3 Years Later

It has been three years since Teagan was killed by her mother. Some things are hard to believe – still no trial? How can we not know how Teagan was killed? At the same time, other things are not hard to believe at all. Teagan remains a part of our daily life and we still talk about her every day. We see her live on through her brothers which are either beautiful or sad depending on the day.

Clearly, this is not a date to celebrate but at the same time, you simply cannot ignore it. As a family, we focus on celebrating her birthday and remembering her formally at that point. As for tomorrow we will visit Teagan’s grave and bring her Christmas ornaments for her wreath. We don’t talk about what happened this day (though as noted earlier most of it we still don’t know) as we don’t want to the boys to end up in a dark space right before Christmas. Having said that we don’t ignore the reality she is gone and talk about her more than usual around the holidays. Rather we just don’t highlight the specific day she was murdered.

Nevertheless, there is a different energy this weekend. Teagan’s older brother has been installing kids games on his IPAD from when he and Teagan were toddlers. Last night I had a fascinating conversation with Teagan’s younger brother. Each night I rub his back before he goes to sleep. Last night he asked me “Who do you love the most in our family?”. That seemed like a loaded question but I answered: “I love everybody in our family the same”. Jack replied “Me too except I love Teagan more because she is not here anymore. I love her the most”.

I am not sure any statement could make me more happy. After the shock of Teagan’s death dissipated (the trauma never does) one of the things that most upset me actually dealt with Teagan’s younger brother. There was nothing in the world that mattered more to Teagan’s than her brothers. In fact, one of the things that kept me going after her death was knowing that Teagan’s marching orders to me would be “give my brothers the best life possible”.

However, because her younger brother was only two at the time of her death we wondered what memories he had now let alone years later. Professionals warned us that over time he would not have any ‘original’ memories of Teagan in his life. This was tragic as I know it would crush Teagan if she thought that her little brother would not remember her (you may remember from past posts that she was buried in her favourite bracelet which was a heart with two parts – one side says big sister and the other says little sister). Thus I could not be happier that our youngest child loves his sister the most out of our entire family. Teagan is smiling.

Loss of Innocence

It’s been tough since Thanksgiving. Tougher than I was expecting. Lots of tears out of nowhere. Lots of hoping that I will wake from this dream. It can’t be real. Thanksgiving marks the third year since we were together as a family. After Thanksgiving weekend 2014, we FaceTimed with Teagan often, but we were just a couple of weeks away from being together again when she was murdered. This past couple of weeks have brought back some new memories of the hours and days that followed December 10, 2014. It has become obvious that I’m not the only one of us feeling this way.

One of the memories that has been coming back recently is the Ottawa Police Officer who had the terrible duty of knocking on our door that night to deliver the unbearable news. I remember him introducing himself. “I’m Constable Wahn..W-a-h-n. Wahn”. I broke down, time stopped. I asked him if he was sure. Maybe there had been a mistake. He checked his notes. There was no mistake. He stayed a while, I’m not sure how long. It might have been 10 minutes, it could have been an hour. He talked to us. We told him about Teagan. We showed him the recent picture of the three kids that was hanging on our wall. He asked about the boys. He was worried about Stewart, but he said Jack was too young to understand – “He’ll be ok”.

We just never bought into the idea that Jack was too young and so he’d be spared from what the rest of us would have to get through over the coming years – over our lifetimes. Gabe and I knew that we were all too close and Jack and Teagan had such a bond that we couldn’t foresee a time in the future where Jack just wouldn’t be bothered by her death. We were right. Jack has reminded us many times over that he is always thinking of Teagan, that her death is something that he doesn’t understand, not because of his age, but because none of us will ever understand it, and that Teagan remains his sister and holds a very large part of his life and his heart. I want to tell you about the good and the not so good parts of this. I want to share this to provide some insight into the loss of innocence that our boys have experienced because of Teagan’s murder. I want to share this so that everyone knows that Teagan lives on in our family, and always will.

For Teagan’s 5th or 6th birthday, her Auntie Ali gave her a REALLY big teddy bear. This is the kind of bear that makes you think of childhood happiness. It was so big that it took up half a double bed. She loved it. After a while, this big teddy bear developed a rip in his seam, right in the middle of his chest. I said that I would fix it. I really meant to fix it. But, I never did. I was always too “busy” to fix the bear. She played with it anyway, and I guess I just didn’t see the urgency. I really wish I would have sewn up that bear as soon as she asked. I really wish I had just done that. But, I didn’t. After Teagan died, her toys and clothes have moved around our house a lot. We all take items and store them away in places where we want them to be, places where we hold them for ourselves. The boys play with her toys. When Teagan’s cousins come over, they play with her toys. Jack has really been into Teagan’s things lately. He’s been wearing her jewellery to bed and he’s adopted that big teddy bear, which he calls “Big Teddy”. Jack started to really get on my case about fixing Big Teddy’s chest. Finally, on Thanksgiving Monday, I found the sewing kit and Jack wasn’t going to let me do anything else but sew up that bear. He prepped Big Teddy. Jack told me that Big Teddy was really excited about this day. Then I sewed him up. It took no more than 10 minutes. Really, why didn’t I just fix that bear? Jack was thrilled. Later that night. I was laying in bed with him singing him a song and when it ended he told me, “This was the best day of Big Teddy’s life, Mom, because you sewed him up.” Jack finally got Teagan’s bear fixed.

The awareness that a person chose to take his sister’s life is not lost on Jack. He talks about it frequently. But, yesterday, he and I had an exchange that I won’t ever forget. It went like this:

Jack – “What did Lisa do to Teagan?”

Me – “We don’t know what she did buddy. The police haven’t told us yet. They will tell us at the trial.” (At this point, I should remind you that I’m talking to a 5-year-old boy. All of these words are in his vocabulary because we’ve been completely honest with the boys, not because we want him to know these words)

Jack – “We know that Lisa didn’t shoot her with a gun, because we saw Teagan and there was no blood. How could someone kill someone without there being blood?”

Me – “I have no idea buddy. But, someday, in about a year, we will know how Teagan died.”

Jack – “Why did Lisa do it. I mean, she wasn’t a murderer before that, she never murdered anyone else. Why would she ever murder Teagan, she was her daughter.”

Me – “I don’t know buddy, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Jack – “But, like, she was a mother. How could she have killed her own daughter?”

Me – “I don’t know.”

Jack had been looking down and then he looked up at me and had tears in his eyes, but wasn’t crying and said, “I can’t understand why someone would just become a murderer and kill their own daughter.” In that moment, looking into his eyes, I could have been talking to a 90-year-old man.

Me – “I don’t understand it either buddy. The only thing I know is that she is an evil monster because she has to be to have done what she did.”

It seems he understands as much as we do. These are the things that our otherwise happy 5-year-old boy thinks about. He sleeps with water guns under his pillow and nerf guns under his bed, which he calls his “weapons” that he keeps close “in case a bad guy comes in when we are sleeping and I need to protect you”. Maybe your kids do that too because they are afraid of the dark. But, to our boys, the “bad guy” has a name. My kids should be worried about whether Santa thinks they’ve been good enough to get the latest Xbox game – not worried about whether “Lisa will die me too” (as Jack told us when he was three). This is the stuff that Lisa won’t be on trial for, but make no mistake, she sentenced all of us with a lifetime of wondering what our family would have been like if Teagan was still alive, who Teagan would have become, who we would have been if this tragedy never happened. She took their sister and she stole their childhood innocence.

Ties to Saskatchewan

Although we live in Ottawa the majority of our family lives in Saskatchewan and as a result, we spend lots of time in the Regina area. The favourite for the kids is the family farm with lots of equipment and animals – Teags always gravitated to the farm cats. It’s amazing how in such a short life Teagan was able to touch every aspect of our lives – her memories are as omnipresent and adorable as she was.

Our last family trip prior to her murder was to Moose Jaw for Great Aunt Elna’s 100th birthday. The juxtaposition of an 8-year-old being murdered shortly after attending a 100th birthday part still strikes me. Sadly this week Great Aunt Elna passed away this week. Collectively they lived for 110 years and the world is a better place for every single one of them.

For Teagan’s brothers, it’s another chapter in understanding death while at the same time realizing how unnatural the passing of their sister was. They have both aged beyond their years as a part of this process but Teagan lives on inside each of them in very visible ways.

On our trip this summer we were very fortunate to meet with the Saskatchewan Child Advocate Corey O’Soup. It’s important that we share the tragedy of Teagan’s killing with the leaders in child protection. We remain focused on systematic transformation within Governments, universal recognition of children’s right and preserving the memory of Teagan.

What to do with Mother’s Day?

Today is a hard day and I suspect it will always be so…it’s sad, complicated and on many levels so wrong. Yet for Teagan’s brothers it’s extremely important they are focused on celebrating the absolutely wonderful Mom that they have been blessed with. But…

It’s just not possible to survive this day without struggling to deal with the reality that Teagan’s own biological mother ended her life. How anyone could take that sweet, loving and innocent 8-year-old girls life is beyond any explanation or rationalization. For those who have lost a child, you understand that there are many days each year that you don’t live but rather survive.

On Mother’s Day, I have the added complexity that my mother was one of the many enablers (+ other relatives, a teacher, a doctor, a psychologist etc.) who made it impossible to get Teagan into a safe home. All knew little of her home life yet some even stated Teagan was safe in legal documents – and we know how that story ends.

I do feel blessed that Teagan had a wonderful step-Mom who loved her unconditionally, supported her at all times and was a role model that inspired Teagan. This despite numerous and ongoing attempts by her killer to alienate our entire family from Teagan. However, Teagan was simply too strong to be manipulated and too loving to let anything stand between her and those who actually loved her. Perhaps that ultimately cost Teagan her life. How sad is that…

Nevertheless a special Happy Mother’s Day to those who have lost a child (not to their own hand) and to those many step-Moms who have to work extra-hard to build a relationship with their step-kids. Your effort matters, your kids love you for it and you should be proud.

 

 

Let’s Talk

I commend Sheryl Sandberg for being open about her grief in the form of a book. It’s something that collectively we do a very poor job from. Previously Patton Oswalt opened up his life to the pain after his loss. A traumatic loss is full of heartache, challenge and unwelcome surprises. When people in the public eye talk about grief it performs an important role in role in awareness and dialogue.

It should be noted that many people who are not famous also respond to tragedy in amazing ways. If you want further inspiration to how humans react to terrible circumstances than look no further than the Stringer family and Rowan’s Law. There are an amazing amount of families who respond to the loss of a child with a desire to prevent other families from feeling that pain. Each story brings a tear to our eye but also inspires us to do what we can.

The impact of trauma on a child and the traumatic loss of a child are a whole other basket of heartache. Thanks to Jamie Moyer through Camp Erin and The Moyer Foundation there are resources for kids who suffer the unimaginable loss of a sibling like Teagan’s brothers did.

Our good friends at the Cycle Against Suicide posted this quote recently that seemed to characterize the unique pain of losing a child – “When a parent dies you bury them in the ground. When a child dies you bury them in your heart.”