August 12, 2011

33 Years Ago

This is a post about my brother, written by my mom. 

I apologize in advance and warn you this will be long. Some of this may be dark. Truth is like that at times.

We all met Collin, a little wrinkly guy as you would imagine, in 1978 at Scott Air Force Base in Shiloh, IL. That was one wild ambulance ride!! Every bump caused another contraction and the horrified look on the EMTs face told me this was.... special. They were afraid we didn't have time to get to the hospital. I was just 23 years old. My daughter Danielle was 4. Collin came in a record 45 minutes cause that's how I roll. He came that quick, and then they kept him from me for almost 6 hours. Times were different then. And I wasn't as bold as I was to become. I kept saying, "Well, if he's okay, why can't I see him?" They kept saying that everything was okay!! Finally, at which point I can't recall, they told me he was born with his umbilical cord around his neck and head. It caused a blood vessel to burst at the top of his nose. He always had that bluish tinge forever after. And I now know he was being tested for neurological damage, etc. I will always wonder if the whisking away, instead of lying on me, was a sort of foundational crack for what was to come.

His father, from whom I was separated when I got pregnant, (ON the pill. Again.) abandoned him before he was born. A couple of days before he took his life, Collin wrote to a girl and spoke of the pain he still carried for that rejection. With all the family therapy, he never spoke of it in front of me. Ever.

Collin was a stressed out little guy for the first couple of months. Born to a chronically stressed out mother. Colicky. Yay! Checked him out thoroughly at the base; not lactose intolerant like the first kid, just ill at ease. I was blessed with 2 very beautiful children. Unfortunately, my boy also got my naturally curly hair and freckles. He hated both. As a teen, it was a buzz cut. PERIOD. He was such a gentle soul from the first. I worried about him in a harsh world. Turned out I was right.

He was always in his sister's shadow. He was extremely photogenic and had a good look. It was the 80s in Dallas. Everybody had an agent. I worked a fair amount. I worked as a part-time receptionist for the talent agency to pay for my kids' acting lessons and casting events and costs. Anyway, Dani would walk into an audition, shake the people's hands and charm the pants off of them. She declined two commercials and then decided she'd do it. Collin couldn't get through the initial interview. I wouldn't call him a shy child but a reticent one. Music was my thing and of course, he heard Dani and I with his own ears. I now think he didn't even try because of us, and that makes me a little sad. Hindsight is better than 20/20. Sometimes it's like a guided missile.

He was smart but didn't apply himself. A lot of moms hear that. Clowned around in school. (My genes there.) Too small for sports, he just could not find his niche. Never once had a fight. He got bullied. I always put a stop to it first thing. He really could have been hurt for his size. I, a single mom, would seek out the neighborhood bully and then promptly cause him to think I was totally insane and he should not even glance at my son. It always worked. I actually got the idea from an episode of "Happy Days". (Richie had to go all whoop ass at Arnold's because Fonzie was out of town when this rumble came up. He knew that he, Potsie and Ralph Malph were no match for the hoods. So Richie convinced them he was a raging lunatic. Worked for both of us.)

Single parenting, with an absent parent no less, isn't pretty. A lot of it is Kamikaze Parenting. At best, the term single parenting is a misnomer. You're a double parent. (PSA here for young girls thinking they want a baby.) It would take too much of your time to explain it if you have been fortunate and smart enough to plan and live a life the right way. But that little boy adored me. I felt it. Later, I realized it made him worry about me too. I still wonder if the taking away at birth and then his father's total lack of scruples didn't imprint him in some way. He was always afraid something was going to happen to me. Always. He took on way too much for a child. I had to hide the bills from him or he would ask, "Mom, can we pay that? That's a lot of money." I would tell him that it was for the big people to worry about in a family. But I am now smiling because when he made it to middle school, he had champagne tastes. The right shoes, Bugle Boy jeans....NEVER asked about money then. LOL

Although I will never understand it, he died living the best success in his 15 years. He was an Honor Roll student, taking Latin no less. He was Chapel Clerk at Cal Farley's Boys Ranch where he went to school and rode bulls. He had his first girlfriend! He was a faith-filled born again Christian, and kids looked up to him. He was points favorite for Rookie Bullrider of the Year and couldn't wait to win. He was a guide when folks would come to tour the Ranch, had a part time job, and had $400 in the bank saved for Christmas presents. Sending him to the Ranch broke my heart. It was the only way to save him from the streets though. I knew it then and I still know it today. My only consolation is that he totally fit in. Found that niche and knew he measured up. When talking to God about Collin, I said, "If this is how it all turns out then it was all worth it." Dani was doing well and I was at the edge of actually getting my foot in the door in Nashville.

He found himself and was riding high in October 1993. He died in November. On Thanksgiving. It's never been the same. At first, it was the post-traumatic stress. Then it just became my habit to stay to myself and get quiet while allowing the day to pass. But while we had him, he blessed us and taught us how to be better people. He wasn't perfect but he was ahead of the pack in humanity. Collin would have been 33 this year. Today, actually.  He's been gone now longer than he was here, and we all miss him terribly.

Go hug your kids.


  1. I am sorry for your loss. I know it is something that will always stay with you, as we lost my stepdaughter also. But it should, as our children are always with us, even if they are gone. Nice post!

  2. Wow - very powerful post. One of the most powerful lessons I've ever learned came from a mom whose son had just committed suicide. She gave me the biggest hug I've ever had and whispered, "Take advantage of every moment you have with your kids. Tomorrow may never come." I've thought about those words a LOT over the years, and always try to cherish every moment I have.

  3. I'm so sorry for your terrible loss.

  4. I'm so sorry for your loss. Reading this brings tears to my eyes as my own brother killed himself on Thanksgiving of 93' He was a year older than your brother Danielle.

    Thinking of your family...and off to go hug my daughter.

  5. What a beautiful post. I loved it. The fact that he was doing so well when he died makes it harder and easier to read at the same time. I'm sorry he left this world far too young. As someone who has lost a brother and seen my parents bury a child, my heart goes out
    to you and your mom.

  6. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I too have lost a child, not to suicide but still the pain of loosing a child is something no parent should have to endure. A very good friend of mine who also lost a child ended up having to deal with her ex's suicide.. She felt very responsible for it for a while and I have seen the pain and hard times of overcoming. I pray you are healing and finding comfort and know that he is still with you in your heart, always will be. ((((hugs)))) Oh and my little girl also died on Thanksgiving (she drowned while in my mother in laws care). I have dreaded Thanksgiving a bit... though I know I was so blessed, so thankful to have been her mom.. but still the pain I feel during that week is horrible, not only is it on the 22nd, but seeing as how Thanksgiving day changes each year it often feels as if there are 2 days to dread. :( I will keep you in my prayers.

  7. Thank you all, ladies! I forwarded your comments to my mom and she really appreciates your thoughts and prayers--and your sharing your own losses. There aren't many opportunities to talk about this kind of thing. It took several years, but we are at a place now where we can talk about Collin without crying and getting depressed. We can focus on the person he was and the life he lived. And that's a gift.

    Zany, I had no idea that you'd lost your brother! And on the exact same day as I lost mine? Wow. Chills. I'm sorry for your loss too.

  8. I'm so glad I found your blog today. Please thank your mother for sharing this story, as it has touched me in a pretty deep way. I'm so sorry that your family had to experience such tragedy, but glad to see that you're keeping his memory alive.

    What an astoundingly powerful post and a huge reminder not to take things for granted. I wish I could hug you and your mom right now, and I am DEFINITELY off to hug my five-year-old son.

  9. I loved that boy.