My Turn: Murder-suicide took a toll on my family but didn’t destroy it
On June 26, 2001, my family experienced one of those most awful events, that, if we thought about it, would have said, “I could never get through it.”
Over in the small town of Hillsboro, on a very warm summer afternoon, the peace and quiet of our neighborhood was shattered by two gunshots.
My husband and I had shared a duplex with my daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters. We lived there for 10 years, and shared a congenial and happy relationship. Over the recent months, however, there had been some friction between the men.
My daughter and I chose to look past it, certain that it would pass. The young family decided it would be best for them to move and had made plans to do so. My husband was crushed. I understood their need to make their own decisions, even if it meant their leaving. He felt betrayed.
On the morning of June 26, Bill and I received our tickets for a trip to the Azores and Madeira, something we had been looking forward to. That same morning, he made a trip to Morse’s Sport Shop in Hillsboro, and was able to walk in and buy a gun and ammunition and bring it home. I never knew anything about it until afterward. Except for him being a little withdrawn and complaining about the heat, I really don’t remember anything that would make me suspicious.
I went to work that afternoon on a private duty job for the VNA. There followed a number of small personal events that afternoon that left me puzzled and uneasy.
Then, at around 6, I got a call to hurry to Concord Hospital. That was all I was told and yet I knew that it was very bad news. The ER doctor spoke briefly, telling me that Bill had shot himself in the head. He would, if he lived, be blind. He wanted to do the right thing and operate, cleanse the wound, and I couldn’t understand why they would even want to do that if he had wanted to take his own life.
Then the call came from the Hillsboro police: I needed to be transported there for questioning. There was a cruiser waiting outside.
All this time I hadn’t heard a word from any of my children. When I arrived there, I saw them outside huddled close for comfort. After about 45 minutes of intense questioning, I was allowed to join the family and that was when I found out that Bill had killed my son-in-law before attempting to take his own life.
The children were crying, one was angry and my daughter was weeping hopelessly. On the way back to my other daughter’s home in Chichester, we made a stop at Concord Hospital to get my car and to see Bill, who was in ICU on a ventilator. These are times when everything stops and then slides into slow motion.
My newly widowed daughter and I were at his bedside when he died. Everything from here on seemed to move at a snail’s pace.
All of my priorities were focused on my daughter and the girls, who were 11 and 13. That night, my other daughter opened her home in Chichester for us. The next day, we were finally able to return to a family home that would never again be the same.
Over the next days we had to contend with calling relatives, planning funerals, making ridiculous decisions. We even took it upon ourselves to clean up the blood that covered the garage floor. It seemed there were just some things we had to do ourselves.
I will say here that the worst part of this period was dealing with the media. I kept the chain-link gate at the end of the driveway closed, and every day another reporter would be stalking back and forth, waiting for a story. And the news they were able to glean came from neighbors, who had never spoken with us and didn’t have any idea who we were. We waded through the heavy summer heat, keeping busy with anything that would get us away from the house.
We camped on Cape Cod and went to the beach a lot. Through all of this, I never really cried. I found that odd since my normal response to tragedy is to cry.
Summer rolled into fall, the girls went back to school and on Sept. 11, my daughter and I both watched the horror unfold, and we agreed that we were grieving only two losses and the world was, at that moment, grieving for thousands. It somehow changed our perspective and lightened our burden.
The following Memorial Day, I was in the backyard turning over sod for my garden when I heard the veterans service going on across the street.
I heard them leave and a quietness settled over the neighborhood. A few minutes later I heard the haunting strains of “Amazing Grace” played on bagpipes. I wandered up to the sidewalk and leaned on the fence to listen to one lone bagpiper complete with kilt, and the tears came at last.
I cried as if I was ripping my heart out, and I cried for a long time. There was not another soul around, and that was as it should be. I was at last cleansed.
All of this, of course, just scratches the surface of the whole story.
I will be forever grateful to the wonderful people of the Chichester Methodist Church who were the ones who drew me back into the fold. Without their support and prayers, I sincerely doubt I would be here to write this. The thing that amazes me is that after 13 years, we are still a whole family.
We attend functions together, we play together, do all of the things we did before. The “boys,” as I like to think of them, left huge holes in our lives. We have spent the years since filling them back up with caring, memories, unanswered questions and always love for each other. We have learned that tragedy does not have to be the undoing but rather a strengthening and powerful healing.
I like to say there is strength in adversity.
(Nanci Aguiar lives in Franklin.)