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Sad Fourth

Ryan was a gift. He came as part of a package deal with his beautiful and loving mother, Terriann. When I met his mother and fell in love, he was a pudgy eight year old. He liked to watch television and did just that for many hours a day.
Terriann and I dated for about a year and then married. I had already started the joyful yet arduous task of molding Ryan into a man capable of taking on the world with skills and confidence. It wasn’t easy at first. To be honest, it was never easy, but this was to be a worthwhile challenge, I thought, so I jumped in with both feet.
I had raised one child already, to near perfection and used the same techniques whenever I could. Ideas borrowed from Pavlov regarding consistent correction and random reinforcement were employed.
In order to make this work, I had to rise to a higher standard myself, which was a good thing. Isn’t it odd how in trying to provide a good example we, as parents can become better people, too?
The television thing had to go. I first put an hour meter on the thing to determine just how much of a problem it was. I’m a bit of a scientist and like to generate numbers to analyze when possible. Now, wouldn’t it be easy enough just to make a rule to solve this problem? No, it would be better to generate other activities that provided learning and affirmation instead. And that I did.
I had a building project in process during this time and put Ryan to work. He learned to weld, operate a milling machine, drive a tractor, use a chainsaw, and soon forgot all about the television. I never had to restrict it or take it away to curtail it’s use. Substitution worked well.
Ryan learned to be a gentleman. He would say “Sir” and “Ma’am” to adults, eat with civilized table manners, stand when a lady came into a room, never wear a hat inside, and take it off when speaking to a lady, and of course, open doors for them too. This was done by providing an example and man-to man talks.
He learned how to be a friend that someone would want for a friend. Ryan was also instructed to do something nice for someone each day. It was funny to hear his stories and watch him practice this, almost becoming a sport.
Ryan easily made me proud. I got him involved in the care and feeding of machine guns, a business in which I was engaged. He learned to not only load and fire, but to clean, maintain and service them, and later to build them from scratch.
The young man slimmed down, grew tall and strong, confident and became a ‘babe magnet’ in high school. He was never cocky or presumptuious, and learned that soft words and a low key profile would let him ease through the rigor of the teen years and the identity seeking hazards associated with them.
It came time to get his learner’s permit to drive. But, he was experimenting with smoking pot, too. Really this is to be expected, I thought. In my day I burned more grass than a bush fire in a Tarzan movie. Young men will experiment with sex, drugs, alcohol and language. The best a parent can hope for is to see this phase pass without damage.
I had a couple of ideas which worked. First was amnesty. If Ryan did something wrong and could get to me and tell me about it before I found out, there would be no punishment. Sure, we would talk about it, but that would be the end.
Second, I had to do something about the pot smoking. Telling him not to do it did not seem like the thing to do. Better to make it his choice. So I gave him a choice. I advised that starting immediately we would have random drug tests at home. If he tested dirty, then he would have to test clean before driving again. I advised him that pot would stay in his system for about five weeks. Just make the choice. He did, and it was never a problem again. He would rather be able to drive than to catch a buzz. Problem solved.
Ryan met a young and beautiful girl and fell in love. Honestly, the two of them were the picture of love and devotion. It was clearly beyond ‘puppy love’. Elise is the daughter of a good friend and he met her at our annual Halloween party.
She had a grandmother, Connie, a wonderful woman full of life, love and spirit who lived on the river at Gloucester Point. She invited us to come to a party on the fourth of July, 2006. This date is burned into my heart and soul and continues to do so.
I had obtained some heavy-duty fireworks and made preparations to set them off at the party. I frequently do foolish things to be the ‘big dog’ and this would prove to be one of those. To be clear, I had six inch mortars which were not legal to own or discharge. But I had done this before and saw little hazard.
My best friend, Rubin and I set up the launch site on a narrow beach, below Connie’s home. I had fabricated the launch tubes and we set them carefully to make the trajectory follow a path over the river where it would be safe. We first discharged a two inch mortar to make certain the angles were correct and waited for dark.
When darkness fell we commenced firing. The display was awesome. I was having trouble seeing the fuses and called up the hill for a flashlight. Now Ryan had been instructed to stay up the hill away from the launch site, but he obliged and brought down a light. I told him to get back up the hill.
Instead of going straight back up the steps, he elected to go down the beach on the rip-rap, large boulders placed for erosion control to a second staircase that led to the upper yard. We resumed firing.
In a short time, to my astonishment and horror, there was Ryan falling in front of a mortar tube with a nasty head wound. I immediately knew he had been hit by a mortar.
Rubin and I hauled him up the stairs to the grassy plateau. He was bloody and had sand on his wound. I asked for a garden hose and washed him off to see what had happened. It was gruesome and horrible. I asked for someone to call 911.
The rescue squad came very quickly and asked what had happened. I told them that he had been hit by a mortar. They put him on a helicopter and took him to Norfolk General Hospital.
The police came, and asked what had happened. I said the same thing, he had been injured by fireworks.
Ryan’s mother and I were driven to Norfolk to the hospital. The news was not good. He had a massive injury and a major artery was ruptured. He would not recover. Ryan died the next day. Do I need to write that we were devastated?
There’s nothing quite like a mother losing her child. That’s an unbelievable pain that can only be known to her. And there’s also nothing like the pain and guilt of a man knowing that he caused it.
Terriann was a remarkable woman. She told me that she knew it was an accident and would stand by me no matter what. That’s just the kind of woman she was.
The police were not so understanding. I was charged with felony child neglect and manslaughter, a murder charge. I posted bond and was released until the trial date.
I was stroked by lightning and died the next month. That’s another story entirely.
The trial date came and the judge refused to kick me in the teeth when I was down, showing up in court, crippled and barely able to speak. I plead guilty to discharge of illegal fireworks and was given probation for a year.
That was not to be the end. I got a letter from Child Protective Services advising that I was on a child-abuser index for life unless I objected. I did object. I was interviewed and an investigation was started. Now bear in mind that this was the first investigation in this matter. Because I came forward and took responsibility at the time of the accident, the case was open and shut.
The investigators went to the accident scene and to the hospital to examine all of the medical records. An autopsy was never done because we donated his organs. The medical examiner never saw him.
I got a call, then a letter which advised me that I had been removed from the registry. They found that there was no way Ryan could have been hit by a mortar. They concluded that the cone of flame from the mortar would have caused massive burns, and there were none. Not even singed hair was evident. They further concluded that when Ryan left the launch site, he walked on large boulders in flip-flops, fell, rupturing the carotid artery on a rock, and came back to the launch site for help.
This made things better but it will never be OK.

Ryland
 

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Rfleet1066 SEZ: ".... things better but it will never be OK. "

Thought cannot imagine the sorrow.


Carry On!
Gary
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...nothing worse....

There are several things in life that can be devastating to a parent. The worse,in my opinion,is losing a child...at any age. God has blessed me,as I have seen my great-grand children,and have not lost any of my immediate family. May God bless others in this way. Ryland's posts are very thought provoking. Keep up the good work of imparting the wisdom of life,Ryland.
 
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