As many people know McKenna passed in my mothers pool while I was studying for finals at home. What many don't know is that my mother and I have a very long and complicated history. Growing up she struggled with many addictions and unfortunately I was a witness and victim to many of her inner demons. For as long as I can remember I have tried to help my mom move in a positive direction. Show her patience, love, and acceptance. There have been many up's and downs in our relationship but a lot of growth too. In the last few years I began to see her finally pulling away from some of her problems and start to mature. There was still a lot of work to be done but big accomplishments were made and I was very happy with that. I love my mom very much but if anyone has ever been in a situation like this they understand how exhausting it can be to constantly feel responsible for your own parent. No matter how far they come along, in the end you are still having to help them instead of them help you and it can wear you down.
My sister cut off my mom almost 3 years ago, she could no longer handle all the problems. She said her peace to my mom and in return was cut off by the entire family. I have an extremely close bond with my sister. 1 because she is my big sister and endured many of those trials right next to me and 2 because she raised me. She mothered and loved me the way I should have been even though she didn't have that for herself. She looked out and protected me as a small child, teaching me right from wrong down to what TV shows I was allowed to watch and forcing me to do homework. I had very conflicting emotions when she walked away from the family. Part of me knew that she had every right to leave, we had both been through enough and she had her own family to take care of. She had done her service and proven her patience with not much to show for it. The other part of me felt uncomfortable with walking away from "family". You can't just walk away from family no matter how terrible they are right? You stick it through and try to better them. Isn't that why God gave us difficult family so we could learn from their mistakes and learn to work through problems together? I began to feel an even deeper responsibility to take care of my mom. I thought to myself "If you leave who will make sure mom doesn't go off the deep end? I mean look how far she's come!" Because of this and my unhealthy habit of always trying to avoid confrontation I chose to keep her in my life even though it hurt to watch the whole family decide that if my sister wouldn't talk to mom, none of them would speak to her, her son, or her husband. So with that she lost a mother and step father, a grandmother, an aunt and a uncle, her cousins, and half of her heritage.
I never thought I would leave my mom. I had this strong belief that if I just continued to show her all the love I had I could help her fill the empty void in her life that drove her to do such selfish things. I became so accustomed to some of her behaviors that I never noticed how messed up the whole situation was until recently after McKenna's death. A lot of people (including my mom) are under the assumption that I stopped talking to her because McKenna drowned in her pool on her watch. That actually has NOTHING to do with it. When I showed up at the hospital and discovered what happened that day the first words out of my mouth were "I don't want to hear anyone bad mouth my mom. I don't know why this happened but gossiping and slamming her isn't going to bring McKenna back.". I never touched the topic again. I have zero resentment towards her when it comes to McKenna's death. The reason I had to walk away were for all the actions that transpired afterwards.
Emotions were high as everyone was grieving their own way. I was having a difficult time grieving because I was constantly worried that my mom was going to do something crazy. Everyday was a new drama and a new struggle. I would go to bed at night talking about her and how exhausted I was. I would never even bring up McKenna. All of my attention was on my mom. My husband even called her, without my knowledge, and asked her not to lean so heavily on me for support. He told her that she was more then welcomed to talk about her feelings to him. The first thing she did was call me and get upset that Zach told her that. Every time I would open up and start talking about McKenna to her, we would end up spending double the time talking about her and how deeply she was hurting. I remember one time her sentence started with "I know your hurting because of course she is your daughter, but I was there and had to witness everything so... blah blah blah" I didn't hear what she said after that, I just kind of zoned out the way I always do when she says selfish things like that and doesn't even notice how terribly painful it is for others to hear. Like I said before, I had become very accustomed to this lifestyle. Surprisingly, this also is not the reason I walked away from my mom. Although I was tired and stressed I knew with time we could all pull through this, I just had to hold on.
While all of this was going on the real world was checking on us as well. McKenna's hospital payments were coming up along with the terrifyingly expensive counseling. Although my mom and her husband had offered to pay for the hospital bills unfortunately that would not even begin to help with the expenses of having to put 3 people in counseling every week, plus gas, and all the other stresses that come along with death. So I did what no person on the face of the earth ever wants to do and decided I was going to approach my mom about filing a claim with her insurance since McKenna drowned under her supervision and in her pool. I tried to file it on my own insurance but since I was not there nor was it on my property, they refused and clearly stated that it was not going to happen. I knew this was going to be ugly. My family takes money very seriously and they do not ever grant you money unless they are 110% ok with it. I talked to so many people before I decided to approach her because I wasn't sure if what I was doing was right and this was definitely one thing I didn't want to screw up. I was not surprised when there were not many people who had been in my exact situation and even if they were, this is the part that no one ever talks about! This is the ugly truth that we all have to deal with but hate to say out loud because who wants to talk about money when there is a dead child involved!
Although many people had not lost someone due to a tragic event, many had people get hurt on their property, in their pool, car, house, etc and without the injured person even having to ask them they filed a claim all on their own with their insurance and that was that! It was no big deal! They just said "that's why I pay for insurance, so when something happens, I'm covered!" I was shocked by this. I didn't fully understand how insurance worked in this type of situation. For some reason I felt like maybe my mom would get in trouble due to filing a claim but it ended up that was not true either. I mean, of course the price would go up for a little while but that was it. I knew this would be a very sensitive topic so I fasted and prayed about what to say, to make sure I could see from her perspective, and to have an open mind.
The first time we went to talk about it the conversation went down hill so fast that we decided to stop, give everyone a week to calm down, try again when everyone had more time to think about what to say and make a decision. A week passed and everyday my husband and I rehearsed what we wanted to say. We wanted to make sure that we were honest but understanding. We fasted and prayed again and this time felt sure that the conversation would go in a better direction but we could not have been more wrong. So many terrible things were said by my own mother and step father that no matter how hard I try I cannot erase them from my memory. For some reason they were convinced that I was accusing them of murder and were acting like I wanted them to take money out of their own accounts and hand it to me. I was called everything from being greedy and "trying to make a buck off my dead daughter" to being called out for every bad thing I had ever done as a mother, not just to McKenna but to Dominic and Zoe as well.
There are so many things I could have chosen to say, I thought about reminding my mom about the "lovely" environment she raised me in but I didn't want to go there at all. I didn't want any of this! I didn't want to fight over money! No matter how hard I tried to explain to her the difference between accusing her of murder and wanting her to take accountability for what happened it was not computing. I do not believe for a second that my mom murdered McKenna but the simple truth is that there were 2 adults there and my daughter drowned in a pool with both of them outside under their supervision. If it happened at my house I would most definitely take responsibly just like any mother would. I would blame myself and say "I should have watched her more closely!". I know without a doubt I would have taken accountably because even though I wasn't there I still take accountability for her death. I blame myself for letting the kids go over there so often by themselves. Yes, my mom had conquered her addictions and really just struggled with her own selfishness but STILL, you never know. I should have been smarter about how much they went over there. I should have learned from my own childhood to adulthood. I could have found other babysitters and not relied so frequently on her but I did it because it was convenient and the kids enjoyed going over there. No matter what anyone says, it doesn't matter that she had come so far along, my husband and I will always blame ourselves for not being more cautious and that's the ugly truth!
After that conversation we went to pick up McKenna's urn and I didn't know what to do about my mom. Everything I had heard was so painful. As I was sitting in the car crying to my husband about how terrible everything went I saw the urn in the reflection of the window and realized for the first time that I was holding my dead daughter in my lap! I didn't even notice because once again I was so caught up in my mom and her personal problems that I couldn't even mourn the death of my own child! I knew that day things had to change. At that moment I didn't know I was going to make the decision to walk away but I knew without a doubt I was going to have to put my foot down and stand up for myself. That same day and the following day the drama continued between my mother and I, and FINALLY I had enough. FINALLY things had gone too far and FINALLY I decided to do something I had not done in a very long time. I was going to take care of myself and my family first. So I told my mom that I hoped it wouldn't be this way forever but for now I could no longer handle all of her problems.
The following week Zach and I went back and forth about filing the claim ourselves with the insurance through an attorney. This made me sick. I finally told Zach "I can't do this, its too personal. One moment I think we should file the claim and the next moment I am freaking out that the family is going to cut me off if I do it! I can't decide! You have to do it. Whatever you decide I will accept just don't make me do this. I don't want to fight anymore, I am going to die of a heart attack from all this stress!" So Zach stopped talking about it. He let me start to mourn my daughters death as he took on the burden of deciding what to do about the claim. He fasted again, prayed some more, and finally we both went to the temple together to get some clarity. After the temple Zach looked at me and said "We're not going to file the claim". Relief swept over me and I was so happy that we could finally stop worrying about all of these problems. I never brought it up again nor thought about it until a month later.
We were talking to Dominic in the kitchen and Zach was telling him some more bad news we had found out. As I was watching Dominic listen to his dad tell him what was going on I observed my 6 year old sons face and was surprised by his reaction. He was talking like an adult, nodding his head and saying he understood and it was ok but his eyes could not hide the truth. He was badly hurt, they were filled with water and I knew his little heart was broken. I felt horrible as I watched him suffer. I said to him "Dominic you don't have to be a big boy, it's ok to cry. It's ok to be sad. It's even ok to be mad. If you want to be mad and don't know what to be mad at then be mad at me! I don't care baby, I love you and I don't want you to hold it in. I know it's not ok. I know your hurt. Tell me what's wrong." But he wouldn't budge, he was like a little mirror image of myself trying to tough it out and say it was ok for the sake of everyone else. He didn't want to make me sad. He didn't want to hurt me because he knew everyone else had been doing plenty of that. Even though none of this had anything to do with him, it was taking a toll on my little man.
In that moment I knew I had failed him as a parent. It was my job to protect him and get him the help he needed. Because I was too afraid to stand up to my own family and file the insurance claim, I had skipped out on my own sons counseling. In fact, Zach and I desperately needed it too. I had put my fears and other people's problems before my own child and I knew that the claim had to be filed! My son desperately needed someone to talk too. Someone he didn't have to worry about hurting. Someone he could open up to and know that he didn't have to handle this on his own. Someone he could tell his ugly truth too. I turned to my husband and said "He needs to go to counseling starting next week, we are not putting this off any longer!" "ok" my husband responded and immediately got on the phone and called the counselors office. That night when all the kids were in bed we finally brought up the evil word again. Money. My husband asked "how are we going to afford this? Do you just want to charge it on a credit card or...?" "No", I sharply interrupted him, "we are going to file the claim." My husband was shocked, he knew how against it I had been. "What about the praying I had done for it?" he replied. That was a good point, I didn't want to go against any revelation my husband had received so I pulled the brakes and told him "since I didn't pray with you before, lets both pray about it for a week and see what happens".
Well it ended up a week was not necessary. That night I prayed sincerely to my Heavenly Father about the claim. I told him my ugly truth that I had been holding in. My fears of being seen as a money hungry mom trying to make a buck off of her baby, fears about the family abandoning me like they did my sister, fears that maybe I wasn't doing the right thing and I was letting the ways of the world persuade me more then the Holy Ghost. A clear answer came to me immediately after the prayer, the Lord had told Zach "no" because He needed me to handle my problems. He needed me to get my strength and find my courage to stand up for MY FAMILY and do what needed to be done. There was nothing wrong with filing a claim. It hurt no one except their pride of having to accept responsibility for McKenna's passing. It wasn't going to repo their cars, sale their boat, or even move them out of their beautiful house off the water and away from their pool. It was literally going to harm them in no way except for the first time force my mother and her husband to take responsibility for themselves and admit that it happened. I now realized that this had nothing to do with me or my family but once again the ugly truth was all about them! It was about how it made them feel and they didn't like it. They weren't concerned about our problems or the desperate help we needed. They only cared about themselves and their ego. I had protected, babied, and enabled my mother for too long! She was incapable of accepting responsibility for any of her mistakes. Not just with the past but even with the way she had treated my family and I up until this point. The answer was so clear! I couldn't believe that I had allowed myself to get so stressed and drag it out this long. I needed to take care of my family and it was as simple as that.
About 3 months have passed since this all started. I wish I could say we reconciled, that the rest of the family didn't cut me off and everyone came to a mutual understanding that our family was suffering and we just needed support but that's not the ugly truth. The ugly truth is they did cut me off. They even had a giant event held by a local children's hospital that honored McKenna and raised $4000 in charity. They also took SEVERAL sections of the hospital and named them "McKenna's Corner". It would have books in a corner of different parts of the hospital for kids to read because McKenna loved to read. Everyone was formally dressed. There was a picture of her displayed on a giant screen in a little karate uniform and my entire family was there except for McKenna's father, mother, brother and sister. I knew nothing about it!!! Her own mother was completely oblivious that there was an entire tribute honoring her child! None of her immediate family was notified or invited, we didn't get to see our beautiful baby girl honored by dozens of people. Instead I found out through Facebook because the family didn't call or tell me directly that we were cut off. They stayed silent, they said nothing, and they kept me as their friend on Facebook so I didn't know where we stood. Naively I thought that the family hadn't cut me off and despite the problems mom and I were having maybe they were being quiet because they were waiting for the storm to calm down before paying our family a visit.
I don't know if there is a word to describe the amount of pain I felt to be friends with my aunt on Facebook, unsure of where we stood, but hoping we were ok, just to have tons of pictures released about a banquet in honor of my child. The whole family together, dressed in beautiful dresses and suits, saying sweet things about my child, and I wasn't even invited OR NOTIFIED OR ASKED IF I WAS OK WITH IT. It was horrible, I felt so stupid for hoping that our family was important enough to them that they would love us AT LEAST enough to invite us to see our dead daughter become a part of a children's hospital and honored by hundreds of people! Not only had they shown me how insignificant we were but they rubbed it in my face by staying friends with me and posted on Facebook all the wonderful things they had done on her behalf.
I instantly began to shake and thought I was going to vomit from such betrayal. I had a meltdown in a room full of people because unfortunately I was at a leadership conference for school and had peeked at my Facebook at a very bad time. After informing my husband, I decided to man up and send my grandmother one last message saying my peace regarding this horrible situation. I chose my grandmother because I have always been closest to her... or so I thought. I knew if I sent it to her the rest of the family would get the message and besides I have never really been close to my aunt. She was never actively involved in my life or McKenna's for that matter but yet here she was posting on facebook how well she knew McKenna! I never got a response from my grandmother or anyone else. Maybe she blocked me long ago and never got it or maybe I did exactly what they wanted me to do and they were happy I was upset. Maybe admitting that it hurt was the goal, considering I can't think of any other reason you wouldn't invite someone's parents to theirs own childs tribute/dedication.
It took me a long time to calm down about it and to be honest I am still really upset. Telling my son who has already been hurting so much that the family decided to throw a big party for McKenna and none of us were invited was a nightmare. I had no intentions of telling him, at least not at this point in his life but as usual he started asking questions that he normally wouldn't ask. "Why haven't we heard from anyone on that side of the family? Were we not talking to them too? Why were we not talking to them? What did they do that hurt mommy? What did they do? What did they do? WHAT DID THEY DO?" My husband finally gave in and told him as straight forward as he could "They had a party for McKenna" and before he could even finish his sentence Dominic interrupted with the obvious question "Why didn't I get to go???" My husband then spent the rest of the time explaining to him that none of us were invited and it was wrong. It had nothing to do with him nor was it his fault. Sometimes people choose to do things to hurt others and they don't always think or care about how that effects an entire family. He explained to him they were mad at mommy and daddy. Due to their anger and selfishness they didn't invite anyone and no one got to celebrate at the party except themselves. He finally wrapped it up with "this is the reason we will not be talking to them for a very long time. Not until they learn to be nice to mommy and the rest of this family."
As I listened to this spiel I reflected on my life in the last 6 months and thought how crazy everything had become. How did I get here? Has it really been only 6 months since Kenna's death? Why do I feel like a solider who has been in battle for years? Why do I feel like I have been shot a 1000 times by not only my own shock and grief of dealing with my daughter but my own family shooting bullets right into my face and heart? Why did all of this have to happen? Why did I have to watch my husband and son be put through so much suffering by my own blood? Why did there have to be so much cruelty? Why do they get to show boat their "love" for McKenna by having parts of a hospital dedicated to her while her own mother and father had nothing to show for it? We didn't have a grand party or money raised to honor our daughter. We don't have that kind of power or money so how could we ever contribute to her life in such a big and fabulous way?
While I laid in bed that night thinking about our situation and what could I do for Dominic to let him see we could do our own "big party" for her, I realized something very important. My Kenna Bear would not have had anything to do with a party like that. Yes she liked reading books but she was so much more then that. She was a lover. She showed her love everyday with her hugs and kisses, her compassion and joy. My daughter showed her love through kindness and service. She would make you an imaginary drink and food. She would brush your hair and put a bow in it. She would help wipe down the table and kiss your boo boo's. She was brave and protected her family when she thought they were hurt or in danger. If she was still here she wouldn't have wanted to sit at a formal party and watch people clapping, she could never sit still or be quiet. She would have wanted to see everyone helping each other, loving each other, hugging each other. She would want to see people getting involved and off their butts to play with one another and do something. She would want us to go outside and plant a garden, get dirty in the mud, and yes, even swim in a pool.
So instead of throwing a party and only inviting the people I deem worthy I will capture the true spirit of my daughter and I will honor her more then just a couple of hours out of my day and a few bucks out my pocket. Instead I will dedicate the rest of my life loving and serving others. I will spend my time here on this earth honoring her by reaching out to others with a smile and a hug. I will go outside and look for those who need help. I will show compassion and courage. I will do this with my husband, son, daughter, and baby to be by my side and McKenna leading the way. This is what she would have wanted because this is who she was and I am sure still is. My daughter loved like no other and I am so grateful for that because it is the greatest gift she ever could have left me. What is better then learning the key to true love? After everything that has happened I could have grown a cold heart by now but instead my heart runs over with love and I will no longer waste my love on people who take advantage of it and abuse it for their own purposes... whether they are family or not.
Although my heart is filled with even more turmoil then it ever was before, I do have peace knowing that I got to say my last words to my family with love and dignity. I hope that if any of you are even slightly in the same boat as me, you will hear my sweet little McKenna whispering to you the true secrets of love. Find the courage to stand up for yourself and your family no matter the consequences because "well they're family" is not good enough! Family is more then just blood and putting up with unacceptable cruelty.
The ugly truth is that there doesn't always have to be an ugly truth! Family is LOVE, unconditional love and support. They make you feel safe because they are honest and true. They are the people who pick you up when you're down and love you so much they melt away your burdens. They put you in a good mood and are a great shoulder to cry on. They are there with arms open whether you made the best decision or not. They see you for all your strengths and don't constantly judge you for your mistakes and weaknesses. They teach you what it really means to have a family, why it's so important, and why you have to take care of it everyday, not just on your terms. Family is that friend who has always had your back, the spouse who always stood by your side, and the child/children that keep pulling you forward showing you all the beauty that life has left to give, no matter how dark the circumstance. Family is pure love, family is peace, family is what YOU make it and this is what my family will now forever be.
This is the last family photo we ever took.
I believe my daughter has a lot more to offer then a corner of this universe.
I believe in McKenna Bundy.
I believe in "all you need is love" and that's exactly what this family is going to do.
Watch out world here comes some "Bundy lovin'"
aka: Bundles of Love
❤ We love you baby girl and we will try to prove that to you ever single day ❤