Remembering Lashanda—so we won’t forgot other silent mothers

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Lashanda Armstrong was “a happy, loving, bubbly child who would come through the door and tell you jokes to get you to laugh. She loved to dance, she loved music. She loved Beyonce!”

That’s how Armstrong’s aunt, Angela Gilliam, described her niece, saying that was the Lashanda everyone knew and loved—not the Lashanda who made international headlines last week.

I urge each of you to not forget this tragedy. Armstrong’s death, and that of her three young children, can impel us to help other single, struggling, overwhelmed young mothers—so they don’t repeat her fatal mistake.

Armstrong was yet another young mother who imploded—when she drove her van into the Hudson River last week, killing not just herself, but three of her four young children: Landon, 5; Lance, 2; and Lainaina, 11-months-old. La’Shaun Armstrong, her firstborn at age 10, survived the tragedy when he escaped from the van and swam to shore—and then went for help. Sadly, it was too late for his mom and siblings.

Every time I hear of another tragedy like this one—and it hasn’t even been a year, since that this same scenario played out in another town, when Shaquan Duley killed her two little boys.

No, Duley didn’t take her own life, but that doesn’t mean much in cases like these. Experts recognize that—just as Susan Smith planned to kill herself, too—when the survival instinct takes over, these mothers who have already killed their children can’t follow through and commit suicide.

That’s why Smith and other mothers like her more often end up in prison, than dead.

I know what’s needed to keep from taking that final fatal step. It takes an intense and burning desire to keep going, to stay alive, so that you don’t cross that line and become another terrifying statistic blasted by people who know no better. It also takes faith, that you can do it, and, quite simply, just living life one day at a time, so it doesn’t overwhelm you.

It also takes reaching out to others, and not being afraid to ask for help, graciously accepting it when help is offered, and not feeling guilty for needing it. Life is too short to spend it blaming ourselves for such stuff, especially when you’re a single, stressed-out mother whose life consists of being the sole party responsible for four other lives!

As Gilliam told me today, other young women like her niece need to “open up and tell somebody. There’s too much help out there” not to do so.

“I hope they remember her story. Don’t let life stress you out,” Gilliam pleaded to these young girls and women, so they won’t repeat Armstrong’s mistake.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”


2 Comments

Ruhi · April 17, 2011 at 2:39 PM

Daleen,
I have read your article regarding Lashanda Armstrong and I must say that I was shocked (the good kind) to even read such a piece. It takes a lot of strength and courage to write what you have written. I remember first hearing about the story on the news and feeling so angry at the mother for not only taking her life away but for killing her children with her… and specifically, the fact that one of her children survived such a hideous and painful death. But I was also remembering in that moment what the mother might have been going through. Life can get so hard and death would seem like the only viable solution. I am in no way promoting suicide but rather understanding where people, specifically women and mothers, are coming from. In these tough socio-economic times, people are struggling in all ways possible.
I look forward to reading your memoir.
Thank you,
Ruhi

Lynn Cummings · April 17, 2011 at 8:26 PM

Daleen, I really enjoyed your article too. I can see myself in your story and Lashanda’s story. I went through those feelings of low self worth,being in a room full of people I knew and loved,yet feeling like I was all by myself. Thinking that I was the ONLY person who felt that way and that NOONE would understand. So I kept my mouth shut and put on that all to familiar mask and would say “nothing’s wrong”,”I’m o.k.”…I was one hell of an actress( or so I was). People who loved me would reach out, but I had the attitude”if I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you” Like I said I was real good at masking that debilitating, crippleing pain, it was a physical pain I later found out was bipolar disorder. I only found out I had bipolar disorder after one of my many suicide attempts. After I walked in front of an 18 wheeler and a homeless man pulled me out of the street. God’s name was James that day. I went to a psych ward for about 1 month then went into extensive therapy that treats drug addiction and mental illness. I tried to self medicate as a lot of us do. Go figure… no matter where you go, there you are. The ONLY time ANY of us should look down on a person it SHOULD be when you are giving them a hand up. More of us are dealing with this than not. JUDGE NOT LEST YE BE JUDGED. Thank you Daleen and GOD BLESS YOU

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