Thursday, September 27, 2012

March 29, 2012

Note to the reader: I wrote this to help me process. The details continue to swim in my mind daily.  I know that it is very raw.  I could not even go back to proof read it due to the content but I wanted to get it out there.  I will edit more later and /or take suggestions.  Feel free to comment but do keep in mind Corey was 19 years of age.  We worked with him intently until he refused our help around 18 years of age.  This occurred 7 days after his 19th birthday.

We woke the morning of the 29th saying Happy 18th Birthday to our middle son CJ.  Little did we know at the time that this would be the day our world would turn upside down.

On March 28th Corey had left in a huff.  He was in a different mood that day and had said several things that were disheartening to me.  That morning he asked me if I thought he was going to go to hell for the things he had done wrong.  I had told him that when he was younger he had asked Jesus into his heart.  So even though as an adult there had seemed to be some struggles with mental health issues, I did not think that God would send him to hell.  I explained that I thought that since he had made a decision for Christ before his mental health issues had started, God would honor that and bring him to heaven and he would be made new, as it says in the Bible.

Another thing he said that day was that he felt God calling him away from home.  He felt like he was suppose to begin walking. Corey said that he may end up dying but that he was ok with that because he knew God wanted him to walk.  Shortly after this conversation Corey became very angry.  He said, "Mom, I'm going to leave now. I may never see you again but pray for me every day.  And mom, I love you very much."  Then he picked up a back pack and began walking.
I called the police.  I was in shock at what had just happened.  I looked up and down the street and could not see Corey at all.  My heart was breaking.

When the police arrived they searched the area and could not find Corey.  I explained that if they happened to locate him, please take him to the hospital and call me immediately.  The police said they would do this for me.

Since Corey had went to college the semester before I knew that he was aware of the streets and being alone.  He did struggle with some developmental delays and mental health issues and may participate in things that were inappropriate for the sake of gaining "friends."  He did however know survival techniques, so when he didn't come home that evening we said a prayer for him, left the door unlocked and went to bed.

The next morning (the 29th) when I woke up I turned on the news, there was a report about a man in Greenwood who had been shot in the leg through a door because he had been attempting to get into people's homes in the middle of the night assuming they were his own, the identity of this victim (or suspect) was already known.  The next report was about a fatal accident that had occurred in Greenfield around 6:30am.  The reporter said, "Stay tuned, after the commercial break we are going to release a picture of the victim, he had not been identified.  If you have any information on the victims identity please call....." I turned off the television and said, "One of those stories were going to be Corey one day." (Side note: thank God I had turned off the television during the commercial break)

Getting out of bed and going downstairs I began to get concerned noticing he had not returned.  By 10am I was having a lot of anxiety.  My mom came over and asked if I would like to go run errands with her.  I said I would, just to get out of the house and get my mind off of my fears. My mom and I were having casual conversation until we were pulling out of the car dealership and I said to her, "Mom, I do not think Corey's mind will be out of constant turmoil until he is in heaven." This was around 11am on March 29th.

Our next stop was the BMV.  By this time I was very nervous and anxious.  I began to have that feeling like my insides were shaking and I could crawl out of my skin. After sitting in the BMV for several minutes I walked outside.  A dear friend called me and said she was off work that day and asked if we could go out to lunch.  She wanted to pick me up at my house around 1pm because she had a Superman birthday cake to drop off for CJ.  While on the phone with her I received a call from a private number. I normally do not answer these calls because a lot of times it is someone who wants to sell something or collect something.

As I answered the phone the gentleman on the other end said, "Is this Dana Whitten?" I said, "Yes." He said "This is Detective XYZ from Hancock County.  I need to speak to you in person as soon as possible when will you be home?"  I explained that I was at the BMV with my mother and did not have any idea when I would be returning home. He then asked for the address of the BMV and said he would meet me in the parking lot.

I went inside and explained this to my mom so she did not come out and see me surrounded by police and freak out.  (I had no idea what the detective wanted.)  I then called my friend back, explained we probably wouldn't be doing lunch but I would call her back. We hung up.  I called her back immediately and said I realized what I had just told her and what that might have meant because I hadn't ever been visited by a detective before.  My stomach was in knots and I was shaking uncontrollably by the time the detective arrived.

The Sedan pulled into the parking lot with tented windows and two men in suits approached me.  Detective XYZ introduced himself again and asked me questions to insure my identity.
His questions:
Are you Dana Whitten? Do you live at 123 ABCDEFG?  Do you have a son named Corey Eugene Whitten? Is his birth date March 21, 1993? Are you here alone?  At this point my knees buckled.
The detective said, "I'm sorry I have to inform you your son was involved in a fatal accident this morning at 6:30am on US 40 in Greenfield, IN. His remains are being held at........."  

At this point in the conversation my phone rang.  It was Gene.  He was on lunch break and driving to a restaurant.  I told him I was with a detective and I needed the detective to talk with him.  The detective asked Gene to pull off to the side of the road and then he told him what he had just told me.  Soon after my mom came out of the BMV and the detective explained the same to her.  At that point one detective took my mom's keys and drove us back to our house.

The detective gave me all of the contact information that we would need over the next few days.  He said something to me as he was leaving, "Mrs Whitten, I want you to keep one thing in the back of your mind for later. God may have just saved Corey from something far worse. Call if you need anything."

Gene was on his way to pick up the kids from school and headed home.  When I called the school I explained what was happening and they retrieved each of the children and had them in a dean's office waiting so that Gene could tell them the news and then bring them home.  They had staff supports set up around the room for each child and Gene.  (thank you Ben Davis High School staff)

In the mean time I called my step father and asked him to meet us at my house ASAP.  By the time we arrived he was there and so was my dear friend I had been on the phone with earlier.  She said she knew it couldn't be good and knew I would need her there.  The amazing thing is once Gene got there with the kids there were enough adults to hold everyone. By 2pm we had a house full of people.  The support we felt was overwhelming 

We called close family members and friends and got the ball rolling for information to be released.  We hesitated to do this too quickly because of how quickly information travels.  An example of this is by that evening there were several calls saying they had heard that one of the other kids died.  (information era)

The next few days were very difficult.
It has been 6 months now and we are still in a fog of denial most days.  It is the hardest journey I will ever face, I am certain of that.  Thank you to all that have supported us and continue to do so.  We could not have done it without you and we still have a lot of work to go through.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Part 2 What not to say to the bereaved (mourner)

I realize this one isn't quite as informative or witty as part 1 but these are some other things people said to me or my family that stung in the moment.  
Again as I said in the last blog, some of this is ok to say to the family after they have accepted it for themselves or as their reality.  Once they start working through things, they may need some reminders.  The real issue is timing.  I was just connected with another family who lost a child.  I was reading comments on their facebook page and cringed.  The comments still hurt me and it has been 5 months.  Once the family has time and energy to process what people have said they are going to be angry.  
The people who will be safe to discuss these things with the family will be whomever the family chooses to discuss them with.  A person may assume they are a "close friend or family" so it would be ok to say some of these statements, and be very wrong.

You still have another son

One son doesn’t replace another.  It is true, though, that having other children does motivate me ever so slightly to continue to function.  I cannot function on the same level I did pre death but I know I need to stay alive and work on healing myself and create an environment for their healing also.

Time will heal all wounds.

First of all, such phrases sound contrite. Second, they are often untrue: for example, time does not necessarily heal grief. The bereaved have every right to grieve as long as necessary without having a time limit laid on them of "getting over it."
For me, I will not be "over it" until we meet again.

At least he lived a full life.

No he did not live a full life.  He may have lived longer than the boy down the street or your niece's still born baby, but not a full life.  He had goals and dreams for after college.  He was only 19 years old. The natural order of things is great grandparents pass, then grandparents, next parents.  You get the idea kids are suppose to out live their parents.  No parent should ever have to bury a child, no matter what age.

Everything is going to be alright.


Count your blessings.

In theory, this is a great concept.  The problem is that there is a large hole where I usually begin counting.  In the horror of the moment it is not helpful to be reminded of your other children etc.  
I am very thankful for my other blessings.  Counting them in the moment all I could see is -1

You have your whole life ahead of you.

I do have my whole life ahead of me but my son doesn't.  Right now it doesn't feel like I have my whole life ahead of me it simply feels like I have my life ahead of me.  My whole life would include my entire family.

Life goes on.

Whose life goes on?  

God never allows suffering without a purpose

Never say " is God's will." Just about nothing can upset a person in grief more than these words. When we lose those most precious to us, we may wonder why God could possibly allow their death.  There may very well be a purpose but this is for each individual to work out for themselves.  
The detective who came and told us about Corey's death stated, "Ma'am, please remember something in the days to come. God may have just saved Corey from something far worse."  Now looking back I can say, "Yes, that may very well be true." I could even have a dialogue about what could have been the "far worse he was saved from."  But had anyone else in that moment said that to me, I may have went crazy on them.

I know how you feel. (Often followed by a story about an Uncle or dog.)

There is absolutely no way for anyone to know how another person feels.  Every relationship is different.  Along with every personality is different.  We all handle trauma and grief differently.  Even 2 people who both lost their sons, they will process things differently.  They may have a general idea of how the other person feels.  But everyone’s grief is individual and feelings are processed differently from one person to another. 

Others have lived through it and so can you.

This statement is possibly dangerous: someone who has just lost a child might feel so close to death already that he or she is pushed over the edge by being told they can "get through it." Hopefully a choice of life will be the answer - but this is something with which someone must personally come to terms.

"Very horrific things do happen in this world, and if we have been touched by child loss, then we have experienced the deepest pain known to mankind. There isn't any sense trying to sugar coat it. The pain from losing a child is off the charts. And, somehow we are left with trying to chunk down this pain into daily manageable pieces. It's a life-long process." Grief Toolbox

Be assured, though: you can offer effective comfort to those in grief.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Part 3 What you CAN do for the bereaved or mourning

 Being the hands and feet.  

Suggestions for what can be helpful.

This is the conclusion of a three part blog on what shouldn't be said to a person who is mourning. I wanted to put a different spin on this part because I realized in my last two blogs I basically said, "don't say anything."  That is not at all what I mean.  So I have put together some things that were done for us that were very helpful.  

In finishing this blog 'series',  I would like to make some suggestions of things that can be done to assist those who are grieving.  Some dear friends of mine were discussing this with me just today and I realized how to explain it. The words one friend used were, "There really isn't anything to say.  And using Bible verses or discussing Heaven is great, but not in the moment of intense raw grief. The (Christian) mourners know that there is truth in the promises of God but they are feeling alone, betrayed, guilty, etc.  The best way to help is to flesh out Christ.  Show God's love.  There's no need to discuss anything or try to find a comment to soothe the mourners just help them.  Meet what physical needs you can."

In an attempt to show Christ’s love, your devotion, your sorrow for their loss, or however you want to define it, you must be the hands and feet.  There are no words to say that will help someone who is at the peak of hopelessness.  There are however things that can be done that will show the person you care and you are there for them.  If you are worried about the person not knowing that you were around then simply leave a card. 

One of the first things someone should do is buy or find a box or basket for everything that comes into the home; cards, letters etc.  This is where you can place a 3x5 card showing that you were there and what you may have done, or brought etc. Also encourage others who come into the home to put their name in this container.  When calls come in whoever takes them should write messages on a notebook for the family, even if the call ends up being taken by the family.     

The main reason I think these are good things to start off with is because the memory span of someone who is mourning is not good or reliable.  They may think they will remember certain details but generally speaking they won't.  I know several times I thought, "Oh my, that is really important I need to remember to tell my husband that."  Haha, it never happened.  I knew I had something to tell him, but not sure what it was.  There were over 600 people noted as attending the funeral, more people came in after the doors where shut and the books closed.  By the time I was able to write thank you cards, I had no idea who brought toilet paper or chicken.   

Make sure that the person’s home is well-stocked with toilet paper, tissues, napkins, paper plates, plastic silverware, trash bags, water, other drinks etc. We found out about our son's death around noon.  By the early afternoon there were people calling with their condolences and asking if there was anything we needed.  I began to write a list after a few of these calls, with some assistance I realized I had told at least 7 people that we needed dish soap and toilet paper.  It has been 5 months now and I still have 1 of the bottles of dish soap left.  It was extremely helpful, but I would suggest someone make a realistic list of what is needed in the home.  With sudden deaths this is not always the easiest part but someone, a close friend or family member, should take over this task.  Give the person who is answering the phone the list and have them cross off things as they tell people.  (Thank you to all of my friends who brought toilet paper and dish soap on March 29th) 

Someone should coordinate providing food for the household.  Our son died on a Thursday.  By Saturday we had 12 containers of chicken on our table.  We laughed about this, but between us and our visitors it all was eaten within a week.   The person recruiting for meals to be brought in should ask for family, friends, neighbors, etc. to assist with bringing in meals for at least 2 weeks.  Some churches have meal ministries and will assist with this it is as simple as someone calling and asking for help. 
This part is very important because during this intense raw grief, a person literally will forget to eat.  I am still struggling with this.  I cannot remember if I have eaten or not.  I feel like the person helping with this part should also keep in mind while casseroles and buckets of chicken are fantastic and nicely reheat-able, there are other food needs.  We had one friend who went to a discount store and bought an entire box of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Another thing that was very helpful were restaurant gift cards.  I do have to say I gained about 40 lbs in the past 5 months.  We eat what is right in front of us.  If it is not healthy, oh well. 

Another thing that a dear friend of mine thought of was to create a website and connect it to a Paypal account so that people could make donations towards funeral cost and any additional cost incurred by the family during this time.  This was very important because our life insurance didn't start until April 6th.  That was 7 days after Corey died.  The friend made it a memorial site so it had details of our son's life.  It also had the news articles associated with his death, great pictures, places to leave comments etc.  The link to the site is in one of the other blogs.

There were many other things done by friends.  
One friend took my other children out shopping for clothing for the funeral.  Separately she took me shopping.  This was an odd shopping trip because I was so numb that I literally stood in the dressing room while she tossed things  to me for me to try on.  I had no idea what I was doing.  
My sister called and said she would put picture boards together to lay out at the funeral.  
A friend of our family called and said she would do all of the flower arrangements.
My dad and stepmother came and went to the funeral home with us to plan services.  My husband and I were in such raw emotion we could not think.  It came down to my parents doing the talking and giving us basic choices.  
My father-in-law found the best burial site priced nicely. (whatever that means)

I will soon add another blog but I wanted to make sure to mention that it is very important for ongoing care of each individual.  Once the  casseroles are done and the people are gone things get really difficult.  Each person should have at least one person who who text them daily at first to check in.  

We are very grateful to everyone of our friends all of those who visited with us, prayed with us, took CJ out for his birthday, Isaac to his baseball game and Carrissa to DQ.  
We could not have made it this far without significant support from our friends and family.  Thank You.  
All of these things were greatly appreciated.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012