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 six years since I saw Dylan, and this is Village #6.
This year Dylan Day was more than one day. It was a road trip to Blue Mountain Beach, Florida – by way of New Orleans. My Christi friends Nancy, Deana, me, and our Angels Dylan, Hayley, and Johnny headed toward the Mississippi River while the rest of the world was running from it because it was flooding in three states – Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Deana and Nancy had never been to New Orleans, so it was fun showing them Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, and all the good food and drinks. We went to Pat O’Briens, Felix’s Oyster Bar, Café Du Monde, and had Muffuletta sandwiches from Central Grocery. And Nancy went with me to talk to a psychic/medium named Joseph. Joseph is the fourth psychic who has said I’m going to live into my 90s, so I’m beginning to think that it might be true. If so, I hope my knee replacements last that long!
I took good care of my cell phone in New Orleans, and then dropped the damn thing into a cup of water while riding to Florida. One of the Angels in the car must have said open it and get my brother David’s number because I did that. After that, the phone was dead. I called David on Nancy’s phone, and he gave us the directions to his condo and how to get into the gate. I don’t know what would have happened to us if I hadn’t been able to get his number off the phone because I had no clue what his number was and he didn’t have Nancy or Deana’s numbers either. That night, David cooked shrimp for us that were very good. I thought David was going to be with us the entire time, but he left early the next morning so I was disappointed I really didn’t get to spend any time with him. It seems like every time I see David we are rushed – except when Dylan died. David came immediately and stayed a week with me. David took care of everything, and he took care of me, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
Nancy and Deana thought the white sandy beaches, blue water, and the condo were beautiful. We spent a lot of time walking up and down the beach, playing in the water, and drinking. Thanks to Nancy’s Nano, we even had music at the beach. We had umbrellas and chairs and boogie boards and all the beach toys. We had it all – except for the most important people – Dylan, Hayley, and Johnny! All we could do was write their names in hearts in the sand.
On May 22 we wore Dylan tee-shirts. The shirts were really made for Dylan Day (Bob Dylan) at Westlake High School, but it’s spelled like Dylan so what the hell. The quote on the back of the shirt said “May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung.” The shirts were great!
This year, Christi friend Billie and I went to College Station to support some Christi friends whose daughter Lindsay was killed in the Northgate parking garage. While in College Station, I took flowers to the gate of Melrose Apartments, where Dylan died. I even made pictures of the gate this time. And I also requested Dylan’s autopsy. I haven’t looked at it yet, but my friend Billie read it. I don’t know if I’ll ever read it, but I have it in case I want to.
Quite a few people that I knew died this year, including Paul Patton, who graduated from high school with me, and Cindy Bolling, who was born the same day in the same small hospital that I was born in. I was small and unhealthy, and my family would look in the hospital nursery and wish I was as healthy as Cindy. Now, for some reason Cindy is dead and I’m still here. Several cousins (Lynn and Peggy) and a good friend (Diane) lost their fathers this year. At one funeral I attended, an old friend asked me “What’s Dylan up to these days?” Six years ago that question would have thrown me into a tailspin, but this time I told him that Dylan died in 2006. I don’t know what you call my different reaction – progress? Progress doesn’t seem like the correct word, but I don’t know what the correct word is. The constant raw grief of Dylan’s death is gone most of the time. I think that’s my body’s way of protecting me. You can’t survive in that state for very long. At the same time, I’m meeting many new mothers at the Christi Center – new in their grief and life without their children. Seeing them makes me realize how different I am now than I was six years ago. But many of these women have become good friends of mine because loss of a child is a tie that binds.
If you read last year’s village, you know I said I was going to read the entire Bible. Well I did it! I spent Dylan’s birthday (really six days and four nights) at Lebh Shomea, House of Prayer, to read the Bible. This was my second trip there. I think there was a priest reunion going on when I got there, but it’s hard to know for sure since Lebh Shomea is completely silent, except for Celebration of the Eucharist each day, and the Sunday lunch meal. All I know is they were talking in another language at the end of the Eucharist.
I was behind in my Bible reading before I went to Lebh Shomea. My friend Pam said I should get the Bible on CD to listen to for the five-hour drive to Lebh Shomea. Well I got it, but it was quite a few CDs – 63. So I listened all the way down there and back, and I read the Bible the whole time I was at Lebh Shomea. I listened to the Bible driving back and forth to work. I finished the Bible in April. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but at least I can say that I read it. No trumpets sounded when I finished it. I just put it down.
I talked to Father Kelley while at Lebh Shomea and I told him I didn’t understand a lot of the Bible. He said the Bible is very figurative, and I am a very literal person. Father Kelley said God is love, God is mystery, and Dylan loves me. That’s a lot easier to understand than trying to understand the Bible.
I had many more firsts this year. I planted mustard seeds because my cousin Raymond said all you have to do is throw the seeds out and they grow. And they did. The mustard greens grew like crazy. I even blanched some and put three bags in the freezer. I always thought Aunt Dot would be here and she would just give me frozen greens to take home. But she’s not here anymore. I hope PawPaw, Dot, Bill and all the other farmers in the Barnette/McDonald families were proud of my mustard greens. I learned Zumba (thanks Hazel) and Yoga (thanks Sat), painted the outside trim of my house (with Mark’s help), donated blood and signed up for the bone marrow registry, scanned a picture (that’s right – I’d never done that before), found out what Gobstoppers were, got a rock that says “Dylan Graves – Good to Go” in the Christi Center healing garden, decorated a tree on Loop 360 with other Christi Moms, went to a spiritual grief retreat in San Antonio, and read the entire Bible. I know I already said that I read the Bible, but since it was a first for me, I’m listing it here too.
The Dylan Graves Young Life Camp Fund continues to grow and send Lake Travis kids to Young Life Camp. Dylan sent three boys to camp last year. This year I (not really me but new Christi friends Julie and Ken Kirk – thanks Julie and KK) made a card about Dylan and Young Life. Julie told me that she made a card for her Angel Joseph and it was real easy. Well, after the Apple Help Line knew all about Dylan and Joseph, and many hours of work, we got the card finished. If you haven’t received one and you want to know what it looks like, mail me a check to the Dylan Graves Young Life Camp Fund and I’ll send you a thank you note on the card.
Several months ago while cleaning out my closet I discovered a box that had down feathers in it. I knew right away that those feathers were part of the two down pillows that my dogs Dutch and Dewey tore up during Dylan’s funeral. Looking in the box, I found two notes that Dylan had written during the last month of his life. They weren’t anything significant – just notes about messages on the answering machine. But they were to me and they were in Dylan’s print, so they were very important to me.
I continue to do many things. I got another tattoo for Dylan (seven now), went to another Young Life banquet, went to another luncheon at Christmas with Christi Moms, went to another Moms retreat at Charlie’s Place, continue to volunteer at the Christi Center, continue to work part time, and continue to take care of my babies Dewey and Dutchess. I reconnected with my Dad’s relatives in January. It’s the first time that I’ve seen many of them since my Dad died five years ago. I’m glad I went to the McDonald gathering and hope I can go for many more years.
Most of my village from six years ago is still here, and I’m glad they are. But it seems that I don’t constantly need the village as much to survive. I talked about this with my good Christi friend Nancy. Nancy and I walked in the Christi Center at the same time six years ago. Her daughter Hayley and Dylan died one week apart, and their birthdays are one week apart (but Hayley is one year older). Nancy and I have been together step by step in this journey. I have seen her change and she has seen me change. Now, the good memories of Dylan shine brighter than his loss. I still miss Dylan with all my heart and think about him every day, but I think I finally realize that he’s not coming back, and I can’t change that. I don’t ask “why” all the time like I did at first. And like I’ve said before, Dylan would be pissed if I wasn’t able to enjoy life because of his death.
I still haven’t found my purpose, so hopefully I’ll find it by the next village. In the meantime, I’ll continue to try to make Dylan proud.
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”.