“Reagan was a fireball. She was the light in the room. She was full of life. … Grant was my sweet, compassionate, sensitive, very loving and very funny child.”
Melissa mom Karen Sparks sometimes has a hard time finding the right words, but when asked about her children, she’s never at a loss. Four years ago, Sparks lost Reagan, 9, and Grant, 8, to the house fire set by her estranged husband in the double murder-suicide that reset her life. The children had spent Halloween with their father and were murdered on Nov. 1, just two weeks after Sparks had filed for divorce. Now, through continued ups and downs and after a 90-day stay in a trauma rehabilitation center last year, Sparks is working with her sister to tell Reagan and Grant’s story in her book, “The Eleven Year Burn,” with the hopes that she can help bring others through the worst times in their lives. For information and excerpts, visit karenasparks.com.
When did you start journaling?
My 90-day treatment was me journaling every day. I continued to journal even when I got out. I have three different journals, and that’s what we’re working off of (for the book) – what I learned, what I went through.
Obviously, the story is around what happened in my marriage, what happened to my children and where I’m at now, and also the journey of how I got there. I’m not writing a self-help book. I’m doing this mainly for hope and to help any other mom or dad out there that’s lost everything or is in a bad relationship or just anything really, any circumstance that you’re going through. I want to be the voice for my children and help someone out there that doesn’t know what to do.
So your book can be for anybody who’s lost hope.
It’s not just for someone like me – the domestic violence or the filicide – but everyone has a story, and everyone’s stories matter. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, I hope and pray that this is something that can spark that light in someone’s life that they don’t give up.
You talk about your faith, but a lot of people might turn their back on that.
I didn’t feel that way in the beginning. I was angry. I was cussing God, and I was blaming him. But knowing that he was there the whole time (and I know that without a shadow of a doubt), how was I supposed to believe in him? I’ve been through all the different stages. I’m almost to four years in November walking this journey. It’s never going to end, and I’m aware of that. It’s like waves in the ocean, and it comes and goes, and there’s good days, there’s bad days, but I’m at a point now where I know the only way that I’m standing and breathing and taking a step every day is because of him.
That’s what gets me through every day. Even when I didn’t want to see it or accept it, he never left.
What keeps you going?
This is their story, I’m just the vessel, the messenger, the voice, and I’m sharing their story. I’ve been to the depths. I’ve been in the pit where I couldn’t get out. I’ve been suicidal. Any mom that’s gone through something like this shouldn’t survive. When you look at the statistics, the medical things that can happen to a mom and a dad, but mainly the mother, I shouldn’t be here. Your body shuts down, your heart is broken. But there are a lot of moms that are still standing and fighting this, and I’ve met a lot along the way. I’m sad that I know these mothers, but I’m grateful at the same time because I’m not alone and they’re not alone, and we can do this together.
There are still days where I don’t want to get out of bed, but I wasn’t left behind for nothing, and I know that God has a plan and a purpose. Evil will not prevail, and my kids being murdered by their father will not be in vain.
When were you able to see your purpose?
I felt that early on. I started boxing, I started running. I wanted to start a nonprofit. Then all of a sudden, I crashed and burned. Then I had to get help and went to treatment for 90 days. I come out and here I am a year later. I knew once I got out and I got a job, and I felt in the midst of that job in May, I kind of felt it in my spirit that there was something more for me and that I needed to step out and do this thing, and I needed to do it full time. I needed to do the nonprofit, the book, I needed to tell my story.
What did all that physical activity do for you?
It was a medicator, a release. It was therapy for me before I went to the real trauma therapy. It saved me. My kids died in November, and my sister walked me into Title Boxing in December, and I didn’t stop for like a year and a half. Me and that bag, that was probably the best therapy I could do in that time.
I started training and running for half marathons and marathons and doing some ultra runs here and there. ... When I run, I can breathe and I can be alive.
Where did you get the title of the book?
I have to give credit to my cousin Tim. He helped me with that title. He’s a movie director, and he’s very creative.
Eleven years – I was married for 11 years. In the prologue it talks about a slow 11-year burn.
Burn – because he took everyone down in a house fire. He burned my world to the ground. He took my whole life, but he also took who I was. It’s like he took my soul when I was married to him. That’s what narcissists and sociopaths do.
So those problems in your marriage built up until you just couldn’t stay anymore?
When you think of domestic violence, so many people think it’s physical, but mine was verbal and mental. It was the verbal and mental abuse that no one can see and no one knew except my family members that were close to me.
I didn’t want my kids part of a broken home. The majority of people stay because of their children, and that is absolutely, in my opinion, the wrong reason to stay.
Looking at your life from November 2015 to now, how have you changed?
I lost who I was – my identity of being a mom and a wife – that was my dream. When that burned to the ground, I had no idea who Karen Sparks was. I look back and see all my memories, and I can’t believe it’s been almost four years. Sometimes I feel like it’s been 10 or more, and sometimes I feel like it just happened yesterday. My sister says, ‘This is the Karen I’ve always known.’
I’ve found my confidence again. I’m stronger. I’m on a mission, and I have a passion now. I feel like I’m gaining that passion for life again.
When you were in your lowest period and felt like you couldn’t move forward, where did you find the light at the end of the tunnel?
Sometimes the light goes out, but it always slowly comes back on. It’s digging deep. I don’t really know how to put it in words. I just know that day I was at the lowest of lows that I was all alone, I called in sick to work, I was in bed, I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I had a plan of taking my life with medication and alcohol. I remember getting out of bed, crying, and I looked at the pictures of my kids on the wall, and I basically cried out to them to help me and to intervene. I was praying and I was desperate, and I was scared. I wanted to go because I was so tired and exhausted, and I didn’t want to go on anymore, but I knew I would hurt my family. But I wasn’t thinking about anyone in that moment except me.
Then immediately my phone starts beeping, and I get all these texts coming through and start seeing my family texting me stuff. My dad and my sister get these gut feelings and they show up when I don’t want them to or when I least expect it. That was May 3 of 2018. I was in treatment two weeks later.
It’s a battle every day in my head. It’s a choice. I either choose to melt into my bed and never get out and just wither away, or I choose to get up and fight for my kids, my other family, the other moms and dads and children out there that are stuck. If one voice speaks up, and another and another, it’s the domino effect of hope and love and goodness.