As we approach the 5 year anniversary of my son-in-law Rob’s death, I reflect mostly on how his decision has affected the lives of his two daughters, Sam and Emma.
Suicide has been described as ‘a permanent solution to a temporary problem,’ and oh how permanent it is.
I will never forget that day. I am sure the girls will never forget the emotions they felt when they learned that their dad was gone. Their entire family surrounded them that day and although their Mom, grandparents, uncles and family friends were with them, we’ve since learned that they felt totally abandoned.
Even after several years of professional therapy for both of the girls, our family experienced a similar tidal wave of emotions when Sam told her mom “I want to die.” Her Mom knew immediately that it was time to seek the help of psychiatric professionals, this time at Cincinnati Children’s and with the help of the team at the College Hill campus.
During the time that Sam was working hard to recover and learn about her diagnosed illnesses, the rest of our family was recovering and learning too.
Over the past five years, both of the girls have grown in so many ways.
Sam, as I have written about here and here, has found her voice. She and I founded a non-profit called Rob’s Kids, Inc., that provides support – in the form of funds and supplies – for other children who are receiving care at the College Hill Campus of Cincinnati Children’s, where Sam found the miracle she needed to go on with her life.
But, I have not shared how Rob’s death and Sam’s illness affected our Emma, Sam’s younger sister.
Emma was only 7 when her Daddy died. She was very quiet about it and still is for the most part. She clung to her Mom and to me for a long time after it happened But we’ve never mistaken her clinginess as weakness.
She has been the giver and never the taker, making her sister’s needs her priority. The first time Sam was admitted to Cincinnati Children’s, there was a flu epidemic going around and even though Emma was only a few days from 11 years old, the rule in the hospital would not allow Emma to see Sam because she was too young. You could see the worry and heartbreak in her eyes as we sat quietly in the waiting room that night.
Emma’s life changed again on the day that Sam was hospitalized…she didn’t know at the time how much.
Sam could not be alone anymore. She could not come home from school alone, get on the bus alone or even walk to a friend’s house alone. Their mom hired a Nanny who would pick the girls up after school activities, be at home when they got off of the bus and be there in the morning to put them on the bus, after she left for work.
But even though the nanny was a great supervisor and companion, only Emma and their mom could assess Sam’s emotional stability. Most days, after school phone calls between Emma and their mom sounded like a normal conversation between any mom and daughter. But when she and her mom had that “not so normal” conversation, Mom didn’t have to spell it out for her, her response said it all:
Mom: “Hi Emma, how was your day?”
Mom: “How is your sister today?”
Emma: “I made sure she took her medicine when she came in and I made her a snack. She is a little depressed and down today Mom, she had a bad day at school, she is in her room and doesn’t want anyone to talk to her, I will keep checking on her,” Mom “thank you Emma, I love you. Can I talk to the nanny?”
Emma had become the “Guardian Angel” that Sam needed. Emma has always been able to sense the feelings of those around her, many times leaving us amazed at her quiet wisdom, and her after-school assessments of her sister’s emotional wellbeing were so important to their mom.
The fact is, Emma grew up in a hurry. She was the only person at that time that could bond with Sam and read her like a book. She knew things about Sam’s responses, her body language, her habits and mostly her tone of voice that would alert her to report to their mom what was going on. She was also smart enough to know when not to talk to Sam (after all they are still sisters!) and how and when to motivate Sam.
Now, 5 years later, the response to simple questions that Emma is asked are all still centered around the needs of her sister. After hearing a conversation between Sam and her mom about the cost of her band/guard program, chorus costs, field trips, etc. in high school, Emma went to her Mom and said, “Mom, please don’t buy me anything this year for Christmas, I don’t need anything and you can use the money for Sam’s school stuff.” Emma in her own young wisdom, senses that if Sam is doing what she loves, she will love life and Emma won’t lose her.
Emma received everything she wanted and more for Christmas and of course we always make sure that Emma is doing what she loves too. She is active in gymnastics, chorus, speech & debate and has been taking horseback riding lessons. Emma and I have a date night frequently. We shop or do ceramics, have dinner out and just talk. I have entered the world of texting and she and I have late night “love you’s”. She loves pigs and she is getting quite the collection. Every time I see one that is unique I have to pick it up just to let Emma know that I think about her all the time. She is a part of what we do with Rob’s Kids, Inc., and we couldn’t do it without her.
While Emma helped me prepare for our February fundraiser for Rob’s Kids, we talked about doing presentations. Emma shared what she wrote about Sam:
“Have you ever had anyone in your life that was just so special, but you didn’t think about it until you almost lost them? I have. My sister Sam is that person for me. Sam has been on T.V. and in the newspapers. But one thing though, that is not even half of Sam. Sam has so many personalities that people just don’t realize, they are all wonderful but I want to tell you about the rest.
This is my sister 360.
Side 1 = Sam is so awesome, behind everything she does is her strength. She is ready to tackle anything at any time, not just a typical teen.
Side 2 = She has her hobbies: in color guard, Sam is graceful, beautiful and a mature girl.
Side 3 = Rob’s Kids shows the beautiful, awesome woman and the best sister anyone could ever have.
I wonder sometimes how one person could have so many awesome personalities and wonderful features. God made Sam that way. He didn’t make one mistake or anything that should be changed.
I love her and that is my sister – Sam 360.”
Yes Emma’s life has changed and as she grows in her relationship with her sister and all those who are lucky enough to know her, I will always see the “Guardian Angel” and beautiful, loving, caring young woman that is blooming inside and outside. I couldn’t be more proud of my Emma.
All of us at Rob’s Kids encourage you to learn what you can about depression, PTSD and recognizing the signs that someone is considering ending their own life. Help is available and we’d like everyone to know where to find it.
Stephanie Potter aka Grandma!