So, here I am again…angry. I am trying my hardest to work through this anger, but it just keeps resurfacing…and even though I thought I had passed the “why” stage, I still ask why and have issues with the fact that I don’t know why my son had to die. He had been working so hard to change his life…and was the happiest I had ever seen him in his adult life. I remember exactly a week before he died how hopeful I was feeling about his recovery. He was making plans for his medical separation (due to an injury) from the Navy, and was looking into long term rehab facilities. He was looking at so many options, and my momma heart was so pleased and so happy. I felt as if the prayers I had been fervently praying for 2 months were being answered. I actually felt that he was going to beat this….that he was going to come out of the pits of addiction to heroin. My prayers to God pleaded for him to deliver Aaron from his addiction and to do whatever it took to save his soul. Every single day for two months, I prayed that prayer…over and over. I truly and completely believed that Aaron was going to be delivered from his addiction here on this earth.
I had just talked to him on FaceTime a couple of days before he passed. He was going to attend a sober Super Bowl party and was just going to enjoy the game with friends in a sober environment. I will never forget the smile he had on his face that day…the last time I saw his face while he was alive. It was the most beautiful face, with such a glorious smile…that made my heart smile. And his laughter…it was so calming and relieving to see him enjoying himself sober. I felt so very good. I’m thinking…my prayers are being answered. Just a few days after that phone call, I sat in my office, trying to get some things accomplished when the phone rang. I almost didn’t answer it, but I noticed that it was from Washington, D.C. I thought that to be very odd…like maybe they were calling to ask me some questions about Aaron and his injury since he was going to receive disability when he was released from the Navy. So…I answered the phone call that changed my entire life. Maybe I’ve told this story before in previous blogs…but I’m feeling the need to tell it again, so I’m sorry if it seems redundant. As I answered the phone, Petty Chief Lazzaro told me that she needed to meet with me, and that she had she had even gone to my house, my old house. So, I gave her my new address and she asked if she could meet with me. Believe it or not, I was somewhat irritated because I still had some things to do…but she was insistent that I needed to leave work and meet her at my house. It was at that point that I began to realize that something was wrong….something was very wrong. I called everyone that I knew that had been in the military to find out why this lady would want to meet with me at my house. No one seemed to have an explanation, and I began to fear the worst as I drove home that day…it was late in the afternoon….around 5:00 when I left work, which was just a few minutes after hanging up with Petty Cheif Lazzaro. All the way home, I played out different scenarios in my head and the more I thought the more anxious I felt…..and the more dreadful I felt. I got home around 5:20 and Chief Lazzaro hadn’t arrived yet. I was stuck in another waiting game…pacing the floor and looking out the window for cars driving into the neighborhood. About 10 minutes after I came home, I saw the lights of an approaching car and raced back and forth between the living room door and the back porch door to see if that car was going to pull into my driveway…and it did. Once in the driveway, she parked and it seemed like forever before she got out…but it wasn’t just her that got out of the car….there was another sailor with her. At that point, my heart absolutely sank to the pit of my stomach. I knew that this was not going to have a good ending. As she got out of the car, she placed her hat on her head and prepared herself to come into my home and to deliver the worst news a parent could ever receive. It felt like it took her 30 minutes to get from her car to the door. But once she finally reached the door, we opened it and she introduced herself and the sailor with her introduced himself. And then she asked to come into my house. We took a few steps into the house and she and the other sailor stood face to face with Tom and I…and this is what I remember hearing her saying…”Aaron was found unresponsive this morning.” And I’m thinking ok…unresponsive…..but he’s in the hospital…right? And then she proceeded to say, “He was unresponsive and they couldn’t revive him at the hospital.” I cannot explain the shock that I felt at that very moment…the disbelief I felt….this had to be a dream….and then it finally hit me….she’s telling me that Aaron is dead. And all I could think was “Oh my God, Aaron is dead…he’s really dead. Oh my God….NO….NO…NO.” And then I found myself on the floor balled up into a ball. It was absolutely the worst day of my life. Just a few days ago, he was good…he was so happy…and now he’s dead. The fog that enveloped me took over my whole spirit, my mind, and my heart. It was all encompassing and the pain was actually physical. Aaron died on February 10, 2016, but we didn’t receive his body until February 19th. The Navy kept his body in order to perform an autopsy…but we had to wait 9 days before we could see our boy and lay him to rest. During those 9 days….it still didn’t feel real, because we hadn’t seen his body. But on February 19th at around 6:00 about 25 of us stood on the tarmac at Greenville Airport in South Carolina. I watched as the plane landed and thought…maybe he won’t be on this plane. Unfortunately, once the plane stopped, I watched his, casket draped with the American Flag, roll out of the belly of the plane. And at that point…I knew this was real. It was really real…it had really happened. I was able to see Aaron before he was cremated…and I’m so glad that I did get to see him. Many people don’t want to view the body….and I completely understand that, but I HAD to. I had to see him one last time.
On February 20th, 2016, a memorial was held to celebrate Aaron’s life. So many of his friends came and I was blown away by the people that drov
e from Knoxville to support me. There were so many people there, that they had to add row upon row of chairs. Aaron was greatly loved and remembered. It was humbling. Several of Aaron’s friends stood up to speak about how Aaron had impacted their lives. It was so moving and it made me feel good that all of these people had such wonderful things to say about my son. On that day, my brother gave me a letter that read:
You will hear a lot of sympathy today, hear a great many well wishes, and see a lot of sad eyes. None of it will make today any easier. The brutal reality in any death is that when it comes to a parent losing a child, no one can know the devastation you feel inside or the sense of having your heart ripped out of your body.
There’s a hole inside you now that will never be filled. It won’t feel as deep in the future or as vast, but it will always be there. I wish, in some ways, that I could take it away for you or fill it back up. The truth though, that wouldn’t be fair to Aaron.
Nothing will make today better, but there are some good things you can take from today and the days ahead. A lot of people loved Aaron. A lot of people recognized how special, how loving, how caring, and how much they wanted him to be a part of their lives. I’ve checked his Facebook page most nights since he died. The outpouring there, from his friends in Japan, from those in California, from the kids he went to school with, has made me realize just how much a person of the community and world Aaron was. He’ll always be special to us. We’ll always miss him, but so will a lot of other people.
That means you did your job well, Carmen. You raised a loving son, a loving nephew, grandson, and man. Aaron had his trials and tribulations. Then again, we all do. What a good many kids in the world are missing is something you never stopped giving him, love, a need and willingness to help him, a need to see him happy.
And it sounds like he’d reached the point in life or was very close to reaching out and grabbing hold. That’s not much to take away when you have to leave him behind, but it is a great thing to take away. He loved you and that love never stopped. It won’t stop here today.
His words reached deep into my heart…and made me feel like, in one of the darkest moments of my life, that I had done everything I could for Aaron. For that, I am forever grateful. Thank you, Mike for your heartfelt words.
A couple of days after the memorial, it was time to lay Aaron’s remains to rest. As I pulled up to the chapel in the Veteran’s Cemetery, I saw many family members there…and I was dreading this part with all of my heart. As I stepped out of the car and rounded the corner, the lady from the mortuary ran to me with a white box. Before I had time to even think about what was in the box, she said, “These are your son’s remains.” Again…I thought, “Oh my God”…and then the strength just left my body and my knees buckled. How do you make sense that….that his remains were in a box. Usually a box holds no meaning at all….it’s just an inanimate object designed to hold things. Often times boxes bring excitement, because there’s a surprise inside. But this box…..did none of those things. This box almost took me to the ground and it took a few minutes for me to gather my thoughts…and then the flood gates opened. I walked into the chapel with all eyes on me carrying my child’s remains as tears streamed down my face. That day was equally as hard as getting the news.
I once read in a book that grievers need to tell their story over, and over, and over, and over….until they just can’t tell it anymore. This is one of those days that I needed to tell it just one more time. Telling it, hopefully will help me work through my anger. But if anyone out there has any suggestions about how to make reconciliation with God, I would love to talk to you. I know that I need to and some days I want to. But there are other days when the anger just makes me think things that I shouldn’t think. I don’t voice those thoughts though, because I’m sure that I would be judged about some of those thoughts.
I’m sorry…I know this is a really long piece, but I just needed to get it out again. The only thing I can say is that I am making it through this difficult journey, sometimes not so well….but I’m making it. I hope that some of my fellow grievers identify with these feelings, because I feel so terrible for feeling the way that I feel…and for reacting the way that I react. But then again…there is no grief guidebook. You just have to live it day to day.