by Marianne McDonald
May 16, 2010
It takes a village to survive loss of a child. Unfortunately, I know. Dylan, my son, my only child, the light of my life, died 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. I also can’t believe that it has been four years, and this is Village #4.
The year began with tubing on the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels on May 21, 2009. I know that’s how last year started but we had such a good time, it has become an annual event to remember Dylan. Anyone who knew Dylan knows he would rather have us do something fun to remember him – instead of being sad. This time I rented a house for two nights. We tubed this time instead of rafting because central Texas had been in a drought and the water wasn’t flowing that fast. There were 10 of us – Dylan’s friends and my friends. Again, I “shot” beer. I think everyone had a good time. Driving home on May 22, I saw a heart-shaped cloud.
My friend Billie took care of Dutch and Dewey while I was rafting. May 21, 2009 – the day I was leaving Austin to go rafting – Dutch had a liver biopsy. Even though the vet specialist said he didn’t believe that it was cancer, the biopsy came back cancer. Dutch died on June 6, 2009. Dutch was very sick the last two weeks of his life, and I cried many tears for Dutch during that time. Dutch got the best care possible and he died. Dylan and I got Dutch because Dylan picked him out of a group of about 30 other German shorthaired pointers. Dutch was my last true connection to Dylan. He was so smart, and Dutch knew he had to help me when Dylan died. When you don’t have any living children, pets are who you spend your time taking care of. A piece of my heart went with Dutchie. The only good thing is that I know Dutch had a good life here, and he is with Dylan now. After Dutch died, I drank a bottle of champagne, toasted Dutchie, and broke the glass.
Dylan and Dutch weren’t finished with Dewey and me on June 6. Dewey went outside about 10:30 pm, and didn’t come back in. I called him and he was standing there shaking his head. He had been sprayed in the face by a skunk. I didn’t even know it was a skunk because it didn’t smell like a dead skunk in the middle the road. I thought it was some kind of a gas leak, and didn’t realize it was a skunk until I stood there with the door wide open and let Dewey run through the entire house and rub his face all on the carpet and in my bed. I’m convinced that it was Dylan and Dutch letting Dewey know that he wasn’t the head dog even though Dutch had left Earth. My house smelled bad for weeks.
Because of my love for Dutch, I adopted a female German shorthaired pointer and named her Dutchess. Every once in a while she walks in the room and reminds me so much of Dutch, but not very often. She’s got her own personality. I guess I lost what was left of my mind the day I got her. I always let Dutch and Dewey go with me to get the newspaper. Like a dumb ass, I let Dutchess come out with me. Well she started running. I had on my pajama shorts, slippers, and an undershirt. I called Dutchess and she didn’t look back. Dutchess headed through the woods, straight to the creek. I had bought her an identification tag, had her microchip tag and her rabies tag but I hadn’t put any of it on her collar yet. She was running wild with no identification. After 20 minutes Dewey and I gave up and went home. I was going to get the car to go look for Dutchess, and she walked up.
That was just the beginning of her running away. The next day a friend and I ran some errands. When we got home and opened the door to my house, Dutchess ran under the garage door before it got all of the way down. It was about 100 degrees outside. I chased her a very short time, changed her name to Mother F—–, and came back home. Dutchess returned in a couple of minutes.
A few days later my neighbor called me at work and said word had come to her through the chain of neighbors that Dutchess was seen running in the neighborhood. I came home from work, and sure enough, Dutchess was gone. I made signs and put all over the neighborhood – this time it was about 106 degrees and I was burning up. At least Dutchess had her tags on this time! Still, I was convinced that I would never see her again because she wasn’t found all day. Dylan and Dutch were helping, because somehow Dutchess had gotten trapped in my other neighbor’s garage, and was there most of the day in the heat. When I got her back this time, Dutchess didn’t see the yard without supervision until I got an Invisible Fence installed. The Invisible Fence was sad for me because it reminded me that Dylan and I had installed an Invisible Fence at Lake Travis because Dutch was getting out. Paying someone to install it is much more expensive, but what the hell – it’s just money (sorry David – I know you worry when you hear me say that). Miss Dutchess now wears a collar to keep her in the fence when I’m not home. Dutchess will never be Dutch, but she’s part of my family now and I love her. And Dewey just puts up with her.
I continue to volunteer at For the Love of Christi, a grief support group in Austin. I’ve decided that giving back is more helpful to others than just giving up. Big events were the annual tree planting ceremony in October and the Remembrance Ceremony in December. This year, in November, For the Love of Christi hosted the Texas screening of the film Space between Breaths, which is a documentary about parents who have lost children. We got to meet the film producers, Rosemary and Luther Smith, and Cindy Bullens, who wrote the musical score for the film. All of them have lost children. The film was very educational for social workers and others who deal with us poor souls whose children are no longer here.
On Dylan’s birthday, I met the Young Life staff at a restaurant for lunch. I ate a hamburger and macaroni and cheese because I know that’s what Dylan would have eaten. My plan was to drive from there to Nan Kings to pick up Dylan’s two favorite Chinese foods – chicken fried rice and chicken with garlic sauce. I got there at 3:00 pm, and they had closed at 2:30 and wouldn’t reopen until 5:00. Naturally, I went to the pizza place next door and drank beer for Dylan. I called Joannah, who had introduced Dylan to Nan Kings, and she met me at Nan Kings after she got off work. We got chicken fried rice and chicken with garlic sauce for Dylan. The next night Billie and I went to Texas Roadhouse, and I ordered chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and French fries for Dylan. I probably gained 10 pounds for Dylan’s birthday, but what the hell.
In March, I went with friends to the Big 12 men and women’s basketball tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. On the way, we stopped at the Oklahoma City Memorial. It never occurred to me that the memorial would have such an impact on me. But when I saw the memorial fence with notes to, and personal items of, the people who lost their lives that day, I cried and cried. I don’t know why, but I had to read everything about everybody on that fence. I cried for every one of them. Then I cried as I read the names on all of the little chairs – the chairs for the children that went to day care and never made it home. The emotional impact was totally unexpected, but thinking back on it, I should have expected it. We stopped at the memorial again coming home because we wanted to see it at night. I promised, and lived up to my promise, that I was not going to cry this time. I think I was drained of tears by then.
We had a good time in Kansas City – even though the Texas men’s team had dropped from #1 to out of the top 20 by the time the tournament began. Having tickets to both tournaments was a lot of basketball to watch. But I found out that Kansas and Kansas State fans are crazy about their teams. And I talked about Dylan a lot on the drive to Kansas City.
The past year I got another tattoo for Dylan, went to another For the Love of Christi mother’s retreat in Ruidoso, smoked a pipe with friends, had some Jell-O shots for the first time, and talked to more psychics. I continue to dream about Dylan. And a good friend from For the Love of Christi had a dream about Dylan that showed Dylan and her son Johnny are happy. Another friend went to a funeral where the casket was in a horse pulled wagon. The team of horses was Dutch and Dylan. I also continue to work part (???) time.
Last year I said that I was going to get a grip on God this year. I spent four days and three nights at Lebh Shomea, whose purpose is to allow communion with God in silence and solitude. It is close to Kingsville, Texas. The only requirements are that you attend the daily Eucharistic Celebration, and you eat meals with the other people there – even though you can’t talk to them. The rest of the time you can hike, read, pray – as long as you don’t talk. Lebh Shomea is a very beautiful place, with many birds, butterflies, and wildlife. There is no noise anywhere. Employees drive golf carts. I was allowed to talk to a priest man (I only call him that because I don’t even know what kind of religion I was participating in) two times for an hour. The bottom line, which I think I already knew, is that God doesn’t talk to you as clearly as the Bible indicates, and that I must be silent so I can hear God in my heart. My purpose didn’t magically appear to me during those four days, but the priest man did tell me that I was at Lebh Shomea for a reason. I can verify that – it’s not exactly a place where a lot of tourists go. I also read Dr. Gerald Mann’s latest book, “Getting through What You Can’t Get Over,” and listened to some more of Dr. Mann’s sermons on CDs. I don’t know if I don’t question God as much now because I have learned more, or if it’s just because it has been four years since Dylan left Earth.
I know that I have changed since I wrote the first village four years ago. For one thing, there are no tear stains on these pages as I type. There are still tears, but not all the time. And four years ago, I didn’t realize how important my For the Love of Christi friends would be to me. Now I know that without them, I’d probably be just another lost soul.
I hear the lyrics of a song over and over in my head: “anytime my little world is blue, I just have to look at you, and everything seems to be, some kind of wonderful.” It’s hard to live without Dylan because he’s the person that made everything some kind of wonderful. I do know that even though Dylan is not where I can see him, almost everything I do is either because of him, because he isn’t here, or it’s something I want to do for him. Some may call that crazy or say that I don’t have a life of my own — to me it’s just a mother’s love. I love you Dylan!
Read Marianne’s annual reflections beginning with “It Takes a Village,“ 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”.