(names have been omitted or changed in this post)
I gently pick up the bundle of bright green stems off the tan leather seat and exit the white SUV. Slamming the door shut and clicking the key fob the doors lock and I turn to see my daughter's small hand reaching out for mine. I slip my hand in hers and my son joins me as we walk along the December grass; our vision colliding with green wreaths gracing burial plots and spots of Christmas red, shiny metallic or velvet ribbons adorning them.
Pockets of dry leaves crunch under our feet like a rhythmic marching band of three.
We walk in silence.
There under the giant tree is the spot.
The three of us stand there fixed to the spot, silent…
huddled together in the cold wind…
freezing, despite the sun beaming down…
It had been five years since that horrible day in September 2012.
Five years and no marker.
My phone ringing on my bedside table…
Groggy, I answer my cell phone. It's my dad telling me to go to the front door. Confused; was I dreaming? I was disoriented and groggy. It was almost midnight. Nudging my husband beside me in bed to wake up... "Wake up! Mom and dad are at the door, I don't know what's going on." Stumbling... bare feet on carpet then hardwood. Throwing on a turquoise terry robe over pajamas. Sticking dirty fogged over contacts in my eyes quickly. Headed to the front door, him following close behind me. Opening it. Parents huddled on the front porch. My mother's forlorn expression...
The news that she had died.
"No, Mommy, no… " I gasped, whispered.
I hadn't uttered "Mommy" in two decades.
Shock. No. No. No. NO! Denial.
Pinch me. This can't be real. Shaking... make. it. stop.
Physically shaking... like I have a cold, my are teeth chattering.
Talking to one of the officers on the scene… there was a video of the altercation between my sister and her boyfriend outside the gas station… minutes before he gunned the truck and sped off onto the highway… right into an SUV head on. His truck had burst into flames trapping my sister. Someone managed to pull him out but not her… not her... why not her? Why him? It infuriated me. It made me see red. When he died the following morning I didn't care… in my hurting heart that next morning I saw justice of some sort. All the hell that had happened… his abuse toward her… six years of hell… her bruises… my talking with her, my pleading with her to leave him… the strained phone calls… the begging, the arguing and yet she died because of him… because he chose to get behind the wheel… I wondered if she had been yelling at him… if the altercation was her attempting to get his keys from him. It was stated by witnesses this might have been the case as there were comments made that she was trying to get out of the truck at the gas station before he pulled out onto the highway. She had been trapped. Some dumb person had retrieved him from the truck, from the flames but not her. That infuriated me. That made me see red. They rescued the wrong person. That made me physically react with rage. How dare they. He died the next morning at Parkland hospital... I cannot honestly say I was sad. I was angry at all the injustice of losing her. I was furious at God. How dare He. No one prepares you for truly how unfair life can be. So many people just don't have a clue and sail through life with a charmed disposition and rose colored glasses and a fairy godmother. So many people think they are the exception to horror, to loss, to grief so unimaginable. The officer on the scene uttered phrases no one wants to hear... the words "toxicology report" and "dental records"... infiltrated my mind and made it scream to please wake up… her boyfriend had been driving; it was all his fault. And then going to the funeral home to choose a coffin, the flowers, white gladiolus, the card, constant tears, sobs… heaving shoulders, the kind of drippy runny nose that won't stop... wet upper lip... Kleenex. Lots of Kleenex, I think I went through several boxes just that dreadful month of September.
The nightmares began… and then more nightmares
My mother's birthday… now my sister's funeral, burial day despite her protestations…
my vocal outrage toward him…how insensitive… how un-empathetic… how horrible…
met with my father's indifference, coldness and detachment.
My complete and utter disgust at him…
The first words he had spat toward my sister once buried were:
"Well, you won't be causing anymore trouble!"
The unmarked spot that is his daughter, brought here by the hands of her abusive boyfriend. That was another story entirely. We had tried. For six years we had tried; my mom and I to get her to leave her boyfriend. His mother would never ever admit later that he was ever any issue. He was abusive toward my sister; I had seen the bruises and my family had as well. He had influenced her negatively in so many ways, through drugs and yet much of the time she worked and supported him. He was a user and abuser through and through. And now here was her unmarked spot that to others may appear to be empty to hold no significance; yet it's the spot I visit her, it's a spot of grief, loss and also eternal hope. One day I will see her again. I miss her every day and wish more than anything I could talk to her, see her again. I wish she could have a redo. I often wonder who she would have been if she'd never met him. I often wonder who we all would have been if our family had been different.
For now I was replaying my entire childhood in my mind like a bad movie and questions were coming at me.
How is this possible? How can someone behave this way? He appeared to have little to no empathy.
His behavior toward my mother during this time period became ever worsening. In fact on the one year anniversary of my sisters death there was a horrible storm that night and instead of staying in and being a comfort to his wife, to my mother he chose to leave and go out to a party he had been invited to. It was just another cruel slap in the face to all the years of emotional trauma we had all already endured. I hated how much hurt my mother had endured due to him and while he went to a party and behaved as though nothing had happened and there was zero loss she sat at home alone in grief and loss.
Questions… questions… questions… racing thoughts…
wracking my brain for answers…
"Personality disorder" the therapist told me like she was telling me the weather.
Everything began clicking and the answers I'd needed for the whole length of a childhood.
The answers stared me down. It was a mute point. Answers that came too late…it was all too little too late.
I sat across from my therapist sobbing in the midst of stark reality.
Dismal gray day, rain in the forecast…
her dismal gray coffin that matched the sky….
Hymn of Promise by Natalie Sleeth…
birds chirping and suddenly taking flight overhead as the service came to an end…
I wanted to sit there all day and into the night with her…
I didn't want to leave.
But I got snapped at like a child to get in the car…
"Let's go!" came the angry words from him.
I had never seen my mother look so frail.
My heart ached for her.
For my sister, the horror of it all, it ached for all of us.
I got in the limo and looked back at the coffin…
thinking this must be just a nightmare.
I would wake up….
Surely I would.
Back at home life continued on but I didn't. I went through the motions of caring for children, of shuttling them here and there. tending to needs and running the necessary errands. But it was mostly now being at home. Grieving was a lot of work and exhausting quite frankly. It took a lot of energy. My husband wasn't a big support. Oh sure maybe the first month or so and then it was time to move on. Everyone puts a time line on grief and yet it's not linear or quick. In fact, I learned later years into it that you never really quit grieving. I hate to say that but it's true. The truth is we have to learn to grieve and live simultaneously. It's tough. Because no one ever tells you that or prepares you for it. We keep thinking we are going to get to this destination of healed in our grief and trauma but later we learn we really never do. It's just this weird adaption we do. Our couch at home, I took up residency on it… masses of crumpled tissues did too… pajamas… dirty hair, dirty sweatshirt… month by month... seasons changed from winter to spring... staring listlessly as The Today Show airs and Matt Lauer babbles on about crap that doesn't even matter… why were they so happy, anyway? I thought to myself… feeling no motivation… I notice a "Life Is Good" t-shirt magazine ad and want to scream and cry "Like hell!"… grabbing the remote control, flipping, flipping, flipping channels trying to find something to watch… nap after nap… I change from pajamas to jeans to pick up my kids from school… homework… dinner… bed… tomorrow... next week… repeat of this depression…. people act like the problems they have are monumental... it's such a bad joke I think to myself as they complain about all the paperwork they have to fill out at the doctors office or the fact the pump at the gas station is out of receipt paper or how the neighbors dog won't stop barking... their tolerance level is low and mine is at an all time high because I just learned how really short and fragile life truly is and their problems do not matter or compare to a heap of beans in this screwed up world. It's a repeat tomorrow and the next day and the next. Repeat of this cycle I want off and yet don't know how to remove myself from….
nightmares… more nightmares… make. them. stop.
riding in the car was debilitating and sent me into a panic
"panic disorder" my therapist told me
Reaching out… angry and sad… crying out for God.
It was like that song… it was like He went off for a cigarette break…
and was off the job… like He wasn't watching out for her.
Why? Why? Why? Why, God? Where were you?
Needing comfort. Needing strength.
Needing something or someone good to believe in.
No one tells you grief is so exhausting, that it's comparable to a full time job... tiny steps, zig zagging through the stages of grief… therapy… talking about a loss helps so much as it helps propel you in healing… growing stronger… and as you muddle through the grief the "Why? Why did this happen?" nags at you like a hangnail or snagged sweater… trying to wrack our brain and figure out why God allowed this destruction to happen can drive us crazy. It's chasing something that we never can catch. This chase never ends well, it simply keeps us running in circles… like a little terrier after his tail, fraught in the circle of dissatisfaction. At some point we have to stop chasing and simply stand still… trust Him to bring beauty out of ashes, out of hurt, pain, loss and destruction.
keep. pressing. on.
Little reminders of my sister are always bittersweet... hearing her name always gives me pause... wishing for one more day... one more moment... yet thankful for having the time I had…I think of her every day and I'm so thankful the last words I told her were "I love you". I'm so thankful for God. He truly was there all along. It just takes time to realize that.
(real names have been omitted or changed)
It had been another one of "those nights"… one where I had asked or "told" my son one too many times to go brush his teeth. Unfortunately by about the third or fourth time he'd had enough and stormed off to his bedroom. Moments later I heard the predictable bang! bang! bang! against his bedroom door. In the kitchen I stood at the counter gripping the edges with white fingers. Ugh… when does it ever stop?! I thought to myself. He'd had "fits" since he was about two and although when he was younger they initially appeared out of his control due to a lack of coping skills they had progressively changed to calculated, premeditated... purposeful.
For years I had prayed for change. I had cried for intervention, for help from above. For years I had spearheaded his advocacy and like a force to be reckoned with had determinedly sought help for him… therapies had abounded… tests had run the gamut, help had been had with speech, applied behavior analysis, sensory therapy, role-playing, educational aides, you name it… he'd done it. There had been medication after medication tried and yet nothing seemed to be the answer needed. There had been profound changes of improvement and reason to celebrate… and yet this issue of physical rage and defiance still remained… and not small issues at that. The issues had grown to monstrous proportions as he'd grown in strength and willpower and although his behavior had tamed at school for the most part thankfully… home still proved to be challenging.
Soon would come objects thrown against the door and walls. His die cast Thomas The Trains he'd clutched in his tiny hand at two and once upon a time happily carried in his pockets along with treasured rocks, Starburst and marbles were thrown against his door. Soon would come bigger objects like lamps, chairs and storage bins being hurled down the hallway toward the kitchen. You had two choices: ignore it or go confront it. Ignoring it meant having your home destroyed. Confronting it meant going into battle and physically trying to restrain him (or risk getting annihilated)… something that if you have lived this life yourself… you know it's not what you exactly pictured doing one day… it's the furthest thing you pictured dealing with when you had a mental picturesque snapshot of your family life.
Instead you're met with fists in your face, your son spitting at you, your arms being bitten, your foot stomped on, your stomach punched, your legs kicked and bruised... all because someone didn't want to comply with a simple task such as teeth brushing, taking a shower or going to bed at 8:30 p.m. You try to stay strong… you keep trying to push forward, you keep telling yourself "It will get better"… but for whatever reason it only appears to get worse. You wonder why God is allowing this to happen. You sometimes wonder why this is your life… having a temporary pity party for one. You wonder why he is behaving this way… what is needed to change it… to help it and to conquer it. You're left baffled and wondering why it had to happen to your child, to your family… because it affects each of you. You see your daughter running frightened to her room to hide. You have to have talks with her of "If he goes into fit mode run to your room and lock the door." You wonder why on earth it's right for her to have to grow up like this. She tells you "I don't know why he acts like this. I didn't want a brother like this." You nod and hug her… because who could scold her for being honest? It's affected her life and you worry who she will choose one day because of it… because this is what she has always known… and it's not normal, you tell her. This is not healthy. Healthy families don't have this… you stress… because you don't want her to believe for a minute this is okay or acceptable.
The doorbell rings… it's dark, night has arrived and against my better judgment I had called him, my ex to come help. He stands on the porch in running shorts, a black Northface jacket and I let him in. He's accosted by the twinkle lights on the Christmas tree in the otherwise black room and stands awkwardly by it.
"Where is he?" He asks me and I nod toward our son's bedroom. He makes his way in there and I follow close on his heels. I take a seat on the mini cream papasan chair across the room from our son's twin sized bed draped in a navy comforter. His father sits on the bed beside him and pulls him into a bear hug… something so out of character for him. He plants kisses atop his brown head and speaks to him a low soothing tone dripping with manipulation… it could have been a scene straight from the Godfather… and I watched as it eerily played out... wondering who this newest impostor was… because before when we were married he would have gone into an unhinged blind rage at our son's behavior.
"Now… You are so very, very lucky to have everything you could want at my house… but Mommy has rules at her house… and you need to follow them." as he spoke he planted more kisses on his brown haired head… "Now… do you think you can do that for me?" he asked softly.
I sat across from him perched on the papasan with crossed brows and an outraged expression.
"Excuse me? Can we talk?" I spoke… meaning it more of a statement versus a question.
"Sure!" He chirped at me cheerily rising from the bed… "I''ll be right back…" He promised our son.
Walking into the next room our inky silhouettes were framed against the dark gray painted wall from the Christmas tree lights beside us.
"What was that?" I hissed at him "Are you saying you don't have any rules at your house? Are you saying you don't make him brush his teeth?" I asked him.
"What? What did you want me to say to him?" He asked me expectantly, playing the innocent face.
I stood there staring at him in disbelief. Surely no one was that stupid. No one was that inept. This was like we were married again. It was happening all over again. Him gas lighting me… acting like he was in the right and I was just off my rocker imagining his behavior. But I knew now from enough therapy, enough insight into his manipulation, most importantly enough distance from him and enough coaching of how to handle him that this was not a time for me to doubt my instincts. I knew the truth. This was all calculated manipulation on his part to send a message to our son that I had zero authority, my rules were stupid and that yes, indeed his home was Disneyland and mine was comparable to living with Cruella De Ville.
I told him… "I want you to tell him that this behavior is not acceptable! I want you to tell him that you're not going to put up with him hitting me! Kicking me and destroying everything! That he can't behave this way! That's what I want!" I strongly told him. Inside though I seethed with exasperation. I knew it. I knew I shouldn't have called him. My therapist was right, of course. And yet this one time incident would show time and time again how he did not act like the father he needed to be but instead continually used our son as a pawn in his own agenda.
I would like to say things have improved since then… but unfortunately they haven't. I miss my son's laugh, silliness, and spirit of always wanting to help. Who he's become is someone nearly unrecognizable to me. The fact is, unless parental alienation is counteracted early on it's extremely difficult to turn around. Not impossible, just very challenging and the process takes time. The last day my son was in my home was March 30th and it's been extremely trying… ninety percent of my calls have gone unanswered, my texts have been ignored, my attempts rebuffed. Parental alienation can begin as benign but grow to monstrous proportions… especially if a parent is relentlessly using his (or her) children as pawns. I pray that with counseling and prayer that my son along with all the other children who have been successfully alienated from a warm, loving parent are helped to see the light… that they see what their parent has done in their own selfish agenda and hopefully reconciliation takes place with the other parent. Below I've listed five signs of parental alienation.
If you or someone you know is dealing with parental alienation don't give up! Keep praying for help, for change, for hearts to be transformed. Check into reunification therapy and look up Ryan Thomas Speaks who has a parent alienation reunification program available.
5 Signs of Parental Alienation or Dv (Domestic Violence) by Proxy
1. The child views the alienating parent as all good and the other parent as all bad. There is zero basis for the child's contempt and blatant hatred toward their targeted parent. The child doesn't have remorse, sadness, disappointment etc toward losing the relationship with their parent.
2. The child denies being coached or talked to privately by the alienating parent but in fact has. This damages the relationship the child has with the targeted parent because it takes away their role model; the better of the two parents.
3. The child's negative attitude toward the targeted parent extends to all of his or her extended family. This is very much black and white thinking… "I've decided he or she is bad so all of them must be as well".
4. The child doesn't have a concrete reason for the hatred toward the target parent… it's all unjustified and even spills over into their relationship with their siblings; they say hateful untrue statements to them about their parent.
5. Nearly all parents who have been alienated from their child report a relationship that at one time was very close, warm and loving… only to now be baffled why they are hated. This complete turn around is not normal… and has a source… the alienating parent.
Jennifer Gafford is a writer, speaker and divorce coach who helps guide parents through the pain of trying to co-parent with their narcissistic ex, and shares tips for custody and healing. She began her website gracepowerstrength in 2012 and over time her blog and audience grew to over a million views. Jennifer was married for twelve years, has two children and is very well versed in the facts regarding narcissistic abuse and the challenges involved in healing. Today, she shares daily posts and stories on Instagram for thousands of followers regarding npd abuse and believes everyone deserves a life of peace, love and freedom.