Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Turning Tragedy into a Positive

A Friend shared this story with us recently and I'm sure it is a story much like so many of ours - this is the story of a mom from Abilene, Texas ~ Written By Local Reporter Kyle Peveto 5.15.2008

For months after her 9-year-old son died in a bizarre car accident, Myra Dean remained in shock. She took a job in Saipan, a commonwealth of the United States in the Pacific Ocean, and had no idea what to do with her grief until she read about the Compassionate Friends group in a Guam newspaper. The newsletters she received from the organization of bereaved parents helped her understand that she was not alone and that she would be forever changed.

When the StoryCorps Airstream trailer came to Abilene this spring, Dean's boyfriend insisted they reserve a spot to record her story. Her emotional telling of the death of her son Rich struck StoryCorps producers enough that they edited the 40-minute session into a shorter feature that is tentatively scheduled to run on National Public Radio's Morning Edition at 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. Friday.

"It's very raw. She talks about how painful it is. She talks about her feelings, about God and about how she overcame this over time. A bereaved parent is always a bereaved parent. The pain never leaves you," said Gary Jamison, Dean's boyfriend, who conducted the interview in March.

"It comes across on the (recording). It speaks to you; it pulls at your heartstrings."

While living in Kansas City, Kan., 31 years ago, Dean separated from her husband and moved into a home on a quiet street with her son. He was riding his bicycle one Friday evening in May when Dean was preparing to spend a night out with friends. When she went to pick up the baby sitter two blocks away, she left Rich riding his bicycle with his friend, telling him to watch for cars.

Returning, she saw a crowd near Rich's friend's house and an ambulance. Immediately, she knew it was her son. "Some people don't believe that you can know that," she said in her StoryCorps interview. "I don't know if it's the tie between a mother and children, or me and Rich in particular, but I knew."

Rich had been playing in the yard, watching the sunset, when an out-of-control car flipped over the hedge and landed on Rich and his friend. The friend was unscathed. Rich was crushed.  Her father died later that summer, and Dean felt amazed that no one understood her pain.  "Expectations are that in a year, you'll be better. But after the first year, the shock is just wearing off," she told the Reporter-News. "After that is the real roller-coaster ride."

Years later, after founding the first Compassionate Friends chapter in Abilene, she began speaking each semester to an Abilene Christian University class on death and dying. She tried to help the students empathize with a parent who has lost a child.

"When you lose your child, that was your future. ... Even genetically, I was a part of my parents, but they were not a part of me," she said in the interview. "Richard was genetically, physically part of me. And when I talk I always try to find ways to explain to people about the pain, and I say it's as if you've had an invisible amputation." "At some point you get over the pity and say, 'This is life.'"

Jamison heard her speak last fall and encouraged her to write a book or tell the story to other bereaved parents. Then he scheduled the time with StoryCorps. Dean said her life is "like a soap opera." She also has survived kidney cancer and bears an S-shaped scar from the surgery.

Tuesday was the 31st anniversary of Rich's death. For years, she remembered him painfully, but now she acknowledges the day. Now, Dean is the development director for KACU, Abilene's NPR station at ACU. Next to her desk is a framed drawing by Rich of an ocean scene with blue whales and men swimming with tridents.

Rich's death changed her life. She said she knows she will never "get over" his death, but she has learned to live with his memory.

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