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  • Writer's pictureLee Erickson, MA, LPCC

#1 Early Tuesday Morning

     Donna Erickson had awoken early Tuesday, March 5, 2002 because she was determined to make a batch of raspberry jam. She had a five-quart pail of raspberries in the chest freezer in the basement and she had hauled them up and now they were thawing on the kitchen counter. In her early 70’s, she still had energy for jam.

     Roger Erickson, her husband, also in his early 70's, was sitting in the living room of the home they had owned for almost 40 years. He had already walked across the street to get the mail at the post office, a mundane task he had done nearly every day there was mail delivery since they had bought their house. Now he was deep into his second cup of coffee and mulling over some junk mail they had received. He had the television on in the living room.

     It was about 8:00 a.m. and Donna lifted her head from doing dishes at the kitchen sink and looked towards the alley that separated their house from the back of the bowling alley. She noticed that there was a police car parked there. The kitchen had a breakfast nook that faced the alley. The house, which sat on a corner lot was located at the junction of Ash Avenue and 6th Street in the sleepy town of Westbrook, Minnesota. The house was located a block off Main Street and two blocks from the High School. 

     In the same instance that she was processing the police car parked in the alley along the side of their house, there was a subsequent knock at the back door. In her gut she knew something was wrong.

     It was Alan Wahl, the local police chief who also happened to be a high school classmate of her second oldest son, Doug. He had his policeman’s shirt on which indicated it was more than a social call. In a small town, everyone knows everyone else. Alan had stayed around town and worked his way up to police chief.

     It was still relatively early in the day and it was strange that he had stopped by to visit.

     She went down the short hallway to the back door. She opened it and immediately she knew something was wrong.

     “It’s Doug, isn’t it…”? Donna said before the police chief could utter a phrase.

     She had been trying to call Doug repeatedly for the past few weeks but every time she called she got a busy signal. After several attempts, she called Myrtle, the elderly woman who lived downstairs from Doug in the duplex he rented from her.

     “The cars are out front," Myrtle said, confused by call. “Do you want me to go up and see if he’s home?” 

     “No,” Donna said to her. “That’s ok. Tell him we are trying to get ahold of him if you see him.”

     Roger knew that his wife was a worrier.

     “We can go up and see how he’s doing,” he said to her one morning over coffee.

     “No,” she said. She didn’t have it in her to do all of that again. There had been so many instances in the past, 30 years worth, where they had driven hours to check on their son; so many times of taking him to rehab or buying groceries and hearing stories and promises of quitting whatever vice he had been doing. There had been so much hope in the past balanced with crushing disappointment.

     But now the answer to the mystery of why they hadn't heard from him was at the back door squarely staring her in the face. Donna called for her husband who came quickly. 

     Alan, with a crack in his voice, holding back his own emotion, told them the tragic news. While police work is often difficult, it can be especially painful when you have to deliver devastating news about someone you know personally.

     With her husband standing beside her, Donna heard how her troubled son had killed himself with a shotgun. She heard how her grandson had been the one to find her son. They talked for a while longer. They were crying.

     Alan said he was sorry to have to tell them. He gave them a phone number to call. It was their son’s phone number. Alan walked down the three small steps back to the sidewalk that ran along side the garage and back to the alley where his car was parked.

     The parents closed the back door and Donna collapsed into her husband’s arms, crying.

     It was the news that she never wanted to get and yet it was news that she thought she would eventually get. Inevitably get.

     After some time went by, they picked up the phone and dialed the number that Alan had given them. It was the medical examiner, who must have still been at their son’s home. He told them with details what had happened. He told them that Doug had killed himself with a shotgun and his son had found him. He asked if they would like to speak to their grandson. Donna said yes.

     “I’m so sorry grandma, I’m so sorry…” the grandson kept repeated over and over.

     “It’s not your fault,” she replied. “This isn’t your fault. It isn’t anyone’s fault.”

     But in her heart, she secretly wondered if there was more she could have done to prevent this? It’s a nagging wondering that would take years to sort through and even when the thoughts of guilt and regret would be laying dormant for months or years, sometimes after slowly seeping, they would materialize out of nowhere to haunt her. 

     “We will be up on Wednesday,” Donna told her grandson. “I love you.”

     “I love you, too,” he said through his tears.

     She was suddenly exhausted. The phone call had sucked the energy from her but she knew she had to muster some more. She picked up the phone again and with the heaviest of hearts began dialing.

     The raspberries sat on the counter, melting. 

     No jam would be made today. The priorities had changed.

     Eventually the raspberries would end up in the garbage.

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