Move On or Move Out

June 17, 2013

More than 10 years ago, Leah’s 15-year-old daughter, Jessica, was killed in a horrible car crash that also left Leah’s oldest son, Michael, now 22, paralyzed from the waist down. Since the tragedy, Leah has kept Jessica’s bedroom exactly the way the teen left it, and despite encouragement from her family, she says she can’t bring herself to pack up her daughter’s belongings. Leah’s husband, Curtis, says his wife is stuck in the past and that their marriage is suffering — so much so that they haven’t slept in the same bed for more than three years. Can Leah finally let go of her pain and anger? And, can her marriage be saved?  







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LeahCurtisThe crash sceneJessicaJessica's roomMichaelBrentVictoria and Chloe

A Devastating Crash

In the early afternoon hours of April 14, 2002, Leah and her husband, Curtis, were driving with their family along a winding road in Oklahoma when they were involved in a terrible crash. Leah says earlier that day, she had a feeling that something bad was going to happen. “That morning before we left, I just had the sickest feeling ever in my stomach not to leave,” Leah says. “I just pressed past that, and we went; and I have a lot of regrets — a lot.”

Leah’s 15-year-old daughter, Jessica, was killed instantly, and her oldest son, Michael, now 22, was paralyzed from the waist down. Leah’s youngest son, Brent, now 21, miraculously walked away unharmed. Leah suffered multiple life-threatening injuries, and Curtis broke his foot — but the family’s emotional scars have not yet healed.

Leah and Curtis have since had two daughters, 9-year-old Chloe and 5-year-old Victoria, who share a bedroom while Jessica’s room sits unoccupied. What will it take to get Leah to move forward?

Leah explains what happened that fateful day. “I looked over at Jessica, and I knew something was really wrong with her.”

Go inside the room that Leah says she can’t bring herself to change. Plus, Leah talks about her ongoing struggle with moving forward.

A Troubled Marriage

“Before the accident, we definitely had marital problems,” Leah says. She says after the accident, Curtis was disconnected and insensitive. “There’s a part of me that holds some resentment that he didn’t realize how big this was for me.” She admits that on a few occasions, she has told Curtis that she wishes he died instead of Jessica. Leah says that three years ago, she filed for divorce and moved Curtis out of the home, but when he promised to change, she let him move back in, under one condition: they would not share a bedroom.

“Every night, I get the mattress and set it up in the living room,” Curtis says of their arrangement. “I know that there are struggles in my personality and maybe even my focus,” he admits. “But [Leah] has always been someone who I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

Leah says she feels like Curtis doesn’t hold himself accountable and take responsibility for his share of their marital problems. “I am at a place [of] put up or shut up; I am done,” she says.

Curtis explains why he feels it’s unjustified for Leah to blame him in the accident.   

“The depth and breadth of your love for her in life is not reflected by the length and depth of your grief for her.”

Michael and Brent open up about the accident and their parents' troubled marriage.

“You got into an emotional hurricane, and you lost equilibrium.”

Dr. Phil tells Leah that it's time to change Jessica's room and offers guidance. “You need to go through [Jessica’s room] in an orderly fashion. You need to choose those things that most represent her. You need to put them in a place of honor, where they are not to be forgotten,” he says. “Then you need to allow the family to move in and use and interact with the space that was hers.” He tells Leah that she can do this in a way that would provide a tremendous gift to Michael, who missed his sister’s funeral because he was hospitalized at the time. “I think you should do it where you have a memorial ceremony,” Dr. Phil continues. “And I think you should do it with [Michael] there, where each of you remembers some things about her, and you bless that room, and you bless that space, and you bless her.”

Michael agrees that it would mean a lot to him if he had the chance to honor his sister and finally get closure. “It would give him a gift of being a part of something that he didn’t get to be part of,” Dr. Phil tells Leah.

He then offers to help Leah redo the room, if and when she’s ready.

“I appreciate that. Thank you,” Leah responds.

As for the couple’s marriage, Dr. Phil offers Leah and Curtis specialized help for dealing with a marriage in the aftermath of loss, among other issues, and suggests waiting 90 days before making any big decisions. “This isn’t the time to decide whether to get a divorce,” he says. “You can’t trust yourself. You have emotional vertigo right now. You have resentments built up — some of them real, some of them not.” He continues, “If it’s a good idea [to get a divorce] now, it’ll be a good idea 90 days from now.” The couple agrees and accepts the help.