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April 27, 2010

The Need To Know.....Part 1

When a child dies suddenly and tragically mom and dad understandably want to know what happened no matter what the price they must pay emotionally and psychologically.    What happened in those final moments?... did our child suffer?...did he realize he was dying?... and was everything done that was humanly possible to save him?  These questions are the four horseman of the apocalypse to sudden, tragic death that haunt parents, sometimes for the rest of their lives.  During those unspeakable hours, days and months after our son’s death our need to know became almost primal; as essential as breath or the heartbeat that no longer sustained our son’s life.  These unknowns, that often plague the newly bereaved, endured for us for more than nine years after our David’s death. 

They were resolved recently on a Sunday afternoon when we finally set down to lunch with one of David’s closest friends.  A childhood friend who was with him that day and was at his side during those last precious minutes of his existence, moments that are indelibly etched in his friend’s memory for the rest of his days.  We had hoped to talk with him long before this meeting but knew that it would be difficult for him as well as for us.  We knew that he naturally suffered significant “survivor guilt” and despite our “need to know” we had no wish to add to his already heavy burden. 

We did hope that time would in some way lessen his grief and his pangs of regret and perhaps bring solace to the question that haunted him…” Why was it David that had to die that day and not me?”  We did not press him for we had our own grief and regrets to face and we did that by entrusting them to time and to our higher power for some relief.  We made certain he knew that we did not blame him or anyone for what happened that day and that when the time came for him to share with us Dave’s “end of days” our arms and are hearts were open to him.  

April 27, 2010 at 10:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2010

Dave And Hawks

Dave always had a thing about hawks. It began when he was very young and our family would take long driving trips on vacation or to visit relatives. While his older brother sat in the backseat next to him reading a book or listening to music, Dave would scan the farm fields, the trees and the fence posts that rushed by his window, his private cavalcade of nature. Sometimes his gaze would be rewarded with a glimpse of a deer or a ground hog and occasionally a wild turkey. But he had a special affinity for spotting hawks. Sometimes he would see one on the wing as it swam effortlessly through the currents of the sky rising and falling with the warm thermals that rose from the earth. Other times he would spy one as it sat serenely and majestically in a tall tree quietly surveying the wide fields of its territory that opened before it. Often he would call out when one came into view so that we both could share in his discovery and other times he would sit quietly keeping his observation to himself, reveling in it silently as if there was a special bond between him and this bird of prey. Hawks were indeed his special bird and he never tired of searching the sides of the road and the sky above for them.

The day after Dave died from abusing a computer duster inhalant his 4th grade teacher visited our home to share our grief. Diane had lost her son suddenly three years before in a car accident. Her words of comfort and advice helped us immeasurably as we slept waked through those first unspeakable days. Among her gems of wisdom born from her own painful loss, was the suggestion that we select and adopt a symbol for Dave, something that every time we would encounter it would bring and hold his spirit close to us. His mother and brother and I considered many symbols that afternoon but decided to not be hasty in our choice lest another come to us later on that we might deem more meaningful.

Late that same day the three of us drove to the church to meet with the priest and plan the services that we wanted to celebrate our son and brother’s life. As we topped a slight rise and descended into a shallow valley a red tailed hawk, chasing a starling, swooped down from my left and over the front of the car not 10 feet from us. I turned to my wife who was conversing with my son in the back seat and excitedly exclaimed “Did you see that….did you see that?” But no….they had not, and I thought silently to myself, “If David were here he wouldn’t have missed it.”

The next day I had decided to go to the fire station that housed the ambulance crew that responded to the 911 call. They had come quickly and worked feverishly to revive Dave and then transported him to the emergency room of a nearby hospital where he died. I wanted to thank the men and women of Fire Station 4 for all that they did in trying to save my 16 year old son. As I approached the turn into the fire station parking lot another red tailed dove in front of my car and then sailed off over the station and into the trees behind. As I sat quietly in the parking lot of the Firehouse summoning the courage and the words I would use to thank the paramedics who had been with my son as his life ebbed away…I whispered softly to myself, “I hear you Dave, I know what my symbol must be now, thank you my precious son, thank you for giving it to me.”

In the months that have followed we have experienced many special moments with hawks. One of the more remarkable incidents occurred over Labor Day weekend that same year. That Sunday morning as my wife and I awoke and lay beside one another trying to clear the sleep from our eyes, she began to cry softly. I held her in my arms for a while and then, knowing that these things must run their course in their own time and in their own way, I left her to make some coffee, telling her to join me when she felt up to it.

It was a beautiful September morning and I decided we would sit out on the deck and enjoy the warmth of the sun, the wind in the trees and the songs of the birds. Stepping out to put up the deck umbrella, I was greeted by a chorus of crows cawing angrily as they swirled about the largest tree in our back yard. Near the top of the tree sitting quietly and unconcerned was a small hawk not much larger than the crows that were circling it menacingly. I called to my wife who rushed to join me and for the next half an hour we sat mesmerized by the interplay of these two very different birds. The crows wheeling and diving at the hawk to drive it away, and the hawk with an air of distain for its protagonists perched confidently and aloof somehow rising above the din. Occasionally, the hawk would leave it comfortable roost and take the offensive in an attempt to end the annoyance, always returning to his branch where he sat serene and confident. After some time, as we marveled at the choreography of this aerial ballet unfolding before us, the hawk abruptly left the trees and plunged head long for the ground and then pulling up sharply, lightly landed near the deck of the house next door not thirty five feet away from where we stood. The hawk then spent the next few minutes scampering around the base of the deck, it’s intentions entirely unknown to us and yet we were enthralled. After some minutes, the hawk took wing and disappeared much to the relief of the crows and other small animals that had cowered and hidden when the alarm has been sounded.

After the hawks departure my wife and I held each other closely knowing we had just experience an extraordinary event and acknowledging that our wonderful son had heard our cries of despair and had dispatched a winged surrogate to come to our aid. Some quick research in our bird book determined that we had been visited by a Cooper’s Hawk, a some what diminutive member of the hawk family compared to our beloved Red Tailed, that was at home in densely forested areas and yet more recently had been making regular appearances in suburban areas. And yet for us, we cared not what habitat was usual and customary for this spirit that had blessed us with its presence. For a couple of months he appeared every morning and every evening about two hours before sunset sometimes alighting on the railing of our deck, at one point as I sat there not 10 feet away. And then as quickly as he appeared he was gone, leaving us with warm memories as the cold winds of November blew the leaves from the branches of the trees he had made his own.

A year later he returned again around the 1st of September and this time he was not alone. Our Coopers Hawk was accompanied by a slightly larger version; his mate. And now we look forward to new adventures with our hawks.

Dave always had a thing for Hawks, be it Red Tailed, Red Shouldered, or Cooper’s, he loved to see them swim through the currents of the sky or sit majestically at the highest point of a large oak.

And now we have a thing for Hawks.

April 26, 2010 at 10:22 AM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 21, 2010

Fathers...Sons...and the mall

I went to the mall today.  Being male I am probably genetically predisposed to have an aversion to shopping.  Like most men when I need something I go and buy it and rarely go to more than one store to get it.  But there I was today, on a Sunday afternoon, walking down the concourse absently looking at the faces of those that came and went before me.  And then I saw them, a man about my age dressed as I was in shorts, t-shirt, sneakers, a baseball cap and trendy sunglasses.  Beside him was his son, in perfect step, stride for stride, dressed the same except that the khaki shorts, tennis shoes, shirt and sunglasses were all hip designer labels.

Before I knew it they were by me, but that brief encounter was enough.  The ache was already there deep in my stomach, the intensely visceral feeling of grief and loss that comes on you without warning when you have lost a child.  A father at the mall with his son, a boy about the age that David would be today if he were alive.  Dressed like he would be, laughing and smiling like he would, joking with his Dad the way that boys and their fathers have always done.  The way I still desperately want to.

April 21, 2010 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2010

Spring Baseball and the Last Home Run

I lean on the chain link backstop my fingers intertwined with the gray metal and gaze out from home plate toward the outfield.  I hunch up my shoulders abit against the slight chill of an April morning that promises warming temps later in the day.  I come here often in the early mornings of spring before the little leaguers and their Dads begin to frequent the diamonds. And though the shiver passes quickly as I stand here on Diamond One at Veterans Park I am both warmed and haunted by memory…for that is what memory does when you have lost someone whose life shined so brightly and whose death brought such darkness.

I walk to the batters box and stand where he stood many times kicking the dust off his cleats, taking those practice swings and awaiting the next pitch. I step behind the plate where he squatted in his team’s ill-fitting catcher’s gear that always seemed two sizes too big for him.  Finally I walk to the pitchers mound where I stood the last time I was here with him and the waves of the sea of memory wash over me.

We came that June afternoon, in the year before he died, because he wanted to see how many baseballs he could hit out of the park.  You see this was his little league field where he had been an all-star player in his younger years.  Now that he was on his high school team he was bigger and stronger and wanted to spend this warm afternoon at his old field engaged in his own personal “homerun derby”, with Dad as pitcher, infielder and outfielder. We had a wonderful time that day yelling and laughing at each other…he complained constantly about my pitching saying that at times it was too fast, too slow, too high and too low.  But now and again when the speed and the height was just right he would send the ball sailing over the center field fence accompanied by our whoops and hollers.

Shortly after that summer day he lost his love of baseball, a change that in retrospect should have been a warming sign for us that something was terribly wrong.  As addiction grows and begins to take over a young person’s life it pushes out other things of worth that had provided feelings of pride, satisfaction and joy.  Addiction becomes the rapacious creditor that demands the addict’s soul as daily recompense until, in David’s case, his life was the final payment.

Baseball memories….light and dark, joy and sorrow.

April 18, 2010 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack