I don’t remember exactly what happened next. The wave of sadness, the confusion—the unexpected tragedy… it rushed over me.
My fog had just started. I don’t know if I sat down, fell down, laid down, or what I did—I just know I was suddenly on the ground right by Momma’s pampas grass.
She loved that plant so much. She had wanted one for so long and finally got it just a few years before, and it was beautiful. So full and healthy.
Momma had a green thumb, that was for sure. That pampas grass and me being on the ground at that moment was the last thing I remember after I heard the worst news I had ever heard in my life.
I wish I could have seen her when she first heard an angel’s voice. It is supposed to be a sound like we have never heard before, but for Momma so much more. No more buzzing or unpleasant ringing in her ears—just pure, pitch-perfect sound coming from trumpets, angels singing, and the swish of butterfly wings in the air.
Staring at the pampas grass in a daze, it could have been a few minutes later or more than a few—I really don’t know. One of the responders came up and asked if we could go to be with Daddy in the ambulance.
Daddy was lying on the stretcher. I bent over to hug him as he wailed: “I killed your mother. I killed her. I am so sorry. Oh, God, what have I done? I’m sorry I killed your mother. God damn, God damn, God damn!”
The words came fast, hard, and heavy. They were loaded with pain, shock, and gut-wrenching agony. The darkest, deepest, most lamenting words, moans, and screams.
Daddy hugged me hard. I remember my husband telling Daddy to stop saying he killed her—it was an accident. It was an accident.
The emergency responders said the accident happened at approximately 6:00 p.m. Sometime right around 5:30 p.m., Daddy had decided to go check his tractor’s battery. I had heard Daddy say for years: “If you leave a tractor too long without cranking it, it won’t start.”
Daddy continued to cuss and yell out: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Oh, God, what have I done?”
I knew what he was saying—he felt 100 percent responsible, but it wasn’t his fault. This was an accident. A tragic accident, the worst kind, the kind when you lose someone you love so deeply.
Oh, how I wish that damn tractor would never have started.
As Gale, the therapist, spoke softly, Daddy didn’t. I was familiar with both of their voices.
“Do you want to talk about what happened?” Gale Prompted.
“Yes, yes, I do,” Daddy replied. “I was worried that if I didn’t start those tractors the batteries would die. Once . . .”
Daddy went into the Farmer’s Almanac version of explaining tractors, batteries, and exactly how they all work or don’t. I leaned in closer, hugging the door to make a suction cup of my ear against the tunnel I made with the outer edge of my hand.
“Well, it had been a while, and I thought I would check out our old International Harvester 1468. I call it our ‘Big Red’ tractor. Sue didn’t have to go. I told her I could do it. She came with me and helped me a little to get up in the tractor seat. She held the battery while I cranked it, and it did—it cranked! Whew! We were both so happy it started. I couldn’t believe it started.
“There was a man interested in buying it just a few days before, and when we were over there, it wouldn’t crank. So we charged the battery and sure enough, it worked,” Daddy continued explaining.
I sat motionless on the floor, still cupping my ear so I didn’t miss a word. I couldn’t believe I was finally going to get answers to the questions my mind kept asking.
“Sue climbed back down. She turned around. Why did she turn around?”
Daddy began to sob. He moaned in the same hums and sounds I heard the night this happened.
“She turned around and handed me the battery box and all the cables that came out of the box and wires. She was handing them up to me. When I reached over to get them, I guess my left foot slipped off the clutch.”
Silence. Daddy stopped making any noise. Did they hear me outside the door? I was doing my best not to make a sound. I was putting a mouse to shame.
“She turned around. I reached down, and my foot slipped. I thought the tractor was in neutral, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t! It must’ve slipped into gear from the jostling of being on. It was in High-1. That’s the fastest gear, and you can’t stop it, boy. It happened so fast. It was so fast.”
Gale continued to listen, with occasional deep breaths. Daddy continued to tell it all. “It all happened so fast. I knew. I just knew I had killed her. I got down, but I knew. I went over to her.”
Daddy was sobbing and telling Gale exactly what happened. I knew he needed to tell someone.
“I’m so glad my girls didn’t see what I saw. I saw her there, dead. There was no doubt she was dead. I laid my head down on her chest. I just laid there with her, and Barney, our dog, came over sniffing and laid there with us.”
He left my sister and me a note. I never saw it during the chaos. The sheriff brought it to me a few hours later. I was upset that I didn’t see the note first.
I wanted to be the one who saw everything this time. I needed to control something in the situation. Often our feelings of anger or jealousy are just our attempts at keeping control when everything around us is the opposite. When we do this, we are protecting ourselves from the unknown, the unthinkable, the unimaginable.
I grabbed it from the sheriff’s hands and turned away from everyone. As their eyes followed me, I began to read it. Daddy’s handwriting was similar to that of a serial killer’s.
I had self-published two short stories for Daddy over the past several years, and I told him that was one of the most difficult tasks I had ever faced. I would often text Momma and send her a picture of a word, waiting for Daddy to let us know what it was.
The funny thing is, Daddy didn’t know half the time. “My handwriting is getting so bad that I can’t even read it.” His chicken-scratch, quickly jotted down notes, and scattered stories across his desk were familiar topics for us to all laugh about.
Daddy had preached many suicide deaths over the years. He knew it would be important for law enforcement to know he was responsible for this, and no one was to blame. He was a very smart man who never stopped thinking of others.
Even in a time when he was about to do the most unselfish and incomprehensible of all things, he thought of leaving us a note.
I still refer to Daddy’s death as “the accident” because it happened only because of the accident on Monday, July 29, 2019, in which Momma died. I tell myself that Daddy committed “Sue-icide” because he needed to be with his Sue, Momma. And they are together again, after three long years, and the love remains.
I treasure his final note. I keep it in a place where all my special things are, and in that place deep inside the smallest corner of my heart. There are still a few words that I cannot decipher, but I will never stop trying. I will never stop trying to read every single last word he wrote.
It means the world to me. They were Daddy’s last words, his last thoughts, and his last written letter. I often tell people that God can give you more than you can handle, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still part of his plan. It is.
This is an adapted excerpt of Theo Boyd’s My Grief Is Not Like Yours: Learning to Live After Unimaginable Loss, A Daughter’s Journey, published by Forefront Books.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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