Thursday, July 11, 2013

Creating the Tragic Story

For some, death is a long, slow and heart-breaking journey. For others, it is an abrupt cessation of an active life.

My mom lived 3 years with lung cancer. Three long years of treatment and hope and uncertainty and sickness and diminished quality of life. I say “long” years but I wonder if Mom experienced them that way. Maybe those years went by quickly for her. I suspect, though, that she experienced it both ways: time went too fast and too slow simultaneously.

During her illness, I became closer to Mom than I had ever been. I felt her love more than I had any other time before. It was upsetting to see her sick, to know that she was going to miss out on so much from dying so young. Mom would not know her grandchildren. And even though I knew it was coming, when she did pass away, it was still a shock. It was still distressing and unbelievable. One minute she was alive and the next she wasn’t. One minute there was still some hope, some comfort, and the next only loneliness and grief. Mom’s story ended.

My son was very much alive. Dustin was healthy and enthusiastic and dynamic and energetic. Then he was dead. Deceased. Lifeless. Inanimate. “Gone.” In a split second. No warning. No buffer. No “getting used to the idea” ahead of time. And especially, no time to say good-bye.

For him, I am happy about that. No pain. No fear. No sadness. No regrets.

For me and for the others who love him, though, there is pain and sadness and regrets. And there are questions.

A bereavement group explained that a major difference between a slow, expected death like my mother’s and an unforeseen death such as Dustin’s is “the story.” With Mom, we knew the story of diagnosis and treatment and continuing illness and eventual death. With Dustin, bam! he just ceased to exist any longer. There was no story.

So the survivors struggle to create the story. In my case, I went to the site of the crash. I put my fingers in what remained of his blood on the road. I measured the distance between where he was hit and where he ended up. I photographed from one end to the other and from above as well. I drove the route he had ridden his bike that night. I drove the route the person who killed him drove. I read police reports. I read everything in the media or online that I could find. I talked to the medical examiner. I asked where he’d been and why. I picked up his belongings from police evidence and analyzed it all: the destroyed bike, the bloodied books, the scraped up but still working cell phone. I found out what I could about the person who killed him.

I’ve tried to piece together a coherent story, to make sense of the senseless. What happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? And why did it have to happen to him?

This post is the result of unexpectedly meeting a young man who had an experience that I desperately wanted to learn more about but was afraid to question. This young man was the first to see my son after someone else plowed into him and left him on the street, who testified before the grand jury and was instrumental in the decision to charge that driver with Manslaughter. We met and hugged and cried together. We exchanged phone numbers. Other than asking him if Dustin was dead when he first saw him (Yes! my most fervent desire), I managed to stifle all other questions. What I really wanted was to somehow get inside his mind and see what he saw and hear what he heard and feel what he felt so I would know more of the story. But I didn’t want to put him through that. Maybe I don’t really want to know, myself.

…No, I do. I do want to know.


  1. Wow... you have, very personally and eloquently, explained the sad emotionally tortured path that you have been forced to follow for so long, for too long now ...I wish that there was more that I could do to help; more to erase this tragedy from memory. Better yet, to go back and save Dustin , somehow...I am sure my wish of a different reality is not even close to helping you resolve all the questions, thoughts and images about that night...I know that the passing of time will possibly lessen the pain, but never fill the terrible hole in your life as well as all others who knew and loved Dustin...I also know how you feel about this passage of time marking your distance from Dustin and his life as being an ongoing horror that you are forced to go through as you are thinking everyone else is no longer paying attention to what a terrific person Dustin was. Feeling that you alone are there to remember and mourn his passing as you see others going on with life, so much easier than you feel is justifiable or even possible for you. Your writing has kept us aware of the tremendous loss, for all of us, from his passing. You express here for us,especially, a much deeper understanding of your personal pain and difficulty negotiating a peaceful compromise with your feelings. The thought of time betraying you the ability to keep his memory alive simultaneously being expected to continue to live your life as normally as possible must be difficult at least. I am hoping that you will find more answers and possibly some peace. Your writing about Dustin and searching for all the answers have apparently, been very healing as well as torturous for you.I do believe as time passes, and I am sorry for saying this... but I believe it to be the only other way to finding any healing over this horrific loss. I love you Sweetheart!

  2. You have done so much to help people. Its like you channeled what energy/Lifeforce you had for Dustin as a mom into doing everything possible to keep it from happening to anyone else and to comfort and grieve with others that have gone through it. Thank you for sharing your very personal and very real struggle Kristi.