Finding Joy… After a Life-Altering Tragedy

The current issue of Synergy has the theme of joy; how to be joyful; how to create that feeling in your life. The antonym to "joy” in the English language is "sorrow” and that is where my story leads you today – how to overcome sorrow and create joy.

Often in our daily lives we have obstacles and challenges. Some days may be overwhelming. They feel as though not another thing could happen that could possibly make things worse and that if that "thing” did happen, you could not go on. That is where I was in my life approximately 5 months ago.

I was a single mom, newly separated, living with my two young children, aged almost 3 and almost 10. We also had two young international students living with us. I had lost my job due to government cutbacks about 10 months before and had been undergoing a very difficult marital separation. Many days I just went through the motions and did not even know how I had come through it. Other days I was so relieved to know that I could start to think about moving on. I was sure that getting my life back on track and working toward creating happiness for us all.

I did not realize what an unreal state I was living in. I did not realize that the behaviour my separated spouse was exhibiting was very dangerous and out of control. I had lived for so long in an unstable environment that I could no longer see the insanity that I was living in. One day, after a couple of weeks of being driven crazy by my spouse, I went to a friend and broke down. She convinced me that I was in an abusive relationship and that I was being stalked. She phoned the police to report the situation on my behalf. I can’t say enough about how supportive the police officer was. He believed me and did not make me think that I was complaining unreasonably. He validated my feelings and went as far as he could to protect me and my family, and to charge my husband with criminal harassment.

I was terrified! How would he react when he found out? What would I tell my children and the other children living with me? I knew that he would continue to phone me and come to my home even with a restraining order in place. I knew that he had managed to manipulate me for so long and to destroy my self esteem that he would not believe that finally after 18 years, I had the courage to break from him completely. Was I ever right!

I went through the next couple of weeks with mood swings that ranged from terror to exhilaration; through uncertainty and back to fear. I did not know what to do. One Monday morning, I drove the kids to school, went to an early morning meeting and set a work plan for the week. For the first time in a long time I felt happy, excited, and ready to take on the world!

How quickly my world would change.

On November 8, 2004 at about 9:15 a.m. I entered my home. I locked the front door and walked down the hall. Suddenly my estranged husband jumped out at me with a large kitchen knife. My first instinct was shock. My second reaction was to laugh in surprise. I thought it was a joke. Slowly I realized it was not a joke. This was not the man I used to love who would sneak up and surprise me. This was a man who had broken down and felt he had nothing left to lose. The terror hit me.

I won’t write all that transpired that day. I will say that I was terrified. I did not believe I would ever see my children, family or friends again. I was certain that I would die, and I was so afraid for my children and their future. I will say that my life really did pass before my eyes. I tried everything I could think of to convince him to leave me alone. I tried to persuade him that there were other routes he could take. However, all he could say was that he had made a mistake and there was no turning back now. He said he was sorry but there was no other way. My great fear was that he would bring our children back to the house and make them see what he had done to me. I did not believe that they would survive seeing their mother dead, harmed by the father they loved.

Things got worse. I was forced to contact my younger daughter’s school and have them release her to her father. I was so afraid that I would never see her again. I knew that I had to pull myself together and find ways to outsmart him. So I made sure that when he tied me up I held my arms in a way that would hold the rope tight, but would allow me to slacken it after he left. I held my head at an angle so that when he bound and gagged me I might be able to release the ties. He had stolen my car and both of my phones so I knew that I would have to wait to hear him drive away before attempting to escape

I did manage to get free. I went to a neighbour’s house and called the police. Unfortunately, it was too late for the police to stop him from abducting my daughter, and too late to prevent him from causing a head-on collision with another vehicle. Now there were other families involved.

My husband died instantly in the crash, but my baby survived through the grace of God and her angels. Another family did not fare so well. They lost their dear little son and his mother was very badly injured.

Some of my angels that day were the police, the fire department, the paramedics, the NRGH emergency department, and all of those who put their strength and thoughts and prayers out for us. The love that was sent our way from people who do not even know us was remarkable and so heartwarming. My baby is here today. She has a long road to recovery but she is alive. I can never forget the sadness I feel for the other family who lost so much. There is also sadness for someone I once loved. A man who had many good qualities but lost himself and felt that the only thing he could do was destroy others.

To many people it may not make sense that I do not speak of my late husband with ill will or malice. I could… I hate to remember how many people he hurt. There are so many of us that were impacted in so many ways by this horrendous, desperate, selfish act. I feel anger when I see the pain my children go through. I watched my three year old daughter scream in terror for 20 minutes while her body cast was cut off. I see the pain in my ten year old daughter’s eyes when she remembers what happened. I feel her angst over the love and hate she feels for her own father.

I know that I need to find peace for myself. I need to find a way to help my children rebuild their strength and create their own future and happiness. I can’t help them if I can’t help myself. It is my duty and my goal as their mother to establish new memories, happy traditions, good thoughts, and positive self images. I must allow them to define their own destinies and hope that they don’t repeat my mistakes. I need to help them live with the knowledge of what happened. We will love the good memories accept the reality of the bad. The only way to find true peace is knowledge; the knowledge of what role we play in our life; the ability to know where we can change things, and to let go of that which we cannot control.

Why do I tell my story? I have learned that although we do everything we can to protect ourselves and our children, we are not always able to do so. I have also had my faith in a higher power, God and angels strengthened in many ways.

About two weeks ago, I realized that my children and I were feeling happy on a Sunday morning. We were relaxed, laughing, reading, playing games together and singing. It struck me that you can’t feel bad when you sing. Singing brings breath into your body, it opens your spirit and singing out loud lets others feel joy too. Sing aloud and feel how your body expands and is filled with peace and joy.

I am finding peace and happiness and concentrating on helping my children survive a life-altering tragedy. We do not live in a world where all is sweet and wonderful, but neither do we live in a world where all is dark. We will strive for balance and relish the love that we have. We will get excited about little things and allow ourselves to hear the birds and smell the scents of spring. To reach our joy we have had to overcome sorrow. The sorrow may never be completely gone, but the world is for the living and we are learning to live again.