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When the Worst Happens

by The Next Family July 20, 2011

By: Tanya Dodd-Hise

Being a mother and a wife was absolute heaven for me, despite some of the negative effects that erupted as a result.  I was happiest when everyone was at home where they were supposed to be –the oldest, pretty much grown son who had recently graduated high school, the younger boy who was ten going on thirty, the wife, the dog, and the two cats.  We had gone through nine months’ of a child custody suit with the boys’ father, and while it had been dropped, things were still not back to the friendly co-parenting that I had wanted so badly.  I had known that the opposing side had no case against me, other than that they just didn’t agree with my lifestyle, which they said on a regular basis.  But as 2009 rolled into 2010, and we clearly had no agendas of indoctrination for the boys, the lines of communication began to open back up between their father and me.  My wife, on the other hand, had not quite arrived at that place with him yet; it remained something I hoped for in the future.

As the summer of 2010 approached, we made plans for Noah to go visit his dad for the month of July.  We had never done this before, but he was entitled to that time and I wanted to make sure that he got it.  I had spoken to the boys’ father by phone on one occasion during the month of May, and he seemed to be experiencing some marital trouble with his new wife, and was concerned about Noah being around during what seemed like an unstable time.  I didn’t hear any more about it, and therefore didn’t know if things had gotten better or worse.

On July 4th, we made arrangements for Noah to come home early from his weekend with his dad so that he could go with us to see fireworks, and I could meet them at my mother’s for pickup.  Because Noah was going there to mow her lawn, it was perfect for me to pick him up there; it was also a good opportunity to maybe have a conversation and see where things stood for him and his wife.  I remember it so clearly because we stood outside of my mother’s and talked, like we had in years past as good friends, for an hour.  He expressed his concern for his wife, and how things had not been that happy as of late, and he didn’t know what to do.  I genuinely felt bad for him, because I remembered the joy that he felt after meeting and marrying her.  The behavior that he explained sounded like someone who maybe needed a little help, perhaps someone who was fighting against an unknown chemical imbalance.  My only words of wisdom or encouragement were to try and get her to go to a doctor and get some treatment, in hopes that some help could be found.  Noah and I left, we piled into the car with Erikka and headed to her parents’ for fireworks that evening.

The next day, July 5th, the boys’ dad called me in the afternoon as he drove around town aimlessly, telling me that his wife had asked him to leave and said she wanted a divorce.  I was shocked, but still convinced that there had to have been some sort of a condition behind it all.  I asked him where he was going, and he said that he didn’t know, because she had told him to leave while she packed up some things, and that he could stay in the house after she moved to her parents’ and until she figured out what to do with the house.  So I sent him to my mother’s once again, knowing that he would have a good meal and a room with a bed to sleep in, and that maybe he could go back and talk to her the next day.  I called Mom and she said of course he could come stay there, because after all, he would always be like a son to her.

My phone rang at 7 AM on Tuesday, July 6th.  It was my mother.  Something had to be wrong.

She had waited until seven to call me, but the initial call had come at about two in the morning at her house.  Ft. Worth police had called and summoned her sleeping guest back to his home immediately.  The worst had happened and his wife had taken her life, sending shockwaves rippling through multiple families.  I sat in bed, mouth hanging open and phone in hand, as Erikka bolted awake and asked what was happening.  When I relayed the information that I had, we both knew that I had to get up, get dressed, and get to Ft. Worth.  This was my friend, the father of my boys, and he was there dealing with a tragedy as it dropped like a house on top of him.  I raced over there, and was relieved that his sister and her husband had arrived from Oklahoma just before I did.  I greeted him with open arms, cried with him, and sat with him all day as he tried to make sense out of absolute senselessness.

The days that followed brought families together like I had never seen.  His family had not particularly cared for me in years past, as far as I could tell.  He didn’t particularly care for MY family.  My wife didn’t particularly care for him.  My best friend and attorney who represented me AGAINST him in the custody case didn’t particularly care for him.  But this tragedy brought together the most unlikely of pairings, and old hurts and animosities fell to the wayside.  We worked together to help Noah get through dealing with the death of one of his stepmothers – Dad, Mom, and Bonus Mom.  My wife (an attorney), and my best friend, worked with him over dinner to muddle through the legalities of the sudden loss.  My mother rode with the boys and I to New Mexico for the funeral, and we shared meals with family members that I had long since assumed I would not see again.  We offered help when help was needed, and we cried with those who wept over this tragic and senseless loss.  My boys stood side-by-side with their father, held his hand, and they comforted each other.  My wife and I were welcomed to family functions, and the rift that had nearly torn a family apart was strangely healing in the aftermath.

I didn’t know this woman very well, and my wife had only met her once or twice I think.  But she had been a stepmother to my children, and her death impacted both of them as well as their father.  So while it only remotely affected ME, it greatly and deeply affected people that we cared about.  In the end, I think that we all found out that it doesn’t matter that we have a same-sex marriage and are co-parenting with someone in a straight marriage.  Families are families, pain is pain, and love is love.  There isn’t time for petty foolishness because THIS is our family, and there isn’t time for tearing apart from within.  While it was a horrible tragedy that I wish had never happened, I think that it taught us all about acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciating those we have in our lives, right in front of us…every day.

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