Woman remembers father before suicide; looks to help others

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By Katie Carlson

I have one memory of my father. We are on a boat and the sun is out. My sister, Ali, is there and someone made us sandwiches that are cut in triangles instead of in half. I had on a swim suit that had Styrofoam all the way around the waist that was supposed to keep me bobbing in the water like a buoy. Ali’s swimsuit was red, mine was green. I am standing next to the captain’s chair eating my triangle peanut butter and honey sandwich; the grown-ups are talking about going off a rope swing. That’s it, my one memory.

My dad committed suicide in the most horrible of ways when I was 3 years old. He shot my mom and then shot himself; they were separated at the time. My sister and I were sleeping upstairs. He almost left us orphans. My mom survived; she had years of surgeries to follow. Surgeries to straighten her arm, to mend the nerves, to repair the bone and skin grafts. I remember the surgeries.

Last year in Missoula, two women were killed by their partners. Both of them had children. I think about those children often. I wish I could take the pain of that experience away from them, the judgment of others, the lack of understanding how to mourn a father and still be loyal to a mother. I wish I could tell them their lives won’t always be defined by this and that the people who act like it does are wrong. I wish I could tell them they will someday recover but it will still always hurt.

I currently serve on the board of the Missoula County YWCA. I serve in the hopes that at some point there won’t be any more kids like us. I hope that at some point we will know enough about chemical dependence, bipolar disorder, depression and witnessing domestic violence as children to stop another act of domestic violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A lot of times I think that people don’t want to be noisy, think they should mind their own business or are making a big deal out of nothing. Do it anyways. Know the signs: withdrawing from friends, unexplained bruises, name calling and put-downs by a partner. We need to take action, reach out to those whom we suspect may be subject to abuse, know what resources are available in our community and raise awareness so cycles of abuse won’t be repeated.

If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or the Missoula YWCA at (406) 543-6691 and their crisis line (406) 542-1944.