We do not determine when it is our time to go.
The Creator decides.
I discovered this truth on a December winter’s evening that will forever be etched in my mind.
After a long day of work, I entered my home, hoping to see my three kids before they left for their two-hour drive to visit with their Aunty Linda. Although I was sorry that I had missed them, I took comfort in the fact that they wouldn’t be driving in the dark.
In their absence, the house felt empty. My wife, Barb, shared this feeling. A few minutes later the phone rang. Barb answered, and as I settled into my chair in the living room, she spoke from the kitchen. ‘Frank, Al and Vye have invited us over for supper. Do you want to go?’
‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘It will be too quiet here without the kids.’
In that moment, I had no idea how prophetic that statement would be. Little did I know that it would be that quiet in our home for the rest of our lives.
After supper, the four of us were still gathered around the table, drinking coffee. Barb and I were conscious of the time—we wanted to get home because the kids were going to phone us to let us know they had arrived safely. Vye insisted that we drink just one more cup before we left, and reluctantly, we agreed.
Not more than two minutes later, there was a sudden knock on the door.
From where I was sitting, I could look through the window and see the steps that led up to their front door. I immediately had an uncomfortable feeling as I watched the two officers approach the front door. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Vye rose from the table and opened the door.
Two police officers entered the house. I recognized one of the officers, Brian, as Barb used to work with him. Barb pushed back her chair and quickly made her way to the door. I turned my chair in their direction and observed their exchange.
Brian immediately took off his hat and seemed uncomfortable.
‘What’s going on, Brian?’ Barb asked with concern.
‘Mrs. Badger,’ he paused. His formal address was out of character, as he usually called her Barb.
‘There has been an accident involving a 1991 red Hyundai.’
My heart sank.
Barb screamed, ‘My kids. My kids!’ There was panic in her voice as she began to pace frantically around the front entrance. ‘Which hospital were they taken to? How bad were they hurt?’
Brian’s gaze fell to the floor, and he quietly said, ‘There were no survivors.’
Time froze. I felt my entire body begin to shake.
‘What? What are you saying, Brian?’ Barb demanded.
Brian repeated himself. ‘All occupants in the car are deceased.’
I didn’t understand. That very morning, I had been surrounded by all my beautiful children. How could this have happened? At ages fourteen, fifteen, and seventeen, they still had their entire lives ahead of them. These three children were my entire life.
The pain that followed was unspeakable.
Barb and I grieved over the loss of our children, and complete devastation took over.
I remember one day, Barb approached me and said, ‘I am really hurting today, Frank. Today I am going to drink.’ She was completely broken.
Four times after their accident, Barb drank. I looked after her each time. I always knew that my children would make sure that I survived so that I was able to look after their mother.
It would have been easy for me to go back to the bottle to drown my pain. However, my children were the reason that I turned my entire life around in the first place. I quit drinking when my baby girl was six months old. My oldest son was two, and my youngest was still in her mom’s belly. I realized that if I didn’t change my life, my kids were going to go through the same damn thing that I did growing up.
As a residential school survivor, I still feel the hurt, rejection, and abandonment from those years. I grew up knowing the world of addictions all too well, and I wanted a better life for my own children. Even though they were no longer here, I did not want to disappoint them by going back to that lifestyle.
When my three children came into my life, they changed me. And they changed my life again when they left. They left me in shambles. I quickly discovered, though, that the alcohol was not my struggle. It was the loss itself that I fought.
I needed to stay busy those first few months, and I immersed myself in my work. I was on the road a lot, and when I returned to my hotel, I would pull the drapes tight and turn off all of the lights. Lying on my bed, I would close my eyes and think about the kids as hard as I could. I would open my eyes, hoping and wishing that they would be there and I could see them again. I missed them so much.
It quickly became evident that I needed to do something with my pain.
It was suffocating me.
I tried talking to Barb, but she wasn’t much help. She was going through the same pain as me. However, she didn’t just think about suicide, she tried suicide. Thankfully, the Creator stepped in each time and gave her the strength to carry on. It wasn’t her time to go.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about suicide, because I thought about it a lot. I know that my beliefs surrounding this helped me to stay here. The way Native people look at suicide is that if you act on it, the Creator doesn’t take you until you reach the age that you were supposed to die. For example, if you take your life early, there is a big gap where you just hang around until the Creator takes you home. Maybe it is just a myth, but I am not willing to take the chance. I want to die of natural causes and be reunited with my kids when I die.
In an effort to deal with some of my pain, I began opening up to some of my friends. I also began meeting with the Elders. I asked them, ‘What can I do to not get rid of the feelings, but rather to get control of my feelings?’
We started talking about spirituality, and about some of the medicines like sweet grass and sage. I began attending sweats, and slowly, over time, I started to get a hold of my pain.
I found that what helped me the most was talking about my kids. People would ask me, ‘Are you the guy that lost all your kids?’ The more I talked, the more I healed. Now, it’s not like you are going to talk today and bang, you are fixed tomorrow. It is a process—a life-long process. Sometimes I feel as though I am never going to be finished grieving, because even today I still cry for my kids.
When I look at healing, I use the analogy of a sliver. If a sliver goes into your finger, it hurts like crazy. If you don’t look after that sliver, what happens to your finger? It starts to become infected. The same thing happens when we don’t deal with our issues, and they become buried within us. When you remove the sliver, and you start to look after it, it starts to get better. This is what happened to Barb and I when we started to talk about our issues.
It was this understanding that motivated me to deliver workshops about grief and loss with Barb by my side. Together, we carry our message across the entire country. When we first started these workshops, I couldn’t go five minutes without crying when I talked about my kids. I broke down right in front of everyone. Yet, as time progressed, it became easier to talk. Sometimes I am able to get through the entire workshop without crying, and other times just listening to my wife talk about the kids makes me break down.
My motivation to tell my story is for all of the children in this world.
I have seen too many kids suffer because their parents were drinking or fighting. My message is the same in every workshop: our children are very precious. When I talk about my kids, I am speaking as an advocate for all children. Hope, to me, is seeing children who are loved and happy.
I also believe in education. I always told my kids, come hell or high water, they would get an education. My daughter wanted to become an architect, my youngest boy wanted to become a lawyer, and my oldest boy wanted to be an RCMP officer. I always told them they could achieve those goals. It is so important for children to believe in themselves.
I have been to hell and back twice. The first time was when I was ripped out of my mom’s arms for residential school, and the second time was the loss of my kids. Twenty-one years later, it still feels like yesterday. Not one day has gone by where I haven’t thought about my kids. They are always there.
Despite my challenges, though, I can honestly say that life is good. Don’t get me wrong, it would be so much better if they were here with me. But they are not, and I know that I need to keep living my life. I always say the world will not stop just because my kids are gone. Life goes on, and I have to as well. I am not always sad, but there are days that I still cry.
I always attribute my sanity to my sobriety. If I wasn’t sober, I know that I would have gone crazy. Had I started drinking, I would have been the next one to go. But I knew that my children were up there watching me. I did not want them to think, ‘Dad never drank when we were alive, why is he drinking now?’ My kids are the ones that push me to persevere. They are the ones that told me I was not done with my life. They were done with theirs, and that is why the Creator came for them. They came here and finished what had to be done, and then the Creator took them home.
I have always been known to fight challenges, but I have never looked at this as a challenge. I look at it as love for my kids, and I can still love them even though they are gone. My children have my heart, and I know they would want me to keep going. They have made me so proud, and I know that they are also proud of me.
When I tell my story now, I see that I am able to really reach people. I have seen how my painful experience can motivate adults to be better parents. That is a gift my children are still giving to others through me, and I am most grateful to them for that.
* Frank’s story is an excerpt
from Allan’s latest book: