I have been compelled to write this post. I will be as respectful as possible and am not looking to be a martyr. I just have feelings, thoughts and insights that I would like to share, based on a recent local news event. Specifically, an old high school class mate that has allegedly committed murder-suicide on herself and two young children, ages six and seven. The medical examiners are still wrapping things up, so there is still the tiniest bit of hope that the toxicology reports could refute these preliminary findings, but I will admit, my hopes are not high. This is quite tragic and has sent my mind spinning. I am saddened.
Let me begin by admitting I was not close with Stephanie Miskowiec Shields, or as I knew her, Steph. We were only acquaintances in high school and graduated together in the Class of '96. Our graduating class was nearly 600 and knowing everyone was rather impossible. I do remember her though, but have not seen her since. What I do remember is that she was a sweet girl, kind of quiet and petite. She had beautiful eyes that twinkled when she smiled and when she wore her hair up and pulled back from her face she was quite beautiful. She was friendly to me, although we just had the kind of relationship where you say "Hi, how are you?" in the hall at passing time and move on with your day. We had very few classes together, as our interests were very different: she loved Cross-Country anything and my world revolved around music and theatre. At 35 years old, looking back, this whole situation blows my mind. How could life have become so sad for Steph that this was the only way she felt she could cope? I am not expecting to ever be able to answer this question definitively.
There have been many murder-suicides at the hand of the mother over the last many years; Lashanda Armstrong, Susan Smith, Andrea Yates, Melanie Reyes and Mayra Perez, just to name a few. Most of us can not fathom what could possibly bring a mother to the edge so severely. In my mind I say that there is no way in the spectrum of the world that anything would ever make me take the lives of my children, no matter what. Now that Steph is gone and I can sort of say I knew someone who did this horrific thing, is it really fair of me to conclude my thoughts so absolute? Now, I can not bring myself to judge Steph as harshly as I have knee-jerk judged the other mothers in history who have done the same terrible thing. My mind had just been opened, not necessarily for the better.
In the last 35 years I have had my fair share of trials and tribulations. I have had my private desperate moments where I contemplated if it would just be better for everyone involved and easier on myself to give up, doubting my abilities, strengths and will, both before I had children and after. I have rarely spoken of these moments to anyone before because it is embarrassing and a little shameful when I admit weakness, but after watching the tornado of comments flying around on facebook, and the like, I feel strong enough to admit it, this is my way of respecting the memory of Stephanie. I am sure many of you out there have had a mental slip up or two and considered the possibilities. All alone, crying for hours, mind spinning out of control, maybe sitting curled up on the bathroom floor, afraid to move, just in case. Then again, maybe not. I will say that the thought of taking my childrens' lives has truly never once crossed my mind. Never. They are my world, my reason to live and walk upon this Earth. I believe I was put here for them, I was made to be their mother.
That being said, I know we are all made differently. I was able to push through my moments of despair. I have a very strong and supportive family. If anything were to ever happen to me, either self inflicted or not, my children would be taken care of. I also know that there are many factors to consider, when you are thinking about the possibility of not being around for your children anymore: who could afford to raise them properly, who would be willing to bear that burden for me, who would be able to show them unconditional love forever, would the children be able to mentally handle me not being here anymore and/or get the counseling and support they would desperately need to move on and grow into healthy and fulfilled individuals, the list of questions goes on and on. My only conclusion is that Steph possibly had no answers for these questions and made a sad decision. She must have truly felt, in that specific moment of turmoil, that she had absolutely no other choice. Right or wrong, feelings are real and can be poisonous and painful and sometimes, unbearable.
I can sit here and say that I would never ever do the same thing until I am blue in the face and I am fairly certain that this is truthful, but I also know that I never exactly walked a day in her shoes, I may have never felt as down and out as she must have felt. I have a different family and different friends. Our mental genetics are not the same. I can say from experience that I know full well what it is like to keep deep dark secrets. Last night while I was sad and thinking of Steph I peeked at her facebook profile. The pictures are numerous and they all appear so cheerful. Many photos of her and her two gorgeous children, all smiles on bright sunny days, doing family things together out on the boat and in a marathon of some sort. The appearance of fun and as if nothing could possibly be wrong. I have been there. I have presented myself as a happy and content person to the world in my past in order to hide what was truly going on at home and in my life, behind closed doors. I felt I was strong enough to get past it, I was woman enough to remain stoic and keep getting up everyday for my childrens' sake, I would stay in my situation forever just for their happiness. I did not last forever and ten years ago I had to make some serious life changes. This was by no means easy and I had one of my dark periods where I spent most nights after the children were asleep, sobbing uncontrollably, contemplating solutions...some darker than others. Somehow, someway, I made it through; Stephanie, and many many others did/do not.
I am sorry. Sorry for Steph and all the other mothers who caved in to their darkness, sorry for the families who will never know why, sorry for the public and all of their speculations, sorry for the husbands, estranged or not, this would/will be terribly difficult to get past. But, mostly, today, I am sorry for those two sweet ginger babies that have been taken so abruptly from their community, with no say whatsoever. My heart bleeds for them. The mothers probably couldn't think ahead to the mess they would leave, their brains being so distraught and overflowing with sadness. As mothers, they wouldn't have wanted for their children to be remembered this way. An irreversible mistake. I feel extreme empathy and my heart hurts. I will hug my children a little bit harder this evening. Hug yours for me, too.