After Chris went back to Canada the next few weeks were dark weeks. I helplessly (and without even trying to fight the process) wandered through dark places in my head that I have wandered only very few times in my life. A place that I know exists and when I am healthy that place scares me. When I am not healthy I embrace it, and in the weeks after my youngest child left and there was no longer the distraction of visitors delivering food and support, or a funeral, or the presence of Chris I went to that place, and it did not scare me. The dark place inside my head comforted me and I did not want to leave it.
I walked alone through very dark unending passage-ways deep within my brain, that contain little light, stone floors and high stone walls and that have no beginning and no end. They simply go on forever if you let them - and I let them - slowly but steadily walking down one dark hall after another not going anywhere and not getting anywhere.
I walked the dark and deathly halls deep inside my head, watching Sean over and over again going through an autopsy. Watching over and over as someone ripped my son to shreds. I watched my child over and over again as he was cremated. Researched online what happens to bones and teeth after a cremation. Researched online every possible reason why a healthy 28 year old man could just fall down dead. I watched him as he lay dead inside some meat locker in the morgue. Saw him laying under the white sheet that had covering him as he was wheeled out of his home. Saw his face beneath the sheet, dead and unseeing. Saw him laying on the floor hour after hour, dead on the carpet in his home. Alone. His body slowly beginning to stiffen. It was a bad place for my head to be in but I did not fight it. I was in pain and embraced only more pain.
When I walked back into my house I continually saw my son in my mind as a baby, as a toddler, as a small boy. As a young boy and then a young man. As an adult. I saw his beautiful face everywhere I turned in the house and the pain of seeing him in my mind was unbearable. I could hear his voice. His laugh. His smart-ass comments. I could see him walking out of the bathroom. Rummaging around in the kitchen for something to eat. Playing with Jamie on the couch in the den. Sitting in the recliner watching one sport or another on TV in the den. Reaching under the Christmas tree for gifts in the living room. The look of delight on his face when he saw all the tools we had bought him for Christmas.
Everything reminded me of Sean. A flyer in the mail about white water rafting was a reminder that Sean and I had talked about going white water rafting this summer. A story about the space shuttle being moved to New York reminded me that Sean had seen the last space shuttle flight down in Florida and had spoken enthusiastically about the experience. He didn't remember it because he was so young, but he and I had watched the space shuttle Challenger explosion on TV together. He was little, his dad was away on exercise in Norway and I rocked with him in a rocking chair in the living room, as I enthusiastically watched the takeoff and then watched as everyone else did, horrified at the explosion and the loss of life. My baby was already sleeping safely in my arms by the time the Challenger exploded and the astronauts were dead. A paint commercial reminded me that Sean and I had talked about me and LC helping him to paint his house. Every white Chevy Cavalier reminded me of the car he drove into the ground by the time he had graduated from college. That car had over a quarter of a million miles on it. I could not look at any young man wearing sports emblazoned t-shirts, khaki shorts and baseball caps. They all looked like my son and whenever I saw a young man dressed like that I felt the need to throw up. I couldn't watch any team sports on TV - I could only envision Sean standing on the sidelines closely watching his players. I couldn't look at babies, young children, young men because I saw Sean at each age. I couldn't look at old men. My son would never be an old man. I couldn't even look at mothers of young children because I knew that one day Jessica would begin her life over again without my son, and that Sean's child would one day call somebody else daddy. That my grandchild would never know his father.
His entire life was irrevocably intertwined with mine, and there was nowhere I could look, nowhere I could run, nowhere I could turn, nowhere I could escape from that reality.
I searched through voice mail messages desperately trying to find messages from him that I had not deleted. There were none. I called his cell phone number hoping to hear his voice telling me to leave him a message. Instead of his voice I listened to a canned female voice telling me that number was no longer in service. I already knew that his phone was no longer in service. I was the one who had cancelled his service. I found text messages from Sean as he watched and described the shuttle takeoff. "Love you mucj". The typo was his. I still haven't deleted Sean's name from my contacts list. I can't do it. Not now and I don't know when.
Every email account that I had, every link and site that I signed into on my computer had some variation of Sean's name and birthday as my password. Every single one. They still do. His beautiful face, his beautiful life, tightly intertwined with mine.
I sat at the table in the grass in the back yard still chain smoking. Still walking the dark halls of my mind going nowhere, but unable to stop moving. Not wanting to leave the aloneness and darkness that was the place inside my head. My tortured brain obsessively carried on endless and circular conversations with itself.
I was his mother. I should have protected him because I was his mother. I couldn't protect him from this. I didn't know. I didn't know. I didn't know. But I should have protected him. It was my job to protect him. I was his mother.............
Did he know what was happening to him? Was he afraid? Was he in pain? Was my child afraid? Was he in pain? Was he afraid?
He died alone. He died alone. He died alone. He died alone. He died alone...........No-one was there for him. No-one was there with him. He died alone. Lay on the floor dead. For hours. Alone. Oh God!!!!!!!!!! He died alone................
I should have found him. I should have been the one to find him. Not his wife. She is too young, too pregnant, too close.......too young. She's been through enough. I should have found him. I was his mother. It was my job. I should have found him..................I should have found him. I should have protected him.
I just talked to him two days before. He was FINE! He sounded just FINE! 28 year old men don't just die. They DON'T JUST DIE!! Not when they're only 28. They don't. They DON'T..................
If he had dropped to the ground earlier Jessica would have been there to help him. If he had gone to work he would have been surrounded by people who could help him. He was always around others. There were always people in his life. He was alone. He dropped dead when he was alone in the house. A few hours either way and maybe he would still be alive.
The last time I talked to Sean we were talking about me and LC moving back to Wyoming. Hi Babe! What are you doing? We talked about me leaving him again and moving back to Wyoming. The last time I talked to my child was to see how he felt about me leaving again. I'll give it some more thought Sean. I love you Baby. Our last conversation was about me leaving him. The last time I talked to my son he knew that there was a chance I would leave again. I'll give it some more thought. I love you Baby.............
I should have held vigil with Sean the night he died. Do medical examiner offices even have places where someone can stay with their dead son overnight? Even if they didn't should I have sat outside the office holding vigil for my son? Spend one last night with him? He was dead. He wouldn't know. Did I disrespect my son by simply going home? Did I? Did I? I didn't even think of it until weeks later. Would there have been any point to sitting in a car in the parking lot of a medical examiners office while my son lay dead and alone, in a meat locker in a morgue? God I'm sorry Sean. I'm so sorry Baby. I should have stayed with you. I should have stayed. I didn't think of it. Everything happened so fast and I didn't think of it, and I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry Baby.
What the hell was the point of it all? The giving birth. The nurturing. The raising. The disciplining. The worry. The sacrifice. The loving. So many hopes and dreams and aspirations for the joyful and successful and long happy life of my child. And now he's gone. All those years of living and loving him. And now he's dead. What the hell was the point???
What the hell was the point of it all? He spent years and years in school. Commuted 100 miles round trip to the University of Alabama in Huntsville for two years. Commuted 90 miles round trip to MTSU in Murfreesboro for another year before finally moving up there. Working at the same time because we could afford to pay for his tuition but not his living expense. He worked at Burger King all the years he was first an Undeclared and then working on his Undergraduate Degree. Commuting and working and still had time to play basketball a few days a week at the gym. Sean finally quit work once he went back for his Graduate Degree - working too hard in school to take an outside job, receiving barely enough to live on from the college, taking out small loans to finish off his education. He only graduated a couple of years ago and was immediately hired into a job in his field. His career, after being in school for seemingly forever, was finally underway. And then it wasn't. What the hell was the point???
What the hell was the point of it all? Sean graduated with a masters in Athletic Training and was a nationally licenced trainer. He immediately found a good job in his field, and with his wife also working, they bought a home. After years living in small apartments with make-shift furniture and driving a car that had over a quarter of a million miles on it. After being in school from the time he was 3 1/2 years old, my son finally began to establish his adult life. A wife, a baby on the way, a home, a job, new vehicles, slowly and gradually going to auctions and pulling together all the trappings of an adult life. Sean deserved it. He had worked hard for it. He had sacrificed for it. It was all falling into place the way it was supposed to. And then it wasn't. And then he died. He had his whole life in front of him and then he died. What the hell was the point???
And finally I thought selfish thoughts. I had been one month away from my 24th birthday when my first child was born. I am now 52 years old. My adult life, in transition far too many times, had always had one constant. The boys. If I achieved nothing else in my life I had achieved the boys. I had raised them and loved them and guided them from happy small boys to challenging adolescents to successful men. They had always been my one constant. I had always been theirs. And now one of them is dead. And the foundation that has made up my adult life has been cracked to the core and the foundation is shaky and perhaps compromised forever. I only accomplished one really important thing in my entire life and that was to raise my boys. And now one of them was dead.
What the hell was the point?
I asked LC a week after Chris went back to Canada that exact question. He looked at me and asked me "Would you rather that Sean have never been born? That you never knew him??" I know what the "right" answer was. "I am glad that I knew him for as long as I knew him, and my life is richer for Sean having been in my life". That was the right answer. The appropriate answer. The answer he wanted to hear. The answer I was supposed to give. But I didn't give it. Because I couldn't and still can't. Instead I said nothing..................
All the work and hoping and dreaming and sacrificing on my part. What the hell was the point of it all?
All the work and hoping and dreaming and sacrificing on the part of my child. What the hell was the point of it all?
Two weeks after Sean had died LC and I attended a fund raiser for Jessica and the baby that was put on by the school where Sean had worked. It was on a weekend day and the people that Sean had worked with every day were there. Kids dressed in the uniform tops of their particular sport and shorts on bottom. Boys setting up tables and greeting people and pointing them in the right direction. Boys playing music in a small band in the cafeteria. Girls serving food. Coaches cooking food. Teachers greeting people and also pointing them in the right direction. Posters and enlarged pictures of Sean posted all over the walls with signs saying "We Love You Trainer Sean". Items that had been donated for an auction. MTSU made a donation. A state representative or senator or some-such-thing attended. So many people spending time and money. So many people trying to do the right thing and say the right thing and just show in their own way how much they cared.
As I approached the table outside the cafeteria where teachers and students were greeting attendees I abruptly turned around, dizzy, light headed, unable to face..........everybody.........everything. Blindly I rushed down a hallway and slammed through a closed door that I could see through the windows led outside. I couldn't breathe. I did not want to be there. I did not want to be anywhere. I just wanted my son. Sean........... SEAN!!! Why did you leave????? I stood on the grass behind a building unable to do anything but stand and cry, and the world spun too quickly around me. LC found me and pulled me close, unable to do anything aside from hold me while I cried yet one more time.
Eventually we did go into the cafeteria. Some people knew who I was but most did not and that was OK. We ate and then walked through the mostly empty halls of the school because I desperately needed to be away from people. I finally looked at LC and asked him if he minded if we left. I called Jessica outside the school and told her that we were leaving. "I'm sorry to leave sweetheart but I have to go". I understood the good intentions that everyone who had organized the event had. But it was too much. Much much too much. At least for me. As I walked down the hallways and out the front door I pulled a picture of my son off the wall. It was quintessential Sean. Quintessential athletic trainer. A picture of him standing on the sidelines of a football game. Him dressed in baseball cap, polo shirt emblazoned with the school's logo, khaki shorts, surrounded by the cheering throngs in the stands, looking handsome and strong and healthy. Why Sean? WHY?? Goddammit WHY?????? We drove towards the house before they began auctioning off the bird houses and vacuum cleaners.