5 Things We Learned From Toddler's Tragic Death


Sometimes a single tragedy reveals the things we worry about in silence. This week 22-month-old Tamryn Klapheke died of malnutrition and dehydration at her Dyess Air Force Base home during her father’s deployment.  Her mother Tiffany Klapheke, 21, is jailed facing three felony counts of injury to a child.  A donation fund for the surviving sisters Taber Lee, 3, and Tatum, six months, has already been set up online by the stepgrandmother.

More than 200 readers commented on the story SpouseBuzz in just 24 hours.  Managing Editor Amy Bushatz and I were struck by the themes that came up again and again in the readers comments.

This story resonated with our female readers.  Only four respondents of the first 208 revealed that they were male.  Again and again, female readers remembered their own deployments and how very lonely and isolating that experience can be.

Yet our readers were torn.  On one hand, the readers expressed concern for the toddler, the sisters and the father of the child.  Many had compassion mixed with vexation for the 21-year-old mom who already had three kids.

On the other hand military spouses expressed a strong value for protecting our children no matter the circumstances. We have a zero tolerance policy toward letting our children down. Della, a Marine wife of 20+ years, wrote, “When our military men are gone, we find the strength needed to first take care of our children … and then things @ home … long before we consider ourselves.  That’s a Military Wife!”

But just pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps doesn’t always work.  In dealing with troubled families like the Klaphekes, our readers came up with five important ideas we want to share with you.

1. Military life is a choice.  Readers agreed that there are many resources available to spouses in military life.  You have to have enough willpower to seek that help yourself. Many readers concurred with Mel who wrote, “No one is obligated to make sure that you can get through your day. No one is obligated to carry your load when you need a break … we all have challenges to overcome and we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to those we love to be the best we can be.”

2. Chronic depression makes getting help difficult.  Many readers mentioned that they, too, had suffered from depression -- the kind that makes it hard to see that anything could help. Ann Erik noted,  “Severe chronic depression can be just as debilitating as a physical injury.  Maybe even more as it affects your motivation, judgment, and ability to organize your thoughts. For a person suffering from severe depression, figuring out who to contact for help can seem like climbing a mountain.”

3. The current system doesn’t work perfectly.  Even with all of the programs and services available to military families, many readers said that the system doesn’t work the way it is now and that too many people fall through the cracks.  Readers said that they efficacy of the system depended on the individual command.  One of the most common responses was, “I haven’t been contacted once.”  Only one Navy wife did say that she got consistent calls from the “IA Lady” who she said was “her angel.’ (So good on you IA Lady, whoever you are.)

4. People who need services most do not use them.  The most troubling theme we read was from the many helping professionals and command team members who responded to the story.  They expressed frustration at the fact that they have so much to offer, but that people don’t use the services because a) individuals are not capable of identifying what they need; b) individuals are deliberately hiding a problem due to pride or fear; and/or c) some service members do not want their families within the scope of the command.  You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink -- without overstepping his right to privacy.

5. Not enough volunteers step forward.  Some readers pointed out how much the command already has to do before and during without being expected to individually seek out family members.  Some thought that those who wanted someone to call them should step forward and be the callers themselves.  Said Lane, “Wives/spouses don’t want to get involved because of all the back-biting and rumor mills. Senior spouses (like me) are done trying and there is the occasional husband who doesn’t give his wife’s info.  You cannot force people to attend, even though some would benefit.  To blame this family’s unit is insane.”

Agreed.  And to ignore the needs of our own is not part of the military ethos.  There is not an easy answer to the Klapheke tragedy.  Nothing we say will bring back that 22-month-old child.

Yet I can't help but see in these letters from our readers that we military families are  indeed a community. We fight the good fight. We think through old solutions and think up new solutions.  We keep working toward a time in which all spouses are competent.  All servicemembers come home.  All babies sleep peacefully in their beds at night -- warm, dry, happy, safe.

Story Continues

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