I lost my son in 1998. He was 19, I was 38. It was the end of summer.
He and his friends were heading back to college. The knock on my door
came at 4:30 in the morning. I hit the floor.
When he was in high school he wrote an essay once. It was a creative
project. He described this story where he and several of his friends
went off a cliff in a vehicle and everyone died except him, he made
it out. He was convinced this would happen to him when he turned 18.
When he turned 18, he came home in his football helmet and was soooo
happy that he had made it past his premonition.
His friends and his girlfriend were out for the evening. He was 19.
He called me to ask me if he should come home for the BBQ we were doing.
I was doing the “mom” thing. His friends were leaving the
next day, he had another week, so I said, “no, you don’t
have to come home, go be with your friends”. It was weird because
he went back and forth with me, “are you sure mom?” I did
all the mom stuff – be careful, etc.
They were all stopped on the top of a hill coming down off the backside
of a mountain. I’ve been on that road, it’s not a road for
beginners, it is gravel and there are curves and cliffs. They only had
seat belts in the front of the Bronco. They all piled in, Brian was
in the back seat. They said they heard a “pop, pop” and
the driver lost control of the car. They went over the cliff. Everyone
jumped out of the car except my son. I don’t know if his shoe
was stuck or what, His friends remember him saying , “Remember
I will always love you” and then they were all able to get out
of the car. They made it back to the top of the hill. Except my son,
It’s every parent’s worst fear. It really is. When they
rang the doorbell and I saw all the police lights and the people on
the step, I thought, “Oh, shit, someone is in jail”. I was
wrong. Very wrong.
For a long time after that I kept expecting to see him walk in through
the front door; that it had all been some ghastly trick. It was agonizing
to keep expecting that. When the phone rang, my first reaction would
be, “Oh! It’s Brian” and then I would remember. We
were very mentally connected. When he was away at school and I hadn’t
heard from him in a while, I would just have thought that and the phone
would ring. It was a telepathic connection. To have that connection
ripped away was cruel torture.
Brian was a hat guy. He always wore a hat unless it was a special occasion.
His friends told me that night he kept vacillating on if he should wear
a hat or not. He opted for not. There were so many things that told
me he knew. And then I blame myself, of course. I should have told him
to come home for dinner and not go out; I should have done this and
that. But I do believe in destiny. And if it was his time, nothing I
could have done would have prevented it. He would have died on his way
home. That I could not have lived with.
It starts out as how many hours, then how many days, then weeks, months
and years. You feel as though you should go out and be “happy”
again, but nothing is ever the same. I wasn’t going to kill myself,
I have other children, but honestly, I did not care if I lived or died.
There are so many things you go through as a parent – the arguments,
the fights. Parenting is parenting. In all relationships there are good
and bad moments. You have to remember the good, and accept the bad.
I’m a different woman now. Grief changes people. There were a
lot of people who rushed to my side when it happened, wanting to be
the hero on some level, but who disappeared afterwards. This isn’t
the kind of thing where you just “get over it” and go back
to who you are. If you love me, please try to get to know the new me.
I am a different person, with new thoughts, ideas, aspirations, Maybe
you will like the new me. I’m trying to get to know the new me,
To a parent who has just lost a child, I would say this: You’re
going to hurt for a long, long time. A part of that pain will be with
you for the rest of your life, but eventually it will cease to be your
whole life. Don’t torture yourself. If you have photos on the
walls, leave them on the walls, don’t try to remove all reminders
of your child. But by the same token, don’t keep your child’s
bedroom a shrine. Don’t torture yourself like that. Take the special
possessions and put them somewhere where you can hold them, touch them.
But don’t leave an empty room to pass by every day. Don’t
try not to cry. Your body needs to cry, it needs you to acknowledge
the pain. If you hold it in, the stress will kill you. Find something
to do outside of yourself. Do some charity work, spend time with animals,
just do something that will get you outside of it for a while and give
you a break. Don’t just lock yourself away. Do something that
is completely new to you. Remember your child wants you to live. So
try to live.
Importantly, find a support group. Even if it is only one person, find
the other people who have been down the path you are starting. Listen
to them. Their story may be completely different than yours, but you
may hear one thing – one thing about how the coped with it, and
think, “OK! That will help me.”
I have happy days. I have sad days. When the sadness becomes overbearing
I go see my children and my grandkids. I go there and I remember –
I remember why my heart is still beating, why I am still alive, and
I remember what happy feels like.