Dad’s Greatest Gift was Free

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Suicide by Default

Rest in peace Anthony Bourdain. Stop. Look. And Listen.
You may save someone’s life.



By Teresa G. D’vall

This is a story about the time depression killed my mother and not one you should read if you’re in a good mood. Chances are, you’re not aware that suicide can be committed by neglect. I made this discovery three years ago, on a chilly gray morning drenched in November Rain.

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so this tale is belated but remains pertinent, even though it’s October, the month we’re supposed to be aware of Domestic Violence, Breast Cancer and Bullying Prevention.

Shortly after 7am, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2014, I threw my favorite red coat and Coach purse onto a hospital floor without hesitation.

My ex niece-in-law offered the purse in lieu of rent when I let her stay with us. I could barely afford to feed my 6 kids, let alone hers, but I was 21 with a baby…

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Why I’m Raising Your Next School Shooters

By Teresa G. D’vall

While the country heaves a collective sigh of grief over the Parkland tragedy in Florida, know this:

School shooters are created over a lifetime, not in a single instance.

As a survivor of domestic violence and Mom of six I warn you, with dreadful certainty, that one of my kids may end up killing yours because violence in the home gives impetus to apathy; and is contagious.

I have been trying to get counseling for my aggressive children since August of 2017 and have encountered one roadblock after another. The reason why should incite you.

A recent article by CNN describing the Florida shooter’s history of violence as a youth and failed attempts to get help infuriated me.

I currently have an active, permanent order of protection against my ex husband. There is a clear and present history of violence in our home. Still, the schools, police, and NY State Child Protective Services are failing my family too.

Followers of my blog may recall reading “How I Almost Became A Convicted Felon” the story of how I escaped my abusive marriage. That piece focused on the difficulty of leaving and the battles I overcame to do so. Nearly FIVE years later, we are still struggling in aftermath. Despite efforts to convey the gravity of my circumstances; our newly assigned judge has done more to hinder than help.

I filed four pro se motions in 2017 and four orders to show cause; requests for emergent assistance. All were denied, almost in their entirety.

The only victory I achieved was after my second motion in April. The judge agreed to prohibit my ex from bringing the children to the station when he filed police reports. I hold the dubious distinction in The Town of Warwick for most domestic incident reports. There was a point during the summer when the police were literally at my house every week, sent there by my ex husband. It is not unusual for an officer to stop me as I attempt to explain and say:

“I already know this story.”

Each time I interact with the Warwick, NY police I am told there’s nothing they can do. After almost 40 calls in 2017 alone, only three police officers offered any type of help or hope. Officer Serviss offered to speak to my son & did. Officer Pascal spoke to both of my sons and told me about the PINS program that helps youth in peril. Officer Kearns listened to me & gave me hope.

Twice in November of 2017 & again in January of this year I filed orders to show cause seeking help to resume the counseling my children have been getting for the last three years.

All three motions were denied by Judge Franzblau of Sussex County NJ Family Court. Then, shockingly, my pending motion, asking for the same help, returnable 12/15/17 was adjourned; Indefinitely!

I appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of NJ begging for my case to be heard.

My ex husband was able to remove the counselors that my kids were seeing for three years in August of 2017 due to a loophole in ‘joint custody’ that allows him to participate in decisions about the children’s healthcare. Their behavior has deteriorated exponentially since, including severe disruption at school.

Students who are compromised emotionally suffer consequences few would expect. They are more susceptible to bullying and prone to outward displays of inappropriate or negative behavior. I am shocked and dismayed almost daily as I listen to the horror stories of middle school. If the general public knew how prevalent bullying remains in schools despite the fact we are 20 years ‘wiser’ after Columbine; they would be horrified. Bullying has also mutated in its severity. I have heard tales of physical violence going unchecked while innattentive lunch monitors play around on their cell phones. Today’s middle schoolers are more ruthless than when my older children went through school just a few years ago.

Recently, one son, who hasn’t wanted to leave the house with me in months asked if I’d bring him to Walmart so he could buy Valentine’s treats for a few girl friends he had at school. That night when I asked how candy giving went I was flabbergasted to hear that a girl took the bag he gave her and threw it on the floor.

Imagine how devastating such an act can feel when you are 12. The cruelty of adolescence remains incomprehensible to me. Middle school stress combined with the long term effects of domestic violence can devastate a young mind.

During a particularly bad episode of misbehavior my sons revealed that they were being exposed to details they were incapable of processing.

“You’re trying to declare me ‘mental’ so you can get more child support.”

To their older brother:

“You’re not our real brother, you don’t even have a father. Your father left because mommy is crazy.”

Judge Franzblau stated in his last decision that “there was no clear evidence or danger of irreparable harm”, even though I submitted violent drawings my son made of ways to kill himself. He stated that I had a remedy in law; filing a motion.

It shouldn’t take this long or be this difficult to get help. My children are in peril, drowning in a system that does not recognize the long term effects of domestic violence.

I am watching helplessly as my children display increasingly alarming apathy. They are beginning to lie about the smallest indiscretions and refuse to take ownership of their actions. I have a 5 year old little girl who laments she wants to kill herself if I won’t buy her candy at the supermarket. When questioned by a police officer about why he called me a name, my 11 year old replied that he wouldn’t use such language if he didn’t hear it from his “Fucking Fat Ass Father.” I looked on helplessly, shocked by both his words and lack of accountability.

I emphatically believe that both parents in domestic violence situations should be required to undergo mandatory psych evaluations. A parent who repeatedly exhibits inappropriate behavior in the presence of minors should have supervised visitation until it can be determined that the children are no longer at risk to exposure of negative influence. When necessary, joint custody should not be granted if a parent has a history of serious mental illness.

School shooters aren’t born, they are created by a series of missed opportunities for help.

Perhaps tragedies like Parkland can be avoided in the future if the mentally ill receive adequate intervention. Gun control will only resolve part of the issue. It is imperative that we create a system that does not fail the most vulnerable members of society.

Call your state representative, or anyone who will listen and demand change.


Nearly seven months after my children lost the right to have counselng, I had my day in court on March 9, 2018.
During the course of a thirty minute dissertation I sprawled 45 police reports, a dozen closing letters sent by Child Protective Services and six denied court orders across the table in front of me. I implored the judge to look at them with scrutiny; then closed with this:

“These are the documents that an investigative reporter will dig up after one of my children commits a violent crime.
This is my family falling though the cracks.
And the paper trail will lead back here, to this court, where I have pleaded before you for the 6th time in a year’s span to help my family.”

Less than a week later I received Judge Franzblau’s decision by mail.

He signed an order permitting the children to receive counseling and prohibited my ex from sending police to our home unless there is a life threatening emergency.

A week after that, another “anonymous caller” made a report alleging child abuse, and this time the state ploice were sent to my house.

I envy the woman who gets punched in the face. Society and the Courts recognize physical abuse. If they don’t, eventually, her abuser will kill her and she’ll finally have an end to the game. There is no end for me.

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Suicide by Default


By Teresa G. D’vall

This is a story about the time depression killed my mother and not one you should read if you’re in a good mood. Chances are, you’re not aware that suicide can be committed by neglect. I made this discovery three years ago, on a chilly gray morning drenched in November Rain.

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so this tale is belated but remains pertinent, even though it’s October, the month we’re supposed to be aware of Domestic Violence, Breast Cancer and Bullying Prevention.

Shortly after 7am, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2014, I threw my favorite red coat and Coach purse onto a hospital floor without hesitation.

My ex niece-in-law offered the purse in lieu of rent when I let her stay with us. I could barely afford to feed my 6 kids, let alone hers, but I was 21 with a baby once too, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

She actually gave me two Coach purses, and a great pair of Crocs that I still wear, three summers later.
My ex sister-in-law would have a fit if she knew because those things were hers, and she never liked me.

I leave the purse in my car when I go to the food pantry but it shouldn’t matter to strangers how I acquired it.

That morning, it didn’t matter where I threw it. A short stretch of hallway was the last obstacle impeding my destination. I had just violated the speed limit and multiple traffic lights; littering the floor with my purse and coat was an afterthought.

The ICU corridor was lined with solemn personnel in surgical scrubs. Their silence was deafening; somber gazes of pity revealed the grim reality I already knew. My mother was moments away from death.

Waking to an early morning phone call with bad news at the other end is a moment we all dread.

The doctor said she was very, very sick and suggested I get there as soon as possible.

It was just after dawn and only my teenage daughter was awake. She looked on helplessly as I ran out the front door with the phone in hand screaming:

“I’m coming right now! Don’t turn off any machines! Please!! I’m her oldest child and I do not give you permission to stop life support!!”

I made the 45 minute drive in 30, during a torrential downpour, and was the only one of three siblings to arrive before it was too late.

Her head was so enlarged I could barely recognize the first face my eyes ever beheld.
Fluids injected to prolong life had caused swelling and a purple discoloration of her skin. Images of her that morning have lingered in my mind much longer than I want them there.

I sat on the gurney & said
“Mom, I’m here. I’m here mom.”

A doctor, probably the one who caused the cardiac arrest by moving her out of the ER said,
“She can’t hear you.”

“Yes she can.” I asserted, not really caring to whom.

Instinctively, I began to stroke her forehead, the same way she did mine during early childhood.
I held her hand and said,
“I love you. You were a good mom.”

The nurse who’d been pumping air through a tube into her mouth stopped making compressions. My gaze turned to a beeping monitor and I watched until the line went flat.

Our relationship ended as it began
with just her and I,
my head on her chest;
in a hospital bed.

My mother spent so much of her life unhappy that when she drew her last breathe, my first thoughts were that she was finally getting what she wanted. Death isn’t a popular gift but it’s what she requested most during the last decade of her life.

Septic shock, preceded by a urinary tract infection that went untreated had caused heart failure. She acquired it by not taking care of herself, because she was depressed.

Too depressed to shower.
Too depressed to leave the house. Too depressed to ask for help.

Or want any.

Depression is spoken about freely now, but September wasn’t Suicide Prevention Month when my mom grew up. I didn’t realize my mother suffered from depression until after she died. I thought she was just a negative person. A complainer. Someone who was bitter because life hadn’t turned out the way she planned.

I never knew how severe her depression was until I stumbled upon the picture that accompanies this story. Tucked away in a portfolio of drawings I never knew she made; I recognized the face immediately as my mother’s.

Depression is suicide’s silent accomplice, and the most sinister.
It masquerades as apathy, anger, and other behaviors that we wouldn’t immediately associate with sadness.

It took 69 years; but depression caused my mother’s death.

Suicide Prevention Awareness shouldn’t be confined to a month. Be aware, every day, that depression has many faces.

Stop, look, and listen. You may save someone’s life.



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How I Manage My 157 Hour Work Week

By Teresa G. D’vall

Dear Absent Parent,

Raising six children means that nothing is ever quiet, clean, or routine. We always need milk, the lemonade pitcher empties in minutes and a box of cereal only lasts 3 days if I hide it before going to bed.

Our children are 3, 7, 9, 10, 17 and even though the 23 year old mostly visits, my house is always chaotic.

You said I need to do my share since I don’t work. Here’s what I do on a typical day during the 157 hours of the week you don’t have them:


Awake to tormented wails:

“He’s copying me!”

“She spilled Cheerios on me!”

“I have nothing to wear!”

“There’s nothing eat!”

Vacuum Cheerios from everywhere while my coffee gets cold. Start the laundry. Clean up after the dog who was just let in but prefers to pee inside. Clean the cat litter.

Scrub a 1/2 dozen cups and sticky dishes in the sink because there’s nothing to eat and the only dishwasher is me. Mumble to myself that peanut butter is nearly impossible to get off a spoon after being left in the fridge all night.

Pick waffle off floor. Ask why there’s toast in the bathroom.


Gather book bags, coats, the homework Lou left on the counter, find my purse.

(I stash it somewhere new each night because the kids are always looking for gum).

Ask kids to clean up Cheerios. Again. Mop the floor on the way out the door to catch the school bus wearing slippers because it’s quicker than searching for my shoes. Remind myself of the time I arrived at school wearing one black boot and a brown one.


Start second load of laundry. Hang first load on makeshift clothesline. (It dangles precariously over a fence and if I don’t hang strategically, the longer garments get stuck on it; then fall off).

Make 5 beds. Pick up clothes, remnants of toys, empty wrappers, dirty utensils, duct tape stuck to floor and Cheerios in boys’ room. Empty water bottle that doesn’t have water in it without attempting to find out what it is.

Worry about finances. Apply for employment.

(22 applications so far this week) Child support isn’t enough to cover rent. Even though I went back to school and finished my bachelor’s degree, most available jobs pay little more than childcare costs a week.


Email our fifth grader’s guidance counselor and exchange a dozen texts with his therapist while trying to make an appointment at three different psychiatrists, all of whom don’t accept Medicaid.

Email our fourth grader’s teacher to make sure he turned in his homework.

Ask 3 year old why there are Cheerios stuck in her hair.


Wash 3 year old’s hair.

Vacuum Cheerios that were spilled, along with milk; while I hung clothes on the line. Mop the floor. Twice, because spilled milk is reluctant to be cleaned up.


Arrive at food pantry. Wait in line. Go to Walmart Supercenter for everything the food pantry didn’t have.

Realize the kids have a 1/2 day of school and l’m going to be late for the bus unless I abandon my cart immediately and leave.


Collect children from bus, drive home. Hang second load of laundry. Throw third load in washer and realize I forgot to get more laundry detergent. Drive to the dollar store because household supplies are cheapest there.


Leave dollar store with a renewed certainty that I will never, EVER go there with children again.

Realize I have 20 minutes before fifth grader’s teacher conference and no one’s had lunch.


Arrive at Burger King and manage to feed 4 kids with the six dollars in my wallet that’s there because most of it is change.


Apologize to fifth grade teacher for being late.

Explain that I didn’t realize the kids had a half day of school when I scheduled the appointment for 1:10.


Apologize to teacher who entertained three year old because her brothers argued during conference and she fell over during the scuffle.

Feign shock as teacher down the hall recounts lecture she gave boys about using the word ‘balls’ inappropriately.

Leave in shame.

Interrogate fifth grader about missing homework and having a 50 in social studies on way to car.


Arrive at playground to fritter away 25 minutes until the high school bell rings even though boys deserve confinement instead of fun after ‘balls’ faux paux.

Try in vain to look in three directions while being commanded to push a swing and “Find a potty” because 3 year old has to pee.


Create provisional toilet out of Little Mermaid ride on toy that we’ve been traveling with for no apparent reason. It has a liftable seat compartment so I line it with Walmart bags that I keep for when the kids get car sick.

Rapidly walk to closest garbage can at farthest end of playground with leaking Walmart bag. Hope no one’s watching.


Pick up moody teen age daughter. Affix magnet of shame that warns:

“Please be patient, student driver.”

3:00pm-Almost 9pm:

Arrive home safely with student driver and headache.

Take second load of laundry off clothesline. Hang third load.

Start dinner.

Ask Lou to do his homework.

Email fourth grade teacher to determine that Lou’s lying about not having homework. Again.
Console 7 yr old. Send 10 year old to his room for hitting him with a “sticky hand” toy; in the eye.

Lecture 10 year old about sticky hand which is broken, no longer sticky because it landed on Cheerios and also, not his.

Plead with 7 year old to stop hopping around the kitchen, holding his eye and screaming:

“He broke my sticky hand!!!” at a decibel level so loud it sends a flock of birds out of the tree Lou’s now climbing instead of doing homework.

Ask Lou why he’s on a tree wielding a stick he wrapped in duct tape and not wearing a coat. Beg him to do homework.

Refuse to discuss why I only give Cheerios as a snack.

Find 3 year old. Order boys to stop fighting. Again. Pack everyone in car amidst protest.

Drive moody teen to work. Command 3 year old to get back in her booster seat. Resort to threats. “Hurry! The police are coming!”

Arrive home and realize the cat’s with us.

Serve dinner and almost sit down to eat it then realize the dog peed on the floor again. While cleaning dog’s ‘accident’ she pulls 3 year old’s dish onto floor.
Ask for the vacuum because rice is nearly impossible to wipe off a floor, but everyone’s finished eating and gone already.

Call for help clearing dishes, receive none. Declare 5:30 bedtime since they’re too tired to help with dishes. Only the 3 year old returns to help. (Clears every dish with a smile, proclaiming she’s a big girl).

Give her the dollar I found in Lou’s sock drawer earlier because I know he took it out of my purse without asking.

Bribe Lou to do his homework with gum. Bathe 3 year old. Wipe flooded bathroom floor because shower door leaks and I forgot to buy caulk.

Exit bathroom and find kitchen curtains knocked off rods, a broken mop, and Louie wrestling his older brother who he claims just stabbed him with a fork.

Realize it’s almost 9 and send everyone to bed.


Tuck everyone in snug like a bug in a rug. Lay with 3 year old who asks to sing me ‘Muffin Baby” tonight instead.

Savor the moment as she belts out her version of “Hush Little Baby”

Notice she fell asleep clutching the dollar I gave her earlier.

Pick up moody teen at work. Listen to her tell me I shouldn’t complain about leaving the house to get her after 9pm because I don’t do anything all day.


Sit down to “relax” for the first time and begin to answer various emails from teachers and therapists, apologizing for doing so at such a late hour.

Delete to junk employment scam emails.

Wonder if I’ll ever find a job using my degree.

Worry about finances.

Realize the third load of laundry is still on the line.

Fall asleep with dinner on my shirt because I forgot to shower.



Your Lazy Ex-Wife
For my mother, because I grew up to have one just like me.


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Dad’s Greatest Gift was Free


Teresa G. D’vall

My dad taught me many things, but the lesson I remember most is the one about the value of a good home. I knew we didn’t live in the best part of town, but I never thought we were poor. Instead of fine furnishings and  luxuries money could buy; our house was filled with laughter, happiness and meals we still recall with satisfaction

We never took a fancy vacation but I have many fond memories of camping trips, fishing excursions and long hikes in the woods near home where we spent hours engaged in our best talks. Thirty years later, I still think of my dad whenever I see purple and white wildflowers in fields like the ones we used  to walk through.

Dad loved beagles and we always had one as a family pet. They were pure bred and worth several hundred each as pups.  One year after Angie, or Beauty or Sally had a litter I asked him, excitedly, how much money we’d earn after selling them. There were many needs we could have satisfied with the proceeds from the sale of one beagle.  Dad told me that most of the people he knew couldn’t afford to pay for the pups and he’d rather see them go to good  homes, places where he might even get to see them as they  grew up.

I’ve told my children many stories about their  grandfather, but the one about our bargain beagles is my favorite. I strive to raise all six of them the way dad raised me; with the knowledge that some assets are priceless.

My best memories of growing up were  spent with my dad. He is still the richest man I know.



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Why You Shouldn’t Miss the Moment


Teresa G. D’vall

Uncle Wiggly is a board game introduced by Milton Bradley in 1916 and themed around a rabbit who does a lot of hopping through the forest for reasons I no longer recall. My mother played it with me as a child and I was thrilled to find an edition on Amazon as an adult. It’s also the only game she  played with her grandchildren, reluctantly, the last time she visited my home for Christmas, too many years ago.

My three toddlers couldn’t really follow or remember the rules and Mom was beginning to suffer from short term memory loss so neither could she. I was desperately trying to manage a house still floundering in a disarray of leftovers and strewn with gift wrap. When I saw her on the floor with them I stood still; mesmerized by the novelty of it all. Even though they didn’t play very long and no one reached Dr. Possum’s house; there was a lot of laughter that day. It would be the only memory I have of my mom with her youngest grandsons. They called her Uncle Wiggly instead of Grandma after that. There weren’t many things that made Mom smile; but that moment did.

On October 25, 2014, I said goodbye to my mother for the last time. I wouldn’t know it until almost exactly a month later, when she passed away unexpectedly at the age of 69, and was only able to pinpoint the date because I’d brought a sick child to the pediatrician that morning. Afterwards, I was about to drive past her neighborhood and knew I hadn’t taken the time to see her in awhile. Visits were always uneasy because she’d repeat herself often, without realizing it. As my mini van approached the steep, familiar hill with the sign at the base welcoming me to Pleasant Valley Country Club, a nagging feeling urged; even though I was busier than usual:

“Turn now, go see her.” 

Tumultuous would be a kind way to describe our relationship throughout most of my life but early senility had softened my mother. Forgetfulness made her less critical. Rarely, if ever, did she reminisce about mistakes made during my youth now. The downside was she couldn’t remember accomplishments either. When I earned my bachelor’s degree the year prior, I never told her. V.K. Ezzo was an author too, who also wrote under a pen name, yet I never revealed that I had published my first book. For some reason, I chose to tell her both that day. Although brief, the visit would have been memorable even if it hadn’t been our final one. My Mom did two things for the first and last time that day. She said she was proud of me; then she hugged me.

Glancing back at her in the front yard, I noticed how frail she seemed, and thought that if it was the last I ever saw her, it was the most meaningful time we spent together. She was smiling as I pulled away. There are only a few moments in life we remember with the kind of clarity that remains etched in our minds whether we want it to or not. As the one year anniversary of her passing approaches, I am reminded how important it is to savor each one.

Meetings, deadlines, unfinished projects, children and the school activities that accompany them tend to keep our focus on what needs to be accomplished instead of enjoying the moments we think there’s no time for. The future we’re planning shouldn’t impede the present; but it often does.

Laundry can wait; work will be there tomorrow. Our house is cluttered because we live in it. The urge to complain about vacuuming bits of uncooked spaghetti from everywhere because the kids think pasta is a toy wanes with thoughts of how clean it will be once they are grown. Why is there a rock in the refrigerator? Who cares.

I turn my head more often now when they say ‘Look!’,  whether I’m busy or not. They tell me about their score and I listen, even though video games ceased being important to me long ago. If they say “Mommy come here!”  I go. I feign attention if I don’t have time to pay it. 

I visit my dad for no reason whenever I can.

Other than the early basics, there are only a few things I remember my mother teaching me. When to use my high beams. How to look at the white line to guide me in the dark while I drive. At 43 years old; I wasn’t expecting any new lessons.

During an impromptu visit, because I turned up her hill at the last second; even though I didn’t have time to; my mother taught me for the last time.
The briefest moments can become a cherished memory. You never know which could the last one, or the only one, so don’t miss any of them.

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