The Village Minus Two

by Marianne McDonald

May 18, 2008


It takes a village to survive 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.

Looks like I survived year two. It has been another year of firsts for me – that seems to be the theme of my life after Dylan’s death – Do things that I never would have done. But it has also been a year of sadness because two important people in my life died. My father and my Aunt Dot were main members of my village long before I even knew that I had a village.

Daddy died on July 29, 2007. Dylan was Daddy’s only grandchild and he loved Dylan. Daddy had Alzheimer’s and had been in a nursing home for about a year before he died. The last time I really was able to have a conversation with Daddy was when he came down for Dylan’s funeral. And I wouldn’t have anything to do with him – or with anyone for that matter. I didn’t want comfort from anyone, including Daddy. If I could have a “do over,” I would do that one over. Daddy was my number one fan for my entire life, and unfortunately I pushed him away at the end of his life. I hope he forgave me for that.

My Aunt Dot died on November 15, 2007. Dot was my mother’s sister, 10 years older than Mama. After Mama died 33 years ago, Dot became a mother for me. And Dot loved Dylan! When Dylan was little, he loved trains. There was a train track in Homer, Louisiana, and when we would go visit Dot, she would know when the train was coming. I can’t tell you how many times she took Dylan to that train track to see the train. When Dylan was in college, Dot sent him cards with money, just like she had done for me. Dylan’s death took its toll on Dot, and she was one of my family members who would call to talk to me the months following his death. And I wouldn’t answer the phone because I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. Dot was the first earth angel that I knew, and I’m sure she is a lead angel in heaven.

When Daddy and Dot died, I seemed unaffected by their deaths. No tears again. But my two main village members are gone now. I know that they probably didn’t even notice me pushing them away after Dylan’s death, but I regret my actions now – and wish I could do them over. And I know that Daddy and Dot would have both gladly given their lives on May 22, 2006, so Dylan could live.

Year two started with skydiving on May 22, 2007. Never in a million years would I have considered skydiving when Dylan was alive. But it seemed like the perfect thing to do on the one-year anniversary of his death. That day was a party – just like he would have wanted. Five of us skydived and 37 friends were there for the party. Dylan’s friends, my friends, my For the Love of Christi friends, bosses, and co-workers were all there to celebrate Dylan’s life. Each skydiver took some of Dylan’s ashes and released them. I had a tandem skydiving partner – and his name was Dylan! What a gift for me that day! Dylan skydiving with me on the anniversary of my Dylan’s death.

Other firsts for me in the second year since Dylan’s death include boxing for six months (and was on the cover of a Sports Illustrated because of that), pole dancing lessons, speaking at a funeral when I hadn’t planned to, spending Christmas night at a casino, getting photofacials, and throwing something out my sunroof (if you know what it was, you know why I’m not saying what it was). I got my third tattoo for Dylan’s birthday, went to Las Vegas twice – for my birthday and again for Dylan’s birthday, had a stained glass made of Dylan’s tattoo, delivered flowers for Valentines and Mother’s Day, planted 140 sods of grass in my yard all by myself, considered adopting a child but decided against it, and settled Dylan’s estate in court.

I even made lists of things I believe to be true; things I don’t believe; and things I question. It’s no surprise that my “question” list is the longest. But making the list made me realize that I believe Dylan is with me, there are angels among us on earth, and that the kindness we show other people is more important than professing church beliefs.

Many gifts came my way this year – some big and some small. I saw a heart-shaped sweat drop at the boxing gym. Many people may not have noticed that, but it was a big deal to me. A baby girl was named Dylan after my Dylan. The Dylan Graves Memorial Young Life Camp Fund reached its goal on Dylan’s birthday. I found the book “God Came Near” in Dylan’s things. Dylan is in my dreams, but more surprising he is in my friends’ dreams.

Seeing the above lists makes it sound like I had a good year. I don’t think I’ll ever have a truly good year again. I have my dark times wondering why Dylan was killed and wondering what my damn purpose is now. I imagine what I would do if I had just “one more day” with Dylan. I get upset because I couldn’t even cook all of his favorite foods if I had “one more day.” I feel guilty because I can’t remember if I ever told Dylan how proud I was of him.

Except for Daddy and Dot, my entire village is still supporting me. Other mothers and friends from For the Love of Christi, my family, friends, my

Marianne McDonald
Marianne McDonald

psychologist, bosses, co-workers, Dylan’s friends, Dutch, and Dewey are still helping me in more ways than they could know. And as always, I will always be grateful to Susan Cox and For the Love of Christi. As I said last year, if it wasn’t for the village, I wouldn’t be here today.

Sometime this year, I realized that I don’t think of Dylan’s death 24 hours a day like I did at first. My friend Cindy reminded me that I had told her I wished there would be a time when I didn’t think of Dylan’s death all the time. That wish happened, and I didn’t even realize it when it happened.

But the main thing I realized this year is that I can’t change what happened to Dylan. I can only change how I deal with it. And now I know Dylan would be pissed if I was sad all the time. So I’ll try to make Dylan proud by continuing to live for another year, experiencing more firsts along the way!

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”.


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