Before the accident, in the summer of 2012, Vaughn and I talked a lot about the day we were going to drop Kyle off at school for the start of his freshman year. We knew it was going to be tough. I kept reviewing in my head how I thought it all was going to play out:
- I figured that in the month before his departure, Kyle and I would hit the Mall several times to shop for clothes, bedding, and any other item necessary for dorm living. We would go from linen store to linen store looking for the right-colored bedspread with matching sheets and pillows.
- I would take him out to lunch once-a-week, and have long conversations about college life.
- We suspected he needed glasses for long-distance reading in lecture halls, and he would be evaluated by our town's most reputable ophthalmologist.
- When it would be time to leave, the family would drive down to Santa Barbara a few days early, hang out on the beach, and go out to a few dinners. We would help unload his stuff and help carry it to his dorm room.
- I had visions of making his bed like they do at hotels, with the corners tucked neatly under the mattress and the bedspread folded back, adorned with many pillows of various shapes and sizes.
- We would exchange hugs, I would cry, and we (the proud parents) would walk away with bittersweet feelings--excited for him, but sad to say good-bye.
But as you might expect, the send-off (as well as the month of prep before-hand) went nothing as expected due to the aftermath of the accident, and the enormous amount of energy that was re-directed to coping with our situation...
- The five days of shopping I envisioned to get Kyle fully armed for college, was pared down to less than two hours while we waited for his eyeglass prescription to be processed from a Lens Crafter located at the Mall closest to the hospital.
- As for all those lunches? We had ONE---at a local deli, and it wasn't the lunch that should have been---one where I talk to him about how much I loved him and how proud I was of all that he accomplished to date. Instead it was a lunch filled with tears, sadness, and feelings of guilt that I wasn't giving my son the proper attention he so earned and deserved.
- As for the 3 day adventure to Santa Barbara we had slated for my family? It wasn't to be...
Yet, the “Goodbye” that we had to settle for-one that was unconventional and did not go according to plan-turned out to be one of the most love-filled, and heartbreaking moments I will never forget..
It was Sunday, September 23rd, 2012... the day after my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary as well as the party they threw to celebrate their special occasion with all of their family and good friends. They were all there except for one important person: Vaughn, who unfortunately missed out because he was still in the hospital.
So there we stood---our family of four--- in Vaughn’s hospital room, squeezing out every last moment of being together before I (with the company of Jenelle) would drive Kyle down to Santa Barbara to start college. Eventually the clock struck 11:00 am-the time we had to leave.We strung out the morning as long as we could and when we couldn't stretch it any longer, Jenelle and I took turns giving Vaughn our hugs and kisses. We went first, because we would be back the next day. I was dreading this moment, not so much for me, because I had at least 8 more hours to be with Kyle, but more-so for Vaughn. I ached for him thinking about the emptiness he would feel when we left. I figured that this would be yet another sad day in our version of a “series of unfortunate events.”
Finally it was Kyle’s turn, and the last to say “goodbye.” I knew Vaughn was savoring every last minute with his son, for it would be until Thanksgiving before he would see him again. It wouldn't be the goodbye that Vaughn always talked about. It would be much different. Instead of Vaughn fulfilling his vision of being the Dad who helped his son carry his things to his dorm room, he would lay helplessly in bed, dreams dashed, left to watch his family leave without him.
Kyle inched up to the side of the hospital bed, reached out and placed his hand inside Vaughn’s hand, which at this point in his recovery hadn't moved since the accident. There was silence and a quiet connection between the two of them.
Given the moment and all the surrounding circumstances that were soiling Vaughn’s dream, I expected Vaughn to break down and cry, and Kyle to console him, and tell him, "It's okay Dad.” But that’s not what happened…
Even in the face of incredible sadness, Vaughn stepped up and pulled through like a champ. He showed incredible strength and courage. He said all the things he wanted to say in a voice that was so comforting and reassuring. He let Kyle know how proud he was of him. He also gave sage advice about taking advantage of the four years ahead, to continue to make good choices, and to set himself up nicely for his future. He didn't leave anything unsaid, and said everything he had to say with the most loving look on his face...no tears, only strength.
I sat back with tears rolling down my face, because I was so proud of my husband. Although he wasn't on the sands of Santa Barbara saying goodbye to Kyle, he was able to embrace the moment and deliver one of the most heart-felt speeches of his life.
Kyle stood there, lip quivering, with tears rolling down his cheek. He bent over and hugged Vaughn for a long embrace and told him, “I will make you proud Dad, like you already have for me.”
At that very moment, the uncertainty that I had built up in my head---that my child’s love and comfort had some how been damaged by the accident and all the craziness that followed---assuaged my concerns. I knew that if anything, the love we have for him and him for us was solid, and that the bond we had developed over all of these 18 years could not be broken by one untimely wave.
As painful as that moment was, we had to leave and let our son go. We hoped he would thrive and do well, and without a doubt he has done that, and even more.
And now, when Kyle is asked how he feels just before he leaves back to college, he always says,
“It’s bittersweet... I’m excited to go, but sad to leave.”