Friday, July 25, 2014

The loss of a child...

Yesterday was one of those days that you can never prepare for as a parent or a spouse. I was well into my morning routine...I am all about routines and never function well when they are untracked. I had completed my first rounds of editing and writing and had just gone upstairs to start on the kitchen and to give the hardwood floor a good cleaning when my phone rang. I knew by the ringtone that it was my wife and had that initial thought of "How does she know the perfect time to call?" After all, I had just finished writing, so if she wanted to chat for a moment, this was the perfect time...

"Johnny is dead."

It was just that fast. They are words that make no sense at first. But her tears make it clear very quickly as to what she is saying. Her son, John Douglas Skagen, had the age of 18.

There are not words that you can say in those moments. "It will be okay." won't, and to say so would be the biggest lie of your life. What can you (I) say at that moment? Nothing. Seriously, because from that moment on, it has nothing to do with you (me). It has everything to do with my wife, a mother who lost her son far too soon. I have no idea what to at a total loss on how to deal with something like this. 

As she drove home from work, I called family friends (as much for me as for her because I knew that I was way out of my element. This was nothing that I could fix or make better, and I could not do this alone. I had the responsibility to call Jenifer, Johnny's 20-year-old sister, as well as people from the church who I knew were better qualified to handle this than I.

When she got home, I was waiting on the porch. And then others began to arrive. From there, it was a blur. I know that somebody made a post on Denise's Facebook page that we would not be available for a bit and the reason why. I know there have been well-wishes, thoughts, and prayers. They are appreciated. But today, my wife woke up and her son is not there. He will never text, or call, or be a pain in the butt. He will not tease his sister, post a silly picture on Facebook, or help in the yard.

When he was at his best, Johnny was caring, loving, and full of energy. But, like anybody, he had his worst moments as well. Today, if you asked my wife, she would just as happily take those. 

Johnny loved computers and was almost like Rainman in his ability to get them to do things...good and bad. He was diabetic. He was bi-polar. He loved to talk and talk and talk and talk. He both over-exaggerated and under-exaggerated his abilities. He was an 18-year-old-boy. He was shy. He was a showoff. He loved his mom. He loved his sister. They made him more angry than anybody in the world. They made him happier than anybody in the world. He was an 18-year-old boy. He loved his girlfriend of eight months, Sina. He battled with depression. Sometimes he won. Sometimes he lost. He was an 18-year-old boy. He saw his mom's new house and told her she lived in a mansion. He told her that he could not wait to come back over and help her in the yard again. He wanted to start training to run in mud runs. He was an 18-year-old boy.

If he would have been in the house yesterday, I think he would have honestly been surprised at the outpouring of love, grief, and tears that his passing brought. He would be amazed to know that his grandmother immediately began arranging for a flight from Panama to get to Portland and be at her daughter's side. He would be amazed to know that family members who have not spoken for months are talking. He would probably laugh if he knew that his passing had opened healing doors that were considered sealed forever. Johhny was as humble as he was boisterous, and he would probably be embarrassed by all the fuss.

Today, my wife woke up with a hole in her heart that I will never be able to fill. Today she woke up without her son. She will cry. And for the rest of her life...she will cry at odd random times because her son Johnny is gone. I had no idea what to do...still don't. But Ronni, my 19-year-old daughter, gave me some great advice yesterday when she called after I texted her (we can discuss that and the chewing out she gave me later...I told you I did not know what to do). "Dad, Denise is gonna need a lot of hugs."

I can do that.

As you can imagine, things are a bit sideways at the moment. I will be away for a spell. I have a family to hold on to and be there for in a situation that I will not be able to fully understand. If you do not hear from me for a little while, just be patient. Perhaps now would be a good time to hug your child...whether they are fifteen or fifty. Maybe call that person you have not talked to for a while because somebody got mad...but the details have become fuzzy. I am learning as I go these next few days. The one thing I have down after the first 24 hours is that this is a finite time that we have. Do not waste your energy on anger or overblown hate. And do not think that, just because somebody is here today, that they will be here tomorrow, so whatever you have in your heart can wait. 

It can't.


  1. There are indeed times when there are no words that can be used. When I saw the post yesterday, I had to say something. Because I could not all, I could not visit and hug you all, to give me condolences in peson. I must have wrtten my comment fifty times before pressing send. Because everything sounded so plain, so simple. I cannot imagine what you are all going through, and kno that if you need anything I will be here. I certainly held my kids extra tight last night, and stod in the hall listening to them sleep. Take of your family, take care of yourself. These are the moments when we all learn what is truly important in life.

  2. There are no words that can express my heartfelt sorrow at the loss of a piece of her soul, but I will keep Denise, you and the family in my prayers and meditations. Namaste.

  3. What a horrible nightmare to have to live through. I am so sorry. I can say nothing helpful, but you, your wife, and your family have my condolences, and you are in my thoughts.

    I am glad that you are surrounded by so many people who love and care for you and can help you both through this terrible time.

  4. I have no words. I am so sorry. But, I took your advice. I pulled my 15 year old away from his laptop, hugged him, told him I loved him, and reminded him that he is the center of my world. You have me condolences.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss. My heart aches for Denise, you, the family and friends who loved Johnny. All of you will be in my prayers.