Dionne Monsanto was hacking it in the financial world in the US, when her academically-gifted daughter was molested and later took her own life. Today, she finds solace as a yoga instructor
“I am a mother of three and a yoga teacher living in New York, US. Before I started teaching yoga, I was in financial services for almost 20 years at Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase. My life changed when my daughter Siwe died by suicide at the age of 15.
Siwe was an extraordinary child. She stood up at 4.5 months and began walking at 7 months. By two, she spoke in full sentences. At four she could write her full name, Afua Pili Busisiwe Ayo Monsanto, and she started kindergarten. Although always the youngest, she remained among the top students throughout her school years.
By the time Siwe turned seven, she played the acoustic guitar, violin, cello and then added electric bass guitar in middle school. Music was not her only strength. At nine she was admitted into a mathematics and science program for girls, the Connect Program at Choate Rosemary Hall, in June 2005. She was the youngest girl in the program. By the time Siwe was 15, she had published poems and songs in English and Spanish. She even got a scholarship at the Ailey School of Dance. She clearly was destined to make her mark in the world. I often said that she was so smart I would work for her one day.
From the age of four Siwe cried for long periods at home. Yet, at school she was cheerful. When she turned nine I decided to have her tested by a doctor to understand why this was happening. She was medically proven to be a genius at the Albert Einsten School of Medicine, but was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder and therapy was recommended.
Although her father Paul and I had separated when she was three, we co-parented well, and Siwe spent alternate weekends with him. Siwe adored her father, they shared a common love for math, science and music.
Paul was a good father until he wasn’t. On Sunday December 16th, 2007, Paul molested our daughter Siwe. I was in church when he called me twice, ‘Paul? What’s up?’ I answered. ‘Have you seen Siwe?’ he asked. ‘Paul. It is your weekend. She’s supposed to be with you.’ After a brief pause, Paul stated that she had run off! ‘Wait?! What?! Run off?! Why?!’ I asked. Another pause, then he said, ‘Well, because I fondled her.’ In shock and disbelief, I responded, ‘What? Paul, are you trying to tell me that you had sex with our daughter?!’ ‘No, nothing like that. We talk about a lot and she told me that there is a boy she liked at school and… I just didn’t want her first sexual experience to be with some knucklehead who didn’t care about her,’ he said.
I wished that it was a nightmare. That morning would come and it would all pass away like any other bad dream. Paul was a good father, right? How could this happen? I hung up the phone and pulled myself together as best as I could. I had to find my daughter fast. It had snowed the night before. I hurried back in church in tears and I made calls to my pastors and elders. I asked friends and family if they had heard from Siwe. Finally, when I called her phone one last time, a police officer answered. They were at NY Presbyterian Hospital, only three blocks from my home! The police and children service’s agents were with her when I arrived.
A piece of my daughter died that day. She had been violated by her idol, her father. She was confused and felt she was at fault. She wondered what she had done wrong. Paul didn’t deny that he had molested Siwe, and was arrested that very same Sunday. Unfortunately, his father, paid for a lawyer and he was released on bail three days later. However, the case went on and in July 2008, he was sentenced to five years in jail. He served four years and was released early in October 2012.
Our lives changed irrevocably. Siwe at 11 did not know who to believe or trust. She doubted all that she once knew to be true. She doubted herself and her worth. She missed her father and what our life was before this heinous act. In order to love him she had to take the fault and loath herself for being bad and dirty. Her world had turned upside down. In her mind it was her fault he was in jail. Her pain turned into self-mutilation. We had good days and bad days. One Monday in October, I got a call from her teacher saying that Siwe had attempted suicide. She was admitted into a pediatric psych ward for three weeks. Upon her release, our new reality of 24-7 suicide watch began. When I went on business trips, she often accompanied me.
As our reality changed continuously, we tried various therapies (talk, art, group, hypnotherapy) and medication. Amidst all of the changes, she wrote, danced, sang and excelled academically. She was even accepted into a specialised high school for gifted and talented children. We had found a new rhythm of life, but she kept trying to kill herself. She ultimately took her own life in June 2011. She was 15.
I had started taking Bikram yoga before she died to recover from a bout of pneumonia and after she died, those yoga classes became crucial. I stayed on my mat to heal mentally and emotionally. My healing cocktail consisted of yoga, dance, Roger (the man who loved and still loves me unconditionally), talk therapy, family and friends. They held me up and helped me find my footing after losing Siwe. With their love and support, I left financial services in March 2012 and became Bikram yoga teacher training in April 2012. A new ‘me’ was born because of my daughter’s death. Today, I am a full-time yoga and dance teacher, life coach, mental health advocate, and public speaker. I am happy and at peace managing The Siwe Project, traveling, speaking and teaching.”
Dionne can be followed via:
FB: Dionne Monsanto, Injoy
This story was first published in the Saturday Magazine edition of Saturday, 25th April. Saturday Magazine is a product of Nation Media Group.