My letter to Kelli Stapleton, my friend.

Dear Kelli,

I miss you. I miss seeing you pop up in my Facebook feed. I miss how much you love my Abby, I miss your encouragement in my writing, but most of all, I miss seeing you. I miss that smile as bright as your long blond hair. I miss your hope and enthusiasm for life. I miss your strength. I miss seeing how hard you fought and how much you cared. I miss you.

Kelli Stapleton

You. The real you. The you I knew before that September day, and, the you I know exists beyond that day. I don’t know what caused you get to that point, but, I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry that I didn’t know things had gotten so rough. I’m so sorry that I hadn’t checked in and had lost myself in my own cares and my own world. I’m sorry that so many people forced you into a place where silence was better than speaking your truth. Where the hurtful words lobbed at you as you sought care for your daughter were not met with more push back for me. I’m sorry I didn’t fight for you like you fought for Issy, even in the face of so many people being so unbelievably hurtful.

When the news came to me- it was an article gently sent by a caring friend- my first thought as I read the headline that a mom had tried to kill herself and her autistic daughter I saw the picture of you and Issy and thought, “Well, this news agency has the wrong picture here. There’s no way…” The room got really loud in its silence. I crumbled to the floor and put my hands over my ears and screamed, “GOD!” It was a prayer and a threat and swear word all in one. “No, no no no no no!” I wailed at the walls that seemed as if they were closing in on me. I felt Lance’s arms wrap around me as he lifted and carried me to my bed. I screamed and screamed. “If she can fall, what hope is there for the rest of us? If she could break who is safe? We’re not safe. No one is safe!”  I tell you this, not because I want to inflict any more pain than you are already dealing with, but because that moment was transformative for me.   In those awful hours as I tried to make sense of nonsense, I realized one tiny thing that has changed me in huge ways. You fought so hard for your daughter that there was seemingly little time or energy left to fight for yourself and your own needs.

I cannot condone what happened and there is nothing that will ever make it okay. I do not understand what happened at all. I was not there. I was not in your brain nor could I feel what you were feeling. Too many people think they can. They are wrong. But I want you to know that even in this awful tragedy, there has been some good. Kelli, last week I almost broke.  I lower than I have ever been.  The constant toll life takes wore through me.  I remembered the promise I made in the wake of September 3.  That I would take care of myself first so I can be able to take care of my children. I promised that I would ask for help and be completely honest no matter how much it hurt.  I promised that I would drop everything else the minute I felt myself tiring out. Again I found myself in the arms of my husband sobbing until I could hardly breathe.  I told him I needed help and that I needed him to stay with me until I felt better. I got help and he was with me until then.

I’ve thought about you a lot since then. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I weren’t so constantly vigilant of myself and of those around me. I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t promised myself and my husband that cold September day that I would not allow anyone to silence me.  I’m sorry that this had to happen to wake me up to the reality that parenting a special needs child is harder than any of us say out loud.  In writing about the reality since then, many have criticized me for being not as cheery as I used to be. That’s just not true. I’m just more honest. In that, others have found a voice in their own pain. So many people have told me that they’ve needed a safe place to say that it is hard and to reach out for help. People have sought help.

There are so many people who love and care for you. I can’t say that my feelings haven’t been terribly conflicted during these last months. I went from being lost in your pain to being angry at you to being at something that resembles some peace. I still ache for you and so much for your family. As I’ve come to realize that empathy doesn’t mean I condone what you did, I see that in the search for answers, I found some in myself.  I need to fight for my kids, but I need to fight for myself, too. I need to fight for parents who are told that they are wrong in their pain. Who are sold the lie that if they say it’s hard, they are saying that they don’t love their child for who they are.  I speak for myself and I speak for those parents who long to come to terms with a beautiful life that just isn’t as they had planned.

And I will speak for you, too. I will speak to the reality of how taxing it is to be a parent of special needs to anyone within the court system who will hear me. I want them to know that if it could break you, a giant among us, that it could break anyone. That the only way we are safe is if we are free to speak our truth to people willing to listen and to empathize.  We need support, we need understanding, and we need relief. I will work to find that for myself and others, and I will remember you as I do. I will remember your fighting spirit. I will remember how much you love Issy and how hard you fought for her.  I will fight.

I will love you until forever, nothing changes that.