By Marianne McDonald
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 eight years since I saw Dylan, and this is Village #8. Village #10 will be the end of the villages.
This year, Dylan Day was scuba diving in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with my boyfriend, Hal. I was lucky to meet Hal when we were both walking our dogs in our neighborhood. Hal is the sweetest, kindest man – the only man that has been nicer to me was my Dad. Hal would do anything for me, and I feel lucky that our paths crossed in our neighborhood.
I had to begin practicing for scuba diving about a month before the trip. I did not think I would survive the certification. To begin with, I had to be able to swim 200 yards – two fricking football fields – before I could even qualify for the scuba diving lessons. And I had to tread water for 10 minutes! I don’t like to swim! I signed up for a free week at Gold’s Gym and was swimming at 6:00 am. That’s when the real swimmers swim! They were swimming laps and I was doing the backstroke. I had to buy a combination lock to lock my wallet, driver’s license, and food (in case I got low blood sugar), and then I had to write down the combination (because I couldn’t remember it) and bring my reading glasses to the pool so I read the combination to get my stuff out of the locker when I was finished swimming. It is hell getting old!
That was just the beginning. I hated the first day of scuba diving. I couldn’t stand taking the mask off underwater. I couldn’t stand having to share my regulator. I couldn’t follow compass directions on land – much less in the water. I barely passed the written test and I had a private lesson before I could pass the real dive at the quarry. Hell – I forgot about the first thing that happened. I put the scuba suit on backwards at the shop and could hardly get out of it. If it wasn’t for Robie and Hal, the Dylan Day dive would have never taken place. Hal and I did dive in Puerto Vallarta on Dylan Day and I have pictures to prove it. I wasn’t in love with it but I did it. Hal and I even went back to Puerto Vallarta again in September and I dove again. I wasn’t as scared as I was the first time.
The week end after Dylan Day, I went to a Christi Center Mother’s Retreat at Charlie’s Place. On the way home I listened to the George Anderson CD from Dylan Day May 22, 2013. I hadn’t realized until then that scuba diving was mentioned on May 22, 2013. Guess Dylan wants me to continue to dive!
I took Hal to the cousin’s reunion in Homer. This reunion was a party for my cousin Brooke and her new husband Doug. We saw many cousins, aunts, and uncles. I took a lot of what I call “family heirlooms” to give to my cousins. Hal said the cousins didn’t think they were heirlooms! Anyway, at least I’ve passed them on since my family chain, Dylan, is not around to accept them. Wait till the cousins see what I’m bringing them this year!
Hal and I went to Las Vegas in August. The highlight of the trip was something that we didn’t even plan. We saw Celine Dion. I’ve never been a big Celine Dion fan, but I am now. I cried three days in a row and I’m not even a crier. First I cried in the hotel listening to the song “A New Day has Come.” Celine was so excited when she had her first son. I was sure she was going to sing that song – that’s why I already cried and thought I was prepared. Instead she sang the song “Goodnight My Angel,” which Billy Joel wrote when his daughter Alexis was born. The entire time Celine was singing that song, pictures of her three sons were showing on the screen. I didn’t cry – I sobbed – the entire song. Then the next day I sobbed reading the program where she talked about her sons.
I took a trip to the coast with eight Christi Moms. We laughed and we cried and we laughed and we cried. I got to ride in Nancy’s convertible! No one will believe us and our cameras couldn’t capture it, but we saw a rainbow making a complete circle around the sun! We are not crazy and we were not drunk. It happened!
Dewey and Dutchess are still with me. Dewey had pancreatitis in September and I thought he was going to die. Dewey was hospitalized and couldn’t eat or drink anything for several days. When I brought him home, he still wouldn’t eat. Dutchess had to lead him to eat, and even then he wouldn’t eat much. When he finally got better, I asked Dr. Ory if Dewey had 10 more years – and she said how about four? Right now I can’t be without my Dewey. Dewey is the last piece of my little family with Dylan. I got Dewey one month before Dylan died, and Dylan has been my heart. A lot of moms have other kids or grandkids – but I have Dewey. I’ll take four more good years with Dewey.
David invited us back to Blue Mountain Beach, Florida. Cousins Bonnie, Lynn, and Peggy came again. David was an excellent host and we had a great time again. I met a new friend, Tonya. Tonya’s husband Tracy died three months before, so Tonya and I talked a lot about grief and became friends. I told her all about the Christi Center.
Hal and I went to Tiger Stadium to see LSU beat those Aggies. We met my brother David, and cousins Bonnie, Brooke, and Doug in Baton Rouge. We had great food at Eddie and Di Harmon’s condo and David’s tailgate party before the game. I think the game might have set a record for being the coldest one ever in Tiger Stadium. Hal and I also went to New Orleans in December and had a great time. We got to spend a day with my college roommate Laura as she gave us a great tour of New Orleans. I went to Homer for Thanksgiving, and then Hal and I went back to Homer and Shreveport in January for George Strait’s Cowboy Rides a Way concert. Thanks to Cindy for getting us a great room at the Horseshoe the first trip- then she got us an even better room the second trip! I know I’m a little bit country – but who has ever seen a bathroom mirror with a television built in? The shows just play on the mirror. We went from that room to cabins on Lake Claiborne – nice cabins I must say. And we saw many more cousins.
In December I received the nicest gift in the mail. It was a quilt with pictures of Dylan and the things I do to celebrate his life. Thank you Diane! I also ran into those frickin gingerbread men at the grocery store during the holidays. I bought two boxes of the bastards, thought about how much Dylan loved those gingerbread men all the way home, then got home, sat on my bed and had a complete breakdown. I had a complete sobbing fit – like I hadn’t had in about four years. I could not stop. Hal happened to call and asked what happened and I said those frickin gingerbread men. He was there right away to take care of me. Thank goodness after that I went to the Austin Country Club for brunch with 14 Christi mothers! A Christmas tradition that I can actually look forward to.
For Dylan’s birthday this year, we went to College Station. We went to Hilary’s apartment and met her German Shepard Wyatt Earp. Hilary’s mother, Diane, and I have been great friends since the third grade. Hilary went with us to eat at Texas Roadhouse, one of Dylan’s hangouts in College Station. We then went to the College Station Home Depot where Dylan was working when he died. Hal bought a bench to place in his backyard where he is building a Dylan garden. Then we took 13 roses to the gate where the accident happened. I got the eighth heart tattoo for Dylan’s birthday. That means I’m in double digits for tattoos now! A couple of weeks later we were back in College Station for a balloon release for Lindsay Walters five-year anniversary. Thirteen more roses were taken to the gate where Dylan died.
Dylan’s good friend Justin got married this year. I saw Justin in the parking lot of the hotel the day before his wedding and gave him a dog tag with Dylan’s picture on it. Justin put it on and wore it during the wedding ceremony. I was surprised and happy when I saw the wedding program “Today we honor the memory of Justin’s good friend Dylan Graves.” At the reception, I got to visit with many of Dylan’s friends. It’s just so weird that they are grown up and Dylan is still 19. After the bride, Crystal, danced with her father and Justin danced with his mother, I was called to the dance floor to honor Dylan. Justin danced with me to the song “I Hope You Dance.”
A Christi Mom had a dream about Dylan. I was somewhere with her and she saw a ball of energy above my head. She looked again and it was Dylan. She said Dylan didn’t have a hat on. She said it was like looking through a foggy window. She said Dylan was laughing and smiling and jumping up and down and waving his hands with his palms out and his fingers spread apart. She said Dylan was so happy. Now for the shocker – it’s the first time she has ever seen a face in an orb of energy. My Dylan was the first!
Tracy, another Christi mom, sent me a Mother’s Day picture – a fence post in Sulphur Springs, Texas, with Dylan Graves carved in it. I told Tracy several years ago that I thought there was something in a park in Sulphur Springs to honor Dylan. Tracy was there watching a T Ball game and walked right up to it. Tracy said there were many posts with names, but she walked right up to Dylan’s post.
My good friend Nancy’s mother died on my birthday. Nancy and I walked in the Christi Center at the same time eight years ago, and we have been on the Hayley/Dylan journey together the whole time. Christi friend John Perry’s father died. Dr. Williams, the man who gave me my first job, died. Dr. Williams was a veterinarian and a family friend for many years. I thought every job I had would be as fun as my job at the North Shreveport Animal Hospital. It turned out none were. Even though I haven’t seen Dr. Williams in many years, he had a big impact on my life – imagine how I might be if not for Dr. Williams favorable impact? My cousin, Billy Wayne’s father-in-law died. My counselor De’s husband died recently. Johnny Ray Watson, a man that I heard sing many times at Riverbend Church, died. Even though I had never met Johnny Ray, I felt like I lost a close friend. That’s how Johnny Ray was – he made every one seem like his friend.
In the last month, I have been moving my things into Hal’s house. Yes, we are in the process of living together. It just seems right. He has practically remodeled his house to make it comfortable for me. And he has done everything possible to make room for all of Dylan’s things. He probably thinks I’m crazy because I am more concerned about having room for Dylan’s things – not mine. And Dewey and Dutchess will have three more pack mates – Big Babe, Ralphie, and Little Mitzi!
Yes – during the move I had to deal with my Dylan’s things. Three things brought me to my knees in tears: (1) moving Dylan, Domino, and Dutch’s ashes; (2) finding the letter that Joannah, Dylan’s high school girlfriend wrote and wanted read at Dylan’s funeral. It was such a nice letter about Dylan and I had not seen it in all of the eight years; and (3) the bag of Dylan’s shoes and his backpack that had been in his closet – the same place they have been untouched for 8 years. The shoes and backpack were nearly the end of me.
My Christi moms continue to be great friends and great support for me. And unfortunately, I know many more moms who were happy at this time last year, and now they are one of us. Please keep them in your thoughts because the first years are horrible! My friends, work friends, and family are still here in my village.
I have many regrets this year but the one that stands out is that I missed the Christi Center Remembrance Ceremony for the first time since Dylan died. I will not miss it again. Dylan is still in my heart and on my mind every day. But every year thoughts about Dylan are happier thoughts instead of sadness. I hope and believe that will continue.
I am still attending church regularly. In fact, during Lent I decided that I am FINISHED questioning God and wondering why things happen in my life. No more WHYS. If you have been reading the Villages you know that’s a big deal! Until next year, I will try to live like Dylan would want me to.
PS – Thanks to Hilary Soderborg for putting 13 roses at Dylan’s wreck site in College Station on Dylan Day 2013.
You can read Marianne’s previous Villages: #1 – It Takes a Village to Survive the Loss of a Child, #2 – the Village Minus Two, #3 – the Village Retires, #4, Dutch and Dutchess, #5 – Minus Old Knees, #6 – the Bible, #7 – The Accident