It has been seven years since Tommy died. I miss him more today than I thought possible. Actually, I miss who he would become, I want new photographs. This morning, I received a phone call from my sister-in-law letting me know of another young man's death. My heart broke for his family. He celebrated his first year of marriage last month. I called our friend immediately, even though I had no words. We found something to laugh about - his hair looked good when he died. As strange as that sounds, the fact that I know what it feels like to lose a child, allows me to express myself honestly, to find the little things that will allow us to continue on. I believe, that my ability to share, to understand, to pull the positives out of death, is one of my soul missions in this life. I have been working on a book and I'd like to share the introduction with you. I would really appreciate your feedback. Thank you in advance.
These words were written to me by my son on Wed. April 17th, 2013. They meant the world to me when I first read them. I didn't realize at the time how very thankful I would be to have them, or how often I would re-read them.
"Hey Mom, I'm curious to see pictures of us when you came to visit. Do you think you could send them to me?
I wanna go back to Joshua Tree. But for this I'll have to go much further. Alone with a backpack. I need to meet people, live within their cultures. I need to start a whole new adventure: a new perspective.
Even before the reason of our most recent reunion I've felt I was missing or not understanding something greater. Greater than an apartment...a car...greater even than what I realize to be my life. It's not a bad life, a gift I wish not to waste. It is mine to grow, learn from, allow forgiveness; mine to love.
I'm writing this not from a mental state that suits me ill but rather a state of clarity and expansion.
Honestly. This letter spawned from a query of pictures. Don't know why but I kept writing. I suppose I wanted you to know its message and meaning. Maybe I write you this in the fact that you are probably the only one I can say this to. The truest recipient.
Or maybe its me trying to encapsulate all those missed 'I love yous' into an I love you that isn't said habitually or forcibly.
Least this once you know my words are the truest of sentiments.
I love you.
On Wed June 12th, 2013 I received a phone call that would change many lives. I was standing in my living room, it was almost 6pm EDT, my cell phone rang. I rarely answer my phone but something propelled me to push the accept button on my iphone.
It was a Dr. from West Hills Hospital, " your son, John (Tommy's given name), was in a motorcycle accident." Within seconds, my mind was making a list of what I had to do to get ready to go to California to be by his bedside. Questions that were overtaking my thoughts; how long would his recovery take? what exactly happened? went unanswered. Then I heard the words, " Are you sitting down?" I quickly plopped myself into my favorite maroon leather chair in our living room and answered, "yes." And then my world as I knew it, was gone. I heard her words but was convinced I misunderstood. "We did everything we could." I said, "excuse me." She repeated herself. I replied, "he's dead?" "Yes, I'm sorry."
She couldn't tell me what happened other than it was a motorcycle accident. I didn't want to hang up, too many questions were unanswered. I had to move, to tell people, to get to California. I had to go get my boy and bring him home. What the hell happened? My first thought was that he committed suicide, just rode his bike off one of the beautiful cliffs on Topanga Canyon Blvd, or Mullholland Hwy, or Old Topanga Canyon Rd., or Latigo Canyon Rd. Hell, there are plenty of beautiful canyon roads surrounding his home in Calabasas.
I called family friend, Lisa Niner. They were seated at the same table just four days ago when he was home for his sister's wedding. What did they talk about? Did he seem depressed? The short answer was no.
I called my husband and my son. Todd would later call Ary. India was out of the country, on her honeymoon. Should we let her know? I asked them to come home immediately.
Jay got home first. I met him as he got out of the car. He dropped to his knees, put his head into his hands. He was scheduled to leave the next morning for Army training. When he called to report in, his commander/professor did not give him any options - he was re-assigned to the next training class. I will forever be grateful to that man.
Todd pulled his jeep into the field by the garage. I ran towards him, he enveloped me and asked what I needed. I didn't know.
I called my ex-husband, Tommy's father, next. I told him I was going to California ASAP but had not yet made any arrangements. Within minutes of that phone call, Lisa walked into the house. She had booked the last two non-stop flights to LA - she was going with me. She helped me pack, and we were off. As Todd drove us to the airport, I got a phone call from Donate Life - Tommy was an organ donor. That conversation lasted almost until we got to the airport. Lots of questions about Tommy's lifestyle. Knowing what I know now, I would have let them harvest more but at the time, I still didn't believe he was dead and I wanted to see him whole. As we neared the airport, I called West Hills Hospital to let them know I was coming. They said I needed to find a funeral home, they would send Tommy there, they weren't set up for that kind of visit. "I am on my way and I will see my son there," I spoke firmly into my phone. "I am aware of what I may see, I found my little brother after he shot himself in the head. Believe me, I can handle blood." I was transferred to a social worker and she assured me, she would do her best.
Somehow Lisa got me through the airport and through security. Thank God, she had gone through my pocketbook at home and taken out my grandfather's big knife. As we were waiting to board, I thanked her. Lisa and I go way back. She was my little brother's first girlfriend. An Army Warrant Officer 4 with with three deployments to her credit, I trusted her implicitly. She simply said, "I got this." It was time to board. She led me to the gate and I happened to look up --- we were about to board a plane going to Texas. We laughed out loud until tears were streaming down my face. "I got this" has become an ongoing joke between us.
We arrived at LAX Thurs. morning. My step-brother, Christopher, picked us up and drove us to the hospital. When we arrived at the front desk, the volunteers sitting there had no idea what I was talking about. Before Lisa and Christopher jumped over the desk to strangle the two of them, I pushed re-dial on my phone and had the woman I had spoken with before on the phone. She came out to the front desk and gathered me into her arms - I sank into them - grateful. We were led down some halls, Christopher and Lisa were directed to a well appointed waiting area, while I was escorted to the freezer room and gently forewarned.
Two nurses went with me into the room where my cold son lay on a gurney with a white sheet over him. Thankfully, it wasn't pulled over his head. They stepped back, gave me room, and allowed me to be with Tommy. My hands went to his face and head as I gently stroked him, talked to him. His blonde hair had been dyed a dark brown in places by blood. There was dark, dried blood coming out of his ears. I checked his wrist for his family bracelet; it wasn't there. I asked the nurses about it. He hadn't been wearing any jewelry when he was brought in. I would find it later in his apt. I don't remember if I asked or if a nurse suggested it but I had scissors in my hand and was cutting some of his hair as a keepsake.
This was real, my son was dead. A man driving a pick up truck had mistakenly made an illegal u-turn and Tommy had been unable to avoid him. He was two blocks from home.
What follows is my survival story. How I went from the devastating loss of my youngest son to the appreciation and gratitude that he was in my life for 25 years. How I was able to forgive and to once again find joy in living.
Marjorie M. White
February 13th, 2020