BY JENNIFER KAGAN-VIATER
Tomorrow marks three weeks since Keira’s death. It doesn’t get any easier. The pain is searing, gnawing and all encompassing. The mornings and nights are the worst. I wake up, sometimes forgetting what has happened and for a few moments, life is happy again and peaceful. In my thoughts, I am ready to wake Keira up for the day and tell her, as I usually did, “time to wake up and get ready for school.” She would immediately go back to sleep, a teenager well before her years. I would have to open the blinds and nudge her gently a few times to wake up. And then it hits me like a ton of bricks – Keira is dead. There is no one to wake up and certainly no car ride to school. No Flinstone gummy, Vitamin D drop, lunch made or knapsack packed. No morning routine. It is the absence of a little girl’s laughter and exuberant presence that Phil and I feel constantly.
There are often days when, outside of conscious awareness, I look over at one of her belongings, a picture, a sparkly piece of jewelry, a unicorn robe, and I forget, thinking that Keira is just going to burst through the door like the force that she was and claim what is hers. And then it hits me. Again. And Again. Like the patient with dementia who is told over and over that she is dying and she must prepare for next steps, and over and over she forgets, and has to absorb the enormity of the news once again. So too this happens with me, with the news of Keira’s death, albeit to a lesser degree. Grief is like that. Grief is also like a game of whack a mole – a friend of my mom’s advised. You manage to conquer one aspect of it and then it pops up in a whole new, unanticipated place. This analogy is very true.
My nights are filled with thoughts about what could have been. Fifth and sixth birthday parties, learning to ride a bike in the summer, learning to swim, loss of a first tooth, growing into adolescence, smiles, laughter, tears. Phil and I know that we will watch the cohort of her friends grow older, as children should, and know that our daughter Keira never will. We spent the duration of our car ride yesterday wondering what Keira would have looked like when she was older. How would she have grown into herself? She is four and frozen in time. As a mother, this pains me more than I can ever articulate. The fact that Keira was taken from us suddenly is even more problematic, because I did not have the opportunity to cherish those last days, those last moments…to look at her sweet little innocent face one more time knowing I would never gaze eyes on it again. All the wishes and longings that I had for my daughter I can only express here, because one can’t turn back time. It was all malevolently taken from her, and from me.
The death of a child is probably the worst thing that can happen to a parent. Add to that the sudden and violent nature of it and you end up with a perfect storm for complicated grief.
And on top of all of this is the anger and pain about the fact that this could have been prevented. My mind goes back to the January 28 court appearance before Justice Macpherson where both my ex-husband and I were given what I call “the speech.”… “What is the one thing that you can do to make life better for Keira?” the Judge said. For me, this has turned into a question of what could I have done differently so Keira would still be alive today? I wrack my brain in retrospect…..What could I have done? Not hand her over to her father – but no , then I am an “alienator” and the Court removes Keira from my care… Criticize me for what? – for handing her over to her father each and every time, for never saying a harsh word about him to her, for deciding not to watch my child suffer silently? For trying to protect her from someone I knew was a genuine psychopath and who caused her serious emotional harm, and ultimately physical harm? Perhaps the Court should have asked itself what it should have done to protect this child.
The murder of Keira was my ex husband’s ultimate revenge for leaving him (how dare I?) . He will decide when and if I see Keira and he has decided that I wont. EVER. AGAIN. He controls the child, not me, don’t I know that? An object she is. A mere possession. He knew that he would successfully cause me and my family a lifetime of pain. This is my punishment. He gives my father the head nod. Told you so.
Our court file is littered with evidence of him using our daughter as a tool to harm me. For what could possibly cause a loving parent more distress than the distress of his or her own child? He did not feel emotions, but he sure knew how to cause them in me. Forceful separations, disobeying the court order, neglecting to return Keira, causing her to lose her sense of security, abducting her for over a week when she was one year old and still breastfeeding. But there is nothing that could harm a loving parent more irreparably than the traumatic and violent death of his or her own child, who is loved, truly loved, from the bottom of my heart.
I have so much more to say about this but for now I direct my efforts to change. This cannot happen to one more innocent child. There needs to be change for children like Keira. For children like Chloe and Aubrey Berry and Riya Rajkumar, among many others. I have been reading articles about parental filicide (yes, there is actually, awfully, a term for when a parent does the unimaginable and kills their own child) and similar patterns present themselves over and over. There are mothers who commit filicide and fathers who commit filicide and differing patterns for each. There were many warning signs here, but they were ignored. I believe that all Judges and all mental health professionals involved in child custody evaluations need mandatory training on domestic violence including coercive control to prevent filicides from happening to children caught in the crossfire of family court.
Thank you to the people who have supported us during our time of immense grief and who help me to remember Keira every day. I write as a means of catharsis, and more importantly as a means to raise awareness about this problem, to prevent one more child from going through a similar fate to Keira.
Please read more about Keira and the fight for justice for her and children like her: