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EP 2: Dealing with the Traumatic Loss of a Child with C.J. and Greg Malson (Part 2)

Family is the most important thing to all of us and when something happens to disrupt that, it can be incredibly difficult. That’s why we’re grateful for today’s guests, C.J. and Greg Malson, who are former clients and endured a traumatic loss in 2019 when their son Ian died tragically.

Everyone wants to hear that everything will be okay, but we want to have an open and honest conversation about the true feelings and emotions that parents have to process in this unthinkable situation.

We’ve broken this conversation into three parts since there’s a lot to digest, but you’ll want to hear each piece of the story. In the first part, we talked about the strong relationships within their family and some of the memories they have of their children growing up.

In part two today, C.J. and Greg open up about that tragic day. After receiving a phone call in the middle of the night, their lives were never the same. Hear about how they managed a day that went from worry and hope to certainty and heartbreak, and the daily struggles with grief and friendships that have followed.

Here is some of what we’ll cover in this episode:
0:00 – Intro
0:52 – The 1:30AM phone they received from the Coast Guard
7:42 – Having to call their children and fill them in
11:06 – The immediate support they received from people
15:04 – Facing the reality of the situation
18:45 – How they processed the tragic news
22:16 – “The hardest thing this family will ever do”
25:31 – How they’ve each dealt with the grief
29:52 – Managing life since and the friendships lost
33:43 – What should you say to someone in this position?

You can call 833-SPEAKS-4U to contact the show.

Welcome to the catastrophic comeback podcast with American Injury Lawyer Clark speaks, helping you find hope, purpose and joy after a catastrophic injury. All right, welcome back, continuing my conversation with CJ and, Greg, that we've talked up to now about this family that you had this family that you'd built these relationships that you'd made over a long period of time, and you have this sort of perfect family in its imperfection, right? And so, and you've done these things, you creating this home environment, and you with the things that you did in your legal career, to to build this this thing, this family? And then, and then you get a call. Can you wait, again, we would respect the confidentiality agreement that we've entered? Can you guys talk to me about what that what that was?

Well, about 130, in the morning, Greg gets a call through on his phone. And, of course, you know, a 130, in the morning call, it's never a good thing, you know,

even it was missing. And that was really all it was, it was you could tell it was someone that was being probably relayed information or whatever, didn't have a lot of details on anything. So I, you know, first thing I thought is, you know, need to get down there to find out more of what's going on and took down his number and things and, you know, we can get the cobwebs out of my head, and CJ woke up. And I told her that I needed to go down to where I got the call from and that she needed to stay there until I got there. So I could figure out what's going on whether this is just something that's you know, doesn't require hope you no crude Have you no human

way at this point and know the magnitude of the situation because, you know, had no

had not really no idea.

And I think that we also weren't as concerned initially because he could swim, he was out on the river numerous mornings by himself at 334 o'clock in the morning. So, you know, you don't initially go there because you know, you competent,

and resilient, competent person, or as a sportsman who had been who does things all the time, so, so at some point, you get more information, he

got a little bit more information, I think, by phone on his way on his drive down, he's gone about

two hours away from where you live, to get a better handle on the situation, and to learn more information and see what he can do to help is that correct?

Right. And they, once I got down there, and finally was just basically told to the best location to go where the most knowledgeable people would be. But it would probably be it was late by then I got down there for 30. So it's just before sunup, and he said by six PD got the call 130 by 130. And by the time I you know, got got things together, whatever, a couple hour ride down there, you know, 40 minutes is getting prepped to go. And so it was getting early morning. And talking the called, they said the best place to go told me where that was so that I could meet up with with all the others that can provide me information.

And what's going through your head on the way down there,

I just, you know, be it because of the at the time because of the lack of information because basically, it seemed to me that nothing's going to happen until you know, light when it begins to light out. So I'm not you know, you know, I've been told the were in the, in the kind of the what, but I, at that time, I was not overwhelmingly concerned it concerned me obviously.

But as a parent, you've you've had something similar concerns over and over again, and they've all worked out fun.

Exactly. And that's what you know, and um, uh, like I said,

you know, the first time you get separated from your kid and target, you're like, Okay, this was all these worst case scenarios, play through your head. It works out fun,

it's gonna, you know, I'll find them at the door. I'm gonna, you know, he's gonna be you know, looking up, whatever he's doing, but, you know, and that's kind of the way I thought with the limited information that I had, and like I said, you know, obviously processing part of it That is the, you know, he is strong. He's, you know, he's young, he's, you know, he couldn't do it, you know, so like I said, I was not overwhelmingly concerned at that point, it got down there. And then the, the various people showing up that

were, that were search and rescue,

yeah, that were, you know, basically in the, the search got a little more information, a little more information. And then it was later that day, that it really started to sink in that something, it's been, whatever, 12 hours, or it's been 13 hours. And I kept thinking, that's not so bad. You know, there's a lot of things, I'm thinking of all kinds of scenarios,

you're trying to keep a positive frame of mind, that's kind of

one, two, he could have maybe, you know, gone to a dock and gotten his way up onto solar, or

he's ready somewhere, you know, at a friend's house asleep at somebody's house. You know, like I said, I was coming up with a lot of, you know, scenarios of this will all be explained away, you know, not that I'll be happy about it, it can all be explained at some point, you know, and then time kept marching on. And I began to realize that, that as people were being called, and just more information coming in from various people that it didn't. I mean, I can't think have an exact moment, but there was a short period of time where it just struck me, this is not good, that this is not gonna, this is not good. And it's not going to end well. And I just, I just knew knew. And like I said, it wasn't an epiphany moment, it was just over a period of a few hours. And it was later in the afternoon, as we started to get into the sun setting. And now we're looking at, you know, 1218 plus hours, with people that are, you know, looking that there's a lot going on, what's

going on, from your perspective during this time?

Well, you know, again, I, I'm a lot more emotional and prone to panic than my husband. So, I did wait until he called me from the road the second time, and, you know, he, he mentioned search and rescue and how they were going to be putting helicopters up in the air, first light. And that's when I knew that I had to start making some phone calls. And of course, you know, my first two are to my children. And my daughter was away on a business trip up in Rhode Island, I believe. And so I called her boyfriend back in New York, and said, you know, Harrison, I have to make this phone call. You live with our daughter right now. So, you know, you know her? What do you How should How should I handle this? You know, she's alone. With the exception of her, her boss, she was working for a corporate photographer at the time. And, you know, so you want to deliver the news in the most humane way you can for someone who's so far away? And is this point that the news is not definitive? It's just no, no, it's just, you know, he's missing. And so, my now son in law said, you know, let's call Patrick, the man she works for. And so, you know, Patrick went and woke Kaitlyn up and got her on the phone. And she's a lot like Greg, as far as you know, she's just pretty calm, cool and collected, you know, about most national

law rash, right? Yeah.

But her boss helped get her flight. You know, she just kind of became scattered and you know, everything of course, and so, you know, that that phone call was made and then I had to make the phone call to my son in Charlotte, and you know, he was closer by so. You He, at this point, I think it was still around 330 in the morning. So I called him and being the early 20, something he was still out. You know, it was having noise issues as far as being able to hear me. And he often talks about that that moment. Because, you know, again, he's like, it's 330 in the morning, and my mom's calling me something's not right. And, of course, I think his initial reaction was something that happened to his father. And so I deliver, you know, the news to him. And, of course, he immediately just jumps in his truck. So that was in play. And then at this point, I was pretty much freaking out and falling apart. And I called neighbor getting concerned much more quickly than he's getting. Yes. And so I called a neighbor down the street, and both of our friends came up. And it basically I often say that, you know, in a lot of ways, I feel almost like they saved my life that night, because it's not something you want to be sitting with alone. So we I waited for Caitlin to get to the airport in Fayetteville before I took off to go down. So, you know, we all three Harrison had flown in as well. So you know, we all three, takeoff in the car down there. And of course, by now. Friends, neighbors, he actually worked for our next door neighbor in his construction business. And so I made that phone call. They actually own a condo, right down here on the water and immediately called and offered us their condo for some accommodations, because they knew that the crowds of people that wanted to be there, and everything were coming. And people just started coming from everywhere. I mean, his friends traveled from three states. They brought their own personal,

they just flooded. And at this point, they're trying to help. Yeah,

it's probably not funny, but it's funny now. I would say I'm like, we're gonna find him up on somebody's dock. And I said, we're finding him alive, I'm gonna kill him. So that became less and less funny, of course, as time passed, but I basically stayed at the condo and handled the influx of people that were coming and going and neighbors from around the condo complex. And they supplied us in food beverage, and it's just we were completely and totally taken care of. Anything that we wanted just was their food. And like I said, and it was just, it was an amazing outpouring of support. And I think as Greg said, later in Sunday I'm sitting and watching all this search mission go on from the balcony of this condo, because it was right there by where it had happened. And so, you know, watching the helicopter circle around and, and everything I I really began to realize that it had probably gone from a search and rescue mission to a recovery issue. And I remember at about four o'clock in the morning, I went out onto the balcony. And it was a beautiful, unobstructed view, there were no other houses or anything and I could just look out over the water and the grasses and so beautiful. And I just prayed, I just I said, God, just Elise allow us to find his body. Let me have him back to at least be able to lay him to rest. And because that then became my fear, because there had been the mention of the possibility of his body having been washed out. And I just literally could not stand the idea of that being it that That being it. And that we would never have an opportunity to lay him to rest properly. And I also felt like, I honestly felt like Greg would never leave down there. If we didn't find him. Because he had been out in the sweltering heat hadn't slept, any he stayed down there, where the search was going on and in the hub of it, and he wouldn't come home, he wouldn't are back to the condo, he wouldn't eat, he wasn't sleeping. And I just knew that if if he was body wasn't found, that it was going to be far harder to come to terms with. And so I think it was right around 330, in the afternoon, we got a call from the sheriff's office, and they asked us to, you know, we kind of gather at the condo that they were coming by. And, of course, with social media. A lot of information was going out on social media that was inaccurate. And that was hard to take. I had a friend down there who think God was kind of filtering that. But you know, it's young kids, they're attached to the social media, and a lot of them were coming by and mentioning things that were being said on social media. And so I think, you know, we all knew when the sheriff's department asked to meet with us that, that they thankfully had found his body.

Okay, so you get the call. There's a period of fear of concern, that develops into fear that develops into panic that develops into breathless attempts to hold on to hope that gives way to certainty, you know, and then there's a flurry of activity with the people, the law enforcement and the people who are involved. At some point. All that goes away and the people go away, and you're alone with your thoughts. And that's kind of what this podcast is here to do. We're not trying to tell everybody hey, everything's gonna be okay. There's a silver lining to this Cheer up, Buck up, you know, the subtle come out tomorrow, we're trying to give them honest, real, authentic information about how this was. So when that when those guys leave. And you're there alone with your thoughts on that day after you receive this news?

What's that, like? Well, thankfully, again, my my girlfriend had come down from Virginia, and she had just taken charge and removed everybody from the condo to give us our space.

Greg is probably one of the most stoic individuals I know. And, you know, we all just huddled together in a big group hug. And Ian's best friend was there when we got the news, because we felt so strongly that he was family that he should be there. And I just remember Greg kind of disappearing and I went to find him and he was out side on the stairwell of the condo. And he was just shaking violently. And which had turned and the kids had come out as well that time and he just was wailing and, you know, he, he's like, I should be able to I should be strong, I should be able to handle this. I shouldn't you know, he was very embarrassed, you know, the level of of sorrow that he you know, he just couldn't contain it. And, you know, I was used to him being an absolute rock. And to see the man that had you know, just seeing our family through so much over the years. Dissolve in front of my eyes um, It's, it's just so heartbreaking. And of course, the kids, you know, we just all kind of sit there in the stairwell and and sob and I'm a very, I'm a planner. So I think where I went was, okay, next steps, you know. And I think I just went numb, I just think that my mind kicked into, you know, overdrive as far as what needed to be done from this point. And all of you know, Greg, and the children just remember us all sitting down. And I just, I just looked around, and I said, this is the hardest thing that our family is ever going to do. But this will not break my family. I said, I've seen it from other families where this has happened. I've seen relationships does dissolve.

What things cause? What are the things that you're alluding to that would cause a relationship to dissolve under these circumstances?

There's just I've seen people, the dissension and the blame, and we

could have done this, we should have done that. Yes. What if we just sit? What if I said, you can't go with your friends? What if I said, you know, you should have you know, I told you, we shouldn't let them do this when they were kids, or we shouldn't let them watch this movie,

or there was none of that with us. None of that.

Is there a temptation for it? I

think on an individual basis, we've all had our points of anger and frustration and, and everything. But we never turned it on one another. I think one of the things that our family is very good at is knowing we're all very different, and respecting our differences. And I said to them, I believe in the same conversation that we are all each individually going to grieve this in our own way. And it's not going to be the same. And there are going to be times where we might not agree with how each other is grieving and getting through this. I said, and that's okay. But we will make it through it as a family. And from that time on, we basically did and made all the decisions that needed to be made as a family. It wasn't just Greg and I it was, you know, Greg, myself, Caitlin, and rocks, and that

that even provided into legal decisions that he may like, if, if I could share that, even when it came down to fundamental legal decisions. You know, I wasn't I wasn't allowed to make decisions without consulting with both of your kids in addition to you, right, so yeah, so what, what the image that I always had and have about this situation is that everybody's in your family is, is they might be physically apart, New York, Charlotte, Fayetteville, whatever. And then there's a sort of distress signal that almost shines in the sky. And then everybody sort of drops what they're doing and comes together, you know, to work through this difficult situation.

It Yeah. And, you know, again, there, you know, there were there, there were times where you, we would make this decision and one person might not be 110% on board. However, they would. It was okay. You know, it was like, Okay, let's acknowledge the fact that I might not 100% agree with us, but let's do what's best for the whole. And I think that, you know, again, I mean, we just, we just gave each other a lot of grace. And still do. I mean, you know, there are still things that we don't necessarily handle the same way and, but you know, there's going to be so many emotions and so many things that you go through. And so one of my immediate things was I also hired a grief counselor. I knew immediately that all of us were going to need professional help

because Is that something you recommend? Absolutely.

I for years, and I still have a weekly appointment with her. And because I wanted everyone to feel like, there was a safe place a safe space where, apart from us as a family unit, they could describe and share with someone who had no opinion on it, you know? To just listen, and, you know, were, the more they could be heard. And I know Greg went for a while we all it was all the same woman and Greg went for a while Caitlin went for a while, and I've continued. So I think for me, I've read a lot I, you know, I've, I've probably read 20 books on child loss. And this idea that, you know, grief is linear, you know, that there are quote, unquote, stages to grief, I just think is something that I have really come to know that there's no such thing. You're perfectly fine one day, and the next day, it can be as simple as one day I was driving down the street, the street that Anne's High School was on, that's where we ended up having his service, because there were so many people that a funeral home couldn't accommodate it. And at the time being we were not affiliated with a particular church. And so it became like, okay, you know, where do we have a large enough auditorium to hold this celebration of life. And as I drove by, there are all these trucks lined up in the parking lot. And it's exactly the way it was, every day, when my kids were in school. All the guys with all the four wheel drive trucks, you know, back their trucks into a parking space. And I just lose it. I just completely and totally lose it, break down crying. And so it's moments like that. I think it's the unexpected things. I think we make it through a lot of the basic things that have to be done. It was amazed me, Greg handled all the logistical kind of things that I didn't even realize were a thing did not know he had a life insurance policy, you know, did not know how much it took to close down a 21 year olds life. That was shocking to me. And again, thank God, you know, Greg was, took the lead on that and handled most of that. I think I was the one who kind of took charge of everyone's emotional needs. And, you know, there's a certain fog and a certain numbness at the beginning. And then suddenly, like you said, you know, it's, it's all over the the celebration of life is done. Family and friends go back to their lives. We had a few dedication ceremonies that we attended. Kay, I planted a tree in his honor at the fraternity house, which had never been done. They laid a brick in the garden at ECU and ends on are so you know, it, it kind of lingered for a number of months of, you know, the things that were still happening and everything honoring him. And so that's what I drew strength from. There was always that next thing that, you know, they were remembering him and, you

know, give you an activity or something to plan to focus on

celebrate, you know, he, and they were just so many people celebrating him. Well, as you said, it all goes away. So, you know, within about a six month period, and of course then for us COVID happened shortly there somewhere. And yeah, so you know, rexon and Caitlin came home for a lot of time during that because Caitlin living in New York case, we wanted her out of there. So she and her fiance came and stayed at our house for several months. But I often say that the COVID I felt like was a saving grace for me, because it put us in an environment of where we didn't have to go out in public. We didn't have have to face the scrutiny and the misguided tails. You know, it just became like it took on a life of its own. And I think for me, that's been the hardest part. The social media and the speculation and you know, now again, all the good that came out of it. Thank God has counterbalanced that. But there was a fair amount of negativity. And so that's where COVID came in, you know, it kind of buffered all that for quite a while. But unfortunately, the reality is, people go away, and sometimes they go away for good. You become the epitome of every person's worst nightmare. And there's a lot of people that almost treat it like it's contagious. And so we've lost friendships. And I don't say that in judgment, I say that because I realize that people don't know what to say to you. So

as I'm sitting here, I'm, I'm trying to think you know, about how I would react from your point of view, which is how I've always done it, right. So in my mind, I'm thinking, How long do you wake up at two, three at 330 at 445 at 446. And just roll around, hoping to wake up from a bad dream and not want to get out of bed but not want to stay in bed not being able to eat but being hungry and just reading in misery, like how long? And then and then the next thing is when you tell me that then I think if this happened to someone on new, like, what do you like, what do you say? I like I would like to think that I would not be that that guy. I'm like, if I'm like, No, I wouldn't do that I would be there for you. But in reality, how many times can I say I'm so sorry for your loss? Let me know if there's something I can do. What can I do? Before you start going? I don't know what to do. All I do is feel terrible. And I want to hug them. But I don't think that's appropriate. So let me just avoid them in the grocery store.

You know, I, I again, I read so many books that address that that very issue. And the thing I can say from our perspective, or my perspective is it doesn't have to be an I'm sorry. Or say his say their name to the parents. Because I think that there is this feeling that we don't want to talk about him because it's going to bring up too much emotion and remind us, you know, of the situation. Well, nobody is reminding us of it because it's ever present. It never goes away. This is not something it's an out of order, death and life. You know, we all experienced, we all lose people we love. It is a traumatic, out of order death. And that's what people are so afraid of. But I think the best thing that people can do is just be with them. Don't call them and ask them if they need anything. Because no one's going to say I need XYZ no one. Just do it. Just show up at the house with a casserole. And not just right after the funeral months later. Text. I'm gonna call you know, text. Hey, I've got dinner covered tonight. Come on, you're coming with me. Yeah. And just the sitting with us. Just, I don't need you to say anything, necessarily. I did. You know, we did have some some people that said some pretty stupid things. You know, and again, it was never out of ill intent or anything. It's just they don't realize, and you know, so you you learn to kind of, you know, swallow, you know, okay. I've had friends turn their backs on Me in public places and walk away, which hurts. And I said, you know, just acknowledging, you know, if you don't know what to say, just put your hand over your heart and say, you know, Hi, how are you? And it's not as hard I think as we as a society make it I think as a whole of society. Death is almost kind of one of those things you don't tell walkabout you know, it's kinda like, you know, money, religion, politics, you know, people just don't are not in this country comfortable with talking about loss and especially traumatic loss.

I mean, I would like to think I'm different, but I'm not, you know, I'm not. Yeah,

there's no, and that's the thing. That's why it really people's responses don't, you know, don't bother me. I mean, you know, when you when you get the standard or some, you know, something that you just don't agree with, like, you know, oh, well, this was God's plan, or, you know, he needed an angel or whatever, I don't get angry at that, you know, they have no idea what to say. And if they believe that, that's, that's good. I mean, that's how they cope with, you know, the feelings about, you know, knowing that their friend or, you know, their friend's son died. And that's fine. I don't, you know, it doesn't offend me, at least. I, you know, they don't know what to say, I'm not going to school on mine, you know, well, you know, you really need to, they can do what they want, you know who your friends are. And they, you know, they kind of know that they there's nothing that there is no magic. What do you say to someone who lost their son, there is there's no magic phrase or, you know, words or anything. I mean, like CJ said, you know, just acknowledging, you know, that they're your friend, I mean, doing the same thing that you had been doing, why that's why you're their friend. And if they do come seeking you out, if I were to seek somebody out, because I needed to talk, whatever. And I mean, there's, there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, if you make that clear to somebody, very few of your friends are going to, are you going to deny you like, well, you know, why don't we skip that conversation, we're going to be more than happy to, that's almost directing them. As far as you could do this for me, you can just talk to so that makes a lot you can sit with me, or I've got to tell you something I just been tell me what you think. And that that makes it easy for people because they're being guided in a helpful way. And that's what they want to be. That's why they're saying what they're saying they want to be helpful. They want to be a good friend. And they may not know what to say. And I that you know, and I really don't know what to tell him to say I wouldn't know. You know, any major

changes day to day, it depends on you know, what, what type of day you're also having, you know, so, there are so many variables in that, but I you know, I just think the main thing is, is don't be afraid to acknowledge it. You're not going to hurt people further. It's

not about it. It's like, Oh, why did you bring that back up? You know, it's never it's never more than this far away.

Thank you, CJ. Thank you, Greg. We'll be right back.

Transcript

Welcome to the catastrophic comeback podcast with American Injury Lawyer Clark speaks, helping you find hope, purpose and joy after a catastrophic injury. All right, welcome back, continuing my conversation with CJ and, Greg, that we've talked up to now about this family that you had this family that you'd built these relationships that you'd made over a long period of time, and you have this sort of perfect family in its imperfection, right? And so, and you've done these things, you creating this home environment, and you with the things that you did in your legal career, to to build this this thing, this family? And then, and then you get a call. Can you wait, again, we would respect the confidentiality agreement that we've entered? Can you guys talk to me about what that what that was?

Well, about 130, in the morning, Greg gets a call through on his phone. And, of course, you know, a 130, in the morning call, it's never a good thing, you know,

even it was missing. And that was really all it was, it was you could tell it was someone that was being probably relayed information or whatever, didn't have a lot of details on anything. So I, you know, first thing I thought is, you know, need to get down there to find out more of what's going on and took down his number and things and, you know, we can get the cobwebs out of my head, and CJ woke up. And I told her that I needed to go down to where I got the call from and that she needed to stay there until I got there. So I could figure out what's going on whether this is just something that's you know, doesn't require hope you no crude Have you no human

way at this point and know the magnitude of the situation because, you know, had no

had not really no idea.

And I think that we also weren't as concerned initially because he could swim, he was out on the river numerous mornings by himself at 334 o'clock in the morning. So, you know, you don't initially go there because you know, you competent,

and resilient, competent person, or as a sportsman who had been who does things all the time, so, so at some point, you get more information, he

got a little bit more information, I think, by phone on his way on his drive down, he's gone about

two hours away from where you live, to get a better handle on the situation, and to learn more information and see what he can do to help is that correct?

Right. And they, once I got down there, and finally was just basically told to the best location to go where the most knowledgeable people would be. But it would probably be it was late by then I got down there for 30. So it's just before sunup, and he said by six PD got the call 130 by 130. And by the time I you know, got got things together, whatever, a couple hour ride down there, you know, 40 minutes is getting prepped to go. And so it was getting early morning. And talking the called, they said the best place to go told me where that was so that I could meet up with with all the others that can provide me information.

And what's going through your head on the way down there,

I just, you know, be it because of the at the time because of the lack of information because basically, it seemed to me that nothing's going to happen until you know, light when it begins to light out. So I'm not you know, you know, I've been told the were in the, in the kind of the what, but I, at that time, I was not overwhelmingly concerned it concerned me obviously.

But as a parent, you've you've had something similar concerns over and over again, and they've all worked out fun.

Exactly. And that's what you know, and um, uh, like I said,

you know, the first time you get separated from your kid and target, you're like, Okay, this was all these worst case scenarios, play through your head. It works out fun,

it's gonna, you know, I'll find them at the door. I'm gonna, you know, he's gonna be you know, looking up, whatever he's doing, but, you know, and that's kind of the way I thought with the limited information that I had, and like I said, you know, obviously processing part of it That is the, you know, he is strong. He's, you know, he's young, he's, you know, he couldn't do it, you know, so like I said, I was not overwhelmingly concerned at that point, it got down there. And then the, the various people showing up that

were, that were search and rescue,

yeah, that were, you know, basically in the, the search got a little more information, a little more information. And then it was later that day, that it really started to sink in that something, it's been, whatever, 12 hours, or it's been 13 hours. And I kept thinking, that's not so bad. You know, there's a lot of things, I'm thinking of all kinds of scenarios,

you're trying to keep a positive frame of mind, that's kind of

one, two, he could have maybe, you know, gone to a dock and gotten his way up onto solar, or

he's ready somewhere, you know, at a friend's house asleep at somebody's house. You know, like I said, I was coming up with a lot of, you know, scenarios of this will all be explained away, you know, not that I'll be happy about it, it can all be explained at some point, you know, and then time kept marching on. And I began to realize that, that as people were being called, and just more information coming in from various people that it didn't. I mean, I can't think have an exact moment, but there was a short period of time where it just struck me, this is not good, that this is not gonna, this is not good. And it's not going to end well. And I just, I just knew knew. And like I said, it wasn't an epiphany moment, it was just over a period of a few hours. And it was later in the afternoon, as we started to get into the sun setting. And now we're looking at, you know, 1218 plus hours, with people that are, you know, looking that there's a lot going on, what's

going on, from your perspective during this time?

Well, you know, again, I, I'm a lot more emotional and prone to panic than my husband. So, I did wait until he called me from the road the second time, and, you know, he, he mentioned search and rescue and how they were going to be putting helicopters up in the air, first light. And that's when I knew that I had to start making some phone calls. And of course, you know, my first two are to my children. And my daughter was away on a business trip up in Rhode Island, I believe. And so I called her boyfriend back in New York, and said, you know, Harrison, I have to make this phone call. You live with our daughter right now. So, you know, you know her? What do you How should How should I handle this? You know, she's alone. With the exception of her, her boss, she was working for a corporate photographer at the time. And, you know, so you want to deliver the news in the most humane way you can for someone who's so far away? And is this point that the news is not definitive? It's just no, no, it's just, you know, he's missing. And so, my now son in law said, you know, let's call Patrick, the man she works for. And so, you know, Patrick went and woke Kaitlyn up and got her on the phone. And she's a lot like Greg, as far as you know, she's just pretty calm, cool and collected, you know, about most national

law rash, right? Yeah.

But her boss helped get her flight. You know, she just kind of became scattered and you know, everything of course, and so, you know, that that phone call was made and then I had to make the phone call to my son in Charlotte, and you know, he was closer by so. You He, at this point, I think it was still around 330 in the morning. So I called him and being the early 20, something he was still out. You know, it was having noise issues as far as being able to hear me. And he often talks about that that moment. Because, you know, again, he's like, it's 330 in the morning, and my mom's calling me something's not right. And, of course, I think his initial reaction was something that happened to his father. And so I deliver, you know, the news to him. And, of course, he immediately just jumps in his truck. So that was in play. And then at this point, I was pretty much freaking out and falling apart. And I called neighbor getting concerned much more quickly than he's getting. Yes. And so I called a neighbor down the street, and both of our friends came up. And it basically I often say that, you know, in a lot of ways, I feel almost like they saved my life that night, because it's not something you want to be sitting with alone. So we I waited for Caitlin to get to the airport in Fayetteville before I took off to go down. So, you know, we all three Harrison had flown in as well. So you know, we all three, takeoff in the car down there. And of course, by now. Friends, neighbors, he actually worked for our next door neighbor in his construction business. And so I made that phone call. They actually own a condo, right down here on the water and immediately called and offered us their condo for some accommodations, because they knew that the crowds of people that wanted to be there, and everything were coming. And people just started coming from everywhere. I mean, his friends traveled from three states. They brought their own personal,

they just flooded. And at this point, they're trying to help. Yeah,

it's probably not funny, but it's funny now. I would say I'm like, we're gonna find him up on somebody's dock. And I said, we're finding him alive, I'm gonna kill him. So that became less and less funny, of course, as time passed, but I basically stayed at the condo and handled the influx of people that were coming and going and neighbors from around the condo complex. And they supplied us in food beverage, and it's just we were completely and totally taken care of. Anything that we wanted just was their food. And like I said, and it was just, it was an amazing outpouring of support. And I think as Greg said, later in Sunday I'm sitting and watching all this search mission go on from the balcony of this condo, because it was right there by where it had happened. And so, you know, watching the helicopter circle around and, and everything I I really began to realize that it had probably gone from a search and rescue mission to a recovery issue. And I remember at about four o'clock in the morning, I went out onto the balcony. And it was a beautiful, unobstructed view, there were no other houses or anything and I could just look out over the water and the grasses and so beautiful. And I just prayed, I just I said, God, just Elise allow us to find his body. Let me have him back to at least be able to lay him to rest. And because that then became my fear, because there had been the mention of the possibility of his body having been washed out. And I just literally could not stand the idea of that being it that That being it. And that we would never have an opportunity to lay him to rest properly. And I also felt like, I honestly felt like Greg would never leave down there. If we didn't find him. Because he had been out in the sweltering heat hadn't slept, any he stayed down there, where the search was going on and in the hub of it, and he wouldn't come home, he wouldn't are back to the condo, he wouldn't eat, he wasn't sleeping. And I just knew that if if he was body wasn't found, that it was going to be far harder to come to terms with. And so I think it was right around 330, in the afternoon, we got a call from the sheriff's office, and they asked us to, you know, we kind of gather at the condo that they were coming by. And, of course, with social media. A lot of information was going out on social media that was inaccurate. And that was hard to take. I had a friend down there who think God was kind of filtering that. But you know, it's young kids, they're attached to the social media, and a lot of them were coming by and mentioning things that were being said on social media. And so I think, you know, we all knew when the sheriff's department asked to meet with us that, that they thankfully had found his body.

Okay, so you get the call. There's a period of fear of concern, that develops into fear that develops into panic that develops into breathless attempts to hold on to hope that gives way to certainty, you know, and then there's a flurry of activity with the people, the law enforcement and the people who are involved. At some point. All that goes away and the people go away, and you're alone with your thoughts. And that's kind of what this podcast is here to do. We're not trying to tell everybody hey, everything's gonna be okay. There's a silver lining to this Cheer up, Buck up, you know, the subtle come out tomorrow, we're trying to give them honest, real, authentic information about how this was. So when that when those guys leave. And you're there alone with your thoughts on that day after you receive this news?

What's that, like? Well, thankfully, again, my my girlfriend had come down from Virginia, and she had just taken charge and removed everybody from the condo to give us our space.

Greg is probably one of the most stoic individuals I know. And, you know, we all just huddled together in a big group hug. And Ian's best friend was there when we got the news, because we felt so strongly that he was family that he should be there. And I just remember Greg kind of disappearing and I went to find him and he was out side on the stairwell of the condo. And he was just shaking violently. And which had turned and the kids had come out as well that time and he just was wailing and, you know, he, he's like, I should be able to I should be strong, I should be able to handle this. I shouldn't you know, he was very embarrassed, you know, the level of of sorrow that he you know, he just couldn't contain it. And, you know, I was used to him being an absolute rock. And to see the man that had you know, just seeing our family through so much over the years. Dissolve in front of my eyes um, It's, it's just so heartbreaking. And of course, the kids, you know, we just all kind of sit there in the stairwell and and sob and I'm a very, I'm a planner. So I think where I went was, okay, next steps, you know. And I think I just went numb, I just think that my mind kicked into, you know, overdrive as far as what needed to be done from this point. And all of you know, Greg, and the children just remember us all sitting down. And I just, I just looked around, and I said, this is the hardest thing that our family is ever going to do. But this will not break my family. I said, I've seen it from other families where this has happened. I've seen relationships does dissolve.

What things cause? What are the things that you're alluding to that would cause a relationship to dissolve under these circumstances?

There's just I've seen people, the dissension and the blame, and we

could have done this, we should have done that. Yes. What if we just sit? What if I said, you can't go with your friends? What if I said, you know, you should have you know, I told you, we shouldn't let them do this when they were kids, or we shouldn't let them watch this movie,

or there was none of that with us. None of that.

Is there a temptation for it? I

think on an individual basis, we've all had our points of anger and frustration and, and everything. But we never turned it on one another. I think one of the things that our family is very good at is knowing we're all very different, and respecting our differences. And I said to them, I believe in the same conversation that we are all each individually going to grieve this in our own way. And it's not going to be the same. And there are going to be times where we might not agree with how each other is grieving and getting through this. I said, and that's okay. But we will make it through it as a family. And from that time on, we basically did and made all the decisions that needed to be made as a family. It wasn't just Greg and I it was, you know, Greg, myself, Caitlin, and rocks, and that

that even provided into legal decisions that he may like, if, if I could share that, even when it came down to fundamental legal decisions. You know, I wasn't I wasn't allowed to make decisions without consulting with both of your kids in addition to you, right, so yeah, so what, what the image that I always had and have about this situation is that everybody's in your family is, is they might be physically apart, New York, Charlotte, Fayetteville, whatever. And then there's a sort of distress signal that almost shines in the sky. And then everybody sort of drops what they're doing and comes together, you know, to work through this difficult situation.

It Yeah. And, you know, again, there, you know, there were there, there were times where you, we would make this decision and one person might not be 110% on board. However, they would. It was okay. You know, it was like, Okay, let's acknowledge the fact that I might not 100% agree with us, but let's do what's best for the whole. And I think that, you know, again, I mean, we just, we just gave each other a lot of grace. And still do. I mean, you know, there are still things that we don't necessarily handle the same way and, but you know, there's going to be so many emotions and so many things that you go through. And so one of my immediate things was I also hired a grief counselor. I knew immediately that all of us were going to need professional help

because Is that something you recommend? Absolutely.

I for years, and I still have a weekly appointment with her. And because I wanted everyone to feel like, there was a safe place a safe space where, apart from us as a family unit, they could describe and share with someone who had no opinion on it, you know? To just listen, and, you know, were, the more they could be heard. And I know Greg went for a while we all it was all the same woman and Greg went for a while Caitlin went for a while, and I've continued. So I think for me, I've read a lot I, you know, I've, I've probably read 20 books on child loss. And this idea that, you know, grief is linear, you know, that there are quote, unquote, stages to grief, I just think is something that I have really come to know that there's no such thing. You're perfectly fine one day, and the next day, it can be as simple as one day I was driving down the street, the street that Anne's High School was on, that's where we ended up having his service, because there were so many people that a funeral home couldn't accommodate it. And at the time being we were not affiliated with a particular church. And so it became like, okay, you know, where do we have a large enough auditorium to hold this celebration of life. And as I drove by, there are all these trucks lined up in the parking lot. And it's exactly the way it was, every day, when my kids were in school. All the guys with all the four wheel drive trucks, you know, back their trucks into a parking space. And I just lose it. I just completely and totally lose it, break down crying. And so it's moments like that. I think it's the unexpected things. I think we make it through a lot of the basic things that have to be done. It was amazed me, Greg handled all the logistical kind of things that I didn't even realize were a thing did not know he had a life insurance policy, you know, did not know how much it took to close down a 21 year olds life. That was shocking to me. And again, thank God, you know, Greg was, took the lead on that and handled most of that. I think I was the one who kind of took charge of everyone's emotional needs. And, you know, there's a certain fog and a certain numbness at the beginning. And then suddenly, like you said, you know, it's, it's all over the the celebration of life is done. Family and friends go back to their lives. We had a few dedication ceremonies that we attended. Kay, I planted a tree in his honor at the fraternity house, which had never been done. They laid a brick in the garden at ECU and ends on are so you know, it, it kind of lingered for a number of months of, you know, the things that were still happening and everything honoring him. And so that's what I drew strength from. There was always that next thing that, you know, they were remembering him and, you

know, give you an activity or something to plan to focus on

celebrate, you know, he, and they were just so many people celebrating him. Well, as you said, it all goes away. So, you know, within about a six month period, and of course then for us COVID happened shortly there somewhere. And yeah, so you know, rexon and Caitlin came home for a lot of time during that because Caitlin living in New York case, we wanted her out of there. So she and her fiance came and stayed at our house for several months. But I often say that the COVID I felt like was a saving grace for me, because it put us in an environment of where we didn't have to go out in public. We didn't have have to face the scrutiny and the misguided tails. You know, it just became like it took on a life of its own. And I think for me, that's been the hardest part. The social media and the speculation and you know, now again, all the good that came out of it. Thank God has counterbalanced that. But there was a fair amount of negativity. And so that's where COVID came in, you know, it kind of buffered all that for quite a while. But unfortunately, the reality is, people go away, and sometimes they go away for good. You become the epitome of every person's worst nightmare. And there's a lot of people that almost treat it like it's contagious. And so we've lost friendships. And I don't say that in judgment, I say that because I realize that people don't know what to say to you. So

as I'm sitting here, I'm, I'm trying to think you know, about how I would react from your point of view, which is how I've always done it, right. So in my mind, I'm thinking, How long do you wake up at two, three at 330 at 445 at 446. And just roll around, hoping to wake up from a bad dream and not want to get out of bed but not want to stay in bed not being able to eat but being hungry and just reading in misery, like how long? And then and then the next thing is when you tell me that then I think if this happened to someone on new, like, what do you like, what do you say? I like I would like to think that I would not be that that guy. I'm like, if I'm like, No, I wouldn't do that I would be there for you. But in reality, how many times can I say I'm so sorry for your loss? Let me know if there's something I can do. What can I do? Before you start going? I don't know what to do. All I do is feel terrible. And I want to hug them. But I don't think that's appropriate. So let me just avoid them in the grocery store.

You know, I, I again, I read so many books that address that that very issue. And the thing I can say from our perspective, or my perspective is it doesn't have to be an I'm sorry. Or say his say their name to the parents. Because I think that there is this feeling that we don't want to talk about him because it's going to bring up too much emotion and remind us, you know, of the situation. Well, nobody is reminding us of it because it's ever present. It never goes away. This is not something it's an out of order, death and life. You know, we all experienced, we all lose people we love. It is a traumatic, out of order death. And that's what people are so afraid of. But I think the best thing that people can do is just be with them. Don't call them and ask them if they need anything. Because no one's going to say I need XYZ no one. Just do it. Just show up at the house with a casserole. And not just right after the funeral months later. Text. I'm gonna call you know, text. Hey, I've got dinner covered tonight. Come on, you're coming with me. Yeah. And just the sitting with us. Just, I don't need you to say anything, necessarily. I did. You know, we did have some some people that said some pretty stupid things. You know, and again, it was never out of ill intent or anything. It's just they don't realize, and you know, so you you learn to kind of, you know, swallow, you know, okay. I've had friends turn their backs on Me in public places and walk away, which hurts. And I said, you know, just acknowledging, you know, if you don't know what to say, just put your hand over your heart and say, you know, Hi, how are you? And it's not as hard I think as we as a society make it I think as a whole of society. Death is almost kind of one of those things you don't tell walkabout you know, it's kinda like, you know, money, religion, politics, you know, people just don't are not in this country comfortable with talking about loss and especially traumatic loss.

I mean, I would like to think I'm different, but I'm not, you know, I'm not. Yeah,

there's no, and that's the thing. That's why it really people's responses don't, you know, don't bother me. I mean, you know, when you when you get the standard or some, you know, something that you just don't agree with, like, you know, oh, well, this was God's plan, or, you know, he needed an angel or whatever, I don't get angry at that, you know, they have no idea what to say. And if they believe that, that's, that's good. I mean, that's how they cope with, you know, the feelings about, you know, knowing that their friend or, you know, their friend's son died. And that's fine. I don't, you know, it doesn't offend me, at least. I, you know, they don't know what to say, I'm not going to school on mine, you know, well, you know, you really need to, they can do what they want, you know who your friends are. And they, you know, they kind of know that they there's nothing that there is no magic. What do you say to someone who lost their son, there is there's no magic phrase or, you know, words or anything. I mean, like CJ said, you know, just acknowledging, you know, that they're your friend, I mean, doing the same thing that you had been doing, why that's why you're their friend. And if they do come seeking you out, if I were to seek somebody out, because I needed to talk, whatever. And I mean, there's, there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, if you make that clear to somebody, very few of your friends are going to, are you going to deny you like, well, you know, why don't we skip that conversation, we're going to be more than happy to, that's almost directing them. As far as you could do this for me, you can just talk to so that makes a lot you can sit with me, or I've got to tell you something I just been tell me what you think. And that that makes it easy for people because they're being guided in a helpful way. And that's what they want to be. That's why they're saying what they're saying they want to be helpful. They want to be a good friend. And they may not know what to say. And I that you know, and I really don't know what to tell him to say I wouldn't know. You know, any major

changes day to day, it depends on you know, what, what type of day you're also having, you know, so, there are so many variables in that, but I you know, I just think the main thing is, is don't be afraid to acknowledge it. You're not going to hurt people further. It's

not about it. It's like, Oh, why did you bring that back up? You know, it's never it's never more than this far away.

Thank you, CJ. Thank you, Greg. We'll be right back.

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