It takes a village to survive the loss of a child. Unfortunately, I know. Dylan, my son, my only child, the light of my life, was killed in a car accident at the gate of his apartment complex on May 22, 2006.
Dylan is forever 19 years old. My life became two parts – before May 22, 2006, and after May 22, 2006. I can’t even think about the actual day. This is the first year of my life after Dylan’s death. I hope to continue to update my story every year.
It’s good that I waited 10 months after Dylan’s death to start documenting, because it’s clear to me that I didn’t even know what I was doing.
Yes, I was working and doing everything required for surviving, but like many have heard me say, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I’ve been like an addict. Trying anything I could get my hands on that I thought would help. But I was looking for something that didn’t exist. Nothing was going to bring my Dylan back.
I’ve read grief books, talked to Dylan through mediums, psychics, and numerology specialists, learned meditation, taken medication, been acupunctured, been in support groups, had private counseling, been drinking with other mothers whose kids have been killed, and spent money like it grows on trees.
A dice roll was as good a predictor of my frame of mind in the morning as anything else. Would I focus on “why” again for the hundredth time, would I feel like God was punishing me, would I be incredibly sad, or would I feel guilty because I was not crying and looked “normal” to other people?
I do know that I am not the same person that I was before May 22, 2006. The old me was not a risk taker. I was a worrier. I worried about Dylan all the time. He said I should work for the FBI because I asked so many questions. But he just accepted the questions because that was who I was. I had a purpose and that purpose was Dylan. I lived by the rules, wanted to be just like everybody else – didn’t want to do anything that might cause attention. I was crazy enough to think that if I followed the rules, nothing bad would happen.
I might have a purpose now, but if I do I don’t know what it is. I don’t worry anymore. I’m probably even jaded. Before, I was empathetic when bad things happened to people. I still feel bad for them – but my main thought is they will survive – if I have, anyone can.
I have two tattoos for Dylan, I want to sky dive, I want to learn to ride a motorcycle, and who knows what else I will think of. The old me would think that all of those activities were death wishes. I don’t know why, but I want to be a different person than I was when Dylan was alive. I don’t know what I’m trying to prove. Maybe it’s another stage I’m going through.
The truth is I shouldn’t be here. Anyone who knew me before Dylan was killed didn’t believe that I would survive – I didn’t believe I would survive. I didn’t really even see any reason to live. But here it is, almost a year after Dylan’s death, and I’m still here.
I know it’s way too soon to declare that I will survive, but I’ve made it longer than I thought. And I can’t tell you why, other than I tried all of the things listed above. Every person and group listed in this article is part of my village that helped me survive.
I realized I had a chance when I found others who had the courage, resiliency, and hope to go on in similar situations – other mothers farther along than me in their life without their children. It’s like everything else in life – you need a role model to model your new life after, and I found one. Meeting other mothers in person was so different than reading about them in grief books.
I’m talking about the mothers from The Christi Center. The Christi Center is a non-profit grief support group started in 1987 by Susan and Don Cox after their 20 year old daughter, Christi, was killed by a drunk driver. The Christi Center is a living tribute to Christi, and I’m sure Christi is so proud that her parents turned their grief into an organization that has helped so many people deal with the death of a loved one. I learned many things from the group, but the one thing that I kept forgetting, and they kept reminding me, was take one day at a time. After Dylan was killed, I didn’t see how I could face the rest of my life feeling like I felt. But one day at a time is the way to live for a long time. The Christi Center is located in Austin, Texas. I am one of thousands of people in grief who have been helped by them, and I will forever be grateful to Susan Cox and The Christi Center. Hopefully, there is a group like The Christi Center in your area.
I am lucky that a friend from work suggested a psychologist who specialized in grief. I had never been counseled before, but I knew that I would not make it without help. My mother died when I was 18 years old, but in 1975 people did not seek help in grief. So I had grief on top of grief that I had to deal with. I am so lucky that I had a counselor who knew what to do. Also, I worried what people thought of me. You see, to the outside world I don’t look upset by Dylan’s death. Very few people see me cry. It’s not that I try not to cry – I just usually don’t cry in public. My psychologist helped me work through those issues and many more.
I am lucky to have good bosses and good co-workers who have been supportive through all stages. Dylan’s picture is in many offices at work, and no one runs when I mention his name. They are happy to talk about him. I am lucky that I have a job that allows me the flexibility to do what I need to do to survive. I will forever be grateful for that.
I am lucky that my family has done more to help me than any family should have to do. My family was supportive when I was unwilling to accept that support. But they stayed by me, and I have evolved from that “not wanting support” stage. I am lucky that I have my two dogs, Dutch and Dewey. Dylan picked out Dutch and he had met Dewey. He loved them both, so there is a heart connection between all of us. I include them in my family. They have been with me day in and day out this year, and they have seen more tears than anyone. Dutch and Dewey were one reason I had to live, because I had to take care of them. And in return, they were always ready to comfort me. If I opened the door crying or started crying, Dewey would snuggle up next to my face and Dutch would want attention.
I am lucky to have good friends who never know what to expect when they hear from me. They don’t know if I’m going to be a basket case or not. But when I call they are always there for me and will do anything for me.
It’s hard for me to be grateful for the village that I have – when you always have it, you expect it and don’t appreciate it. I’ve said all along that “the worst can’t be worse.” But finally, after 10 months, I know that it could be. And I finally have the good sense to be grateful for what I have. If it wasn’t for the village, I wouldn’t be here today.
Everyone who loses a child will have parts of this village for support. You just have to keep looking until you find something that helps – and hang on to what you find that helps. Believe me, when you are looking for help and you mention loss of a child, you get that special look that says people will do anything that they can do to help you. If you’re lucky like I am, you will have the entire village. I can’t believe that I am typing that I’m lucky. I never thought I would feel that way again. Friends say I am their hero for being so brave and strong. Truth is, I would much rather be Dylan’s mother than someone’s hero.
April 2, 2007
This moving story was written less than a year after the death of Marianne’s son, Dylan. Marianne has generously shared her journey with us. Her subsequent annual updates are, “The Village Minus Two,” “The Village Retires,” “Dutch and Dutchess,” “Minus Old Knees” and “The Bible”.