Changes, Grief and Gratitude

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Changes are coming. I am going back to work. Somehow, some way, the stars have aligned and the job I left almost a year exactly before Dylan died has opened up and I am returning on Monday. Exciting news and devastating all at the same time.

I am so excited to go back to a job I loved and was always a little sorry to have left behind. I am excited that hopefully this will help us make our dreams a reality a little sooner. Pennies saved will accumulate faster toward our hopes and dreams of owning a piece of land where we can sink our hands and feet into the soil to heal our souls. We need land where we can create a memorial garden and basketball court for Dylan. We have had plans for some time to be able to buy land in the country. Dylan had already stated his intentions to stay home until that happened, to live with us for just a bit to be able to enjoy the basketball court Drew had promised. Drew still plans to fulfill that promise, so we will be able to spread Dylan’s ashes there. I am so unsettled by the fact that my son – who always fought so hard not to be crammed in the boxes created by society – is sitting here in our home in a different sort of box entirely. And I truly don’t know how far my healing will progress until I am able to set him free.

I am devastated about going back to work, because I feel like I am leaving Dylan home alone. Crazy I know, because he was 17-years-old. He spent lots of time home alone. But guilt is pecking away at my conscience because I am leaving him behind in a house that will be empty, lonely and silent. Painfully silent… silent like the crash site… silent like the morgue… silent like death. Locking the door behind me on Monday as I leave behind a quiet, empty house will break my heart.

I haven’t been able to write for a while. Looking back, it has been over a month. My words just haven’t seemed to come together coherently to form anything worth sharing. Yet, it seems so many things worth sharing have happened.

Dylan’s birthday, while difficult, was made bearable by my husband who gave me a huge project to do that day. Before I realized it, the day was gone and Drew had helped me create something incredible that spoke so loudly of the things Dylan and I used to do together without fail.  I also received a surprise care package from my sisters just so I would know that people remember.

Labor Day marked the 6 month anniversary of my son being given his wings to soar with the angels.  Again, a day that should have been horrible, Drew made bearable… with yet another project. We totally rearranged the layout of our home and made several purchases that were a LONG time coming. Before I realized it, the day was gone. We again, had created something incredible together and I was overcome with gratitude and grief all at once. I was overcome with gratitude for my husband, who sometimes I just want to grab by the neck and choke because I think he doesn’t understand what I am saying. And then he does these amazing things that salvage a day when I am prepared to allow it to cripple me – and I know he does understand me.  I was overcome with grief because it was so obvious when we were done that day that we have a gaping hole in our lives.

Drew was ever watchful of me that day. As soon as I started to melt, he said, “He’s still with us. He’s already picked out his favorite spot on the new couch and he is ready to be a part of it all.” What I wouldn’t do to see him kicked back in that recliner, intentionally aggravating me by putting his stinky, sweaty feet on the new furniture after just taking off his basketball shoes. I know he would just be looking at me with that grin and shrug and say, “What?”

Those who don’t know me very well, would never know the personal struggles I face on a daily basis, because I don’t let them show. I can be doing absolutely fine and then grief, like a brick wall, will knock me to my knees and suck the air from lungs. Usually it is something totally random that will trigger it. Like the fact that a few weeks ago I saw these really cool sweats while I was shopping, and I automatically started looking for Dylan’s size because I knew he would love them. And then I remember. Sometimes it’s Isabella, who is still ever questioning when Dylan will come home. It is always the same conversation, with her asking, “What’s that mean?” or “Why?” or “I want him to come home.” Eventually she will stop when I tell her, “You know Dylan loves you, right?” Of course she knows. I hope she finds a way to hold on to that love forever, because he loved her fiercely. When she woke up from her anesthesia following her dental procedure and said, “There was Dylan.” I knew he was there watching over her when we couldn’t. I even asked her to repeat herself to make sure that I wasn’t just hearing what I wanted to hear. And she said it again. And then went totally limp and said not another coherent word until we got home. She is so excited to go back to daycare and be with her friends everyday. I know that even though it is hard for me to let her go, it is what she needs. In my selfishness after the accident, I locked her away from the world with me, and that was unfair. She is this beautiful little social butterfly who needs to spread her wings and me preventing that out of my own parental paranoia needs to change.

I received another letter recently. It was from one of Dylan’s cornea recipients. Ironically enough, it was from a mother of 5 children. She had been fighting an eye infection, went to bed one night and when she woke up in the morning, she had lost vision in one eye. She had recently decided to register as an eye/tissue/organ donor, not knowing at the time that she would be in need of a transplant herself. With Dylan’s cornea, her vision is consistently improving. Hopefully the improvement continues. Her letter was handwritten on beautiful sunflower-covered stationary, and was so simply eloquent, and heartbreaking, and heartwarming, and a testament to true gratitude.  And yet again, this letter was a reminder to our family that in the midst of our devastation, we have been able to provide another family hope. Hope is healing.

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Happy Birthday, Dylan

My Dearest Dylan,

Happy birthday, to my sweet, second-born son. Today, you would have officially become an adult. I’m sure you would have recognized this milestone with your trademark shrug of the shoulders and that modest grin, but I know inside you would be beaming. I have been dreading this day for weeks, and now that we are here, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. I tried to write a normal blog, but on this day, I find myself unusually short of words. 

Today, I will remember that evening 18 years ago, when I was in a hospital bed, scared to death because they thought something was wrong with my baby. Your dad was a stressed out wreck because he hated hospitals and he had left to go get a cheeseburger. So I was alone. And I was having a private conversation with my baby boy before he was born and I had to share him with the world. I was willing you to be strong. I was willing you to fight. I was willing you to be a survivor. Irony at its finest, I guess. Here we are, on your big day, and I know you are pushing me to do the same.

Yesterday, they put rumble strips at your intersection. Miriam called last night to let me know. She said if those had been there, it wouldn’t have mattered what your dad was doing, he would have been alerted to pick his head up and look at the road. He would have known there was danger. I am hoping that warning will save another family from this heartbreak.

I love you. We love you. And we miss you more with every passing minute. I will write you again later, but for now this is all I can muster. Happy Birthday. Happy 18th Birthday. I promise there will be cream cheese cookies later today.

Forever and always, I will love you with every piece of this broken heart.

Mom

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Amazing Gifts

I received a letter in the mail yesterday. When I saw the envelope from Midwest Transplant Network, I just assumed it was the invite to their fall family event. Bella and I were walking back from the mailbox when I opened it, so here I was, frozen in the middle of the sidewalk reading the note from MTN letting me know that inside the smaller, sealed envelope was a letter. It was a letter from one of the people fortunate enough to be a match for one of Dylan’s gifts.

I never really shared all the details regarding the gifts Dylan was able to give after his death. Due to the nature of his accident, injuries sustained, the time it took to remove him from the car, and the even longer time it took them to find me, major organs could not be donated. However, the gifts he WAS able to give have the possibility of helping many, many people. I wanted to take a moment to share those gifts here – even though the content may seem morbid – because it is important and valid information for all to know. Giving the gift of life is something we should all be discussing ahead of time. You never know when life will happen and you may be facing difficult decisions regarding your loved ones, or your loved one may be the person in need of a gift themselves. What the medical field is able to use, outside of major organs in incredible. Dylan would have been proud to be able to give so generously.

They were able to recover grafts of bone and associated connective tissue. “Bone grafts are transplanted into patients who have suffered different types of injuries that need surgery in order to heal. Types of procedures include various orthopedic, neurosurgical, and reconstructive. Bone grafts are commonly used to replace diseased bone in individuals suffering from bone cancer. As many as 50 individuals may benefit from his donation alone.”

Dylan’s heart was recovered for heart valve transplantation. “These valves will replace defective or diseased heart valves. People who benefit from this type of transplant are those whose heart valves become infected and no longer function properly.

Veins were recovered from Dylan that can be transplanted in recipients who may be facing an amputation. They may also be used in heart procedures for patients suffering from cardiovascular disease.”

Dylan donated pericardium. “These grafts are utilized in procedures including abdominal repair and reconstruction following cancer treatments.”

Dylan donated his eyes. “The sclera portion of the globe can be utilized as a prosthetic patch to repair damaged eyes or be used in dental procedures.” Dylan donated corneal tissue for transplantation.

To this point, we only knew that Dylan’s corneas had been transplanted – one to a recipient in Kansas and the other in Missouri. We had received no other notifications until yesterday.

A simple thank you note. That is what I found inside the smaller sealed envelope. Dylan’s gift of a bone graft will allow someone with a shoulder injury to be able to keep doing the job they love everyday. His gift was given to a professional athlete. A professional athlete. And he took the time to tell us thank you. And no matter how many times I say it, it makes me smile every single time. I won’t provide any more detail than that right now, other than I could not think of a more fitting recipient for one of Dylan’s gifts because sports were his life. He will continue to be a part of the thrill of competition. And we, who miss him more with every passing day, are able to see a positive out of a crushingly sad scenario. A tiny piece of Dylan gets to hear the roar of a crowd and smile down and soak it all in. Yes, I am having a proud momma moment here.

Talk to your family. Make your decisions known. I have been nothing but pleased with everyone we have spoken to at Midwest Transplant Network. From the woman who cried with me through the phone interview the day Dylan died, to those I have met online through their donor family aftercare program. They are an amazing organization that facilitates the opportunity to give life and to give second chances.

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Almost 18

There are days when someone will ask me how I’m doing and I just want to be able to tell them the truth without freaking them out. I want to say, “I suck. There are days that I’m a basket case, where I feel like crap, my heart aches, my body aches and I just don’t feel like being nice. Days where I just want someone to tell me it is ok to give up. To let me know I am allowed to just throw my hands in the air and declare that I can not possibly do this for one more minute. Other than that, I’m just peachy.” Surprisingly, there are actually quite a few people in my life now that I could say that to word for word and they wouldn’t hesitate to knock me upside the head, then give me a hug and say, “You’re not giving up today. I won’t let you.”

I have two separate sides of my personality at odds with each other again. I have the sweet, tender, heart on one side saying, “It’s ok… Give up now. No one would blame you. Wave that white flag and just surrender to oblivion. Go to bed and pull the covers over your head and sleep away the worries and the pain.”

The other, more stubborn side is saying, “Buck up, Buttercup! Whatever you try to cover up or hide from today is only going to be waiting for you tomorrow. It will get bigger every time you try to turn the other cheek. Put your big girl panties on and deal with it. Face your worries. Face your pain. Face your fears. Face your fights. And face them all head on. Don’t hesitate. Don’t waiver. Don’t. Give. Up. Ever.” I like that stubborn girl. I never thought her and I would come to a happy crossroads in my life, because she always seemed to get me into trouble before. Right now, she is my saving grace. I know I can’t give up. To give up would make me a hypocrite. I have always taught my kids that you fight to the end. You don’t stop moving forward until the end of the last inning, the final buzzer, or the final Game Over.

If I were to give up, it would mean that I am oblivious to all the little ways Dylan lets me know he is all around me. I see the teenager who will be walking past me, carrying himself exactly like Dylan, or dribbling a basketball, who will just look at me and smile. I love the cardinal who will come and sit on my back deck and watch me write. My tomato plant that I was about to give up on and yank out of the pot, suddenly has two beautiful tomatoes. I know Dylan is rolling his eyes, giggling at me and thinking, “Sheesh Mom. Have a little patience.” I love the times when I am in a room alone, looking through pictures, or just lost in thought… and I will feel the tingle of extra energy surrounding me. I know. Crazy, right? Five months ago today, a beautiful, young life was cut short, in an instant. He didn’t even have a chance to let the fighter in him make a stance. So I continue to live and fight everyday in his memory.

In a little more than two weeks, Dylan would have turned 18. With all of the firsts we have survived so far without him, August 16th is his birthday and this “first” has to be special. We have had Drew’s birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day, Griffin’s birthday, my birthday, Graduation, Memorial Day, Father’s Day and July 4th, all without Dylan. Dalton will have his 19th birthday on Sunday without his brother or dad here to help him celebrate. It seems impossible that only 1 year ago for Dalton’s 18th birthday, Drew and I loaded up the van and took Dalton, Dylan, and Izzy to celebrate his big day at Worlds of Fun. We even took Rod along to help us celebrate. Dylan had talked about his 18th birthday, but never decided what he wanted to do, so I don’t even have a Bucket List item to be able to check off for him. I need to come up with something on my own. I’m sure it will include cream cheese cookies, profuse amounts of sweating on the basketball court and lots of cussing at video games that I can’t beat. Things he would have done every day of his life. Things we can do to show him that we remember. But I need something amazing – something significant to mark this date that would have been his big day. Something happy. Something fun. I have two weeks to make a memory for Dylan.

 

 

Fighting With My Enemy

Darkness is trying so hard to be my friend. Just when I think I’m getting better at treading water, I have Darkness pulling at my heels, testing my ability to keep my head above the surface. Most days I can convince him to slink back to his corner, but there are a few days where even my stubborn streak is no match for his persistence. These are the times I find myself opening every curtain in my house trying to let the true brightness of sunlight help me push away the mental blackness. Most days I win, out of pure determination to keep the scoreboard in my favor, but there are some days, where I just can’t. I can only surrender to defeat and retreat into my own reflections, hoping for a better outcome the next time around. Special events obviously make these battles harder.

We had Connor and Griffin for a while the morning of the 4th before they went to their mom’s for the night. We all curled up on the couch and watched videos I found on my iPad from July 4, 2013. The kids all shrieked and giggled the first time Dylan came on the screen and even more so when he spoke. These were short little videos that are completely cheesy, but show everyone home for what we could never have known would be our last Independence Day together. We never even suspected that our togetherness would not be repeated for years to come. How presumptuous and unappreciative that seems now.

When we moved here last fall, Dalton and Dylan had already decided they were spending the 4th with their dad, regardless of whose year it was, because of our city fireworks ban. They weren’t going to miss out on the chance to blow their money and blow things up. Instead this year, Dalton wound up working all day and then spending his evening at home on the computer – headphones on – outside world non-existent. Understandably, he didn’t even go watch fireworks with us. The momma bear in me wanted to MAKE him go, but I didn’t want to go either, so I had no logical argument for him. There are times where we have to tune out the world, even if just for an evening and not think about anything that can stir the hurt. However, I had to go – for Isabella.

Drew and I grabbed drinks and a blanket and drove up to campus to pick out our spot on the hill that would be perfect for seeing the show. Isabella’s favorite place to be is outside and she was in heaven being out after dark, chasing fireflies and watching the fireworks. We made a new memory that night, even though my mind was flooded with old ones. For just a little while, on the 4th of July, I upped the score on Darkness.

Every battle with my invisible foe, whether I win or lose, I come away stronger, wiser, more determined and more appreciative of all that I have to live for. Even when stumbling in the dark, and struggling to see, I have to hold out hope for happiness.

 

Isabella - July 4, 2014

Isabella – July 4, 2014

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Ramblings and a Reveal

There are days where I feel sanity escapes me. My new reality tends to short circuit my brain at times and things I could normally deal with effortlessly seem almost impossible to tackle. I feel the finality of everything being realized – the permanence of our loss. It is an impossible concept as a parent to wrap your mind around…

I saw Dylan’s best friend last night. It was totally unexpected and while it made my heart weep, it also made my heart smile. And then he looked at me and turned around and walked away. I’m hoping it was that he didn’t realize it was me, but I am sure he did. I have developed a much thicker skin when it comes to people I know turning away from me in fear. However, his reaction stabbed right through that thick skin. My heart goes out to him – I know he’s suffering too…

I apologize to friends I may have stalled off on seeing over the last week or two, or phone calls or emails not returned. I have been struggling recently and tensions at home are sometimes just more than what needs to be shared outside our little bubble. May was hard, and I feel like I am still trying to recuperate. We celebrated our wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, Griffin’s birthday, and my birthday. We watched Dylan’s friends graduate from high school and the next weekend spent a long Memorial Day holiday home together without him. I would get past one special day just to start dreading the next. I needed June to be my quiet month, but the noise in my head has prevented that from happening.  I thought this month I could breathe, but then I realized June will still be suffocating. Dalton will have his first Father’s Day this weekend without his dad, and Rod’s birthday is at the end of the month…

The night of the accident, while Highway Patrol was still sitting in my living room, I realized that we never had family pictures made. We were supposed to go in February and one of the younger kids got sick, so it never happened. In the wee hours of the morning on March 2nd, while these two compassionate officers were still sitting there measuring my reactions, the thought of our missed opportunity for photos made me sick. I ran for the bathroom, nauseous from my first realization of things that would never happen. Crazy, that of all things, photos are the first one that hit me…

So enough of my ramblings, now for my reveal. I reconnected with one of my friends from high school recently. Those of you on my Facebook page would have seen the teaser photo I posted several weeks ago. Linda is an amazing photographer. I would highly recommend visiting her website at http://www.lindaniehoffphotography.com/. She was fantastic and so patient with our kids, and she helped me with a huge project that was weighing heavily on my heart. I needed to have our family portraits done and they needed to include Dylan. Somehow, someway, he had to be a part of this project and I knew Linda wouldn’t think I was crazy. I know a lot of times in situations like these people will include an enlarged photo of their missing family member. Dylan hated the camera as much as I do, so that wasn’t a possibility. Instead, we included Dylan’s favorite things – pieces of his heart – his basketball, his shoes, his spare Xbox controller, his favorite sweatshirt that he was wearing when he died and the box with his ashes. The photo of him that I have mentioned in previous blogs… the photo that Isabella has talked to since shortly after the accident? She is holding it. Obviously, it is an older photo of him, but for some reason she connects with him there. These photos from Linda show so much of our story. I realized how aged I appear, but this is where I am right now. I have gained weight, my hair needs to be done, and I have never-ending baggage under my eyes. My tiredness shows, and in looking at my own eyes, I can see my bewilderment and feelings of being lost. But I also see my determination and my will to make something loving and positive for my other four children. I see my connection to my husband, tested as it may be right now, it is still there and growing stronger. I see great sadness. I see sadness in myself, in Dalton and in Drew. I see strong and I see tender. I see toughness and I see compassion. Dalton was so careful not to let Dylan’s shoes touch the bare ground, because they had never seen any surface but a basketball court. I see innocence. Even with all that we have been through, all that we have seen and all that we have lost, some degree of innocence remains. 

I look at our family as a patchwork of sorts. We have brought together these different elements to create a beautiful blend of our strengths and our weaknesses. Sewn together, we are strong. Perfect, even with our imperfections.  

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Our love is strong…

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Our love is crazy…

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And our love is tender…

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We can smile, even through our pain…

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Our family is close at heart, together on earth, or beyond…

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And now Linda becomes a part of our story. It’s amazing how decades can go by, but you can reconnect with a friend and the time apart seems like minutes. I will be forever grateful for the time she gave to me so freely, via email, phone, and in person. We love you, Linda! Thank you for helping us with this step of our journey.

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Driven by Guilt

Secrets are heavy. They weigh us down without us even realizing the burden we are carrying. After sharing some of our background, I felt very different over the weekend. My sadness was overwhelming, but somehow, the weight I have been lugging around for years seemed to lighten. The sharing of my past brought about such an array of emotions that my grief and the associated guilt seemed to swell, while a different pain inside subsided. I needed to demonstrate how our choices affect those we love and those who love us. Sometimes our choices affect people that have absolutely no connection to us, other than a chance encounter – a turn of events that may affect them on a deeply emotional level for the rest of their lives. While I have not had the chance to communicate with the family in the SUV that hit Dylan and Rod, I think of them often and what guilt they must be carrying, having a teenage daughter of their own. They had no control over poor choices made, and yet they pay a price.

Guilt is an insatiable monster. I carry so much guilt, over so many things I feel I could have, or should have done. I feel guilty that the last time Dylan asked me to make his favorite cookies, I didn’t. I feel guilty that every Sunday night I was busy studying and trying to catch up on the week’s schoolwork and never had time to watch Walking Dead anymore. That guilt carried on weekly, every time I saw the DVR recording kick on that Dylan would set for us at the start of every season. I feel guilty that I didn’t make him stay home the night of the accident. I feel guilty that while my son was hanging upside-down in that mangled car after breathing his last breath, surrounded by shards of glass and pieces of his Xbox he had come home to grab that afternoon, I was enjoying dinner at home and reminiscing over old pictures with someone I hadn’t seen in many years. I feel guilty, replaying our story, thinking my attempt at self-preservation almost 5 years ago when I chose to leave our marriage, ultimately led us down this path. I feel guilty that when I made that decision, I stepped away from so many people in my life and my community without ever giving an explanation as to why. Here we are, years later, and it’s as if I never left. Since the day of the accident, I have never felt alone. Every step of the way, I have a huge support group behind me cheering me on, encouraging me, or just holding my hand – old friends, new friends, family, my amazing husband and our kids, who are so resilient, they leave me in awe.

While my guilt tends to eat away at my insides sometimes, there are other times when I know that guilt is driving me. I left my job the day after the accident. I had gone back to doing daycare to be closer to Isabella, and after Dylan died I could not go back to taking care of other people’s children. Not when I felt like I had failed my own. For the first two months, that left me with way too much time on my hands. However, in the long run, I think that time has been beneficial to me. For the last month, I feel like I am doing a little better at focusing on a task for more than five minutes at a time. I am getting better at completing one task, instead of leaving three or four tasks – attempted, but incomplete – for Drew to have to help clean up when he gets home. I am getting back some of the old me – the me that used to make the most out of being at home with the kids. While learning to live on that small grocery budget when the boys were little, I learned how to cook. I learned how to make everything from scratch to get the most out of my dollars. And I loved being able to do that. I loved to be in my kitchen, satisfying my family’s hunger – for both nourishment and nurturing. I know it sounds crazy, but I hang on to just enough of that guilt to make sure that I don’t ever stop nourishing the appetites and nurturing the spirits of my husband and our other four children. Whenever I feel like I was failing Dylan over those last few years, I let that guilt drive me to never let that happen again. Isabella asked me to play with her the other day. I was busy and my initial reaction was “No, I’m busy. We will play in a little while.” She just accepted that and walked away. I thought about my response for just a few seconds. What if “in a little while” never comes? Life is short. So what if that load of laundry still needs to be put away? I created amazing building block towers with my daughter instead. Guilt isn’t always a bad thing.

I ran into an old friend this morning at the library. I hadn’t seen her since well before the accident and she just hugged me and whispered in my ear, “I say a prayer for you every day.”

All I could say was, “Thank you. It has been hard lately. It was three months yesterday and it feels like forever.”

She completed my thought, “And it feels like only yesterday.”

I cried. She was visibly teary-eyed and to me it is so comforting to see others not afraid to show their emotions for fear of making me cry. I cry a lot, over some of the craziest things. I appreciate knowing others think of us and don’t ever want someone to be afraid to tell me what they are truly feeling or thinking about.

It has been three months since my second-born son was killed instantly. A quarter of a year has gone by since I have seen that smile, or heard his voice asking me, “What’s for dinner?” And three months does feel like forever. And it does feel like only yesterday.

I always try to share something with each blog. I have been looking through some of Dylan’s old papers lately. I can only look through a few at a time, because it is so hard for me to do. I came across this note he wrote me. He was always such a sweet, compassionate, kiddo. He never wanted anyone to be sad or have their feelings hurt. The picture down in the corner? That is my casket. Even as a fairly young child, he knew that our love goes on, even after we are gone. Ironically, something he wrote to comfort me years ago, comforts me more now. 

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Truths Be Told

I have a story to tell. A sad story of someone lost. A man swarmed with demons and temptations and no strength to fight – maybe no desire to fight. I am sharing this story of my first marriage because toxicology and autopsy reports are in, and on the way to the highway patrol. I know it will only be a matter of time before a follow-up to the accident will be printed in the paper, spelled out clearly in black and white for the whole world to see. I would much rather you hear it from me.

Rod had always skirted around the edge of the darker side of life. I think a few of his true friends may have realized this early on, but there were so many things that only I, as his wife, knew. He was ashamed of them and out of respect to him they are things that I would never share in a public writing such as this. His family didn’t even know. Aside from those things that can’t be shared, he developed habits and addictions that destroyed our finances and ultimately our marriage. Anytime I would question, or voice concern, I was told that if I ever forced him to choose between any of his “extra curricular” activities and me, I would not be the winner. Not a good morale builder for a young woman who had married this man, 13 years her senior, just a month shy of her 19th birthday. After a few years, I did nothing but keep house, take care of babies, and make sure Rod had the funds to do whatever he wanted. I loved my little family, even if the love wasn’t returned from him and I was going to stick it out to make sure I could be the stay-at-home mom our sweet, baby boys deserved. I perfected the art of feeding our family on $25.00 a week, because Rod needed so much “gas money” for work. I know this is the time period when my investigative skills developed. I knew darkness was dwelling right under my nose and I could not for the life of me figure out exactly what it was or how to stop it. I hated always feeling like I was looking over my shoulder. I really had no friends of my own at this point, and to all of our mutual friends, Rod was the nicest, gentlest, most easy-going guy they had ever met. Any truths I discovered in our marriage, I never shared. No one would believe me anyway because the Rod the world saw, was so much different than the Rod that lived inside our home.

As the boys got older and started playing baseball, the changes in Rod were obvious. He was home more. He was involved. The activities for the boys far outnumbered his activities that would take him away from us. I could tell he was actually mentally present with us far more than he ever used to be. I was so thankful for his presence in the lives of Dalton and Dylan, but I had completely put a wall around my heart at this point. I had been hurt by him so many times, that I was not letting him back in, but the boys needed him. They had craved this time with their dad for so many years, and they finally had it. I could hang on longer just for that.

Once Dalton and Dylan quit playing baseball, I knew Rod was slipping away from us again. Whatever temptations were available to him were calling and nothing I could ever say would keep him with me. My heart was broken as I watched the man I had spent my entire adult life with making poor choice after poor choice – choices that in the end were destroying us. The boys were older now and I sought work outside of the home. I made friends of my own and realized that my worth was far more as a human being than I had ever been made to feel by my husband. A few months after I started working, I was ready to be on my own. Financially I knew it would be a struggle by myself, but no worse than what I had been conditioned for during our marriage.

I never made any attempt to keep the boys from their dad. I made them very aware, as they were old enough, of their dad’s habits, so they were never put into an unexpected situation. Regardless of the evil he was fighting, he was their father. He promised to me, over and over again in conversations after we separated – even as recently as just a few months before the accident – that he would never expose our children to anything harmful because he never wanted them to follow the paths he had chosen. He did not want them to waste their lives searching for that ultimate euphoria that could never be maintained. He lied. Toxicology reports prove that he lied. Tests were positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, and THC. “The concentrations demonstrate significant intoxication at the time of injury, which intoxication impairs mental and physical performance.”

At some point on that Saturday, while he was spending the day with our son, he was also doing meth. He was finalizing drug deals. The text he was sending when they ran the stop sign?  Not the type of activity you want to die over. With our 17-year-old son in attendance, he was doing everything he promised me he wouldn’t. I’m sure he stepped away for a few minutes to get high because there were no traces of anything in Dylan’s toxicology screen. I knew there wouldn’t be because he was so leery of drugs, but I think he knew. I am almost positive he knew and I truly think that in some idealistic way, Dylan thought with his presence alone, he could save his dad from himself. He would never give up any of his dad’s scheduled time because he would always wonder what his dad would do if he wasn’t there. He trusted his father. He respected him, even when he deserved no respect. I like to think that despite Rod being absent for most of their lives, that I raised two pretty amazing young men. Even with poor choices being made all around him, Dylan stayed true to himself and what he believed. He did what he thought was right.

Ultimately, Rod’s inability to overcome his demons cost him his life. With these selfish behaviors, he wound up taking himself out and taking one of our children with him. The minute my alarm goes off every morning, the same thought crosses my mind. Dylan is gone. Every. Single. Morning. If Rod had known the path of destruction he was paving would he have fought harder? If he had known he would wind up killing his son that he loved so much, would he have found the strength to fight the darkness that always seemed to find him?

I have spent long periods of time looking through Rod’s cell phone. Nothing surprises me in there after 18 years together, other than the fact that he never deleted a thread of text messages, call logs, emails, or photos. He was just so lost.

I did not want to seem as though I was slandering a dead man, so I debated long and hard before I started this entry. I have had this information since before Mother’s Day. I finally decided after talking with Dalton and Drew, that I would rather share our truth so the consequences of poor choices can be seen from the perspective of those most affected. I am not angry or bitter. I am just so very sad and disappointed. We all have our own demons – some of us are just better equipped to do battle with them.

I really need to take my iPod off shuffle so songs like the one below don’t keep catching me off guard when I am driving around with a van full of people. Certain songs are my biggest emotional trigger right now because we all shared such a love of music – Shinedown being one of our favorites.

 

Happy Mother’s Day From My Angel

Last night, as we were putting the finishing touches on dinner, I noticed my plant we bought Dylan for Easter had bloomed. One simple flower. Followed by another this morning. Just in time for Mother’s Day. I know some of you might think I’m crazy as I look for any signs of Dylan being with me, but this is one of those times when I find a little peace. 

For the first month after the accident, Izzy would stop every morning on the way downstairs, touch Dylan’s picture and say, “Good morning, Dylan. Nice picture.” At that point, I would just start crying every time she did it, because some part of me thought in her innocence she was more open to accepting his presence than I was. This morning as we were sneaking downstairs to make breakfast while the guys were sleeping, she paused on the steps and just stared at that same picture. She grinned, touched his face, and said, “Good morning, Dylan.” I couldn’t help but smile and join in with her, “Good morning, Dylan.”

This last week we took blow after blow and I was dreading the arrival of Mother’s Day, but that was silly. As a mother, I am so blessed. To shy away from this holiday would be an injustice for those still here with me to make sure today is my special day. I have four amazing children here to share life’s moments with me, and one beautiful angel that watches over us along the way.

Tomorrow I have to jump back in with both feet – game face on – ready to deal with attorneys, struggle with our finances and just figure out how to keep it afloat while we are in this adjustment period. But for today I am letting in the sunshine, enjoying a moment of peace and loving my family. I have hard days and milestones just around the corner, but today is not one of them. Happy Mother’s Day to ALL mothers, whether your children are with you or watching over you. My wish today is for peaceful thoughts and happy memories for all of you.

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Nancy Drew Can Rest

My husband calls me Nancy Drew. I don’t like unsolved mysteries and I wanted answers. I waited for answers. They are coming. They are coming at a rate that I wasn’t quite prepared for. You’d think after almost 10 weeks of waiting that information would have come trickling in, but it seems to hit me in waves at the times I am most ill-prepared to accept it. With every answer received I thought I would have to stop my blog. The truths coming in are shocking to some and I was not going to write and risk hurting those involved. But those at risk have told me to write and tell the truth. I lived the truth. I kept it to myself and some of those closest to us never knew.

I have so much to share, but the answers are not going anywhere and I will share another day. Today our focus is on laying to rest one of the most kind, generous women I have ever had the honor of sharing my life with. Norma (Rod’s mom) was never one to mince words or leave any doubt as to where you stood with her. I loved her for that. I think as I grew older, I absorbed some of that from her. She would give of herself to help others, almost to a fault. She was loved by many. From day one she treated me as if I were one of her kids and for that I will always be grateful since my own mother lived so far away. I hate that she had to suffer the loss of her child and grandchild so suddenly. The memory of her face when she looked up at me at their service and asked simply, “Andi, what are we going to do?” will linger forever. To see my hurt, my heartache, my brokenness, reflected in the eyes of this woman who had also lost her child rendered me speechless for a moment. “We just do, Mom. We put one foot in front of the other and we survive.” Now here we are, our hearts broken even more as we deal with her loss. I will admit, I am a little envious that she will get to touch Dylan’s face and see his smile before me. But her work here was done and I still have years of work ahead of me.

My iPod has accidentally been put on shuffle this week in the van, and this song popped up this morning on my way back from school run. Could not have been more appropriate. I. Am. Broken. So broken. But I know, even as I am wading my way through the pain, sorrow, guilt, anger, and legal mire, that better days are waiting on the other side. We just can’t give up before we get there.