A news article brought me to tears just yesterday. As I clicked on the headline on the ABC news website I knew it wouldn’t be a pretty story. The voyeur in me read on anyway, leaving me to instantly regret learning the sad details.
A Melbourne man was found guilty of murdering his 4 year-old daughter by throwing her off a bridge. He had gotten the children ready for school – the 6 year-old son and the daughter, who was preparing for her first day in grade 1. He also had a 2 year-old son who came along for the drive. Along the way, he stopped on a busy bridge and asked his daughter to climb into the front seat. He walked around and got her out of the car, throwing her over the edge of the 58 metre-high structure, to land in the water far below, where she died from crush injuries. The sons watched in surprise. The 6-year old, Ben, told his dad not to drive on, but to go back for his sister. “Go back and get her; Darcey can’t swim.” The father drove himself and the boys to the Federal Court where he impassively handed himself in. The sons were clambering over him for what I assume was comfort and comprehension after such a traumatic event, but he refused to acknowledge them.
It is at this point, or perhaps quite earlier, that the reader may feel, “I don’t want to know this – why give me such details?” But I’m sorry, for this is what has been keeping me up at night, crying out, Oh God – why??
Why do we have such pain and suffering in this world, and why can’t it just be the wicked who get punished or at least receive the natural consequences for their actions? Why is it that the innocent children suffer? Why are families torn apart with lifelong repercussions?
I don’t wish to point the finger at the man and call him evil. I don’t know all the background of his mental state and the events leading up to the crime. What I do know is that often when I see such heartbreaking stories, that I am led to observe, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I have known the ‘black dog’ of depression - the pit of despair when all seems overwhelming, when there seems to be no way out from a terrible situation. When a failed relationship makes you so angry and bitter that all you want to do is hurt and hurt the other person, and challenge, “Look what you made me do.” I have seen the confusion in my own family when I have been irrational, when my outbursts and tears and screaming have shocked and scared the children. I feel the shame and regret of my actions and wonder if my children wouldn’t be so emotional/ sensitive/ detached / clingy/ negative… if only I had set a better example.
Kasey Chambers sang a lament that voiced her opinion about the terrible state of the world: You can turn off the tv, and go about your day, it doesn’t mean that you can make it go away…
It frustrates me that many of us would rather turn away from such crises and decline to get involved. But the same people who refuse to be touched by the sadness in this world will easily be drawn up into the drama of crime shows, the ones with the good guys who manage to catch the killer. At the end of the show, the wicked offender is found out and justice has won. But in real life, even when the killer is caught, there is no ‘winner’.
In this man’s case, the child is dead; the family is scarred and devastated. He will go to jail but no-one has won. I think of the girl who had such trust in her father, probably thinking of the excitement of her first day at school. I wonder what thoughts went through her head as her father picked her up and dropped her to her death. Did she have time to question her father’s actions? What sort of betrayal of trust was this? I think of the boys who would have been shocked to see their father do such a thing. Surely he didn’t mean to hurt their sister? Why else would the 6 year-old ask his dad to go back for Darcey, as she couldn’t swim?
I think of the mother, who was waiting at the school to see her little girl arrive. Apparently the father had made a threat that she wouldn’t see her children again. What went through her head as she would have waited and not seen her daughter arrive, and then to hear the news from the police? What sort of regrets would she have – if only she had taken him seriously, if only she had driven the kids to school, if only…. I can only imagine the sort of anger and resentment she must have for her ex-husband. The fear she would have of men and the fear for her remaining children’s safety.
All this, I pray for. I pray for healing, for forgiveness, for peace and comfort in the hearts of all concerned. I also pray for the offender for the guilt he must surely feel, for the irreparable outpouring of his hatred and anger towards his wife. If only he had received the help he needed. For a parent to do such a thing to their own child, there must be something terribly, terribly wrong.
And yet what more can I do? This case is sadly, not an isolated case. All around us are situations of people struggling through ordeals they cannot find the right solution for. It’s no use saying it’s up to the professionals to deal with it. Can I spare the time to listen, to observe, and to be ready to help in whatever way I can? That dysfunctional neighbour who yells all the time may need someone to vent their feelings in a safe way. That annoying kid at school who taunts the others may be crying out for attention.
What if you’re the one crying out for attention? Please, I beg you, be aware, that you are not alone. The darkness in your heart that seems to overwhelm does not have to get the better of you. You do have strength to overcome, even if just one day at a time. I remember my own struggle where each day was a victory and I crossed it off my calendar as a sign that I had survived one more, that I had put off the decision to end it all for another 24 hours. Gradually, my circumstances changed and I no longer had to drag myself through the motions of being ‘normal’. I did feel better and I was able to laugh and look forward to life again.
If you feel absolutely at wit’s end, please speak to someone – a nurse, a doctor, a good listening neighbour, or the person at the library or the hairdresser. There are also phone counsellors like at Lifeline who can be confidential and can lead you in the right direction. But the best thing is to admit that you are freaking out and that you need someone to help you get through it without making a horrendous mistake. And if the person you speak to doesn’t seem to help at all, keep talking to people until you do get help. You can do it – you can survive.