It was the last two weeks of April 2015.
No amount of comforting or reasoning worked. Her mind was obsessed with thoughts of desperation, helplessness and an oppressive yet unnamed sadness. Elizabeth was consumed with just one thing; the fact that her boyfriend had broken up with her.
In many ways, the entire fiasco was a drama that we were all too familiar with, yet there was also something eerily different. Elizabeth’s emotional storm carried in it a strong presence of despair and hopelessness. As a family, we had been through more emotional and behavioral breakdowns, than I can remember…but not like this one.
The dark clouds seemed to bear down and oppress; as if to trying to squeeze out every last bit of life from Elizabeth’s heart and soul.
For nearly two weeks Elizbeth was on the verge of crying, and she had lost any motivation to come out of her room, socialize or even eat. The inky black depression had taken hold of her, and it was worse we than we had ever seen.
It had become a disruption to any of the order we’d managed to rebuild during the previous month and a half. Erica consulted with Elizabeth’s therapist, who recommended we minimize our daughter’s access to social media and electronic communication devices (laptop, cell phone, etc.). This was so we could give Elizabeth a temporary reprieve from whatever was going in between her and the boy she liked.
As expected, when we tried to implement that plan, Elizabeth was upset and became emotionally unglued. “But how will I talk to him…I NEED to talk to him!!!”, Elizabeth desperately pleaded.
My wife and I tried to explain that she could talk to him at school, but when she came home from school, she needed to take a break from whatever was going on between the two of them.
Meanwhile, something in my gut told me there was something deeper going on. Considering the traumatic journey of drama, we had already navigated with Elizabeth throughout almost four years; I was, unfortunately, familiar with the precursors and signs of Elizabeth getting ready to have an emotional meltdown.
Although I could see Elizabeth demonstrating some of the same familiar pre-meltdown indicators (like the ones that could lead to another hospital stay), there was an added layer of unexplainable desperation and panic. The tension and anxiety were building to a crescendo; looming devastation was forming on the horizon of my daughter’s mindscape.
I had seen my little girl have some extremely violent fits and had witnessed what irrational defiance looks like, but what was taking place was different. There was a sense of impending doom surrounding the entire dynamic.
Finally, I asked Erica to find out what the matter was and sit with Elizbeth and have some ‘girl talk’; perhaps Erica could connect on an emotional level and see if she could find out what was wrong and how we could help make everything right.
Being upset about a break up is a typical teenager response, but for Elizabeth, experiences like that were especially challenging due to her emotional and behavioral needs.
Elizabeth’s change in behavior caused by a breakup didn’t explain her unusual and uncanny despondence and apathy. Her climate was rapidly transitioning from being anxious and obsessed; to acting withdrawn and hopeless. It was a volatile combination of powerfully negative emotions.
One evening I decided to get to the bottom of whatever was wrong. It was Thursday, April 30th. Erica and Isabella were in the master bedroom watching t.v., and I was in the kitchen helping Elizabeth with the dishes.
Ever since we had picked up Elizabeth and her boyfriend from school a couple of weeks prior, I had a question burning over and over in my mind, and I wasn’t sure how to ask it…I also wasn’t sure I wanted the answer.
As much as I was nervous about hearing the potential answer, I knew it was my duty as her father to ask the tough questions.
“Elizabeth, I need to ask you something…did something happen between you and your boyfriend? Did your relationship go further than it should have?”,I succinctly but gently asked.
Elizabeth paused for a moment and looked away in embarrassment. Then, nervously, she quietly told me the truth. Her explanation of what really happened confirmed what my gut instincts had been telling me the day I picked Elizabeth and her boyfriend up from school. She had given something away – Elizabeth had lost her virginity.
As a father, it was a hard thing for me to hear. Through all the turmoil and all the stress of nearly four years of psychological and spiritual drama, I hadn’t even considered, what Elizabeth was telling me in that moment, to be even a remote possibility of things I needed to worry about.
One thing for sure, I didn’t want to do was get upset; that would only make matters worse. I didn’t want my daughter to feel any lower than she already did. I didn’t want her to think I was ashamed of her – because I wasn’t. It took a lot of courage for Elizabeth to share that with me; it also showed that she trusted me as her daddy, and I didn’t want to betray that trust.
I hugged Elizabeth closely while she leaned my shoulder and cried. She was weeping tears of regret, sorrow and shame. Her little heart was traversing terrain that is difficult even for some adults. In that moment, I was my little girl’s rock and shelter. I wanted to reassure her that nothing, ABSOLUTLY NOTHING, she could ever do would stop me from loving and accepting her as my precious daughter
Quietly, in my mind, I prayed and asked God for wisdom. I knew I needed Divine direction on how to navigate the situation.
After a few minutes, I knew that this was something we needed to discuss with Erica. Gently taking Elizabeth by the hand, we walked together to the master bedroom where Erica was watching t.v.
“Erica, there’s something we need to talk about…”, and so I began to explain, as delicately as I could, what Elizabeth had told me. Erica took the news with absolute grace and poise. As a young girl, around Elizabeth’s age, she too had a similar experience. For nearly two hours, Erica, Elizabeth and I talked, cried and hugged. Erica and I poured out grace and reinforced our love for our daughter. We wanted to let her know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that she was our pride and joy…no matter what.
The next day was a Friday. I knew it would be difficult for Elizabeth to go back to school, considering what she had told Erica and I the night before. We both decided that it would be best if Elizabeth stayed home from school for the day and that perhaps having an extended weekend would give her enough time to process everything she had shared.
Sometime late Friday morning, I took Elizabeth to grab a snack, and we went for a quiet drive. I knew she wanted to keep talking and share what was on her mind. After a couple of hours, we pulled into a small park and picnic area a few miles up the road from our house.
Elizabeth and I sat, talked and listened to music. She shed tears, and I wept with her. I would have done anything to take away the pain and turmoil she was carrying.
Mother’s Day Weekend 2015.
It had been about 10 days since Elizabeth had courageously confided in her mom and me. Although the air had been cleared regarding what had been tormenting her, Elizabeth’s mind and soul were still in turmoil. She was having a difficult time accepting the breakup and an even harder time navigating the inevitable and ruthless bullying that followed. Rumors travel fast in a small-town high school, and kids can be so vicious and cruel.
Erica and I did everything we could to ease the pain that our daughter was carrying. We wanted to break the cycle of hopeless thinking and shame that our daughter was trapped in.
The Saturday before Mother’s Day, we all went out as a family. We spent the day at the Norfolk Zoo and later that evening we went to see a movie that Elizabeth had desperately wanted to watch. The day seemed to end on a good note, and the war which was being waged on our little girl’s mind appeared to have entered a cease-fire.
The reprieve was only temporary. The next day was Mother’s Day, but it didn’t come with the usual honor and happiness which that day is supposed to bring. The darkness had returned to haunt Elizabeth. Her climate and mood were distant and hostile. There was something ominous and foreboding in the air, and I could see it in her eyes when we talked.
When we asked Elizabeth to tell what was wrong, she responded with anger and curses. It was almost like she was pushing us away – like she resented us and our help.
I tried my best to explain that it was Mother’s Day; a day to show appreciation and honor. Somehow, what I said seemed to make a difference, albeit slight. Elizabeth apologized to her mom and me; she knew that the way she was acting was wrong and she wanted to do something to make it right.
After a little while, Elizabeth quietly approached Erica and gave her a simple token of love and appreciation. Elizabeth had made a handmade card for her mom; inside she wrote a poem. The poem was the words from the heart of a little girl; a little girl who loved and adored her mother.
It would be the last physical token of affection and adoration that Elizabeth gave her mother.
Monday – May 11th, 2015.
I headed off to work before everyone else was awake, and Erica got the kids ready for school. Monday unfolded uneventfully, and that evening after dinner we all regrouped as a family to discuss the day’s events. After a little while, Isabella (my youngest daughter) was getting ready for bed, while Elizabeth was in her room and Erica was in the master bedroom. Erica was going through some of the bank records online and noticed some strange charged in the credit card. Erica knew who did it.
“Elizabeth, I need to talk to you…”.Erica asked Elizabeth if she knew anything about the charges: Elizabeth staunchly denied them. As Erica tried to get answers, the situation quickly escalated, and Elizabeth was becoming hostile and emotionally unglued.
She became so upset that she tried to bolt out the front door, but I was able to keep her from running outside. “Elizabeth don’t do this…we’ve been through this too many times…you know what happened last time you started having a meltdown. Please, you don’t want to go back to the hospital again. Please, try and get control.”,I pleaded desperately.
None of us wanted to a repeat of the last three hospital stays, and we certainly didn’t want to have her committed for an inpatient stay for six to eight months. I assured Elizabeth that she wasn’t in trouble for the credit card charges; that her mom could easily send the stuff she ordered back and then get a refund. After a few minutes of talking, Elizabeth calmed down. It appeared that I had broken through the dark emotional frenzy.
Tuesday – May 12th, 2015.
Once again, I headed out for work before the sun came up and Erica made sure the kids got ready for school. Isabella’s school bus came first; around 6:30 am. Elizabeth’s bus arrived about 7 am and then Erica would head off to work shortly after…that was our normal routine. But this time the routine would be turned on its head.
Right after Isabella got on her bus and headed off to school, the emotional and behavioral chaos returned. Elizabeth refused to get on the bus. She sat on our front porch yelling and an emotional tirade. Erica was rushing to get ready for work; but because Elizabeth missed the bus, Erica would have to drop her off at school, adding extra time to her already 45-minute commute to work.
As Erica pulled into the school parking lot, she told Elizabeth to hurry into school because she was already late for school, and Erica was even later getting to work. “Let’s go Elizabeth, you’re late for class, and I’m very late for work!”, Erica scolded.
Elizabeth paused for a moment, leaned over and hugged Erica, “I’m really sorry mom…I love you”.
Later that day, I got home from work early. I like getting to the house before Elizabeth did. Because of the challenges we had been navigating, Erica and I were not comfortable leaving her at the house unattended for too long. Plus getting home early gave me the chance to catch up on my chores around the house before the Erica and Isabella got home.
I pulled into the driveway, made sure my truck was locked, and went into the house to change out of my uniform. I had a bunch of outside chores to do; we had a huge yard, and it grew like crazy in the warm North Carolina sun. I walked into my master bedroom closet, hung up my uniform and put on a t-shirt and pair of jeans. As soon as I changed, turned off the closet light, shut the door and went into my garage to fire up my green riding mower.
It usually took me about an hour to cut the grass and another half an hour to trim the weeds and edges around the house and flower beds. About halfway through mowing the lawn, I was finishing up the last row of grass on one side of the house. As I rode the mower along up the yard toward the front of the house, I saw Elizabeth’s school bus pull up. I slowed the mower down, put it in park and turned down the engine to an idle.
As Elizabeth walked off the bus and up the driveway, she looked over at me. I smiled and waved, and she casually waved back at me.
When Erica dropped off Elizabeth at school that morning and hugged her; when I waved hello to her after she got off the school bus that afternoon – these were the final moments we’d share with her and the last time we would see our precious daughter alive on this side of eternity.
What was about to unfold would be sheer horror, agony, and heartbreak beyond words…
I thought coming home from work early provided an added layer of protection. We didn’t feel comfortable with Elizabeth being home by herself, especially in light of the fact that she was experiencing such deep emotional distress.
Elizabeth had tried to hurt herself in the past; cutting herself with razors, attempting to hang herself with a belt and a string of Christmas lights and tried to stab herself with a butcher knife. Erica and I were on constant alert and always maintained a state of vigilance. We had taken every conceivable precaution.
Still, I’ve played those final moments over and over in my mind every day…what if, what could have been, what should have happened, and what could have happened.
They are agonizing reminders of what followed shortly afterward.
Since I was six years old, my heart has had to bear the burdens of many losses, of which the passing of my dad and brother were the most painful – until we lost Elizabeth.
The morbid and graphic details of what I saw that day are the hellish images nightmares are made of.
What I’m about to share of the next several pages is the most painful tribulation any parent could ever endure.