Social Media and Death

Super long post but, we have friends who do not know what all we went through. Maybe it will help anyone else that goes through this tragedy.

So here’s the thing that is new in today’s age and not a lot of people know how to handle it. Social Media and Death. When Zachary died, Rogers State asked us permission to send an email to the student body informing them of what happened. We, of course, said yes. We knew that students had found Zachary, staff and university police worked on him before the ambulance arrived, they had a helicopter on campus as well. That would be shocking on its own but, we could not leave the students wondering. Rogers State was nothing but fantastic for our family and did everything possible to protect us.

Little did we know though, that a student’s relative worked in a newsroom and the email was forwarded to the newsroom pretty much as soon as it was received. This led to the story being on the news stations before we even made it home from the hospital. The story was out there and being shared before we even had a chance to tell our extended family about his death. We had people texting us asking what happened. I remember asking a fellow softball Mom who messaged me how the hell she knew. (Not one of my finest moments.) So, the story was out there and we had to make a FB post addressing it the next day less than 24hrs of our son dying. We were not emotionally prepared to do that but, everyone was wondering what was going on.

The following is the University’s post about a candlelight vigil they held for Zachary. Everything from the University was done with our permission.

A day or two after he passed away, we received a call from the University. A news station was snooping around Zachary’s Facebook page and found out he was gay. They called the college to try and get our phone numbers, who has a home phone anymore. They also mad sure to let the college know that they knew he was gay. The University refused to give out our information and protected us from them. We still cannot figure out what angle they would have been going for on that. It was two days after the Presidential election. At the time, no one knew what really happened to Zach. Jonathan had memorialized Zach’s FB page right after it happened to protect his information. We don’t know if they were going to try and tie his death to the election somehow because he was gay. Who knows? We as a family knew Zachary was gay and never tried to hide that fact.

We received a message from Zach’s boyfriend’s Mom that a news reporter had private messaged him wanting to talk to him. Keep in mind that he was seventeen at the time. Following is her message. We are so thankful Melissa respected our wishes to not have him talk to the news reporter. Zachary’s FB profile pic was abstract at the time so it was not a pic the news station would want to share.

So we have Zachary’s Memorial Service a week later and things calm down as far as FB stories, posts, etc. For almost exactly one month.

We received a return phone call on a Friday from the Medical Examiners Office telling us that Zach died from cardiac arrhythmia that was caused by they think a heart tumor but, there’s a bunch of other stuff listed so she wasn’t sure. This conversation led us to believe that they were still investigating his cause of death. We in no way understood it to be that was our phone call. We were not offered the chance to have the autopsy report faxed or emailed to us that day.

Let me start this section by saying we have worked out our differences with the local paper. They edited their article including personal health information about our family and also made a donation to Zachary’s Memorial Endowment Scholarship Fund. I in no way want to further any animosity towards the paper. They were not aware that we did not have a copy of the ME report at the time of publication.

So, the following Monday or Tuesday after our phone call from the ME’s office, we received an unexpected call from the Dean of Students. They asked if we had seen the article in the newspaper. We had not. They went on to explain that the paper published a very detailed article based off Zachary’s ME report. We did not receive the ME report until two days after the paper had published the article. We also had a neighbor leave a clipping of the article in our mailbox for us as she didn’t know if we had received the paper.

This meant that every single person that read the newspaper that morning knew details of our son’s death that we as a family did not know yet. Every single person who follows the paper on FB knew the details of his death. What people don’t often think about when sharing articles, etc, is that the majority of news articles get shared by national sites as well. The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation also shared the article. People around the nation if they had read it knew how our son died and the details of his death before we as his parents knew.

After being notified by RSU, we digested what had happened and Jonathan made a FB post addressing the invasion of privacy. Our friends and family who were shocked shared the post and it ended up getting the attention of Senator Stephanie Bice (one of my favorite people now).

Senator Bice asked if she could contact me to find out the details. After speaking with her, she drafted legislation to make there be a ten business day hold on all ME reports to give the family time to accept the information. She worked to get every party on board, ie police departments, MEs office, insurance companies, etc. We wrote letters to every House Member and Senator regarding the same. The bill ended up being passed in its final draft unanimously by the House and Senate. The bill went into affect November 2017. It seemed fitting as it was one year after Zachary’s death.

Families who lose a loved one now will not know that Zachary’s death is the one that helped to give them two weeks of privacy, but, we as his family know and that is what matters. When you lose a child, you want to know that their death made a difference somehow. We were not able to donate any of his organs since he was an unattended death and had to have an autopsy. At least with this change, he made a difference to people who never had the chance to meet the beautiful boy that is Zachary.

So, I guess I wrote this to just give an insight to what families go through when their loved ones death is shared in media/social media. It is not easy. It’s not easy to see the articles, read the comments from complete strangers who assume something negative about your kid.

Next time you go to click share on an article, think about if you would want a stranger to be reading about your loved one’s death. Think about the fact that the family may not have even had a chance to share the information with their extended family. Think about the fact that the articles might not even have correct information in them. The article about Zachary said he died in a parking lot and he didn’t, he was under a pine tree. It seems like the smallest detail but, to a Mom, it really matters.

Love and miss you Zachary ~ Mommy

Memorial Bench under “Zach’s Tree”

Memorial placed by college. This is right where his bench is.

https://www.facebook.com/JenningsMemorialEndowment/

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach #fun

Pride Month ~Late

Kind of a short weird post. I started writing it and forgot! Oh well.

On this last day of Pride Month, I wanted to share how being the Mom of a son who happened to be gay made me a better Mom.

You see, being gay was a tiny part of who Zachary was. From the moment we found out, nothing changed about our love for the boy. I remember people asking me, “well how will you tell people he is gay!” Our answer was “why would we?” We were not embarrassed of Zachary being gay. We just felt like we would never go up to someone and say, “this is our daughter Sarah and oh, by the way, she’s straight.” It was normal in our household which is how it should be. There was nothing shocking about who the boy was.

I remember we lost some friends when we shared pictures of Zachary and his boyfriend going to prom. I never understood it. Sarah had friends whose parents said they were okay with it but, come to find out, they had issues with it and they slowly stopped being in contact with her and us. You find of the true side of people when your child comes out.

That’s why he made me a better Mom. I am more because of him. Miss you buddy.

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach

Almost Twenty

Tomorrow would be Zachary’s 20th Birthday. No longer a teenager. I don’t know what he would be doing in his life, if he would still be in college, if he would have stopped and moved back home, etc. What I do know is today is the bad day in my grief cycle. It’s always the day before an event, the bedtime of said event, and the two days after. I’ve learned to accept that, let it be what it is and honor it.

I am thankful we had 18years of “most of the time” wonderful than to never have had it all.

Below is Zachary, age 12, waiting for a roller coaster at Disney World. Sarah wasn’t tall enough for all the rides then so we parent switched a lot and Zachary got to ride everything twice in a row.

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach

Memorial Endowment Link Below:

Tuesday of 20th Birthday week

For this day the week of Zachary’s birthday, I want to share pics of him with his sister Sarah. Zachary prayed for a baby sister before we even knew we were pregnant. He wanted a little sister so bad. I will never forget the moment Linda brought him to the hospital, Jonathan picked him up to show him his sister and he smiled and said, “She’s so beautiful.” That was Zachary. Although she drove him crazy sometimes, she was always beautiful to him. He was very concerned about female rights. He was concerned about how women were portrayed in movies because he didn’t want his sister thinking there was anything wrong with her. He was her constant companion and she misses him so. When he babysat her, he would climb on the counters and throw candy down at her to bribe her secrecy. We find out things now that he probably wishes she never told us!

So this Tuesday of Zachary’s week, take a moment to appreciate your siblings and the love you have for one another.

Happy almost 20th birthday Zachary!

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach

Memorial Endowment Link Below:

The face in the mirror

I was looking at pics in my phone tonight. I was looking for a particular pic to send to someone to have earrings made in the color of Zachary’s eyes. Anyway, as I was looking, I kept seeing pictures of myself from before. Everything after the death of a child is marked as before and after. I came upon this picture. This was taken two days before Zachary passed away. It was taken November 8th, 2016.

I look at this picture and I don’t even recognize myself as that person anymore. This picture was before I had ever cried so much that I actually felt my frown muscles for the very first time in my life. This pic was before I lived my life dehydrated as I always forget to drink enough. This was before I discovered how really great I am eating my feelings.

This pic was when my biggest sorrow was not seeing Zachary during the week as he came home almost every weekend. This was before I knew what it was like to see your daughter’s heart crushed. Before she had her childhood innocence ripped away by death. This was before when she was happy go lucky and didn’t have that sadness behind her eyes that is always there now.

This pic was before when we had our entire life as a family of four before us. This pic I see my husband before he had his heart shattered into a million pictures. Before he had to literally pick his wife up off the ground from crying so hard in during a grief attack. I see the man before he stood at the front of the church and delivered the most beautiful eulogy for Zachary. I am still in awe that he had the strength to stand up there and do that. I barely had the strength to get dressed that day.

I wrote this about a month ago. I wasn’t going to publish it but, in the spirit of transparency, here it is. I hate it.

Moving on up…to the downsize…and words of Billy Bob

So it’s weird. We are moving. We are 42yrs old and already downsizing our house since Zachary is no longer here. Our current house is too big and seems empty without his noise and constant YouTube on as loud as it could go, his pacing and eating things everywhere he went. I still find fruit snack wrappers shoved in places fifteen months later. His fav, Market Pantry from Target. I swear those little red packages pop out of nowhere as little hellos. Anyway.

When we were looking, we actually had to think, do we really want to take care of this when we are old? Do we really want this much land? Do we really want to have to deal with a pool? We went from thinking we wanted one thing to a complete turn around to something else. Sarah is already fourteen years old. We sadly know how fast time flies and that things can happen in the blink of an eye. We would love her to stay young forever but, we know that won’t happen.

Packing for the move, now that is a different story. We are supposed to close on March 8, 2018 if everything goes as planned which, we all know can change when it comes to buying a house. My current problem with packing is that I find myself looking through everything for touches of Zachary.

I found a photo album from a vacation and it had this beauty in it. It brought on tears of happiness mixed with sadness and longing. It was Billy Bob Thornton who stated, “There’s a melancholy in me that never goes away. I’m 50 percent happy and 50 percent sad at any given moment.” This is so so true. I cry because I was blessed to have him and to have the precious happy memories of him and I cry because I miss him all at once. It’s the learning to live that way that is the challenge.

Learning to walk on a balance beam was easy as a kid. You put your arms out, place one foot in front of the other and walk. This balance beam of grief is a whole different monster. The beam is not straight, it twists and curves, goes up and down, right side up and upside down.

I know I need to just place everything in a box because I know it will be at the new house but, it’s so hard not to look.

Most parents can see these pics and joke and laugh about the fun memories. I look at these pics and I smile and then the tears start. I thought I had been doing better but, this is kicking my ass. I will just get things out of drawers to shove into a box and a little card with his writing will slip out and I’ll touch it and the tears start. I am in a constant limbo of emotions and I am just trying to let myself feel them instead of trying to act tough and shove them down.

So, tomorrow, I am taking my cousins advice. I am not looking intentionally and just get it into boxes carefully labeled. The crying can happen at the new house. It will already be hard enough leaving the last house Zachary touched to a new one he has never lived in. A new one that although he won’t be there physically, I will be able to imagine him walking the circle through the living room and the kitchen. I will be able to imagine him sitting by the waters edge and smiling at the ducks and geese. He would have loved it and we will too.

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach #ijustcant #oprah #billybobthornton

Memorial Endowment Link Below:

Singing but, I went completely somewhere else.

Zachary was a singer. The boy loved to sing. He sang from the time he was a toddler till he moved to Heaven and I can only imagine he is singing there as well.

As pics have come up on my phone from years past, I have struggled. We have a lot of life changes going on. Some days seeing the pics breaks my heart but, other days, they give me reason to smile. Today is a cry day. I made the mistake of sitting down in the closet to sort laundry and looked at my phone. The closet is an awful place to sit down and look at your phone as a grief Mom. There is something about that small space and feeling safe that allows the tears to come.

Last year I had an EPIC breakdown in Zachary’s closet because of his shoes. Today, it’s a small breakdown. It’s a small breakdown over life. It’s a small breakdown over feeling overwhelmed. It’s a small breakdown over time moving forward when I just want to go back to the morning of November 10th, 2016 and ask Zach how he was feeling physically and take him to a doctor even if he felt fine instead of just if he wanted to come home. It’s a breakdown of still having my days questioning if we paid attention enough to know anything was wrong with his heart.

You see, over a year has passed and I still have my moments where I faulter. We are one of the lucky parents who know we did everything possible to prevent something from happening to Zachary. He went two years before and had a full cardiac workup and nothing was found. His cardiac tumor was so rare that less than 300 people have died from it since 1964 and only three teenagers that I can find. No one would have known to look for it.

But, I still have those moments. I still have those moments where I doubt myself. I still have those moments where someone questions if it was his medicine that caused it rather than just accepting that fluke things happen in the body. My nephew explained it to me like this,

“Hey! Just read the article that you sent over. So the cause of LHAS isn’t agreed upon by the medical community. There are multiple theories that seem promising, but nothing definitive has been identified.

One theory says that there is a gene defect that can contribute similarly to a cancer. It’s not necessarily genetic/hereditary. Most likely it’s a random gene mutation that happened. This happens all of the time, but the body fixes like 98% of mutations. If LHAS were to happen from a genetic mutation it would be the unfortunate 2% that the body misses.

The other theory just says that whenever you have cells rapidly multiplying and dividing and differentiating into tissues during pregnancy and early life, some cells in the heart just happen to stick together more than they typically do.”

When I have these doubts, I have to remind myself that even if we knew why it happened, it wouldn’t change the fact that he is not here. It wouldn’t change the fact that we had 18 years with the sweetest, kindest boy ever placed on this Earth. I will forever be grateful that I was chosen to be Zachary’s “Mommy”. Nothing will change that. I am grateful. I grateful that I got to love someone so much that my heart breaks on a daily basis.

I love and miss you Boy. ~ Mommy

Zachary’s friend visiting his Memorial Bench.

Circle the State with Song 2009

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach #ijustcant

Memorial Endowment Link Below:

It only takes a text to take you back.

Tonight, I received a text from a friend telling me one of my dear friends lost her niece in an accident. It only takes one text to take you back. One text to make your heart break all over. It doesn’t break for yourself, it breaks knowing there is another Mother and family that you know who has joined the “Loss Club” and it’s the worst place you want to be. It breaks knowing one of your daughter’s best friends has lost a cousin in an extremely close family. It breaks for my friend knowing she has lost a niece as I’ve watched how it has affected my family. It breaks for her Grandparents knowing what it has done to my husbands Dad and Donnie and my parents.

If you haven’t been here, you can’t explain it. There are no words to make it better. Nothing you can say. At this stage, prayers mean crap to you as what good are they when you just lost your child. You said plenty of prayers when you get that call and it doesn’t change anything on the drive to the hospital. It doesn’t bring them back. You don’t eat. My sister had to force liquids down me as my lips were so chapped that they were almost bleeding.

I will prob never share the actual events of the hospital because it’s too painful and too personal. All grief is painful. There is just a second process when it is a sudden death. There’s the extra shock factor that takes a long time to get over. We are a little over a year in and I still have days that it doesn’t seem possible. Some days my brain still pretends he’s at college and is just a short drive away and then, I remember. I still have moments my brain thinks to text something funny to him and, I then remember. Moments a friend will see someone who looks just like him and, she has to take a second look. Moments you see a car like his and it takes your breath away.

As I go to bed, the tears will come again tonight. Partly for them, partly for me as it brings back that phone call and drive to the hospital. No parent should have to lose a child. I won’t say bury because we don’t all bury. No grandparent should lose a grandchild, no aunt and uncle should lose a niece or nephew, no brother or sister should lose a sibling. It guts you to the core and turns your life into before and after. It turns it into “since”. It fucking sucks.

I don’t want prayers or sad emojis coming my way. I just want people to hug their kiddos extra tonight and smell the top of their heads. Tell them you love them one more time than normal.

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach #ijustcant

Memorial Endowment Link Below:

Disneyworld 2010

Backpack, Backpack

So yesterday and today have been good days. There have been tears shared but they aren’t necessarily sad tears, more just life moves on without the boy here. Things change. Places change. We change.

Sarah came down last night and asked if she could start using Zachary’s college backpack. We, of course, said yes as anything that was his is hers. This is a big step for her as she will now be carrying something of his everyday.

I remember when he called me from the RSU Bookstore to ask me if he could buy one. His messenger bag wasn’t working as well as a backpack would. He sent me pics asking if he could get it and wanted to make sure it wasn’t too expensive.

I have my texts on save forever so I can go back and reread our conversations.

Back to Sarah, so she is slowly starting to want to have something to do with her brother’s things. It started with some of his T-shirt’s, now it’s his backpack. I’m hoping one day she will want to wear his fingerprint necklace we bought her. It will happen when the time is right for her. We can’t force it. When she is ready, she will want it. We will allow her that time and that grace to handle things on her time as we all move at our own pace.

Miss you Zachary.

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach #jansport

Memorial Endowment Link Below:

Silly pic sent by one of Zachary’s friends to me this week.

Emotional Insulation

As I lie (or lay, who cares) here in bed this morning, I just got hit with the realization that we are going into 2018 without the boy. They say the second year is worse than the first and I tried my hardest not to believe that was true. I told myself that there was “no way possible” but it is. The second year is harder. Your brain is in less of a fog and the shock has worn off and you are stuck with the realization that it is real. He really is never coming home.

Maybe that is why I have allowed myself to pack 12 lbs on in two months. I’ve been just feeding my grief left and right. Chocolate, salty snacks, sugar cookies (damn #Lofthouse). I won’t say it just happened and I had no clue. I knew exactly what I was doing. I am emotional eater and it’s a way to feel insulated. I insulate myself with large oversized sweaters, thick boots, blankets all the time at home. I insulate so I feel that I am keeping others at a distance. If I keep them at a distance, the tears won’t come and I won’t feel.

This year, I am making it my intention to remember to take care of myself emotionally and physically. I have shut down physically and that directly affects my emotional state. I need to be here for my family, my husband, my daughter. We have formed a neat bond which I am so thankful but, without Mom, it takes more effort.

So I’m putting it out there to hold myself accountable. The past two months have been months of putting the layers on. It’s time to peel them off. It’s time to make the mental decision “just do it” . #nike Tomorrow this Mom gets a reboot. I won’t say a do-over as I’ve needed this time for my heart to feel and not be in the fog. I’ve needed this time to miss “The Boy.” I do know though, Zachary would not want me to be physically miserable. He would not want me to live sad. It’s time to get out there and exist since he cannot.

#suddencardiacarrest #cardiacarrhythmia #suddendeath #grief #grieving #mourn #mourning #childloss #lossofchild #mamabear #compassionatefriends #imwithyoumommy #lgbt #RSU #RogersStateUniversity #ForeverAHillcat #OKEQ #wemissyouZach #harrystyles #justdoit #Brookesrunning

Memorial Endowment Link Below: