“Karson…,” my dad’s voice trembled from my cell phone. “Hayley, Cayden… and Darren are all dead.” I had never heard him sound like this before. I had never heard anyone sound like this before. “It sounds like it was a double murder suicide.”
The evening of May 28, 2012, I learned that before taking his own life, Darren Wourms had murdered his wife – my 23-year-old cousin, friend, and lifelong inspiration, Hayley – and their two-year-old son, Cayden. He used a .22 caliber rifle.
The rest of the brief telephone conversation escapes me. Every part of my brain was firing out thoughts, like a machine being pushed beyond its limits and about to explode. It didn’t feel like an explosion was imminent though. In fact, I felt nothing at all. I believe the term for this is shock. I remember my dad wishing I didn’t have to be alone. I told him I was ok. I felt hollow and emotionless. I was in some sort of a trance. After putting down my phone I instinctively finished what I was doing before the call, reading issue thirteen of The Amazing Spider-Man.
Next I turned on the television and muted it. The Rite was playing, a movie where a man exorcises demons who have manifested themselves in people. I had already seen it. I stared at it for the next half hour while the haunting music of Timber Timbre played from my laptop. Afterwards, I mindlessly brushed my teeth and went and laid in bed. Well, actually it was a sleeping bag on top of a piece of foam. I was only in this room for just over a month before I would be backpacking through Southeast Asia so I didn’t feel like hauling in a bed. Shortly after laying down I fell apart. I don’t know for how long I sobbed but eventually I regained enough composure to speak.
I called my mom. I don’t remember the conversation but it ended in me saying “I love you.” I called my dad. I don’t remember the conversation but it ended in me saying “I love you.” He was with my nana, I told him to tell her I loved her too. I spoke to my brother, I hope he knew I loved him because for some reason I didn’t say it. I regretted not telling him. It must have been getting late so I just texted my 12 year-old sister that she can always talk to me about anything, even boys.
I opened my text conversation with Hayley on my phone. My last message from her read “Thomas Cook,” an airline she thought might be useful for my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia. I just stared at the screen. Eventually I set my phone down. It would still be awhile before I fell asleep.
My mind continued to wander. I tried to imagine what Hayley’s last thoughts were. I selfishly wondered if I ever crossed her mind. I tried to imagine what my own last thoughts would be, visions of us watching cartoons at my nana’s and eating ice cream at the lake would have to be among them. I wondered if I was as crucial to Hayley’s childhood as she was mine. I was ashamed. The last few years I had taken her for granted and constantly chose other things over her, but we had finally been getting closer again the past couple of months. Now she was gone.
I started to fear someone was going to break into the house and kill me. The sequence painted itself vividly in my imagination; a loud crashing sound at the door, shouting and a few shots fired before my bedroom door was kicked in, a masked man storming into my room and not hesitating when he pointed his gun at me and pulled the trigger. I caught my breath and held it as I heard the door open.
I could hear the voices of my two roommates and their girlfriends. I exhaled. They had invited me to join them earlier. Usually I’d have accepted but not feeling like being the fifth wheel that night I had declined. I don’t like to imagine getting that phone call with other people around. I heard them talking briefly in the kitchen before they went to their respective beds. Shortly afterwards I heard moaning coming from the end of the hall. It eventually ceased and I fell asleep. I don’t know which happened first.
The next day was surreal.
I got out of bed, cleaned up, and headed into work where I pretended everything was ok. I didn’t want to be a burden or a distraction. I had just graduated from university and was employed as a software engineer summer student. I only had a couple of months to make a good impression so I didn’t want to be the guy who brought all his emotional baggage into the office. I thought I was doing ok but everything came to a halt when news stories of an unnamed double murder-suicide began popping up online.
It didn’t take long before I had six or seven tabs open: The Calgary Herald, CBC, and other local news websites. No names were given out in the stories yet. I clung to some irrational hope that maybe this could all still be someone else. That it had all been one huge mistake and everything was ok. Then slowly images of Hayley, Cayden and Darren from Facebook were becoming attached to the stories. The headline of family murder-suicide published just below. I kept reading those articles over and over again. The rest of the day was a blur.
I broke down again the next day driving to work. The radio caught my attention when the news came on; Darren, Hayley and Cayden was their lead story. After describing the horrific event they quickly jumped to a piece about construction. It was the most jarring experience of my life. There was no moment of silence, no break for me to process what I had just heard, no time to recover. It was just onto the next story. This wasn’t just a headline though, it was my family, my life. How can someone read this aloud and then just start talking about something else?
This tragedy, while significant and life altering to those close to it, it was just another sad news story to everyone else. Just like the countless I’ve heard before and shrugged off with a casual comment like “that’s too bad.” The media needs tragedies like the one I was going through to happen, it’s how they stay in business. The event that was causing me so much pain was just another headline, I was just another individual suffering from something. I began thinking of the changing of headlines as a metaphor that the world wasn’t going to stop for me or my family to deal with this, it is going to keep happening. We are responsible for keeping up.
The night before the phone call I remember standing in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror and thinking I was on top the world. I had finished my last semester at the University of Saskatchewan in April, I was heading to Southeast Asia for two months with my best friend since kindergarten, I had a summer job building iPhone applications and had negotiated to be hired for two months instead of four in order to go on my trip. To top it all off, I was free from my four year relationship with my girlfriend. After the incident I could no longer live with the self-centered, egotistical person that I had become. I needed to change.
Since then I have worked tirelessly to improve myself and find ways to be calmer and more peaceful. I’ve read dozens of books and performed countless exercises, some of them being more effective than others. It’s been difficult for me to get to an accepting and loving state of mind and it has been a daily practice to maintain it. It wasn’t until I was at peace with myself that I could truly start helping others.
Our lives are full of moments. I used to think moments came in different varieties; some joyful and others sad, some we always want to remember, and others we want to forget. However, moments are just moments. We define the emotions we associate with them. To some people this ability comes naturally, to others it’s much harder. I was part of the latter group.
It took a catastrophe in my life to learn ways of thinking that I wish I would’ve learned as a child. They could have saved me from useless arguments, ruining relationships, from giving four years of my life to a degree I wasn’t sure I wanted, spared me from projecting endless amounts of negativity on myself and others. I’ve learned that a catastrophe isn’t necessary to become a happier, stronger, and more compassionate individual. The moment to change your life can be now.
Steve Jobs said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
I now understand this better than I ever thought possible. I didn’t have anyone to trust on my journey. I felt the world had committed the ultimate injustice against our family. I didn’t see how things could be good again. If your faith has been rattled, if you feel lost and have no one to trust, trust me. I’ve been there. I didn’t think I could make it better but I did. Now I can connect the dots.
This is my story of the months that followed the incident, what I think I got right and what I think I got wrong. It’s the story of how I am not only overcoming the darkest time of my life but of how I am using it as motivation and inspiration to be better at everything I do.
I hope it helps you.
It’s not all sad, I promise! Stories of dancing, magical mushrooms, and even climbing an active volcano are still to come!