My daughter’s father

The trajectory of her life changed because I allowed a monster to meet his daughter.

Last Summer I found out my daughter’s father used her death as a means to get out of a felony assault charge. He claimed that he was distraught by the death of his daughter and their close relationship. Here was my response:

Regarding Scott’s “relationship” with Sarah J Troyer

I met Scott as a teenager. We were friends for a while and then dated briefly. I became pregnant at 19 years old, and at Scott’s request, we had a daughter at 20.

Scott attended one childbirth class with me and said he didn’t need to participate in the other classes. A few weeks before the baby’s due date, after breaking into my apartment while I was at work, he discovered that I was not wearing the necklace he had given me and ended our relationship. He left a nasty note, telling me I disrespected him by not wearing the necklace at all times, and that the break-up was entirely the consequence of this disrespect.

The baby was nearly two weeks overdue, so my doctor scheduled a labor induction. I called Scott several times to see if he planned to take me to the hospital and if he would be at the birth. Even the morning of the induction, my mom called Scott to see if he would be there. He called my mom “a bitch” and told her to mind her own business. Scott did end up taking me to the hospital and staying with me through most of the 36 hours of labor and delivery.

Sarah Jordan Troyer was born April 14th, 1992 and Scott left immediately after her birth. Before we were released from the hospital, I called Scott to see when he was picking me up and told him we had to fill out the birth certificate and other paperwork. He told me to get my own ride and that he wasn’t even sure if Sarah was his child. I was left to handle everything myself. I chose her name alone and knew at that moment, I would be raising my child alone.

Scott popped in and out for the first few months of Sarah’s life. When she was 5 months old, due to a high dose of prednisone, Sarah was hospitalized for 5 days. A few days into it, Scott came to visit her in the hospital. He stayed for an hour or so and played with her. Then he said he was going to the cafeteria and asked if I wanted a soda. He called me THREE DAYS later from Arizona!

This pattern of behavior continued throughout Sarah’s first year. Since Scott still contested that Sarah was his child, the state forced a DNA test, which proved without a doubt, he was Sarah’s biological father. 

When Sarah was starting Kindergarten, the state set a court date to establish child support and custody. Scott asked to meet with me for coffee before our court hearing. He’d had no contact with Sarah since she was about a year old. I told him he needed to be in her life consistently or decide what he wanted. All he wanted was to avoid child support and was opting to stay out of our lives. At Scott’s request, I sent the Division of Child Support a letter asking not to collect on my behalf. He made zero attempts at a relationship with Sarah.

When Sarah was 13 years old, I contacted Scott and asked if he would help pay for braces. I reminded him that I had never asked him for anything. He insisted on meeting Sarah. I told him if I allowed him into her life, he needed to stay for good. He needed to be all in or stay all out. He assured me that would not be a problem, but he was quite angry. Scott was irate that I needed to discuss it with Sarah first to make sure she was okay with meeting him. He acted like he was entitled to make decisions for the child he had neglected for well over a decade. I had forgotten about Scott’s ill temper and ego-driven entitlement. I wish I had made another choice.

Sarah was both excited and nervous, but the three of us met at a coffee shop in Seattle after her basketball game one weekend afternoon. Scott showed us pictures of his family, and we were both surprised to find out he had another daughter. Sarah said, “I have a sister? I’ve always wanted a little sister!” Scott reminded her they were only “half-sisters.” I remember the look of heartbreak in Sarah’s eyes. When Scott asked if she had any questions, Sarah asked him what her grandparents had been like, assuming they had passed away. He told her, “Oh, they’re alive and well and living on Whidbey Island.” Sarah was distraught. She said, “Wait. My family has been living two hours away from me my whole life and has never tried to reach me? Not even one birthday card my whole life?” Scott’s demeanor changed in an instant. It was clear he was angry and did not like being questioned by a teenager, much less a girl.

We all exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. Scott gave Sarah $100 toward the $7500 braces bill and additional required jaw surgery. He reassured her and made empty promises about making up for lost time together and her being “daddy’s little girl.” They scheduled time to meet up on the following weekend for just the two of them. Sarah was excited and filled with hope. Unfortunately, Scott no showed. Despite Sarah’s phone calls, texts, and emails and despite mine, Scott never responded or reached out. When my mom pleaded with him, “Please don’t break Sarah’s heart,” he told her if she ever contacted him again, he would sue her for harassment.

Scott destroyed my little girl. He never made a single attempt with her. After that weekend, Sarah continually asked, “Mom, what is so wrong with me that my father and his whole family don’t want anything to do with me? How can he live so close and never want to see me?” Scott broke Sarah’s heart. My chipper, always happy, funny, athletic, poetic girl with a terrific GPA, became a different person. This is when her drug problems, eating disorders, and abandonment issues began. Sarah became a heroin addict. The trajectory of her life changed because I allowed a monster to meet his daughter.

Fast forward to June 2013. Sarah went missing. The University of Washington had just released a study on the black tar heroin epidemic crippling Seattle’s youth. A local news station interviewed me about Sarah. We discussed how heroin impacted our family and in exchange, they aired Sarah’s Missing Persons photo along with my plea for help and aired the interview several times.

Scott called me the night the interview was aired. The first words out of his mouth were, “If I’d known you were going to be that kind of mother, I would have stepped in and taken custody.” He went on to tell me that he had “successfully raised three children” and blamed my “liberal views” on Sarah’s addiction. He never even considered how his actions changed Sarah’s life.

I messaged his sister Adrienne, and she responded that I had told her to stay out of our lives. But this never happened. I believe Scott had someone else call her, pretending to be me. I would never say those words or intentionally watch my child suffer.

Sarah called me the next day and I picked her up. She was sitting underneath her own Missing Persons photo. She had heard about the news story and saw the posters. She asked if her “other family” had reached out. Sarah was suicidal. She was committed for 5 days at Harbor View.

Sarah struggled with heroin addiction for 13 years. I tried everything. I put her into seven rehabs, two detox facilities, had her stay in sober houses, see therapists, etc. You name it, I tried it. More importantly, Sarah did everything she could. She put herself through two additional rehabs, was on Methadone for a while, was on Suboxone, and briefly saw a therapist on her own. She was excited about entering drug court and finally, after more than a year being homeless, could not wait to be clean again.  Sarah went to her court date two days in a row, but due to the snowstorm, court was not in session. Our last conversation was via Messenger. Four days later she was found dead in a tent in the snow.

Sarah died February 10th, 2019, after 36 hours on Maximum Life Support while “brain dead”. She was only weeks away from her 27th birthday. My sweet, loving, completely family-oriented, compassionate daughter was gone for good. There are no words for this kind of pain. There is only an absence of hope and an abundance of suffering.

To add insult to injury, we found out about a little-known law in Washington State, that both biological parents had to agree on cremation, regardless of the child’s age. My mom and my sister were with me when the Funeral Director called Scott and put the conversation on speaker. Scott had already heard about Sarah’s death. His only question was about how much money we were going to try to get out of him. The answer was none.

Scott said he would complete the paperwork and send it right over. A few days later, the Funeral Director had to plead with him to sign papers and reminded him that he was holding up Sarah’s cremation. She told him that since I was having a Buddhist cremation ceremony and did not have Sarah’s body embalmed, we were in a fragile yet urgent situation. He called her back and said, “I’m entitled to my daughter’s ashes, correct?” Scott finally agreed to cremation but only if we would send him her ashes.

My daughter had been officially dead for 8 days before I could cremate her body. Sarah was in a box with her whole face turned yellow because of Scott’s actions; His final act in destroying my daughter.

Jennifer L Troyer

~ Jen Troyer, March 2021

The Do Over

 

It’s been 730 days since your last breath

Since the machine stopped

The hardest decision

The shock of your death

 

It feels like we both died that day

 

It’s been two years since my heart was violently ripped from my chest

Since you were taken away

Since a doctor said your name in the most tragic way that day

 

My heart’s mutiny

 

Two years has taught me a lot

And nothing at all

Learning to live without you isn’t easy

I don’t recommend it to anyone at all

 

There are days I still can’t get out of bed

A body dehydrated from all the tears shed

There are days I can’t leave my desk

Throwing myself into work, the only way to give my heart some rest

 

I don’t want to learn to live without you

Grief is just too heavy

My eyes, a broken-down levee

 

I have pleaded with the universe but she’s not listening

I scream at her, “There’s been a huge misunderstanding!”

She tells me ‘patience is a virtue’ and look at all the love you had

But I want a do-over

I’m tired of being so fucking sad

 

She gives me moments of happiness and joy

Then dumps on me the agony of guilt

Momentary bliss destroyed

 

I’m supposed to say, “At least she’s no longer suffering,” and of course I’m glad you’re not in pain

But what about my broken heart

Will the heaviness of grief ever wane

 

Your struggles with addiction were hard enough to watch

You were supposed to get better

To just fucking stop

I wanted you to shake it

Desperately wanted you to make it

 

Sweetie, I have so much left to say…

 

If I had talent

I’d make a quilt of 10,530 squares

One for each day I have loved you

A tapestry made from our tragedy

 

It would require a million stitches

One for each memory

My heart’s treasury

Sarah’s documentary

 

Our lives woven together

Nothing in this world could ever be better

That was the three of us

Just better together

 

But I’m no seamstress

Just your life’s witness

A mother’s love amplified

My heart’s apartheid

 

I know that I was the luckiest

Not everyone gets a child of their own

Sarah, I hope you knew, you and Parker are the greatest love I’ve ever known

Raising you kids is truly the most amazing thing I have ever done

 

And maybe that’s why I can’t find love that sticks

Maybe I gave all my love away

And if that’s the case, well, it was 100 percent worth it

I’ll take that do-over any day

 

I carry your heart, Sweetie. I carry it in my heart.

 

~ Jen Troyer, February, 2021

Stain

I close my eyes and see your body on Maximum Life Support.
I’m instructing nurses to turn off the machine.
The single hardest thing a mom has ever done.

I get up and clean the kitchen until I’m tired.

I close my eyes and see your lifeless body in that box; an image that never leaves.
I hear the monks chanting to help you on your way.
“Make happy wishes” they say.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

I mop the floors until they shine.
Maybe now I can rest; sleep for just a short time.

I close my eyes and see our hands push the button to light the flames as your cold body enters the cremation chamber.
No mother should have to say goodbye this way.

Wall washing occupies my time.

Don’t. Fall. Asleep.

I close my eyes and see myself on the Longtail boat with the monk in Kantiang Bay. Spreading your ashes.
The waves take you away.

I clean the mirrors, hoping for another view.

I close my eyes and see the sparrow, you. Landing in my hands at the service on the beach.
I knew it was your way of saying goodbye.

Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.

I close my eyes and see the butterfly, you. Landing on my butterfly tattoo of your eyes.
Crying as you flutter away.

I’ve cleaned the house so many times. Anything to keep from closing my eyes.

I take a shower but can’t get clean.
Tears the only way to wash away the pain.

My broken heart casts a sheen on everything.

Grief leaves a permanent stain.

~ Jen Troyer, August 2020

Crying Uncle

There are days when the universe forces you to feel All.The.Shit. Every little bit. You’re thinking, “Oh, my god. I’m so fucking healed. Look at how capable I am of being normal.” But something comes along and breaks your toes, twists your arm behind your back, urges you to cry “uncle.” It reminds you: Oh, sweetie. You ain’t even close to being fixed. Here. Let me put this noun in front of you.

Person

place

thing

…whatever

You’re so hungry you’ll eat it up. We all eat lies when we’re starving.

Infatuation

Desperation

Trepidation  

Let me give you a taste of what happiness could feel like. If you were normal.

The illusion

Your delusion

Your fucked up, messy life’s infusion

of chaos  

You’ll never be full. You avoided friction. Couldn’t fix your little girl’s addiction.  And now you’ll try to heal the pain with literally anything.

Sell it

Build it

Decorate it

Eat it

Drink it

Fuck it

Divorce it

Shampoo

Rinse

Repeat

Rest your head, mama. Take a break. Dry your pillow. Sleep. Dream of a do-over. You can’t fix this. Grief requires your full attention.

You will survive this. What is normal anyway? You are a goddess. It was not your fault.

~ Jen Troyer, May 2020

Fixing Grief

It’s been 14 months and 3 days since my daughter died. Her 28th birthday is tomorrow. They say the first of anything is the hardest. I disagree. Sarah’s 27th birthday was only nine weeks after she died. Nothing seemed real those first few months. There have been a lot of firsts in the last year: The first of my son’s birthdays without his sister (just 2.5 weeks later), the first of her birthdays, the first Mother’s Day, the first Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Summer, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, New Year…

The first anniversary of her death was by far the hardest and luckily, I’ll never have that first again. This second birthday without her though… it’s just so damn final. She still doesn’t answer when I call, and she still doesn’t respond to my texts. Yes, I really do still message and call her. She’s really gone. She really isn’t coming back.         

There is no “fixing” grief. People try so hard to get me to move on. They say nice things, they say meaningful things, they sometimes say insensitive things; for the most part, they truly are trying to be helpful. These people love me, but they don’t understand. I can only hope they’ll never understand. Understanding would mean their baby died too.

Someone extremely close to me said something to the effect of, “I don’t think you’re where you should be in grief. I just don’t understand.” Her words came out of love for me, I knew this. Instead of being compassionate with her at the time, I felt nothing but rage. I just wanted to scream, “There is not a 12-step grief program that will heal me!” The truth is nothing can heal me. I am not the same person I was fourteen months ago. How can I be?

Grief changes everything. I look different. Wrinkles are more pronounced, hair is greyer, I’ve lost weight, even my boobs are smaller. The change is far greater than just my looks. I feel different. There is always a heaviness in the background. The heaviness changes, it gets lighter, but it’s never gone. The panic attacks are fewer, down to about one every 5-10 days instead of daily or a few times daily. I’m finally at the point where I don’t feel guilt every time I smile or laugh.

My bullshit meter is on high alert. There are people I simply can’t be bothered to have a relationship with. Sometimes I bite my tongue. Other times I can’t devote energy into using a verbal filter. You’re not comfortable with my tears? Darn. You don’t like how I choose to deal with grief? Cool. You’d do it differently if your kid died? Super. Oh, your cat died and that was devastating? Awesome. Fuck off.

I’ve always been able to find the best in anyone. Truly. I still can – but only if I care enough to look deeper. Usually though, I just don’t. The thing is, there are all kinds of grief. I know this. I can’t even fathom my mother dying, yet I know at some point even she will go, and that too will be gutting and eternally life altering. We grieve all kinds of loss. A parent, a spouse, a sibling, a pet, a job, etc. I don’t want to wear this pain as a badge of honor, but there are times I simply can’t put on the fake smile to make you feel better about my loss. And that’s what it is, really; making other people feel better. People look at me differently. They walk on eggshells. They don’t mention her name because it may bring up hard emotions or memories. Trust this honey, there isn’t a single moment of my day that Sarah isn’t on my mind. I couldn’t forget her if I wanted to. Mentioning her name doesn’t remind me of her; it lets me know you care.

There are temporary feelings of relief, sometimes even happiness, but I’ve learned there is no cure. I’ve learned that you can’t drink it away, you can’t laugh it away, you can’t screw it away. You can’t even cry it away. It’s just always there, close to the surface. It does get slightly lighter over time. You don’t even realize it until you look back over the first year, and wonder, “Holy hell. How on Earth have I survived?”

I miss my Sarah. I miss her voice, her laugh, her sense of humor, her love of animals, her compassion… I miss having hope that she’d get better. I miss wishing good things for her. I miss comforting her, stroking her hair and her nose. I miss her dark eyes that looked straight into my soul. I miss being her Mommie.  I just… I miss loving the living Sarah.

I had a dark moment a few months ago. I started to change my will one night as the darkest of thoughts took over. I just couldn’t conceive feeling that amount of pain any longer. It was a Saturday night during a quick month-long trip back home to Seattle over the holidays. No one knew the struggle I was having but friends felt it was odd for me to miss a Saturday night out. Just then a friend called and several of us group-chatted about football, our beloved Seahawks, dating, etc. I laughed out loud. When we got off the phone, I couldn’t stop laughing. I went from the depths of hell to feeling immense joy in a single 20-minute phone call. This group of friends had no idea they were rescuing me. They didn’t just save me that night; they changed my grief. They unknowingly gave me the beautiful gift of JOY that I hadn’t felt in nearly a year. They gave me hope for better days.

Grief is agony but goddamn if it doesn’t make you savor each meaningful moment. Hug your people. Never miss an opportunity to tell them you love them. Don’t be afraid of saying how much you care. Risk your heart. Risk it all.

I started writing this as some kind of guide to other grieving parents. Through the therapeutic act of writing, I now realize this is for me. Someday I won’t be in survival mode. Someday I will read this again and look back at how far I’ve come. Someday I will heal.

~ Jen Troyer, 13 April 2020

Feeling it

The Monk Chanted poem written by Jennifer L Troyer April 2019

Some days are heavier than others.

My first thought when I woke up today was, “I should call Sarah. I haven’t talked to her in weeks”. I was startled at the harsh reality that you died 10 weeks ago today. I laid in bed for the first two hours crying with stunned guilt for forgetting momentarily, only while I was asleep, that you’re gone. That you’re never coming back.

There’s so much left for us to discuss. So many memories we’ve yet to make. So many stories left to tell. Remembering all the times I wanted desperately to give you advice, but knew you just needed the opportunity to figure things out on your own. To be your own woman. When you needed advice, you asked for it, so I just tried to stay quiet. I was quietly listening and waiting.

I had a sixth sense with you. I knew when you were hurting. I knew when you were in trouble. I knew when someone had broken your heart. I knew when you needed me. I knew these things even when we were 10,000 miles apart.

You knew honesty and trust were the most important things to me. I reminded you of it all the time. I knew when you were full of shit. When you were little (and even when you were 26 years old), I knew when you were about to lie. You had a tell. You’d start a sentence with, “So…”. You lied out of some need to protect me. Or maybe it was out of a desire to avoid disappointing me.

I wish the doctors lied. I wish the Medical Examiner lied. I wish seeing you on Life Support was a lie. I wish touching your cold face at the funeral home was a lie. I wish the ashes I held in my hands were a lie.

I keep hoping you’ll call. I wish I’d saved your voice messages. Sometimes I hear your laugh or the annoying way you’d say “Mommmmm” when you thought I wasn’t paying attention. I was always paying attention.

There’s a void that simply can’t be filled. I’ve tried filling it with travels, with meditation, with music, with friends, with books, movies, and alcohol. Except for a weekend trip, I’ve stayed put the last few weeks, knowing I need to feel all of this.

I’m here. I’m feeling it. In fact, I don’t want to stop feeling it. I’m afraid if I stop feeling the pain of your absence, the memories will leave and you’ll be gone forever. But you, my sweet Sarah, you are unforgettable.

~ Jen Troyer, April 2019

Sarah’s Release – Ash Scattering Ceremony

On Sarah’s 27th birthday, I had a Buddhist Ash Scattering Ceremony at my beloved Kantiang Bay in Thailand with a local monk. Many of my Ko Lanta friends joined me as the monk blessed my daughter’s ashes. Below is what I said:

Sarah Jordan Troyer was born at 9:41 pm on April 14th, 1992. She was due two weeks earlier on April Fool’s Day. But as was typical for Sarah, she had her own schedule. For two weeks before she was born, I exercised, I did jumping jacks, I ran on the treadmill, I even got in a hot tub to try to get this kid out of me. At one point during the 36 hours of hard labor (without drugs, mind you), I stood on the bed, screamed and cursed at the doctor and nurses and pleaded with them to cut my head off and take the baby out through my neck. Four hours later, just as I was about to give up, my beautiful, bouncing 9 pound 8 ounce baby girl with a full head of auburn hair was born. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I was only 20 years old.

This baby saved me. I worked hard and I made good choices, knowing the trajectory of her life was solely in my hands. Coming home to her each night was the best. Looking back, I still have no idea how I did it. Working full time, practically being a child myself, while raising this smart, inquisitive, passionate, and very strong-willed child on my own. It was a beautifully daunting task. My mom always said I’d have a daughter just like me someday. Momma was right.

It was me and her against the world. We laughed, we sang, we danced, nearly every day of her childhood. We turned dining room tables into our own personal surf boards as we danced to The Beach Boys. We’d listen to the heartbreaking sounds of Nina Simone while Sarah asked me about The Blues, Jazz, Religion, Love, and books. Even as a little girl, she understood that music was everything. That when you’re happy you understand the music, but when you’re sad you understand the lyrics. Sarah always understood the lyrics.

When Sarah was four years old, she didn’t speak for nearly a year: instead she sang everything to the tune from The Little Mermaid. Somehow, we both survived that phase, just as we’d survived the Barney years, the Teletubbies era, and even the heartbreaking teenage years. We survived because we had each other.

At 9 years old, her teachers wanted her to skip a grade or two. She was wicked smart. I didn’t allow it. I was only 16 when I finished high school so I knew all too well that growing up too soon could be a disaster.

At 13, Sarah was accepted into a high school for “high achievers” who had an art portfolio and a good GPA. Writing was Sarah’s art. If I could go back in time and change only one thing, I would have sent her to a different school. This is where she started using heroin at the tender age of 14. I won’t go into the details. I will just say, Sarah struggled with heroin addiction for the next 13 years. Now my baby girl is gone.

Please, do not think of my daughter as just a heroin addict. She was so much more. She always had wonder in her eyes. She’d give anything she had to anyone in need. Every single animal she ever met loved her. She could make anyone laugh at any time. And she was my light.

It took Sarah 36 hours to come into this world. It took her body 36 hours to leave it, even on maximum life support. Today is 63 days since her passing. In tarot numerology, each of these numbers add up to a 9, which is The Hermit. The Hermit is always going off alone in search of spiritual wisdom. I hope Sarah is now free to find what she’s been looking for.

They say love conquers all. The phrase is well intentioned but it’s false. If love conquered all, Sarah would be alive and well. Sarah was loved immensely. **I** loved her immensely. And she loved back, fully and completely. When Sarah loved you, you knew it. You could feel her love from across the world.

I hope you can feel a little of my daughter’s love today – just as I can feel yours.

I read something about grief, which said, “You don’t need solutions. You don’t need to move on from your grief. You need someone to see your grief, to acknowledge it. You need someone to hold your hands while you stand there in blinking horror, staring at the hole that was your life. Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

Thank you for being here and for helping me carry this grief. I love you all.

I’ll conclude with Sarah’s favorite poem, I carry your heart, by EE Cummings:

I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) I am never without it (anywhere I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)

I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) I want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope, or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

Jen Troyer ~ April 2019