Today has been two weeks since my daughter Caitlyn was killed in a motorcycle accident. It's still so unreal to even say that. My first born - she was only 20.
What I find myself doing is trying to make sense of it. I want to know every single detail. But then, those details haunt me. There has been many days that I've honestly thought that I was going crazy. And certainly times that I feel like this amount of pain MUST be what kills me... I just don't know how anyone survives it.
So what exactly happened? This is what I know as of right now... the story has changed a bit here and there since I first heard it, but as of right now - this is what I know. On saturday, September 19th -- Caitlyn and her boyfriend Shane decided to go riding with some of his friends who lived in Zephyrhills. They left Shane's house in St. Petersburg sometime that afternoon and drove over to one of his friends house. Ive heard several rumors, but I cant of course prove any of them.... I met with Shane's Uncle after the crash and he told me that he saw him drinking that day before he got on the bike. I spoke to one of his friends that they were riding with that evening, and they told me that they were all hanging out and drinking there too.... the toxicology report is not in, so of course all of this is just rumor at this point. It causes a whirlwind of emotions for this Mom though, let me tell you.
At approximately 8:30 pm, they were traveling down Fort King Road in Zephyrhills (yes, where the bottled water comes from - the bottled water that I don't think I can ever drink again). The road they were on has some very long straight aways and is pretty rural. As a result, a LOT of people speed on this road. In the many times that I have been to the crash scene, I remember thinking how it seemed like people treated it like the damn autobahn. So the motorcycle was traveling down the road and had to crest this small hill before it hit this very long straightaway. Maybe 200 feet past the crest of the hill there was a side road that met Fort King Road (FKR). A man who was an uber driver was heading to work and made the turn onto FKR. The impact happened maybe 20 feet after he made the left turn. This leaves me with so many questions. Did the guy see the motorcycle and pull out in front of it? Or was the motorcycle going SO fast that it crested the hill and covered the 200 feet in a matter of seconds? There is a homicide investigation with the Florida Highway Patrol going on right now, and I guess it will all come out in the report.
The motorcycle slammed into the back of the uber driver's dodge dart so hard that it crushed the rear end of the car and spun it 360 degrees. At impact, the nose of the bike went down and the rear came up - ejecting Caitlyn. She flew 175 feet and hit the ground, landing on her beautiful head. We don't know the exact mph that the motorcycle was traveling, but we do know that it was in excess of a 100 mph (guesses have been at 130 - but honestly we don't know. the report will tell us this). So many people ask me was she wearing a helmet. I wish that a helmet would have been the answer to it all, but there really is no helmet made that will withstand a 100 mph force and the distance that she flew.
The death certificate came out and I have also spoken with the medical examiner (the forensic pathologist), and they have explained all of this to me. I am not sure why I need to know all of the details, but I just need to. She had a broken neck in several places, spinal cord contusion and a severe axonal injury. I didnt understand what all of that meant, so I googled it - and even then STILL didnt really get it. The medical examiner explained it to me -- she has offered me the autopsy report, but I just don't know if I can read that yet. The medical examiners office also took pictures, but again - I just don't know if I can see those. What the M.E. explained to me was that your brain is very fragile and that people have died simply by stumbling and hitting their head. In this case, Caitlyn flew 175 feet and landed on her head - specifically on her face. Your face isn't as strong as you would think - it crushed and caused brain damage. I was desperate to know if she was in pain at the end or not. It was explained to me that with this severe of brain trauma, it was instant - in her words, milliseconds. Caitlyn was brain dead at the moment of impact. I don't know if that detail makes me feel better or not. Part of me is relieved that she wasn't in pain, but the majority of me is just overwhelmed at the severity of it all. Everything that made her HER, died on that very spot.
Shane was thrown off the bike at impact too -- shortly after Caitlyn was. He had a lot more of the impact with the car itself. He had a lot of bodily injury. He died within minutes of hitting the ground. The motorcycle looked like a bomb blew up. It literally was in millions of pieces. It so happened that all of this went down right in front of someone's house. The couple came out immediately as it sounded horrific they said. The woman, Betty, held onto Shane as he took 2 breaths, and that was it. Her husband went to Caitlyn and stayed with her until the Fire Department/EMT's got there within minutes. He said that he didnt touch her and that she was laying face down. He said that she didnt make much sound and didnt move. I guess now that we know the ME's findings, we know why - she couldn't. The Paramedics took her to the local hospital and immediately airlifted her to Tampa. Her body hung on for a short time, but gave up somewhere on the flight. The doctor pronounced her dead when they reached St Joseph's hospital in Tampa.
Caitlyn never changed her i.d. over to a Florida one. Mom bugged her about it, but she never did. So the troopers thought that she still lived in Alabama, and actually went to the address there looking for her. I'm not exactly sure how they finally got my name, but they did. It was 2:30 am the following morning (9-20-15), when the knock on the door came. Jeff got up and answered it. I sat up in bed and he turned back to me and said - it's the police, they want you. I didnt know what to make of it. I was half asleep and the worst hadn't gone through my head at that moment. I quickly threw a pair of shorts on and went to the door. Jeff turned around to put the dogs away, as they were freaking out over some stranger at the door. I went out and pulled the door shit behind me until he could get them under control. The trooper was huge. He had to be 6'5" if he was an inch -- and easily 300 pounds. Gigantic guy. He says to me -- do you know Caitlyn Bradley? -- I say yes, I'm her mom. He says -- Caitlyn was involved in a motorcycle accident last night on Fort King Road in Zephyrhills and unfortunately she did not survive her injuries. I just stared at him. -- Wait, what? -- He said it again, and by this time Jeff was opening the door behind me and I turned to look at him with this look of horror and he says -- What is it? - I say, Caitlyn's dead! -- the trooper asked could we go inside, and honestly I don't remember much of the rest of the conversation. The one thing I do remember is that this gigantic man stood there and had tears rolling down his face and wouldn't leave until I told him it was ok. He even then, said that he would sit in the driveway for a while in case I needed him. I dug around on the internet, and I found this PICTURE of Trooper Gee (on the left).
I think that I was in a bit of denial. The Trooper told me, I knew on some level that it was true, but I needed more. I cant really make sense of it now. But thats the truth. So, as soon as the sun came up - I wanted to go to the crash scene. I needed it. I was driven and I dared someone to argue. I was going. So we went. We found it easily enough - even never having been to Zephyrhills before. Which, let me just say, unless you have a reason to go there - why would you ever? We got there and I immediately started trying to piece things together and make sense of them. I saw the impact marks (which looked like about 24 inches of skid marks)... I saw where the car ended up. I saw what was left of the motorcycle -- pieces still everywhere. All the marks on the road were still there. I didnt know it, but I walked by the lace where Shane landed. I didnt understand the markings on the road, so I didnt "get it". I walked and saw all of this, and I was looking for my baby. I looked and looked and I couldn't find anything. I guess it never dawned on me to go as far as I needed to go. 175 feet is a very LONG way. Seriously. Jeff was with me on the hunt. He was ahead of me and had somehow went past the spot. It was hard to understand what we were looking at. I remember seeing this little orange flag in the ground. It was one of those flags like landscapers use when they survey your property (irony since thats what Shane did for a living - he worked with a land surveyor). I saw the flag but it still didnt register. I then saw an orange painted arrow pointing towards the flag and I looked a little closer, but still couldn't tell that anything was there. I started to walk on, and then I heard it. I will remember this for the rest of my life. I heard the buzzing of flies. I turned back and looked much closer and where the flag was - where the arrow was pointing, was to a spot on the ground that was covered in flies. Looking closer, it looked like the Hulk had punched the ground, and it was covered in blood. I immediately collapsed, screaming. Jeff came running and all I could do was point. It was the most heart breaking thing I ever saw. I wailed. It was as if I found at at that moment that she was dead, regardless of what the Trooper had told me. I see that scene in my mind now, every single time I close my eyes. I didnt know at that moment for certain, what it was - I suspected - but now that I have all of the details, I know for sure what it was that I had saw.
I had to leave. I couldn't breathe. The woman who lived in the house - who is probably traumatized by all of this - came out and hugged me before I left. She went a few hours later and placed some flowers at the spot for both of them.
I didnt let my other girls see the scene right then - although they were waiting in the car. I couldn't really leave them home alone after they just found out that their sister was killed. But I didnt let them get out and see it just then either. I picked up a small blue piece of the bike as I walked back to the car. Its about the size of an egg. Not sure why I did, but I did. I guess I forgot to mention that during that time between the Trooper leaving and the sun coming up for me to come to the crash scene - I called my therapist and woke him up. I had been seeing a therapist for about a year prior to this. On a lot of those occasions we talked about Caitlyn. How I was desperate to get through to her and worried about her etc. The answering service had him call me back in a few minutes after I called and I honestly cant remember much about that conversation except for one sentence that he said. He said that Caitlyn had been on a self destructive path. Whether or not that had been true in his eyes, those were not the words to say to a mother who had just lost her child. FFW a couple days and I received a hand written sympathy card from him too. It said for me not to blame myself and that I had been a good mom.... but he also said that "although we could maybe see this coming it didnt prepare is for it"... again, Im not certain why a PHD psychologist would say this to me. Maybe Im raw and maybe it doesn't matter and at that moment I would take anything said to me wrong, but it just stuck with me. Ive gone to see him once since then and it just doesn't feel the same. The relationship just isn't the same. I dunno... cant explain it, it just doesnt feel right anymore. I have this anger towards him and I feel like he is clueless - because only a clueless person would have said those things.
I feel like my entire life will from now on be a "before this" and "after this". I think of all of the things I wish I had done and said. I wonder if there were things I could have done to prevent this. The "what if's" truly haunt me. I have her phone... and what do I find on it? Lots of pictures of her, and videos (its so wonderful to see her and hear her voice again)... but I also found this.
Forever young.... wow. When I saw that on her phone, my heart just stopped. Did she somehow know? Did the universe slip some kind of secret to her? Why didnt it tell me? Was there signs and whispers that I somehow missed?
On September 15th we went to one of her favorite places -- Lake Morton in downtown Lakeland, and released 20 monarch butterflies - one for each year of her life. Jeff had had the idea of a butterfly release when we were trying to think of something special to do to celebrate her. Literally minutes after he brought up the idea, I was going through her stuff and I found this poem that she wrote....
FLY -- by Caitlyn Bradley
Is it too soon?
Wrapped in this tight caccoon
Yearning and waiting
Growing and waiting
How long do I have to stay here?
Is it yet Spring?
And then finally, my mind
Wanders off and I'm again alone.
I am still yet a baby awaiting
Believing and loving are
Yet still silly things
How my heart yearns for
The open air
Soaring high and swooping
Low if I dare.
How do I know if
The world gives a care?
I'm still here in this tree
Yearning and waiting to
And oh how I long -
And then suddenly -
I can feel them!
My precious wings!
It is time
I slowly crack the shell
That has held me in its embrace
Free from youth and all its disgrace
Oh how beautiful I am in the sky
The green green grass
Spreads below me
I am free
I am free
This is my destiny
Jeff and I found an online support group for parents who have lost children. What a sad club to join. But I think Im glad it exists. Its been a place where I can go and not be judged for my feelings or thought that I'm crazy. Ive shared how angry that I am from the depths of my soul. Just seething in anger and how much I want to kill someone. I need someone to blame. I want to scream to the universe WHY?! There are so many other people that would easily deserve this over her -- and I honestly don't care what anyone thinks of my saying that. Its true! A parent should never have t make plans for the body of their child. Should never have to speak with the hospital over organ donation. Should never have to choose an urn for their child. This is WRONG and I'm angry!
I miss her.
When we did the butterfly release, I went onto her phone - on her Spotify account and pulled songs straight from there. One of the songs that really tears my heart out os by Chris Daughtry -- its called "Wild Heart". Caitlyn thought that song was talking about her, and now that I read the lyrics and listen to it - I tend to think its talking about her too.
We don't have family who lives here in Florida, so we are largely on our own these days. Jeff finally went back to work and the girls went back to school and I'm alone at home with my thoughts. I do the most brilliant things - like playing these heartbreaking songs on repeat, or break out the baby pictures. And I KNOW that I am the world's worst mom right now. I know that the younger girls need me - but in all truth, I am useless right now. And I know people are judging me by it, telling me what I should do or shouldn't do. But I cant help it. I cant go anywhere without thoughts of Caitlyn coming to me and me breaking down. I know, Ive tried. I took the girls to the mall - and in the mall I see t-shirts with tigers or butterflies and I start crying. I am a mess. I don't know what to do. How do you make it through this? I just want to wake up from this nightmare - I wish someone would tell me how.
People have largely been awesome through this. I have found out that I have people who care that I don't even know. My group of buds on Instagram (which was always my happy place - and why its so hard for me to go there right now, I cant find a single thing to be happy about)... Fran, Alex, Teri and Miriam decided to put together an auction in Caitlyn's honor. I never expected such a thing. I even mores never expected that people would come together for it. When they tell me of all of the people (most of them people I don't even know), who have pitched in - it leaves me breathless. Its good to know that there is a heart in this world after all. Sometimes in my dark hours its hard to think that way. Sometimes I feel like Im alone in the world in this crushing grief that feels like a boulder sitting on top of my chest and preventing me from taking a breath. I will always come back to this and remember that more people cared than I ever knew. And all the while that this group of friends were doing their auction... I have Kristy putting together a call for quilt blocks to create a "Zombie Hug Quilt" and my "sister from anudda mudda Lisa - doing the same thing. I never expected this. But let me tell you -- its the most comforting feeling to know that we aren't forgotten in this. I look around at the world thats still spinning and see how stuck in time that I am - and its a wonderful feeling to know that there are people who are thinking of us.
When I first went on Facebook and started pouring out my broken heart, I mentioned that I had to find an urn. And who knew that everything associated with death was so damned expensive anyway? I feel like its taking advantage of the grieving, but anyway... when I mentioned it, one of my friends Lu spoke up and said that she had a beautiful urn that she bought a while back and never knew why she bought it. And that she would love to give it to me. Its black with white drawings on it and a beautiful crescent moon at the top. The inscription says:
"When the hush of night covers me - You come to me in dreams - forever young."
Two days after the crash, I took her sisters to the scene. By this time the county had cleaned up. Most of the wreckage was gone, they had mowed the grass and the blood was gone.
My middle child picked up a lot of the pieces that were left (there weren't many), and she used them to create this collage. Its an owl - one of her sister's favorite things. Its now in a shadowbox.
I know that I am not being a good friend to people who care. Im not communicating like I should. I just have this darkness in me right now. I cant talk about things that usually make me happy. I cant talk about anything but this. So instead of doing that to people - because it really makes people uncomfortable when you talk about this stuff... Ive just hidden away in my little hole. I'm sorry if people think its ride, and Im sorry if they think its ungrateful for the help they are providing. But I just have nothing but the bleakest sadness to share right now. I feel like an open wound just walking around.
I need her close to me. Ive walked around with things that were hers and held them in a vice grip. I am completely and utterly obsessed with this butterfly pendant that will hold a little of her ashes and will rest straight above my heart. Its all I can think of - Im not sure why. I guess I want her touching me or vice versa. Just thinking of it right now it has tears streaming down my cheeks and I cant breathe once again. I just want my baby, and since I cant have that - I'll take whatever I can get. I'm saving for it. Ive been trying to sell things. Ive even asked for help - which is NOT something I do. Ive always been independent and not only don't ask for help, usually have trouble receiving it too... but this - this is bigger than me. I know that there has been some comments from people about whether or not they agree with me on this. Ive heard some comments about why its wrong for people to donate so that I can have "jewelry". All I can say to those people is this -- i wish it were simply jewelry. I wish that is all it was, you have no idea.
Today is 2 weeks since it happened. Two weeks since my world ended. Two weeks...... and its my husbands birthday too. Mine is 8 days from now. The last conversation that I had with Caitlyn - the day that she died - she was teasing me over how old I was getting and turning 40. I cant even imagine having this without her. It just feels so wrong. Poor Jeff said that it didnt feel right for him today either and that he just wasn't in a birthday mood. I get that. 2 weeks and a day ago - I was excited about the return of The Walking Dead.... excited about going to Atlanta for Walker Stalker Con on Halloween.... excited about finishing my Norman Quilt. Thinking about the holidays that are right around the corner. It just dawned on me that I have things for all three of my girls on layaway..... Nothing makes me smile now - certainly not any of those things.