Learning to live after losing a child
Meara McIntosh tells Mental Healthy how she survived the murder of her son at the hands of his father, and we learn how this remarkable lady has been able to live and love again.
I was about to turn 20. Leaving my teens behind was a big milestone in my life and I reflected upon my life to date. I hadn’t had the best of starts. I’d had plenty of ambition, but had lacked the means for a complete education. Instead of going to school I had decided to travel and work, but once I was on my own, I felt very lost and didn’t have direction or guidance.
I was working in a bar in a small town in Canada when I met Rich, who was to become my husband and the father of my beautiful son Colton. When I first met Rich I wasn’t over-impressed, to be honest; there was no ‘love at first sight’ or ‘weak knees’ – in fact I thought he was arrogant and egotistical. Being such a small town, we moved in the same circles and seemed to get propelled together. Rich came back to mine one night and just seemed to stay. The arguments started very soon into the relationship – mostly over Rich’s heavy drinking. One night he came home very drunk having been on a binge with a buddy. He knew it was my birthday but didn’t care. An inevitable row broke out which ended with Rich throwing his shoe at the wall with such force that as it hit and glanced off, it left a rubber sole print. I had feared for my safety in the past but I kinda thought this behaviour was normal; it was a very similar environment to what I had grown up in. I got to my car and drove away in the middle of the night, but I was picked up by the police for speeding. At the same time I was also given a ticket for not having registered my car, and couldn’t prove I had insurance. Rich’s voice chimed in my ear: “You wouldn’t last a day out there without me”. It suddenly hit home. I believed him and thought that I actually needed him and that the fights at home were of my making. Rich didn’t have a problem, it was me. He told me all the time that I was just a prude and didn’t know how to ‘loosen up’ and have fun. The footprint on the wall was a reminder to me that the problems were my fault, not his.
Rich and I married almost exactly a year after that incident. Rich’s drinking got heavier and his moods got worse. He was a bully who verbally abused me. Over time, he alienated all of my friends and family. No one wanted to visit our home, and Rich refused to socialise with my family and friends. All of my relationships, hobbies and interests dissipated. I felt so isolated and alone when I discovered I was pregnant, but I was elated at the prospect of having a baby.
A love was born
I loved being pregnant and positively glowed with pride and happiness throughout. My only reservation was actually giving birth – not because of the pain but because I didn’t want the separation between me and my unborn baby. I deeply loved my child long before he was born.
Colton was born on 21st August 2005. He was to become the centre of my world. His huge blue eyes and loving smile helped me through all the difficulties that I was to experience at the hands of my husband. I kept Colton wrapped inside my baggy, warm jumper for nearly six months. We felt warmth and safety tucked in so close and he could feed and snuggle freely.
At some point during my pregnancy Rich relapsed and started to use cocaine again. The prospect of becoming a father panicked him. He became more controlling and discontented. His verbal abuse created routines that I now recognised. The build-up of fear had taken on a pattern: he did as he pleased, regardless of the risks to his employmentand our family income, and if I complained he would change the subject and run me down about my faults, real or imagined. His mental health seemed to deteriorate rapidly once he depended on both alcohol and cocaine and I decided that the time had come for us to separate. It was because I wanted better for Colton, not for myself. I was determined that Colton would not be raised in the same environment that both Rich and I had been.
After the split I watched Rich’s mental health suffer even more. His thoughts were disjointed and his rantings became incoherent. His threats and menacing behaviour grew more frequent and I knew that I had to seek legal protection. I was concerned for my son’s safety: not because Rich was violent towards Colton, but because of his neglect of him, and his disturbed behaviour towards me.
The laws in Canada are complicated, and once a non-custodial parent is given visitation rights the custodial parent cannot remove the child from that area without good reason. After two years of high-conflict separation and having been let down by the police, social services and legal system at every turn I had to take control of the situation for everyone’s sake. I knew that if I were to remarry into improved circumstances then that would be considered firm ground for us to move to another area. It was the only avenue that was available to me. I had a very good friend who had a great job and could offer security to both Colton and me, at least in the eyes of the law. He understood our situation and offered to marry me so that we could live without fear. I applied to the courts to move but Rich delayed the final application with tragic consequences.
The day I will never forget
September 28th 2008 is a date etched forever in my heart and memory. I had cut off visitation, but was forced to submit to one more access visit if I hoped to succeed with my application to move away. I had left home that morning feeling happy at the prospect of having Colton back and starting a new life without fear and bullying. Rich knew that I had everything in place so that Colton and I could move away despite his objections, but his pride could not allow for a ‘defeat’, to have his wife stand up to him and say, “No, you will not do this to me any more”.
At around 1pm I got a phone call from the police asking me to report to the local police station. As I sat in a room at the station, I saw two officers and a victim service lady walking towards me. I knew every officer and support worker in my area having tried to protect myself and my child for years. Knowing how I had been overlooked and unfairly treated by the authorities in the past I wondered what false allegations Rich was now making in an attempt to block us from leaving. I wondered if they were going to arrest me. I felt the cold dread of fear as I awaited the latest development.
“Richard and Colton are dead”
Coldly and clearly one of the officers simply said, “Richard and Colton are dead”. As someone who is used to offensive harassment, I didn’t cry. A cold hatred was the only emotion that I could feel. I had felt the cold hatred for so many years. Colton was the only one who could reach me, and now he was gone. I looked at the officer with stone-cold eyes and said, “Can I go now?” It was to be several hours before I left the station. I was told that Rich had lit a barbecue inside his house and he and Colton had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. I remembered the barbecue: it was the one that I had bought for him on his first Fathers’ Day, two and a half years earlier. The police would not allow me to leave without an escort, but they didn’t understand how alone I really was. No one was coming, but they refused to let me go. Eventually the police contacted an old neighbour of mine from a year and a half earlier, who agreed to pick me up.
Love and the fight for justice
There were two things that held me together in the coming months: love and a sense of injustice. There was a rage at the injustice of it all and the unnecessary loss of my cherished child. I learned that the media had known about Colton’s death before I had and had taken photographs and were writing an article before I was even told. One of the employees from my manufacture business knew, and my best friend and Colton’s playmates walked by the scene and saw the fire trucks, but didn’t know that it was my ex-husband’s house. I read police statements that said things could have been different if I had gone to them to report every incident of abuse. I remembered that when I did, they called me a liar and threatened to put me in jail for false accusations.
Love is what got me through
How do you live through all this misery and injustice? Well, love! Pound for pound, love always has more power than hatred. I had never known a love so complete as that for my son. Having been so disillusioned by my marriage, I thought it was a love restricted to parents and children, but a few months prior to my son’s death I met a good man I actually believed in. My love for him and my son is unconditional. The death of Colton was too great for the new relationship to survive; however the knowledge that love like that does exist was enough to bring me back from the reckless hatred and rage that my ex-husband tried to force on me.
With a few years of distance I can now find compassion for a man who was so twisted with hurt and anger that he felt that murdering a child was an acceptable thing to do. May his spirit rest in peace without eternal torment!
Rich took so much from me, but I cannot let him take the rest of my life too: that would dishonour Colton. I have to live and love again, not just for me but for my beautiful son.
We at Mental Healthy are so happy to tell you that Meara has rebuilt the art and manufacture business that she started so many years ago, has married and now has a little baby. We hope that life gives her all the happiness she so truly deserves.
PLEASE SEE OUR EXPERT ARTICLE ON OVERCOMING GRIEF AND LEARNING TO LIVE AGAIN AFTER TRAGEDY HERE.
To join the facebook group dedicated to Colton's memory here.