06 May How My Family Fell Apart
Author’s name with held by request
On October 26th, 2013 a phone call changed my world forever and caused me to reevaluate just how much my family had been impacted by my parent’s divorce. “I have terrible news,” my father said–a phrase that would prove to be a gross understatement. The night before, my younger brother, who was only 16 years old, had committed suicide in my father’s home. Unfortunately the years leading up to his death were difficult, as my brother had been the center of a custody battle that caused him great distress.
My parents divorced when I was a toddler and my brother was just an infant. Through the years I felt confused as my father was framed as the ‘bad guy’, and I let myself believe this for a while until one day I decided to form my own opinion of my father. I have tried to be more open minded, and even though this decision created a greater bond with my brother, it sadly created distance between me, my sisters and mom. As in many divorce situations, I felt torn between family members.
Even though at the beginning my mother had custody of us, my father always wanted one or more of us to live with him. When my mother needed to move out of state, my father decided to fight for custody of my brother, claiming that all teenage boys need their father. Even though in theory I believe this to be true, part of me felt that perhaps it was pride that drove my father’s decision.
At the beginning of what I refer to as “the war,” my mom fought diligently for my brother as he had informed her that he wanted to live with her. Things slowed down for a little, but soon my dad fought for custody with much more vigor, which led to my brother deciding to give my dad a chance. This decision though changed things even more in my family as my mother felt betrayed because she had spent so much time, money and effort in fighting for custody of him, as that had initially been my brother’s desire. This escalated tense feeling among family members and unfortunately my brother had to deal with pressure from both sides as he knew that no matter what he did – he couldn’t win or please everyone.
When my dad came to pick him up after the custody settlement, my mother sent my brother with only the clothes he wore and flip flops on his feet. I think she meant it as a way to get at my dad, but I doubt my brother saw it this way. My brother was an example of how children can get caught in the crossfire of divorce. When I say that I know firsthand the heartache, pain, and suffering that can come from divorce, it’s because I have experienced it.
The morning that I got the “terrible news” from my dad, I nearly fell apart. Some may say my case is extreme, and I wish that were totally true, but a study conducted by Franklyn Nelson concluded that, “A study of teen suicides in California [that] found that in 52 percent of the cases investigated, the decedent’s parents were divorced or separated.” This study reveals perhaps depression and other unresolved issues that can occur in a divorced family.
Even though more studies need to be conducted to confirm the connection between suicide and divorce, it is clear that divorce is a key contributor to many serious social issues, including lower GPA’s, decrease in economic security, and increase in emotional distress which can be found in United Families International’s, “Divorce 100 Reasons Not To…”. Regrettably, I witnessed firsthand the impact of each of these areas in my family following the divorce.
I do not want such heartache and pain to be felt by other families. The negative impact on our family caused by the divorce and incredible loss that I felt upon hearing that my brother had committed suicide is something I would never wish on anyone. This experience though has given me the desire to speak up in behalf of the traditional family based upon a mother and father who are faithful to each other.
How can we do this?
One answer starts with a change in us. A change in me took place upon my brother’s death. I realized what selfishness and hatred could create, and the negative domino effect it can cause to family members. This is when I made my decision to forgive and to love. I knew holding a grudge will just add to the cycle. When I made this decision, I felt incredible peace.
What have I learned for my own marriage? I’ve learned to not be selfish. I do my best to not hold a grudge, but to instead put my energy into loving my husband and strengthening my marriage–a marriage which will one day welcome children who will live in a home full of love and acceptance.
Selfishness is something that I believe destroys families. In divorce, people can think of themselves and how hurt they are, while ignoring the hurtful things perhaps that they do. I recognize that divorce may be necessary for some individuals due to particular circumstances; however I tend to believe that many divorces are caused by selfishness.
What if society could let go of this mindset? What if we could stop thinking so much about ourselves and expand to think of others? What if we could think about the future children that will come into this world and what will be best for them? I for one have made it a personal goal to work to forgive more and be less selfish, so that on a smaller scale I can stop this trend in my own family. I invite you to do the same.
Name withheld by request.