Not on the same day a tragedy occurs. Not now when friends and family are reading your troll-ish, shit stirring comments below the news articles which by the way got all the facts wrong and leave me shaking my head wondering if reporters do any fact checking at all. You want to talk about gun rights do it on your own time. Do it on your own blog, your own Facebook page or keep your evil to yourself. A child is dead, our friend is dead and he is not a trophy for you to use for your personal cause against guns.
No one who knew Shawn Kilker is surprised that he killed a relative and then killed himself. No one can get their head around whose life he took before he took his own. No one can believe that he shot his own son Keith. Not so hard to believe for those of us who work in domestic violence, sexual assault and child protection. Not for those of us who can smell an unstable personality from miles away. We know all too well that yes, yes they will kill their children and sometimes do. Yes, yes they will kill their wives and sometimes do. Yes it’s true they valued them and called them “the apple of their eye” but that was before Mother had enough and was leaving. That was before shit got real when the cops showed up with a warrant. That was before desperation set in and the need to destroy overrode the need to love.
Tonight we stood in a park in Keenesburg, Colorado (a town we just recently moved from but maintain ties to) with candles to say goodbye to Keith Dean Kilker Cowboy as he called himself as a child. The same park where I walked my dog the last day of her life. The same park where my husband and I watched our first amazing fireworks show together, where we walked at night to play on the swings like kids and where we celebrated his birthday and we all discovered the cheese I had used in the chili was spoiled.
In the park now my husband sobbed for his lost “lil Keith” that he will never take fishing again or laugh at for wearing cowboy boots with shorts or grab a soda for as they work on an engine together. Lil Keith who he will never hand money to for a job well done in the yard or plowing snow.
Tonight we watched 14 candles glowing on a table, one for each of his years on this earth and we cried. We listened to friends and his sister tell us that his last day was a good one, that he was happy and that he freely chose to stay with his quickly unraveling Father as they were sent from the house. Perhaps like all sons he thought he could save his father Shawn Kilker. Perhaps like all children he had loyalty to someone that didn’t deserve it. I don’t know why he stayed, I just wish so hard that he hadn’t.
The preacher in the park said to look around at how many hearts had been touched by Keith’s short life. Keenesburg, CO is a very small town and everyone does almost literally know everyone else. You really couldn’t live there and not know Keith even if he had never been in your house swiping sodas and snacks. Even as I was driving into town tonight I caught myself looking for him to go whipping across the railroad tracks on his bike as more than once I’d had to dodge him there. There were a lot of people in the park tonight. A lot of hearts broken by this loss.
Keith cracked me up with his total lack of self-consciousness. I dropped some clothes off for his sisters once and he had two of the sweaters on before I could even get them out of the car. He thought they were cool so he wore them and didn’t care one bit that they were girls clothes. Keith would eat anything in the house that wasn’t nailed down and he wasn’t shy about asking. He was so damn cute that you couldn’t deny his big eyes anything. He would come over and pet our fat dogs and talk sweetly to them years ago before they died then he would head out back to find my husband so they could go fishing or work on something together. He later would come by and cuddle our cat Grit since she had lived at his house for a week or so when we all first found her as an abandoned feral kitten. While she scratched most of us being a temperamental tortie I don’t believe she ever scratched him.
He was sensitive and creative something his father frequently ridiculed him about. As he got older we could see him start to drift into areas that teenagers shouldn’t and I worried about him. I worried when he would come over mad and talk about things that happened at home. I hoped that his sports, his friends, mother and sisters would hold him steady through his adolescence. Almost 24 hours ago now his father made sure that he would never have one.
People shared stories of Keith while his family, wrestling, football and baseball teammates openly grieved and I watched the sun set. I listened to my husband choking on tears. I watched the people who used to be our neighbors wipe away sadness. I watched our friends, huge tattooed men, share their pain for a lost child killed by a lost soul.
I seethed in anger over knowing that Keith was gone forever, over knowing that Shawn would one day do something violent again but never expecting this and over knowing that as hard as we try sometimes we just can’t make a difference. This was not about gun ownership, a background check would never have stopped Shawn from owning guns and would not have stopped his chronic and self-medicated mental instability.
Through my own frustrated tears I stared at the sky’s fading light while birds winged into the trees to settle down for sleep. They were going home for the night. Going home is how I have to think of wherever Keith is now or my heart will explode and my throat will howl the sounds of agony and wasted life for a thousand years.
I hope he wasn’t afraid. I hope whatever happened in that house as his world so rapidly came undone happened fast so that he did not suffer. I hope that he knew how loved and cherished he was by the people he was forced to leave behind.
I hope most of all that I will see him again when it’s my turn to go.
I am starting to think as a culture and a country we are suffering from complicated grief. We don’t seem to get over things anymore much as someone who has been hit time after time by life gets to a place where stuck-ness and sadness and rage become a constant state of existence.
We lack rituals for transitions unless you count sports events and I don’t. We don’t acknowledge that our children going from our laps to their peers hurts. The little girl who you used to take with you everywhere becomes a teen who hates you. It’s temporary but the little girl is gone and you must find something to love in this new creature giving you the finger. Saying goodbye to the younger child can be critical to forming a new relationship with a teen and then an adult and then a newlywed, etc.
Much time when I was still a therapist was spent helping parents acknowledge the sadness underneath their anger. Acknowledging that the 8 year child is gone and missed and this 14 year old isn’t much fun usually shifted everything to more solutions and less complaining. Rituals of saying goodbye and mourning the change helped immensely. Read the rest of this entry