Mary's Story

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, Brian.

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, too.

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.

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