted to make sure voices are heard as violence overtakes the news in our society. I am directly impacted by this violence.
I got the call on a Monday after work. I anticipated concerns regarding my parents but I knew of no reason to expect my sister’s call.
"The police can't say what happened yet. They're both dead."
In shock and confused I replied, "What? I don't understand? Where are you?" I knew where she was. Before she could repeat herself I interrupted, "No, where are you? I don't understand. Where are you?" The same questions poured out of my mouth.
I hung up the phone, packed a bag, handed my husband the keys, and got in the car. I strapped the seat belt around my pregnant stomach and we drove to my parent’s house. I sat in a fog yet the drive seemed normal--one I'd done a million times -- until we turned into the police station of the small town instead of the driveway I called home.
A detective ( who's name escapes me, but who's face is as clear in my memory as my own) took us to a small dark room where my brother and sister sat. As the detective spoke the room got smaller. I was frozen, all alone in a room full of people, staring at a gray table, a humming noise all around me as the room continued to shrink. Just me and that tall, white-haired detective with glasses. I shook and trembled yet felt like stone. I don’t know how to bring you into that space. But it is the place where crisis holds you hostage.
Three days prior my Dad killed my Mom. He then spent the next two days getting their affairs in order, killed their two dogs, and placed them all in the car with him as he prepared his own death. He started the car inside the garage and sat drinking a large cup of bourbon as he awaited his own end.
By the time we suspected something was wrong with my parents and sent the police to their house it was too late.
Sharing it in a short paragraph like that seems reductive. Most people want to hear a reason : mental illness or some kind of violent history but there was none. Not really. My husband calls it "the perfect storm.” A combination of my Mom's changed personality due to Encephalitis, recent dissatisfaction in her marriage, plus my Dad's depression from one too many failed surgeries and PTSD from Vietnam, wrapped in a messy package of potential poor coping skills. It will never be entirely clear what the reason was--- what pushed them to the tragic edge--- so I've had to learn not to focus on finding a reason. Instead I try to look forward and remember them as they were their whole lives. I focus on the parents I knew and loved.
It doesn't seem right that a kind-hearted, sane person could commit murder, but that's exactly what happened. My Dad was a wonderful, generous man who loved his family more than anything. And my Mom was golden treasure in my heart. She stands as the most beautiful person, in and out, I will ever know. I choose to remember them that way and try to focus on things I find beautiful in this world. It's not easy.
And it's been a very long road. A year and a half now and I still sob uncontrollably for seemingly no reason. I still have horrifying nightmares and flashbacks. I see a therapist once a week to help me cope. I still have days where getting up to a standing position seems impossible. Sometimes it feels like it will never end and it will never get any better. Grief is a clever captor. But there is always light somewhere.
My son serves as my brightest light. My son saved my life. I was 6 months pregnant when my parents died. Had it not been for my little boy inside me I would have been a hollow, drunken mess, and may have met my own end too. I know I thought about it. The misery felt so intense I didn’t know I could escape the hurt. But I knew that sweet baby needed me. When I met my baby boy for the first time it brought my breath back. I suddenly had a purpose and a reason to love life again. It is because of him and the few people that stuck by me that I am still here.
My son is the perfect representation of everything worth living for. I channel that on my tough days. When he laughs I remember to enjoy the little things. When he sings and dances in the middle of the grocery store I'm reminded to dismiss worry and love myself. When he lines up his stuffed animals for hugs and kisses I remember to share and accept love. And when I grab him for snuggles and he buries himself in my chest and smiles I know to embrace the beautiful.
My elephant, though big and frightening, doesn't have to be in my way. For a long time I thought it did. For a long time I thought it would fill up all my space until it crushed me. But I won't let it. I hold on to hope for healing. Instead I choose to live in harmony with my elephant. Just as the symbol for this Footprints group, my elephant carves my new path. And as I follow the pathway I can nurture the new growth it brings forth and create positive change for myself and others.
Kirsten’s story teaches so many that hurt happens. We cannot always control the circumstances that wound us. Sometimes life is like a car accident happening to a completely unsuspecting stranger. Learning we can’t change this and how we can actively engage in ways to foster healing returns us to a powerful place. There is nothing wrong with feeling emotions so deeply you need to ask for help to cope with the heartache.
She helps us to highlight the critical importance of seeking support from professionals and people whom truly care for you. Please be brave like Kirsten and ask for help.
Below are resources if you or someone you know expresses thoughts of wanting to harm themselves or others. Please share these or use if needed. You are not alone.
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
You don't have to be a mental health professional to help someone in your life that may be struggling. Learn the Lifeline's 5 steps that you can use to help a loved one that may be in crisis.
Gun violence affects society in many ways please read here for more information: