Monday, August 20, 2012

Tragedy Strikes

The shock left us reeling.  We were unprepared for the loss of our only son--a grown man with a lovely adoring wife and four children, whom he loved so dearly.  Hearts stopped beating.  Lives were fractured.  As the mom, heart-broken hardly covers the gamut of emotions that assailed me that day.  I heard the cries of sorrow from my daughter-in-law as she had to tell me of the tragedy.  I heard the anguished cries of my husband, and each of my daughters as one by one I gave them the horrible news that our son had been killed.

The word killed means so many things to so many people and the word died for me seems less traumatic.  Killed signifies the life has been taken by someone who lives on earth with us.  For me to die means our Father in Heaven called the person home.  Died seems easier to accept because Father gave us life and he can take our life.  To be killed means the life was snuffed out by someone who has no right to take a life.

In an automobile accident a life may be lost because it was just that--an accident, meaning a misfortune or mishap and perhaps the person was negligent and life was lost as a result of their personal negligence.  But when I hear the word killed, I think deprived of life by the negligence of another or by a premeditated planned action. Our son was most definitely deprived of his life through no fault of his own.  So he did not just die.  He was most definitely killed.  I guess I should tell what happened and why I am another heart-broken mom.

Our son was born 14 May 1975 in Huntsville, Alabama.  He was our youngest child and joined two older sisters.  We named him Walter Garrison Hopkins, IV.  It was a legacy we were proud of--a fourth generation of Hopkins men with strong moral values, which included devotion to family.  We were absolutely sure this baby would carry this name proudly and he did.  I wanted to call our son by his middle name.  My husband had been called Gary by his family and that was a short form of the middle name.  So we could not repeat that name without having mass confusion.  But I thought Garrison was a manly name and had determined to call him that. After all a garrison in the beginning meant a treasure.  He certainly was a treasure to his parents.  My husband came in the morning after his birth and asked if I would mind if we called him Buddy.  I was not in love with the name Buddy, but when he said, "I would like to call him Buddy because he will be my little buddy."   He would be his father's comrade, his friend, his chum. Melted my heart and I thought a man should call his only son what he wanted.    It is not unusual to give a nickname to kids. After all, we were both "southerners."  So Buddy he became.  It was years later that we learned that Walter G. Hopkins, Jr, my father-in-law, was called Buddy as a little boy.  I knew he had been called Bud by his family, but it did not occur to either of us that he had been Buddy also.

Our son was born with bilaterally club feet.  My husband had wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and had planned a career in the army.  It was not in his cards to do so as he was born with bilaterally club feet as well.  One of the blessings I saw with having a son with club feet was he would never be sent to war.  His feet would keep him from serving, except under extreme circumstances and then perhaps he would be in a desk job away from enemy lines.  I try to find the blessings in the circumstances of life.  There usually are many if we take the time to search for them.

I could write about what we went through to correct his club feet, but it does not fit in well with the story of Buddy's death. But perhaps at some later time, I will go back to his growing up years and tell of all of the obstacles our son overcame.  He also had a flexor deformity in his hands which never caused him pain or any particular difficulty.  Children born with physical disabilities always find ways to compensate as they have not known anything but what they have at birth.  What seems abnormal to us is their normal.

If you had told me a few years ago that Buddy would die jogging, I would have laughed you off the planet.  I know how much his feet and ankles hurt him, although he never complained about his pain.  You knew he hurt because he had so little flexibility in his ankles and feet and so when he walked he clumped, like he had lead in his shoes.  If he went up or down a staircase, you could hear him as there was no way he could walk delicately. He had small feet for such a large man.

But jogging was a way for him to control his weight and he had set a goal to run the Dallas Rock'n Roll Marathon in December of 2012.  He had run the half marathon and he was determined to show his children what you can do in life if you persevere and are determined.  His normal routine leading up to the tragedy was to get up early and run before work, which is what he was doing the morning he was KILLED!  It normally took him about 10 minutes of walking to become limber enough to run.  We could do a whole list of "if onlys," but it would not change the outcome.  Without that part of his routine, he would never have been still jogging.  So there is the only if only I will interject.

He was only a few blocks from home when he was hit from behind by a truck--the victim of a hit and run. The man who was responsible for his death, it appears, was about 40 miles from his home.  We will never know why he was driving in the Sendera Ranch neighborhood, a bedroom community in Haslet, Texas, where our son lived with his wife and 4 young children.  But the man veered across the two lane road and off the road where our son was jogging the last leg of his workout before turning onto the road that would take him back to his home.  Our son was jogging facing traffic and was not actually on the road, but off the road.  He seemed to have been doing exactly what he should have been doing and could not have caused the accident.  In an instant he was hit from behind and it appears he was killed instantly as he was struck by the truck and our family now lives without our beloved son, brother, husband, and father.  A good man deprived of his life by another, who was not in control of his body and his truck.  We have been led to believe the man responsible was high on something.  There was no apparent reason for him to be in that neighborhood at all.

I am not sure I have the details correct in the next part of the story and perhaps I will need to edit the story as I send it to my daughter-in-law to confirm the details.  I was numb with shock when I was told this part and I am still trying to wrap my brain around what occurred at 5:45 am the 21st of June 2012.  Our daughter-in-law got up to get ready for work herself.  She went to her computer to check her face book before getting into the shower.  On the Sendera Ranch face book was a posting that a man had been killed by a hit and run driver that morning while he was jogging.  Heather realized Buddy had not kissed her good-bye before leaving for work, which he would have done.  She ran to the front of the house and saw his car was still there and she called work and found he had not shown up or called in.  Then the wheels of horror begin to spin.  She called the police to see if the person had been identified and she felt in her gut it was Buddy.  They said he had no identification on him and could give her no information.  Indeed his wallet was still had home.

When she called me at about 7:10 Flagstaff, Arizona time I heard in her voice something was terribly wrong. I said, "Heather, what is it?"  She said, "Mom, there's been an accident."  My response was, "How bad is the accident?"  I expected a car crash, a trip to the hospital, a broken leg.  The chilling words that followed was not on my radar. "Buddy's been killed."  I felt my heart shatter into fragments and I repeated her words aloud and then I heard behind me my husband's heart shattering.  Then there was the calling of each daughter to hear their screams of anguish as their hearts broke and shattered.  I would like to get the screams to stop in my head.  This was the most awful moment of my entire life.  I heard the screams of each member of my family as we became fractured one by one.  It is hard to heal from a tragedy of this magnitude because as a family we love so deeply.

People ask me how I am doing.  My reaction is, "I feel as if I am suffocating at times.  I feel as if I have been kicked in the gut--unable to breathe.  My heart feels as if it weighs 900 pounds at times."  There is no end to the list I could give them.  Sometimes I want to lay in the floor and kick my feet and pound my fists.  Other times I want to drive my car into a wall as I don't think it could hurt any more, but I know that is not a solution.  I would only hurt my family more.

I cannot express adequately what it is to hold a baby in your arms and feel that you could die of joy and then 37 years, 1 month, and 1 week later feel as if the joy you have had is gone and will never return as long as you are in this life.  The young mother who held her son and adored him from the top of his head to the soles of his tiny crooked feet died the day she was told her son was killed.  The Rosemary who walks in her home is changed forever on so many levels.  Perhaps some of the changes were needed.  I am not convinced any mother should ever have to outlive her children, regardless of the changes they need to make in their life.


  1. The blog came through just fine for me. It's so painful, yet so touching to read. I think writing the events and feelings down will prove to be a great help. I think the mind keeps reliving important thing because it doesn't want to lose them. By writing these things down perhaps your mind now knows they won't be lost, so it's free to move onto the healing. At least that's my hope for you. Thank you for sharing this with those of us who also love Buddy.

    1. I feel so blessed to have had your family living so close to us. We wish your folks were still here so we could spend time with them. They were such great examples of kindness, gentleness, being stalwart, and looking for the best things in life. Their contributions to us were many and we remember them with great fondness. We know how much Cassie loves you, Catherine. We love you too. We enjoyed having your great influence on Cassie in our home. Your parents taught you joy and it is always evident in your countenance. Cassie misses her brother and had a unique relationship with him. I use to call them my twins because they were 11 months apart in age. She actually felt he was her twin. They both had the club feet and whereas hers did not require surgery, she has experienced problems with her feet in more recent years. She is not a complainer either. I don't know which one taught the lesson of enduring and working through it. Maybe they taught each other. Thanks for your kindness in helping me with my grief as well. Tragedy can strike any of us and there is nothing we can do but press forward with renewed hope.
      I know I tried to publish a response earlier and it was lost. So if is the second one you read, then know I must not have said enough in the first one.

    2. My parents feel the same way, Sister Hopkins. They had and still have such admiration for you and Brother Hopkins, and I know they always appreciated you opening your house to me and Shelly. Your home was a huge source of influence on me growing up, and just recently my mom sent an email to each of us kids expressing how grateful they were for all the great families we knew in Flagstaff because they all had some part in raising us. Cassie was as dear a friend to me as any I ever had. She was the constant friend who loved people unconditionally. I have so many funny memories of the things we did together. I loved that she and Buddy, and Melissa for that matter, always got along. Shelly and I did a fair amount of fighting, but your house was always peaceful, and looking back on it I can see how much Cassie and Buddy loved each other. It never occurred to me that they had club feet in common....I never really noticed it, I suppose. That's probably because neither of them ever complained about it. What a wonderful family you have and I'm grateful you were all part of my near-perfect childhood. I cherish those memories.

    3. Catherine, thanks for those kind words. We loved having our children's friends here. I wish I had done more. There were several things Buddy and Cassie had in common. I think one of the entries I will do next is about their synesthesia. It is something we learned they had only a few short years ago. Buddy was the one who identified it and discovered Cassie had it too. So they very much were as close to being twins as you can get without being twins. So it is interesting to see how something someone says in a reply triggers a memory and something new to write about.

  2. I have never met Buddy, but the words you wrote broke my heart as the tears rolled down my face. I have known Heather since high school and I am saddened that you all have to go through this. I lost my first husband after 7 years of marriage to cancer. He was 33 when he passed. I know this is hard for everyone and the pain will never go away. It will get easier with time but the numbness is always present. I pray for your family everyday even though I don't know you personally, your tragedy hit home for me. May God grant you the strength to get through this.

    Corie Burk Queen

    1. I am having trouble with my replies. Hopefully I have figured this out and you will receive a response.
      Heather is a great friend and I love her as a daughter because she is my daughter. She loves for deeply and I know she has grieved for you in the loss of your husband. There seems to be a lot of people who have lost their spouses at a tender age. We never have enough time with our spouses regardless of how long we have them here. I am so sorry for your loss as well. I know we cannot get around the grief. The only thing we can do is go through it. Thank your for your kind words of encouragement. I have found many people want to share their experiences with me of how they have coped with their grief. Sometimes you feel you are the only one who has tragedy in their life because it is so sudden and catches you off guard. How long ago did you lose your husband and how have you coped with his loss? I wish you had known our Buddy. He was like Heather in he was a friend to everyone. I guess that is one of the reasons we miss him because he brought light into a room with his presence. I have to say that is a trait all of my children have. I would love to hear more of your story, if it is not too painful to share.

  3. I think this is a great out let. Now if you could also pick out some favorite memories too and share. Maybe with pictures if we have them. Eventually we could have the blog printed with all this information into a book. I guess I should type up what I have written. Mine is in a book that I have been taking to church. I was trying to find all the miracles I saw take place and I am sure I missed many but I was trying to highlight some positive. I find that finding the positive helps balance the parts I can't get away from.

  4. That is the next step. I want Heather to correct what I have written. As I said, I was in such shock and so numb and so very worried about Heather and the kids, that I could not focus on the details of that morning. I want it to be an accurate accounting. It would be nice to have each of you share your experience of emotions as the day unfolded and how you have coped with it as well. Each of us has a different perspective to share. We can all have the same experience, but it has a different effect upon our life. If you have a picture of the club feet, I will go back to the emotions that swirled around me at that point in my life and what I learned. It is important to show and tell what he had to overcome. As a mother it was a hard time, but not as hard as living with this pain.

  5. This was written by Diana in a message to me at face book. I wanted to share her story here so I can always remember it. She came to the funeral in Flagstaff and gave me a beautiful heart necklace. It gives me great comfort. Here is her story:

    I read your blog and I cried. You did such a great job!! I wouldn't even know how to start a blog. I just write stuff sometimes and share alot of sayings. I even post on Brett's Facebook page as if he could read it. We both lost our sons-- one who died, and one who was killed by the negligence of another. Sometimes I want someone to blame. The Doctor who wouldn't have my son transported to the Mayo Clinic days before he died. The what ifs could literally drive me crazy. Then I think, it won't bring him back. As I saw him lying in his bed in his home I knew that he went peacefully and that it was his appointed time to die. When I got the call at 9:18 p.m. from his roommate, the words I heard will never leave my ears as long as I live. He said, Diana, Brett's dead. I wasn't sure what I heard at first so I asked what??? He repeated it again, and again I asked what??? He said it again, and I starting screaming. That is the phone call no mother should ever have to receive!! As you well know. Then calling my oldest daughter, to tell her she needed to call her dad, because I didn't have his phone number. The events that followed were almost unbelievable. It was like I was on auto pilot. Arrangements had to be made. It seemed like a nightmare and I just wanted to wake up. I still do!!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on your blog. Diana