Henley Gabeau is coming up on an unpleasant anniversary.
It will be two years in April that her daughter, suffering from the unending pain associated with Lyme Disease, shot herself to death. She left no note, though her family knows that is why she took a gun she didn’t own and shot herself.
Gabeau is a longtime gun owner, and has kept her weapons despite the family tragedy.
We’re sitting in a booth in Kathy’s diner in Staunton Bras. Plates of early dinner specials and pie whiz by us and the high-carb chatter of diner talk permeates the air Novelty.
It’s exactly this type of social atmosphere that the Middlebrook resident could not bear for months after her daughter’s death Tops & Tees. The daily gossip, innocuous drama. She couldn’t be around it. But solitude didn’t fit well either. Nothing did.
She’s here now, though, and willing to talk about her own curiosity about guns, including a weeklong trip to Arizona 20 years ago to learn how to handle a Glock. It is showing me another, less visible feature of this landscape.
When I ask her if her own experience with tragedy has changed her take on gun rights, she shakes her head. “I would not want to not have that right. I want that right.”
Her own guns are locked away, unloaded. “I bought a lock for it, and it’s put away, but I’m glad that I have it.
“I did take the class for a concealed weapon permit after I moved here, but never applied for it.
“There were probably 30 people in the class, and there were a lot of nurses in the class. There had been rapes over at U.Va. It was interesting to see who the people around me were and find out why they were taking the class.”
Gabeau has never been in a situation where she had to use a gun. “But there are critters out where I live. The one time a rattlesnake came in my yard and was menacing my cat, I called my next door neighbor. It didn’t even occur to me to go into my house and get my gun.”
“I’m not itching for circumstances to use the gun, but I do feel strongly about the Second Amendment.”
Her daughter, who was in her mid-40s when she shot herself, was not a gun owner. But when she decided to die she used someone else’s weapon she had access to.
“She had never expressed any interest in using guns,” Gabeau says. “She was a very curious person but had not expressed any curiosity about shooting guns.”
“She had been planning this, I think, and was in terrible pain Shapewear, from Lyme Disease and MS combined, with no end in sight. She was a very independent, lovely person who saw that she didn’t want to be a burden to her family as her health got worse.
“I don’t know, I wasn’t in her mind. But she got that gun and used it.”
Last year, 13 of the 15 gun-related deaths were suicide.
Gabeau isn’t looking to Congress or state legislators for the answer of how to lower that rate of gun-related suicides. Instead, she looks to the powerful gun lobby to take a leading role.
“I don’t want more regulation — I wish the NRA would be more proactive in helping with the suicide problem.”
Over her lifetime, Henley estimates she has known two dozen people or more who killed themselves, and most have done so with guns.
“I tell you Hunting & Fishing, you don’t get over this. As the family who’s left, you just don’t get over it.”
Gabeau’s daughter didn’t leave a note. Her husband found two small oil paintings on her easel a few weeks after her death when he went into her studio.
“She had told him she was painting something for him. There they were.” Gabeau thinks that was her daughter’s way of saying goodbye — a lasting expression that didn’t focus on the suffering.
Henley pushes a piece of paper across the table. A color print of a photo of one of the paintings. Even as a picture of a picture of a painting, the scene stood out.
A rich blue sky. A single cloud drenched in sunlight. A framework of trees seeming to support the cloud, and in front of them a foreground of green pasture.
Henley did not want to have the painting reproduced, but we don’t need to see it. We’ve seen this picture before. We’ll see it again practically all spring and summer. Year after year. Henley’s daughter, who stopped to admire that view and put it on canvas, will not.