Sunday, November 23, 2008

The day he died

Please know that this was 12 years ago and we have moved on from this.
This was a defining time that would change our lives forever.
Yet, we have all been blessed immeasurably, and many great and wonderful things have occurred since this day.
Since it is part of our history, I wanted to include it.

Believe it or not, I did shorten it, but it is still very long...

12 Years ago TODAY,
It was a Saturday, just 5 days before Thanksgiving...

Bill left early, about 6am, planning to participate in the annual "turkey shoot". Our son, Logan age 17 at the time, had planned on going with him. However, he had promised his friend Robby Pauline he would help him with his Eagle project that same morning. Logan loved to go shooting with his Dad and it was rare for him to miss out.

I still had my fever all day so when Logan got home about 5pm after Robby's Eagle project, I sent him to the grocery store for me.

While Logan was at the store, and McKay (12) and Tyler (10) were playing basketball in our driveway, Bill called me. He was very excited about the great day he had shooting. He said he just got back to his shop and he was getting ready to close up and come home soon. He wanted to know how my fever was and if there was anything I needed. He said he missed me and couldn't wait to get home.

Then I heard what sounded like fireworks (or gun fire?) and Bill said to me over the phone, "Call the cops." I hung up immediately and dialed 911. The dispatcher who answered said they were already receiving calls about that address. I asked this man what in the world was going on, but he said they didn't know yet.

I was thinking....hoping...there was some disturbance just outside his shop. Since I heard the gunfire and then he told me to call the cops, that was a safe bet.

After hanging up from 911, I immediately called Dee, my next door neighbor and very trusted friend. Dee is one of those rare people who are great in a crisis, who stay calm and know what to do by instinct. All I said to her on the phone that day after she said hello was, "Please come over right now." And she did.

As I explained to her what was going on, McKay and Tyler came into the house as it was beginning to get a little dark. Logan also had just walked in the door from the grocery store. We hesitantly, but bluntly told the boys what had just happened.

Looking for some clues, and since it was just about 6pm and the news would be coming on, we turned on the TV. If something really bad was going on, it would be on the news. If not, then our worries could rest a bit.

So our fears escalated when we saw that Bill's shop was the top news story. There right on the news was his shop with an ambulance in front of it. This was not a good sign. I knew in my heart at that moment that if Bill were shot, he did not make it. But the TV said they did not have details yet, only that there had been a shooting.

Dee called the police from our kitchen. She tried to find out what the status was on my husband. They said they did not know yet.

She called again a little while later. This time she was more adamant, "...She needs to know the status of her husband!" She was put on hold. I left the room and wandered the house.
Finally, Dee hung up the phone and came to find me.
"Jill put your shoes on. We're going to the hospital."
As soon as she said that, I knew Bill was dead.

I went into the closet to find my shoes. I was looking straight into the large mirror we had in our bathroom. I just looked at myself, trying to process all this. Is this a nightmare I'm in? Is this really happening?

I could hear my boys from the other room, "Hurry Mom, get your shoes on, we want to go see Daddy."

They didn't know. They were not thinking like I was. They thought their dad got injured, possibly like he had 7 years earlier. I knew this was not the case. I didn't want to go to the hospital. I did not want to face what I knew was true. But more than that, I did not want my sons to have to face this. I wanted to protect them somehow, someway.

My sons were soon in my closet with me. McKay was going through my shoes in a hurry, handing me a pair of heels, and saying, "Here Mom, put on these. Come on. I want to see Dad."

At least I had the presence of mind to find some flat shoes, and a sweater, and looked around the room slowly trying to find something else to delay me. I thought perhaps we should have a prayer, but since I knew he was already dead, I felt it was useless to do so. I know that does not make sense now. We could have prayed for strength, I could have prayed for many things, but I just was not all there in my head at the moment.

By now our bishop's sweet wife had shown up. She along with my neighbor Dee coaxed me into Dee's car so we could all go to the hospital to "see Bill". I don't remember this, but I was told later they had to help lift my legs over the threshold leading out of our home, and again into the car. All the way there, I kept thinking of my baby boys (although they were 10 and 12 and 17) in the backseat...and my 19 year old on his mission...and how this would all affect their safe sweet little world was about ready to come tumbling down around them.

As soon as we arrived at the hospital Dee gave the receptionist my husband's name, and said we had come to see him. I could tell they had been waiting for us because right away they took us to "a room they have ready for the family." A smallish room with chairs along all the walls that came together like a horse shoe. We were told to be seated and someone "would be with you shortly." I knew what that meant.

My parents were present, along with a few other relatives. In walked a tall, somber looking man. He stood right there before us and simply said, "I'm sorry. Bill has died." The room filled with immediate sobbing. I felt frozen. I wanted to reach out to my crying sons besides me but I couldn't even put my arms around them. I just said, "please someone take care of my children." But everyone in that room was too lost in their own shock at the moment. Logan sat there quietly but I sensed his deep pain. He had been very close to his Dad. McKay and Tyler kept sobbing, "I want my dad, I want my dad", over and over again. I felt my heart was being pierced each time they said that.

A very few moments later this same somber man turned towards me and said, "The dr will be here in just a moment and he can answer any questions you have." I said without hesitation, "I don't want to see him. I don't want to know any more, and I don't want anyone telling my sons anything either." He looked surprised, but said, "Okay". (In a few days we were ready to learn all the details, but not right then.) Then this man asked, "Would you like to see your husband's body?"
I was just talking to Bill less than an hour before. I was not ready to see his dead body. I said, again without hesitation, "No. And my sons will not be seeing him either. I want to go home. I want to take them home, right now." This was all part of my way of trying to protect them, and myself. Plus I felt like I was going to throw up.

My parents offered to see his body so he could be officially identified. Or maybe I asked them to, I can't remember. Someone needed to do it. I heard later that Dee also went with them.

My brother Richard gave us a ride home. With my sons quietly crying on the back seat of his car he turned on some gentle music, or was it a talk...I don't remember. But I do remember what he told us. He said, "I know the days and weeks and months ahead are going to be very difficult, but I also know that you will see many blessings come into your life during this time." I knew this, but it was nice to be reminded right then at that moment. I had come to learn throughout my life that we are blessed through our trials. That our Heavenly Father never leaves us alone.

Shortly after we arrived home I called Brock's mission president. I told him what had happened and asked if I could call Brock to tell him. I also told his mission president that I wanted Brock to come home for a few days. President Hedrick said they don't normally do that in the event of a death. I told him that is what I wanted, that is what we all needed. He asked me to think about it and call him back the next morning. Meanwhile I called Brock and gave him the news. It's hard enough telling your son his dad has suddenly died, but it is harder having to just say good bye and hang up, after I had just told him his father had been murdered. So I called President Hedrick back and asked him if he would please go see my son. He said he and his wife would....and they did....and I will be always grateful to them for that.

By the time we got home many people began arriving. Some I had not seen in years, others were close friends. I was so thankful they just showed up. There was nothing we needed more than to be surrounded by loving friends and family. Our driveway and cul-de-sac filled up with cars as our family room filled with visitors.

By about 11-12 pm most everyone had come and gone. My mother told me she would spend the night. Of course. She was always there for me, during any crisis. None of us had dinner that night. No one was interested in eating. Someone gave the boys Taco Bell but it just sat on their laps in a bag unopened.

Logan went to bed around midnight down the hall in his bedroom with his friend Robby staying with him. Even at Logan's young age of 17 he was very protective and concerned about my feelings, and those of his brothers. I sensed that he was desperately trying to represent "normal" for us.

McKay and Tyler slept on the family room floor, along with our good friend and neighbor Brett, who is Dee's son. They all had grown up together but tonight Brett was not only their friend, but their comforter. He laid there next to them, patting their backs and soothing their cries. It was like they had their own personal angel. My mom fell asleep on our couch.

I sat on the little couch in our kitchen. I sat there all night, not the least bit sleepy. I sat there and just thought of my life with Bill. I thought of our wedding night 22 years before. I thought back to the days each of our 4 sons were born. I thought of all Bill's qualities as a husband and father and what a good life, what a good marriage we had. I thought of all our tremendous blessings. I relived them all that night. It was like watching my life "pass before my eyes," although I was the one still alive.

As soon as the sun came up everyone started waking up. The night went by very quickly for me. It was like I had been sitting there for an hour, not all night long. I suppose that would be called being in shock.

The next day there was again, a steady stream of visitors. The phone also seem to ring continually. I talked again to Brock's mission president. He had a change of heart and felt it was best, since Brock was my oldest son, to send him home for the funeral. Or perhaps he realized that I was not going to budge in the fact that I wanted all my sons to be together. Some things as a Mom, you just know. Brock did in fact come home for 5 days. He helped plan the funeral, chose a burial plot and casket for his dad, and spoke at the funeral, besides being a comfort to his younger 3 brothers.

The crying in our home just would not stop. I was a mess and so were my sons. We basically sat huddled together on our family room couch for days, talking to the visitors as they continued to come and go. I particularly kept my arms around my 2 younger sons. Logan was of the age where his friends could comfort him more than I could. Occasionally McKay or Tyler would leave my side and I would go hunting for them, or ask someone else to find them. I did not want them being alone at all. And sure enough, every time we would find them they would be rolled up into a fetal position on their bedroom floor or on their bed. I could not stand that. I had a hard enough time dealing with my grief, but I absolutely HATED watching them grieve.

I would take their hand and lead them back to stay by me. None of us were clear headed at the time, I realize that looking back...but my instinct told me to keep them with me. So I did. Logan was 17 and was surrounded by his friends. He did not miss a day of school, except for the funeral. This was typical of Logan. We all grieve differently. My 2 younger boys missed the entire following week. Tyler basically missed the rest of the school year as I put him on temporary home school.

One particular evening....I think it was the following Monday, 2 days after Bill died....our stake president came to see us. President Tanner is a such a kind, gentle soul but also a spiritual giant. He asked if there was anything he could do to help. I told him that I needed to know how long the crying of my boys would go on. Not expecting him to have an answer, he said without hesitation, "5 days." I don't know if that is a universal typical answer, or if he was inspired to say that. Whatever,
I trusted him, and sure enough he was right. The grieving was far from over then, but that all day long off and on crying came to an end, 5 days after the death of their father.

We had his funeral the day before Thanksgiving. Slowly we adjusted day by day. My 2 younger sons slept on the floor of my bedroom for the first 3 months after his death. They would often cry out in their sleep, at least nightly, and I would be right there to say, "It's okay, go back to sleep." In the morning they had no memory of these episodes. I don't think they would ever completely wake up till morning which was a blessing.

I played this song many times during that first Christmas season after his death. Music is such a big part of my life, and it just seemed to express how I felt at the time.
Exactly 3 months after his death, February 23, 1997, was a beautiful spring day. We went to the cemetery together and we could laugh and be happy about some memories of their Dad. I feel that day was our turning point. We all went home and slept in our own beds, in our own rooms, and some normalcy began returning.

Still, I felt like a broken person for a very long time. I felt my sons were broken too in their own way. I have come to the realization that one of the hardest things to cope with in this life, is watching your children in pain. All 4 of them know they will see their father again, but they pure and simply MISSED him. They have learned as the years have gone to cope with this loss, but I don't expect them to ever "get over it." Still, I am amazingly impressed with all 4 of them. They have each grown into very good, responsible, and loving men. I think they have definitely learned much from this tragedy and developed a true love for what really matters in this life.

This tragedy was also extremely difficult on Bill's parents. They were crushed with grief, yet they were so sweet and tender with my feelings. It was like they could not do enough for us.

Looking back over that first year, I could see the hand of our Heavenly Father in our daily lives. He did indeed send us so many, many blessings. Most of these blessings came in the form of family and friends coming to see us, checking on us, calling, being there. There were a few in particular that put their own lives on hold for us. I will never, ever forget the many sacrifices that were made on our behalf. Never.

Logan, McKay, me, Tyler, Brock in the viewing room
The first time we went to church after his death, with my head lying on Bill's Dad's shoulder, the opening hymn was, "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day." One particular line has stayed with me ever since, "God is not dead nor doth He sleep." This became my motto, the words we lived by, the words that gave me comfort through many long nights.


Rebecca said...

Oh, Jill! I have read over this twice. I can not believe how strong you are. What a terrible tragedy. The thing that hit me the most through all this, is how your, in all your grief, and I can not even begin to imagine the grief, yet still you thought of your sons and their welfare. It hit me so hard how you said because of all this, they each have a deep appreciation for what is important. What a hard and difficult thing. How would we ever survive these things without the gospel to help us. Thank you for sharing. It makes me want to remember what is important in life!

Mary said...

Wow, this is so beautifully expressed. It's an amazing tribute to Bill and to your family. I was touched by how your spirit reached out to your sons even through the depths of your own grief. That's what motherhood is about--there's nothing I wouldn't do to support and protect my children under any circumstances. You underwent one of the hardest trials of mortality, yet witness how a loving Father brought you all through the tragedy and blessed your lives. What a great lesson for us all. Much love, Mary

the Rich girl said...

I just want to say thank you for sharing this. It was really hard for me to read, actually. I understand loss, but not of this kind. I can't imagine how hard it was, and occasionally must still be.
Thank you for your perspective, and your experience.

grandmapeg said...

As I read this I couldn't help but cry for many reasons. Even though I didn't know you until 6 months after Bill's death, I cried for what you and your boys went through at that time, even though we have talked about this many times. I cried knowing that as a mother, you did what mothers have to do...protect and give strength to her children. And then there are tears of joy for how you and the boys have pressed forward and how much your life really has been blessed since then. It is a testimony of how Heavenly Father knows each of us and wants to bless us always but especially in our time of need. Thank you for sharing this.

Brock said...

Jill thank you for sharing all that you did. I have heard and shared in these stories with Brock many times but to hear it from your perspective was unique and special. Brock has often remarked how strong you were during this time and after. What a beautiful blessing in it all to receive Dennis. I appreciate this being recorded and I know some day my children will too.

Kathy said...

Jill, You and your boys are a testimony of lives lived with faith and grace. I can't even imagine getting through all that you did if you didn't feel assured that one day you would see each other again. Those were very dark days indeed, but your response has given you a great beauty from within, that I know, will always be a comfort to anyone that has the pleasure of knowing you.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what to say. I remember a little bit about the night he died. I had called to talk to my mom and Robin said to call back latter because she was waiting for a call about Bill. Latter I talked to my mom and she told me. I remember saying asomething like,"Poor Jill. I hope she is okay." I appreciate you telling this story because I didn't know any of it. No one really talked about it much. I do remember your mom saying that you were on the phone with him when he was shot. I am glad you are talking about this. I hope it helps you. It always helps me to talk about things like this. I guess it helps me think better and to put things in perspective. You are one awesome woman and I am glad I know you.

Chris Bliss said...

Jill, I am so glad you shared this.

I remember when this happened so long ago.

You are such a strong woman, and I admire you for it.

Richard said...

Until tonite I thought "Grandmapeg" was our sister Peggy...guess not!

The Shelleys said...

I don't know you but I feel the Lord directed me to your blog. I was googling our blog to make sure that I had my security settings on, when I stumbled across a link to the "Shelleys." I saw the words "he died 12 years ago" and couldn't not read on. I lost my dad in Aug 2007 in a tragic accident that too was on the news. You described the hospital exatly as I experianced it. I thank you and the Lord for the answers to my prayers that came in the form of comfort from reading your blog. Thank you.

Beth Swann said...

Thank you for sharing, Jill. I cried all over again for you and your sweet family. I'm glad you felt strength from your friends & family during that difficult time.

Dad and Susan said...

Jill, your dad and I are at the Double Tree Hotel and are using their computers. He was "shaking" and I thought he was laughing. Then I realized he wasn't. Reading about this experience brought back a lot of emotions, I'm sure. I appreciated hearing the details also. I echo the previous comments attesting to your strength and the Lord's blessings. We love you. Dad and Susan

Brock said...

Mom, I'm really glad you decided to write this. I think you represent the time well. Hopefully one day I'll have a chance to share my side of it. My favorite blog you've done so far. Thank you for not holding back on the detail. Makes is all very real and I found out about a lot of things I didn't know at the time.

Anonymous said...

Dearest friend,

Thank you for sharing your innermost feelings after all these years. Of course at the time, you told me the 'facts' and sent newspaper accounts, but this is the first time I have heard the heartfelt emotions. Bless your heart.
I love you all!

(Michigan) PAM

Luke and Nat said...

Wow Jill...this was very special I started to read it and then thought twice and went and got my husband Luke to read it with me...I always tell him I had a very special YW leader and I think he got a little glimpse of how AWESOME and strong you are! I was glad he was there to help me read it because I only made it part way thru before crying...maybe some of it was the prego hormones kicking in and some of it was feeling the pain and the grief of your family but I also put myself in your shoes and was trying to think with this new little boy on the way, what it would be like to tell him his dad had passed sad...and it made me all the more grateful for the moments I have with my family... :)Thanks again for sharing...I had forgot what an artist Brock was too!

Miranda said...

Jill thank you so much for sharing your story. I haven't cried this hard in a LONG time. I LOVE YOU!

Miranda said...

By the are amazing.

The Gage Cage said...

It has been a while since I've been able to read blogs. Now I need to go re-do my make-up from all the tears. I need to send this to my friend Heather. Thank you for helping me to remember how blessed my life is. I love you Jill! You are so good in every way! I am amazed by the things you've overcome!

Heidi Garvin said...

I know I am late posting on this blog, but I just had to. Jill, this is wonderfully written. I know your children and grandchildren will treasure this. I know I wish I had an account of how my father's mother died (she passed away from Hodgkin's before I was born). How special that they will always have this.
I remember the sea of people at your house that night. Hands were laid on you and the boys and prayers were said. And strangely, I remember someone finding Bill's lock box and so many people putting their energy toward getting that open because they wanted to help, but didn't know what else to do.
I also remember wishing I could stay on the living room floor with Brett and McKay and Tyler. I felt very sad when I had to leave them and go home.
It was amazing to then spend the next years going to school alongside McKay and Tyler and to see them start to turn into the young men they are today. I was always in awe of their strength of spirit and their dedication to family and faith. You, Bill, and Dennis surely have something to do with it. Kudos to you.

Jill said...

How very sweet of you Heidi. I don't remember anything about the lock box. Interesting. I wish you did know more about when your grandmother died, and what she was like. I know my father's mother has always been a mystery to me. She died when he was only 6 so he hardly has any memories of her to share with us.
Your family helped us so much after Bill's death. I can't even comprehend what it would have been like that night and the years following without all of you next door.

cristie said...

thank you for sharing this tender story. i too now have a little ache. xox