Rosemary's Blog

Insightful Interview
January 19, 2008, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Family and Friends

Zachary Barnett is a young man who is dating Candi Noble, the daughter of one of my invaluable employees, Barbara Brandenburg.  Zach is interviewing for a national women’s magazine and needed to interview a writer for a writing sample.  Zach’s interview questions were so insightful.  He said, “As I clearly remember the loss of a teenage neighbor (an only child) when I was just going into junior high school, your words and sentiments were definitely touching to me.  Having, less than a month ago, driven his grandmother to the cemetery to help her put on fresh flowers, I became more aware than ever that the grief process, especially that undergone by families who have lost someone so young, is certainly a journey rather than a destination.”

Dear Zach,

I am so honored that you have taken the time to delve into the bereavement work I have done since my sons Drew and Jeremiah were killed in 1992.   Death, especially the loss of a child, is a subject no one wants to explore.  Somehow we think we can avoid a subject if we just pretend it doesn’t exist.  Unfortunately, Luther and I have learned from experience that death does present itself.

I will try to answer each of your insightful questions in a manner that will hopefully give you some material for your interview.

Zach,  I called the first of what has been over four thousand families only three weeks after Drew and Jeremiah were killed.  I know I was still in shock at that point but there wasn’t a question I would call Dennis and Judy Carpenter after reading about the accident that took the life of their daughter Kellie.  When Dennis answered the phone, I had to say, “Three weeks ago, my two oldest sons were killed in a car accident.”  Zach, I had to verbalize the unthinkable.  I had to force myself to acknowledge the fact that two of my three sons were dead.  Neither my head nor my heart believed what my mouth was saying.  Call after call ensued and gradually I began to heal as I reached out to help others.

A few weeks after the boys died, I received a grief workbook from a woman from Williamsburg named Dinah Taylor.  Even though both of my parents were originally from Williamsburg, I did not know Dinah Taylor.  What I learned from her was that we were sisters, sisters in grief.  Her only child, Young Jim, had been killed a year before.  She became the source that influenced my work with other bereaved parents.  She became my lifeline on this grief road.

Zach, you asked if the level had taken me back at which others have embraced my grief journey.   I can honestly say I have been.  There have been totally opposite reactions to our loss.  The most distressing aspect to me has been that certain friends have fallen away after the deaths of Drew and Jeremiah.  They chose to ignore our loss rather than face the fact that our relationship would have to go into an entirely new direction.  We were now a family of three instead of five.  That fact had to be addressed.  It would not go away no matter how we tried to pretend it could.

Zach, Candi’s mother, Barb, represents the opposite reaction to our loss.  She did not turn away.  She moved toward us in her quite, comforting way to embrace us at every turn.  Barb supported me as I began my ministry with other bereaved families.  She worked with me step for step as I compiled my book, “Children of the Dome.”  She, along with other of our employees at Jordan Drug, work tirelessly to help me send out the bereavement packets to newly bereaved parents.   When I started working on the documentary, Barb again stepped up to support my efforts in any way she could.

You asked if the sharing of our personal loss through my book and film has turned the experience into something else entirely, it certainly has.  Zach, I had to make sure that Drew and Jeremiah were not forgotten.  I still wanted to mother them.  How could they mean so much to us and just be forgotten?  I could not let that happen.  I thought our personal experience could be a glimpse of hope to others who had lost a child.  As I sat one day in our den with the more than thirty-three hours of interviews of the twelve families in the documentary, I was overcome with emotion.  These families had bared their souls for our film.  They trusted me to tell their stories.  What I had before me was sacred and powerful.  Zach, the personal experiences of each of us could transcend beyond what we each had experienced individually.   I do believe our documentary has accomplished this.  It speaks not only to those who have lost a child.  It speaks to everyone who has lived and loved.  We all will lose someone we love.  Grief is a response to the love that we have lost.

Zach, you asked how music has been a form of communication for me after the passing of Drew and Jeremiah.  Do you remember how the song, “Every Breath You Take,” by The Police has meant so much to us?  Our boys went to sports camp at The McCallie School in Chattanooga when they were young.  One summer, the camp video used this song as the background song for the still photos and videos taken at the camp session.  The song became, “The McCallie Song,” to our family.  As we were driving Drew and Jeremiah to sports camp the following summer, the song came on the radio.  Both boys made a comment that their, “McCallie Song,” was playing.  Well, needless to say, this song became an integral part of our lives during the 1980’s. The day after Drew and Jeremiah were killed on July 23, 1992, Luther and our third son Jordan had to get out of the house.  They drove to Lexington to escape a suffocating house full of well-meaning people.  As they were returning on the Mountain Parkway, suddenly Jordan said, “Dad, the McCallie Song!”  Luther was in such grief that he had not realized that “Every Breath You Take” was playing on the radio.  He pulled over immediately and realized he was at the exact spot where the boys had died only a day earlier.  Remember, “Every Breath You Take” was a number one hit in 1985.  This was 1992 and one day after our sons had died in the exact location where the song came on the radio!  This was no coincidence.  This was just the first communication from our sons.

Zach, you mentioned the Columbine school shootings.  We have been blessed to become friends with Joe and Ann Kechter whose son Matthew was one of the students killed at Columbine on April 20, 1999.  That one incident changed the face of how we all feel about safety in schools in America.  I remember how Jordan and I sat that April afternoon and watched in horror as all those students ran down the steps at Columbine with their hands above their heads.  No one knew who the suspects were that day.  No one knew these students were literally running for their lives.  Well, I will never forget the day our film crew went to Columbine.  As we stood at the bottom of those same steps, I could not control my tears.  The memories of the students and one teacher who died that day came flooding back.   I sent packets to each of the families who lost a loved one in the Virginia Tech tragedy.  I do feel that their healing process parallels mine except that their loss is much more public.  Everyone knew what happened in their loss.  They could not grieve in private as I had.  We are all bereaved parents who ultimately have to go within ourselves to begin the healing process.

Zach, I do believe that men and woman grieve differently.  Fathers feel that they are responsible for the safety of their children.  I know Luther felt he should have been able to prevent the car accident that took the life of Drew and Jeremiah.  That of course is not true.  No one could have prevented what happened.  It was an accident.  Fathers are also supposed to be strong.  They are men and therefore not supposed to show emotion.  All these “supposed tos” are so hard for fathers to adhere to when they lose a precious child.  They suddenly do not feel strong.  They often suppress their tears because men are not supposed to cry.  They try to be strong for their wives who are often prostrate with grief after losing a child.  Fathers need to be allowed to grieve more openly.  Society expects this of mothers.

Your last question is if I plan to continue writing.  Zach, I have been considering writing a book of fiction for my next project.  I have several story lines that I want to develop.  I seem to always have to have another project in the works as I am winding down what I am currently working on.  Since our documentary is still being nominated for film festivals, I have not started working on anything else.  Our documentary will have a screening at The McCallie School on February 13th so we are looking forward to bringing our film back to the place Drew and Jeremiah loved so much. Zach, I hope some of this will be helpful to you.  Please let me know if you need anything else for your writing sample.    Good luck with your application.


Rosemary Smith