My Youngest Son Died in an Accident

Dear Dr. Gloria,

My youngest son Nathan, just 20 years old died in a car accident on my husband’s birthday, July 7th, 2007. He took a curve too fast on July 4th at 3:30 am, the same curve he had taken 100 times before. He was not not wearing a seat belt, he was ejected from the car window.  He landed in a grassy meadow in a remote area and it took emergency response a while to locate him. His car rolled end on end, but the inside of the car was unharmed, he would have lived if he had his seat belt on. He was life-flighted to the nearest hospital.

I was on vacation when I got the call and I took the first plane home. I don’t remember much of the flight, I almost fainted and cried uncontrollably. My husband (his step father) had to drive eight hours home so I flew alone. I lay on the airplane seat alone sobbing.  No one asked if I was ok or if I needed help. My father-in-law met me at the airport and drove me to the hospital. I was scared my ex-husband and his wife would already be there and my relationsip with them was distant at best. Nathan is the youngest of four sons, my oldest is a Medical Dr., I have a second son in law school, both married with children and out of state. My third son, Nathan, was engaged.

I was warned on the phone by my eldest son that it was very serious and it would be a shock to see him on life support. As he is also a doctor he had been in touch with the local Utah doctors and he told me exactly what we were facing.  There were very little brain waves, because or lack of air from the impact. Other than a punctured lung and a black eye, he looked perfect.

I watched for three days and nights and my baby son lay with tubes in almost everywhere keeping him alive. I was told there was really no hope, but I never gave up, once.

I talked to my unconscious son for three days and nights, I climbed up on the bed as he lay lifeless, moved his tubes and held him in my arms. I tried to cram a lifetime full of advice into him and expressed my love for him over and over. During these three days and nights I cried and screamed with pain and sufffering as I never knew I could. I had seen people do it on movies, but the pain was so intense I could not contain myself.

He twitched some and I swear I felt him grab my hand, but on the third day he was pronounced brain dead. Of course the organ donor people were there hovering around him waiting. His lungs had healed, he was perfect….just no brain waves at all.
“He would want to be a donor, he could save or make an effect on almost 30 lives,” they said.

It is great in a lot of ways to have a son there who is a medical dr. to guide my decisions. I know it was selfish, but all I could see was the doctors taking my baby son whose heart was still beating, whose lungs were still inflating, whose hands were still warm and cutting him to pieces. But all my sons and ex-husband and husband agreed that, that is what Nathan would have wanted. And that is what they did. I knelt by his bed took his hand, prayed, kissed his warm face for the last time and gave permission for the doctors to take my son apart so that others may live.

I know somewhere, in some hospitals, mothers were rejoicing because their children would live.  But now mine was dead.

I tucked a Tigger stuffed animal in his casket, a V8 and a motorcyle magazine. I threw myself on top on him, hugged him, kissed his face and brushed back his hair.  The last time I saw him.

Besides the guilt of divorcing his dad when he was 15 and the fact that my son, Nate, and I have had a fight three weeks before all of this, I was devastated. Fortunately he had come to my home and kissed me and we told each other we loved each other just a few days before.  I had told him we would do lunch, we never did, I got busy, more guilt.  He was at that free spirit stage and trying to figure out what path to take. I was hanging back giving him his freedom.  Did I give him too much, was it my fault? He only wanted to hang with his friends who were into things I did not appove of.

This path of grief is never ending. It hurts clear into my bones. It has been 7 months and yet the pain lingers on. I pray to find him, to see him, to talk with him. It seems at time unreal that I have continue to walk this path of grief. People no longer want to talk about it, this is a very lonely road that I walk alone, and in a very dark place.

I can’t remember things anymore. It’s as if I am only half here. I can’t really accept the fact he’s gone. There are times, like when I was in Vegas last week and saw a young woman celebrate her 21st birthday, that I fall apart and realize he and I will never see that. I will never see what he could have become, he was brilliant, see him get married, have children, grandchildren. I can never call him and hear his latest music on his phone’s voice mail, although I still try. It hurts, it’s hell. I will forever have this dark cloud of pain that follows me. I sit in this dark place where Mothers go to grieve. People have forgotten, or avoid me. Everyones life goes on. I have gotten good at pretending for the benefit of others.

If only I could have changed places with him, or called him that night and checked on where he was…

This is my story. I honesly don’t know what I am interested in as far as volunteering.  I don’t know what I can handle.

Dr. Gloria Responds

Dear Cindy,

We are so very sorry for your loss. As a mother who lost her son in an accident, I truly understand your pain. Few words can help. This is a time to be gentle with yourself and just do the best you can. Seven months is a very short time for grieving a son – there is no correct amount of time nor no right way to grieve. We do what we have to do until the healing begins. For most of us the pain does not totally go away but we get to the point that we can breathe again, function in the world and find some areas of joy once more. Choosing to donate organs is is an excruciating decision to make and one that gives others hope while you suffer. It takes a lot of courage to do that and we hope that someday you will be able to take comfort in the fact that your courage helped many, many people receive the gift of life or a fuller life.

It is important that you find some kind of support system and we recommend The Compassionate Friends. http://www.compassionatefriends.org. This is a group of bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings who understand what you are experiencing and are prepared to give and receive loving support. You can find a chapter near you by going to their website. If there is no chapter of Compassionate Friends in your area you may want to contact  your local Hospice for a grief group recommendation.  However, we understand that groups are not for everyone.  If groups are not for you we recommend that you reach out to your family, church, and friends for support.  You might find that a few visits with a grief counselor might alsso be very helpful. We have found that the load of grief is lighter when it is not carried alone.

We have a loving group of readers who often reach out to each othe so we encourage you to check back for comments that may be posted to the letter you submitted.

Blessings,

Dr. Gloria Horsley

The Open to Hope Community

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  • doris moore says:

    I lost my 37 year old son on 11/23/07 unexpected
    the day after thanksgiving i’m still waiting for the coroners report there was no drugs found in his system i’m still in stock

  • I am responding to Cindy – “My Youngest Son Died in an Accident” – Cindy – be gentle with yourself and look for signs of Nathan here on earth. My youngest son Tim was murdered at 21 years of age. It has been 3 years and I still cry, scream and wonder why it all happened. We are moms – we have holes in our hearts that do not heal. But I can tell you while we will always always grieve and feel this hole it does become a bit more “gentle” – I can smile, laugh or find happiness in others….”joy” is a word I have yet to find….but there are others of us out here. I have joined a grief group as well as compassionate friends….be gentle with yourself and give yourself all the time in the world to grieve your dear boy.

  • Dave Phillips says:

    Hi Cindy,
    My heart was touched by your honest expressions of pain – your mother’s heart broke apart that day when your son passed away and such trauma does not repair easily. I lost my youngest son (17) on November 20 2007 in a car accident as well. As a therapist, I have tried to understand the depth and complexity of this pain we carry and how to best walk with it. I fully agree with Drs Gloria and Heidi – finding compassion for yourself, allowing the grieving process to help us find our new normal, is a key part of this.
    My heart goes out to you and know that you are not alone in your grief.
    Love,
    Dave

  • alice says:

    I am SO sorry for your pain. I do know what you are feeling. Dec 22,2007 my son was life flighted with severe brain trauma. Unlike others, my christmas day was spent trying to hold onto my sanity, my hope and through all the tubes, my son. After 4 long, agonizing days, he was pronounced brain dead. There was no hope left. Only the body that I made, gave birth to, and spent his whole life trying to protect him, keep him healthy and happy remained. We then had to say good bye, kiss and hold him one last time and wait for life support to stop. Instead, Danny took it out of our hands. While standing around his bed, his heart stopped. Everything had been trying to shut down and finally, Danny himself, shut down. He died the night of Dec 26th. Danny was my baby, my youngest child. No alcohol, no drugs, in the gym every morning at 5am. He loved to ride motorcross. This love of riding his dirt bikes also took his life. No one to blame, no one to hate, just an empty hole in my heart that will never heal. I am sitting here, crying with a pain that no one else sees or hears. It is my private pain and I will have to live with this for the rest of my life. Cindy, you are not alone. We all will now share a tie in life that we would not wish upon our worst enemey. Unending grief and despair that will never give us any answers. If it must harden you to make you strong, so be it. One day, somewhere, someone will need this strength that only we can share. I must believe this will one day be needed. Its the only answer I can find.

    take care,
    Alice

  • Dear Cindy, I’m so sorry. I know. I know.
    The following is my own experience and what has helped me.

    Last week, I sat in the chair at the computer where we found our 22 year old son Brian on Dec. 15, 2004. He died of a heroin overdose after coming to us for help 9 months before. He had been using it for 4 months. We were blessed to have him with us to see him working hard to recover. We were able to say a lot to him and vice versa. Had he not envolved us, I shudder to think the guilt I might be feeling. He was an electircal engineering student and to us, and those who knew him, the most unlikely person to get envolved with drugs. We were wrong of course, he had a long history, unknown to us,(another source of guilt) and had our eyes opened during the course of his treatment and ours, to how widesread addiction is in our culture and to how some can live quite undetected in their everyday lifes.

    While I was sitting at the computer-I was alone for the evening and had been looking at the video we put on his memorial website -I let out a primal scream that brought my dogs bounding to my side. I wept for a long time with my head on the desk, my dogs (another source of healing) licked my face and hands, never leaving my side.

    I will go for weeks now without tears but Brian is always on the edge of my consciousness. And that’s okay. I don’t abide in the dark places of guilt and “what ifs”, although my mind does visit them. I think I realized finally, that doing that is placing way too much importance on me-like I could have known what was not apparent and how to fix everything when it was. We did our best. Only God is omnipotent. My faith in God’s promises keeps me moving forward; releasing, talking, crying, laughing, writing, remembering, praying. I seek others for support but ultimately “others” can’t give me the serenity and peace that I get through my faith in God. They are not superhuman either to disolve the pain. It is written that questioning, screaming, sitting quietly and remembering are all things God hears-all forms of prayer and that we don’t even have to know how to put our needs into words-He hears them. Then we must listen quietly to the inner voice that is our answer.
    This is what has helped me move along with life and it does move along whether I’m ready or not. But the pace is my pace. Who I talk to is my choice. How much I say is what I am ready to say and what I wish to share with a certain person. Sometimes that sharing is exacactly what that person needed to hear. That’s how it works.

    If I may, the following is an excerpt by me,from Brian’s website-edited.

    When I think of the days that have gone by since Brian left us and the days we spent with him, I realize that time doesn’t have the contraints it used to for me. It’s not measured the same by me anymore, as I have put so much into God’s hands. It’s His time and His time is Past, Present and Future, never-ending. Too hard to fathom sometimes-The Awesome Mystery of God- but the impression of it is deep on my heart.

    Others speak to my heart and sometimes say better what I am feeling. I’d like to share an exerpt from an old book I found at a thrift store.

    “Here on this earth we are gathered together in families. Our loved ones become inexpressibly precious to us. We live in intimate associations. One gets so close to mother and father, wife or husband, sons and daughters, that they literally become a part of one’s very life. Then comes a day when a strange change comes over one we love.

    He is transformed before our very eyes. The light of life goes out of him. He cannot speak to us nor we to him. He is gone and we are left stunned and hearbroken. An emptiness and loneliness comes into our hearts. We broken-heartedly say, ‘That one whom I loved is dead.’ It is such a cold, hopeless thing to realize.

    Then, out of the very depths of our despair, like the melody of music coming form a mighty organ, like the refreshing sound of rippling waters, comes that marvelous declaration of our Lord:….

    Then we know! We know we have not lost our loved ones who have died. We have been separated, and so long as we live there will be an empty place left in our hearts. To some extent, the loneliness will always be there. But when we really know that one is not forever lost, it does take away the sorrow. There is a vast difference between precious memories, loneliness, the pain of separation, on the one hand, and a sorrow that ruins and blights our lives, on the other.”
    From When A Loved One Has Died,
    by Charles L. Allen

    After Brian died I could have easily closed off my life to the rest of the world. But God, through my family and friends, wouldn’t let me do that. I deliberatley close it off instead and without isolation, with intentional prayer-the more time spent in prayer the more you seek it out. “Life is fragile, handle with prayer” is the message inscribed on an angel figurine my lifelong friend just gave me.

    I plan to live the rest of my life with intention and in the best manner that I can. I pray you turn your sights to God to help you along your way. To the best fullfilment of our being here.

    “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeramiah 29:11

    I will pray for you and ask the same of you for me.

    With loving thoughts,
    Lee Ann

  • Dave Phillips says:

    I just wanted to write a quick note to Alice. As I read your account of your son Danny’s last days, it had such a profound impact on me. I remember December 22 very well as Sean was only gone 4 weeks by then and that Saturday was an uncommonly lonely and painful day for me. And to think that your excruciating journey had just begun while I felt so alone. There is an odd comfort knowing that I am NOT alone in this process, that others are walking this similar path and DO know how I feel. I guess your story reminded me of the closeness of this community of which I am now apart. My prayer for myself that I speak for you as well is that we find some joy or beauty alongside our sorrow this day.
    Your friend,
    Dave

  • merja kismanen says:

    Dear Cindy.I am very sorry to hear about your loss.You are not alone.My beloved 18 years old daughter Elena passed away in a car accident 20.11.2005.And I feel pain and am grieving every single day since then.Nothing is the same any more.Be gentle to your self and try to spend time alone just resting.It helpes at least a little bit.Very important is also to realise what you still have.I pray for You.You are not alone.If there is something I can do to ease your pain I gladly will be here for You. With loving thouhgts Merja Kuismanen.P.s Elena was my only child.

  • alice says:

    Hello Dave,

    Thank you so much for your note. Of course, I did not realize that Dec 22 you were feeling the 1 month mark for the loss of your youngest son. Yesterday was my 1 month mark. I cried all day. There hasnt been a day yet that I havent cried. This is my goal. To go to bed one night and realize that I didnt cry that day. Or maybe, not very much. We all will now mark days, weeks and years that our lives came crashing down. Each one of us will have different times, dates and the specific event that caused our loss. The end result will still be the same. A hole in our hearts that will never heal, only the jagged edges around this hole will hopefully, one day, heal.
    I do not have prayer and God to comfort and sustain me. Only myself, and my need to see that my remaining children continue and achieve joyful lives that our Danny will never see. For many generations, the women in my family have buried their sons. From great grandmothers down to my mother, my sister and now myself. I had hoped to escape this curse but not so. I too, now join them and other bereaved parents. Through all of this, I feel some measure of comfort that Danny was not my only child and that I have only lost one. So far. Those of you who have buried more than one child and for those of you who have buried your only child, truly, my heart goes out to you. After knowing the joy, love and happiness of being a parent, I can not fathom returning to a life without any children. For those of you who do, like Merja and her loss of her only child, Elena, I have no words! Your pain is more than any of us could bare. My heart grieves for you along with my Danny.
    For this moment in time, you all have no idea what reading the inside of your hearts has done for me. Like Dave said, we all feel alone but we are NOT alone. There are so many more of us out there than we know. So many in the last few weeks have come forward telling me their stories. People I have known for years and yet had no clue that they too, had lost a child. We are everywhere. You all have helped me to better deal with one of life’s hardest lessons. I do not think that I will ever understand it. For now, we are all only trying to live through it. Thank you! savmayric@aol.com

  • pam shaughnessy says:

    Dear Cindy, So sorry to hear about the loss of your son. I just got hooked up to the internet so this was one of the first places i hooked up to. I lost my only son, Tyler on June 2, 2001. He would have graduated that night. He and three of his best friends went out the night before and the last thing I told him was “Be careful and don’t forget tomorrow is your graduation. I love you.” I am so glad I told him that for that was the last time I would see his beautiful blues eyes. It has now been almost 7 years and I am sitting here with tears spilling all over on my computer. But it does get better. I’m sure you have heard that one before! Time is truly a healer. I NEVER thought I would be happy again-didn’t want to. But I had 2 daughters that I had to go for. It has been quite a journey, though! And quite a life-changing existence for me. My best advise is to allow yourself plenty of time to grieve. Don’t listen to people telling you to “keep busy or get going with your life” for they have not been there! There’s is not one day I don’t think of Tyler. He was the best son a mother could ask for. He had so much potential but I guess God had another idea. I believe everything happens for a reason. It made me a much stronger woman . I no longer fear anything including my now ex-husband or water. I learned how to swim a couple a years ago. I believe life is what you make it. You can either became a bitter person or a better person. I chose the latter. So stay strong. You will survive this and maybe be an even stronger woman! I wish you peace and tranquility! Pam

  • Donna says:

    Dear Cindy, I just came across your story and had to respond. I find myself searching the internet for people who have lost sons. We also lost our youngest son, Jayson, 17 months ago in a car crash. Jayson had just turned 21. I understand the guilt you are feeling. I also thought Jayson would “get through this exciting time of his life.” and move on soon. But before we get the chance to see all of his accomplishments in this life, he was taken too soon. My heart aches daily for Jayson. I want so much to be able to go back to when our family was whole. Somedays I feel like he is out of town and will be home soon. I just try to keep loving by his life. Because that is what he would want me to do. Still doesn’t help the hurt some days.