So I attended a wedding yesterday for one of my son's boys. Not one of my son's boys in the way that they were his son. They were his Bros, his buddies, his partners in crime, his roommates.
The wedding that I had to talk myself into going to was, in a word, Bittersweet. It was bittersweet for me as it symbolized many things to me. It was a reminder to me of Matthew's absence, not that I ever needed help remembering him. It was a reminder of what I will never have with my son. It was a reminder that I will never get to have that Mother/Son dance with my baby. But it was also sweet, because it reminded me how greatly he is missed and how deeply he is loved. It reminded me how many people's lives that my son's life had an impact on. Friendships that were cut short but ran deep with respect and honor.
Matthew's picture was in a frame at the bridal party table, in front of it burned a candle of remembrance. It was placed at the table in front of a place setting, a chair and a beautiful boutonniere for him to wear as if he was coming there.
The best man at the wedding gave the funniest, heartfelt speech and at the end said that "he was just the fill in best man, because the man who should be, couldn't be here with us today... So everyone please join me in giving a toast to Houston" (my son, Matthew Houston) and everyone had champagne and toasted to him.
I was not expecting to hear that and it nearly took my breath away when he gave that toast. My heart fell to my toes and my eyes welled up with tears. Tears of pride, tears of honor and tears of what should have been!!
I love my son's boys! Being with them brings back so many great memories for me. Getting great big bear hugs reminds me so much of him and how he used to bear hug me. And... I don't know just being with so many that loved him somehow brings his presence closer to me.
So, bittersweet is the perfect word for a beautiful yet emotional wedding day. But I got through it!! and I was so glad that I had talked myself into going.
It turned into being such a blessing for me to see his boys and the love for my son that still remained with these guys 30 months after his death. It made me proud to see how they still made Matthew a part of the wedding.
He was there too, I could feel his presence and his presence is beautiful.
And so goes the story, of my grief journey.
There will never come a day, hour, minute or second I stop loving or thinking about my son. My son’s life was cut irreversibly short. It was a tragedy that should never have happened.
The agony of enduring the death of my child is a pain that I will suffer for a lifetime. I will grieve for a lifetime. Period. The end. There is no “moving on”, or “getting over it”. There is no bow, no fix, and no solution to my heartache. There is no end to the ways I will grieve and for how long I will grieve. There is no glue for my broken heart, no elixir for my pain, no going back in time. For as long as I breathe, I will grieve and ache and love my son with all my heart and soul. There will never come a time where I won’t think about who my son would be, what he would look like, where he would be in life, who he would marry, and how would his children look. It is a continuous loss that unfolds minute by minute over the course of a lifetime. Every missed birthday, holiday, milestone - weddings that will never be; grandchildren that should have been but will never be born– an entire generation of people are irrevocably altered forever.
My grief will last forever. The ripple effect lasts forever. The bleeding never stops.
The empty chair, empty room, empty space in every family picture, every family holiday, his empty car that sits in my garage. Empty, vacant, forever gone for this lifetime. Empty spaces that should be full, everywhere I go are empty of him. There is and will always be a missing space in my life, my family’s lives, and a forever-hole-in-our-hearts. Time does not make the space less empty. Neither do platitudes, clichés or well-wishes for us to “move on,” or “stop dwelling,” from well-intentioned friends or family. Nothing does. No matter how you look at it, empty is still empty. Missing is still missing. Gone is still gone. The problem is nothing can fill it. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after heartbreaking year the empty space remains.
No matter how long it’s been, holidays never become easier without my son every holiday season is like torture. It would be easier to lose an arm, a leg or two– anything— than to live without my flesh and blood, without the beat of my heart, the love of my life. Almost anything would be easier than living without my son. The rest of my life my holidays are now torture and will be forever hard.
Because I’ve clawed my way from the depth of unimaginable pain, suffering and sorrow, again and again– I know this has affected my health. What stress does to a body we all know is awful. I have Chronic Lyme Disease, which is an autoimmune disease. The triggers of relapse are caused by stress. The emotional onsets that come and bring me to tears causes not only emotional pain, but physical pain. When the crying stops the headaches begin. It is debilitating at times and all I can do is lay down and rest. It brings on such tension and anxiety that I get migraines and muscle aches. I have been diagnosed by my Grief Therapist as having PTSD. I have developed depression and on some days I have truly lost my desire to live. I feel that nothing would be better than dying so that I can be reunited with my son. In January of this year it was discovered that I had a tumor in my breast. I can honestly say that I was not upset with this news, with the possibility of having cancer. My enjoyment of living has been taken away from me, if I happened to be terminally ill at least it would take away my heartache and reunite me with my son. I have continued anxiety and have to take a medication some days so that I can just breathe, I have been told that these are panic attacks. I have little to no appetite and have lost over 60lbs. I have a hard time falling asleep at night and wake up feeling tired.
I have lost my desire to fully continue, yes I am here, but only on the surface. A part of my soul is gone forever.
The loss of my son has greatly affected my work and income. I had no desire to even leave my house/couch/bed for the first 6 months after he passed away. I did not care about anything but watching videos of him, looking at his pictures and reminiscing his memory. I did not return to work until 15 months after my son’s passing. My son worked in the same field as I do and even that in itself is hard on me now. I was supposed to start a big project in April of 2016 that would take 9-12 months to complete but there was no way that I could mentally or emotionally take on that kind of project at that time and my knew that. He told me to take off as much time as I needed and hired another project manager for the job. The other day my boss asked me to share on my Facebook page that Lifetime Fitness, my employer, was hiring project managers, superintendents and field engineers. He said with my history in construction that maybe I would know someone that we could hire. When he left my desk, I sat in reflection of who I could think of that would be perfect for one of those positions. The first person that came to my mind was Matthew, my boy. He had worked on the same projects as I had in the past. He was an employee of one of my friends who owned R&S Heating and Air. We worked together for many months in North Dakota. Matthew worked 12-16 hour days for weeks with no days off. I knew of nobody that had such a strong work ethic as my son. He was a “get it done” kind of guy. Of course my mind then reminded me that I can’t call Matthew, because he is no longer here! I then broke down and cried at work. My boss came back to find me sobbing at my desk. I explained to him my thought process and who had come to my mind. He also knew Matthew, as I have worked for this same man for over 20 years. He had hired Matthew over the years to do demolition jobs, small construction projects at his home, move office furniture, etc. Whatever was needed, because that is just the kind of guy that Matthew was.
The loss of my son has affected my friendships/relationships. I feel like nobody can relate to me or understand what pain I have gone through, I have little desire to go out with friends, nor do I trust people the way that I did before. The people who told me when Matthew passed, “Don’t worry Momma, we got you, we will step up for you and be there for you just like Matt did, we are your sons now” These people no longer even call to check on me, nor have they ever even tried to step in his shoes like they said they would, not for me or my daughters. I feel detached from others and feel like I really have only one friend now, where in my past I had many. It is hard for me to be amongst people who are celebrating their children’s lives, graduations, promotions, weddings, babies, things that will never happen with mine. I want to be happy for them and I am, but a part of me then asks “why”, Why Me, why did I lose my son. I feel like friends have distanced themselves from me because they don’t know what to say to me or cannot relate to the extent of my grief. I have no one in my circle of life that has ever lost a child, so there is truly nobody who understands.
The loss of my son has affected my family relationships and relationships with my daughters and grandchildren. I find myself suddenly much more overprotective, every time my youngest daughter travels, I feel this horrible feeling that it is the last time that I will see her. I also feel guilty, like I am a bad parent because it’s so difficult to focus on their needs when I am hurting so bad myself. I feel like I make them feel less valued, because my mind and heart is consumed by the loss of my son. I know everyone grieves differently, and in their own way, but it has been so hard to express myself even with my own daughters because I feel like they are just done talking about him or hearing about him. I feel like they just want their “old” mom back, and that person is forever gone.
My faith has been forever altered. My whole belief system as I knew it is shaken. I used to go to church every Sunday, and only listen to Christian music. Now, I no longer go, in fact I have not been to church since October of 2016 and do not even feel that I am a member anymore. I have doubted my faith and everything that I have been taught my entire life. Why would God, who I loved so much since my childhood, punish me this way and take the one thing from me that I loved more than anything? I prayed for him, we had so many prayer chains going for him, the 700 club aired the prayer request for his healing, I laid hands on my son’s lifeless body and prayed over every inch of him for restoration to his body. I prayed out loud, in front of Doctors, Nurses, family and friends and was certain that God would perform a miracle and save my son. When that didn’t happen, I felt like my father God did not care for me, or maybe didn’t even exist. Maybe everything I have ever been taught is just a lie. So tell me… where do I go from here? Where now do I find comfort?
It seems that my life has now become two different time periods. Life before, while Matthew was alive and life after Matthew has died. In those two periods, I also feel like I have changed. I have not since my college days been much of a drinker. In fact in my life before I rarely drank, maybe twice a year that I even had a drink of alcohol. Now, I find myself numbing myself with a few drinks and the frequency is increasing. I have traded my Christian music for rap music and got tattoos where before I had none.
I feel like there’s a videotape that constantly plays in an endless loop in my mind, running through what happened. I have to relive the moments of that horrific phone call saying “Sandra, Matthew isn’t breathing” to the unimaginable trip to Miami, to the shock of seeing my son in the condition he was in, on life support barely hanging on. I have to relive the entire 36 hours that he remained on life support and I relive the tragic ending when he went into final cardiac arrest where there were 15+ hospital staff trying to revive him while my daughters, his girlfriend and friends were screaming and crying. It felt like I was in a real life horror movie. I have to relive these moments every time that someone asks me about my son. I have to relive these moments and be my son’s advocate and voice in times like now that I am preparing interrogatories.
Every day I yearn to have five minutes, an hour, a day back with my son so I can tell him how much I love and miss him. Every day I feel great sadness and depression as I wrestle with the idea that everything important to me has been taken from me. My future has been robbed, and nothing can make that right.
I lost my grocery carrier, my plumber, my electrician, my grass cutter, my snow shoveler, my movie buddy, my best friend, my rock, my unconditional love, my momma’s boy, my inspiration, my daily affirmation teller, my sentimental, soft hearted son, my car washer, my dog walker, my caretaker, my carpenter, my greatest fan, the absolute love of my life.
I do not ever see myself recovering from this. I continue to live but much of the color and light has faded from my life and there is no doubt it will have an impact on the span of my life.
(Being told by his “momma” as he is no longer with us to tell us himself)
On February, 22nd, 2016 my son Matthew, his girlfriend Andrea, and his friends Tino and Tiffany boarded a Carnival cruise ship in Miami, FL. They were to spend the next 4 days in different ports of the Bahamas. When they left Miami, my vibrant, handsome, athletic and strong 24 year old son was healthy, happy and about to take a trip of his lifetime with good friends.
They stopped both Tuesday and Wednesday in different ports of the Bahamas. He sent me pictures of the beaches, of the four of them riding rented scooters on the island and of them re-boarding the ship on Wednesday evening.
While back out at sea Wednesday evening he tried to call me via Facebook messenger. I, too was on vacation at the time in Mexico. I could see his calls coming in and every time I tried to answer him I could never hear anyone on the other end. I tried returning his calls as well to no avail. He said he was going to go up higher on the ship and see if he could get a signal. Finally, after about 10 attempts he texted me from Facebook messenger a sad face. He texted that he really just wanted to talk to me and tell me how much he loved me and missed me. He melted my heart, like he always has.
What 24 year old young man goes on a Bahama cruise with friends and thinks about texting or calling his mother??
So I ask him how his trip is going and if he is having fun. He responds that he is having a blast and can’t wait to show me his pictures when he gets home. We exchanged a few more messages and ended our conversation knowing we would see each other in a few more days and that we loved each other.
Later that evening he went to the ship’s night club with his friend Tino. The two girls were tired and decided to stay in for the night and the boys went out for a few drinks. They came back to the cabin around 2 am and he crawled into bed.
Thursday morning Matthew woke up around 7 a.m. throwing up. He assumed that he just had a hangover and felt awful but just wanted to stay in the room and sleep. Andrea left him in the room and joined the other two for breakfast. They came back and checked on Matthew throughout the day and he still was feeling sick. When dinner time came and he still was not out of bed or feeling any better Andrea urged him to please go to see the ship’s doctor. She knew that something much more was going on with him. He had been vomiting for over 12 hours now and unable to even keep down water.
When Andrea realized that the ships infirmary closed at 8pm, she insisted that Matthew go there to be seen for medical help and had to have his friend Tino help get him there as he was in too much pain to walk there unassisted.
While at the desk explaining what was going on with him, the nurse on duty says that she thinks that he is just having a case of acid reflux and recommended that he take some Maalox. She said she would call the doctor to come in if he really needed it but she didn’t think that he did. In fact she sees this all the time, she says. She never took his vital signs, no blood pressure check, no pulse, nothing. She did not even check for signs of dehydration despite the fact that Matthew told her he had been throwing up for over 12 hours and could not even keep water down. She again, says that she would not waste the money on seeing the doctor, it would cost $200 cash to have the doctor come down to see him. She again stated that she sees this all the time with young people and that he is probably just hung over and having a case of acid reflux.
Matthew was not the type of guy to argue, especially if he wasn’t feeling well. Matthew asked her how would he be able to keep down any type of medication if he can’t even keep water down. She told him “trust me, in a half an hour you will feel better”.
Basically, my son was sent away from the ships infirmary without them even sitting him down and checking his vital signs. The 1st thing that any trained medical professional knows to do.
He returned to his cabin and laid in the shower all night with cold water running on him to make himself feel better. His girlfriend by his side, consoling him and crying knowing how much pain he was in. They knew that they were to be in the port of Miami by morning and the plan was to take him to a hospital the minute they arrived.
When morning came, Andrea had packed up both of their belongings as Matthew was now have trouble breathing. She called for assistance and told the operator that he needed medical assistance and that she could not get him off the ship. She told them he was having trouble breathing and that she needed a wheelchair to be brought to their cabin so that she could get him off the ship.
The wheelchair arrived by a man that was not a medical attendant of any kind who only helped him get into the wheelchair and pushed him to the elevator and to the ramp to exit the ship. Once they arrived at the ramp he was told by another Carnival staff member that he needed to get out of that wheelchair and he could not take it past this point. Andrea argued with this person, telling him that he couldn’t walk, that he can barely breathe but the employee keeps on insisting that he has to get out of the wheelchair.
Matthew just wanting this ordeal over with, stands up and tries to walk. He says “Come on Andrea, let’s just get off of this ship” He takes about 50 steps and collapses to the ground. A crew member that witnessed him fall down and hears Andrea screaming for help finally calls for a nurse. A nurse arrives and now finally his vital signs are taken. He is put in another wheelchair that his friend Tino found.
The nurse states after checking his vitals that he needs immediate medical attention and discusses with Andrea that it would be better to call 911 and get an ambulance there then it would be to bring him back in the ship and to the dr. The nurse then disappears, they assume to call 911 and the kids continue to try to get Matthew off the ship. Matthew looks up at Tino, who is walking along side of him and says “I am going to die” Tino responds “no man, we are getting you off of here and taking you to a hospital, an ambulance is on the way buddy, hang on”.
A couple minutes later, his eyes roll back in his head and he goes into cardia arrest. He is laid down on the ground with his friends screaming for help from anyone that can help them. There were hundreds of people walking past them, everyone trying to get off the ship, but no medical personnel in sight. A fellow passenger stops and says that she is a nurse and can give him CPR. She tries to help and shows Tino how to hold his head back. A security employee of carnival is trying to clear the area and trying to block the area but also tells this women that she too needs to leave. Matthew laid on the ground, without oxygen for 10-15 minutes before an ambulance arrived. This is when I received the call from Andrea crying that “Matthew isn’t breathing”. My heart stopped beating for a second, in total shock all I could think to ask was where she was in relation to him. She said “I am sitting next to him, waiting for an ambulance” I told her to hold his hand and pray with me right now. I pleaded with God to revive my baby and to breathe life into him, to renew every damaged cell in his body. I remained on the phone with her until paramedics arrived. When the paramedics did finally arrive they found Matthew to be unresponsive. Matthew was revived and brought to University of Miami Hospital and put on full life support. Matthew never regained consciousness.
I immediately packed up and booked the next flight to Miami to be with my son. In shock myself, I emailed and texted every prayer warrior that I knew and put on social media for everyone to pray for my precious son. The Emergency room physician called me to talk about the details of what was going on with him and what they thought was happening. She said you need to gather your family and get here as soon as possible. He had suffered another cardiac arrest in the emergency room and after 15 minutes were able to once again revive him. My son was a fighter, and he wasn’t giving up yet. The emergency room had determined that his pancreas was hemorrhaging and that all of his organs were shut down due to dehydration. They told me that the hemorrhaging had caused sepsis to his body and with him being so severely dehydrated his body went into cardiac arrest. They said they were doing everything that they could to stabilize him so that they could do surgery on his pancreas.
While in route to Miami I was ironically seated next to a physician. The Doctor calmed me down and told me that he can survive without his pancreas, he would need to be put on insulin for the rest of his life, but he could survive. She also told me that pancreatitis is extremely painful and that had he been given an IV of fluid to avoid dehydration and some pain medication to keep him comfortable he could have made it to a hospital. She said had his vital signs been taken the night before they would have seen that he was in distress and this could have been avoided. Any hospital in the United States could have treated him with fluids, pain meds and possibly a stint to remove toxin inserted directly into his pancreas. Simply stated, if he had just received an I.V. of fluids and pain medication to keep him comfortable, they could have sustained him until they made it to Miami.
I arrived at the hospital in Miami Friday evening and was not prepared for what I was about to see. Although the ICU doctors had kept me informed of his condition, nothing can prepare a mother to see her child this way. He was on all possible life support with tubes and machines attached to him to keep him alive. They were still trying to stabilize him so that they could do surgery. His blood pressure was around 60/40, they couldn’t keep his oxygen level up 70%. He was bloated from all the fluids they were putting into him and nothing was coming out. All of his organs had shut down other than his heart and he had no brain activity.
My first reaction was to be strong for my son, and pray for him. I could not lose it in front of him, I had to help him fight for his life. I went from his head to his toes and prayed over every inch of my son’s body. Within an hour of me being there all of his vital signs started to increase to normal levels. He had reached 100% oxygen, 110/80 blood pressure and normal pulse rate. The nurses and doctors somber moods were changing a bit and they were now coming in with smiles on their faces. I think everyone started to think that we were going to witness a miracle.
I stayed at my son’s bedside throughout the night, talking to him, reading to him messages from his friends and family, reading him bible verses, playing healing music, rubbing his feet, kissing his cheeks, playing with his hair and pleading to God to spare his life and restore him.
His immediate family and closest friends arrived through the night and into Saturday to be by his side and to give us moral support. Saturday evening after his sister who flew in from Dubai arrived, his dialysis machine started beeping and was malfunctioning. I noticed his vital signs started to decline as well. I feel like he was holding on, waiting for her to arrive.
An hour later they came to change out the machine and by this time he was in distress, vitals had dropped really low again. When they came to change out the machine they asked us to leave the room and within 3 minutes of me being gone he went into another cardiac arrest. The emergency response team came immediately and I came back in to be with him as they tried to revive him for over 30 minutes.
I was at the head of his bed praying, eyes closed and with my hand on his forehead. Then all of the sudden I felt his presence above me. Looking down at all of us from above the bed. I whispered in his ear that I loved him more than my life itself, but if he needed to go, then he could go. I promised him that I would be alright and I would always know he is watching out for me. I told the Dr. that his father and I would be in the waiting room, and that we didn’t want our last memory of him to be this way. They said they would keep on trying and we could keep on praying, but I knew that my son’s spirit had left his body and he was in now heaven.
The hardest thing that I have ever gone through in this life is losing my baby, my one and only son. My heart is broken and I feel like I lost a piece of my soul the day my son left this world. It has been 18 agonizing months without him here and my life has been forever altered to the time when Matt was here and to the time since Matt has been gone.
Matthew should not have died from pancreatitis, but he did. He was not given proper medical attention, he was left unattended even when they knew he was in distress.
I know that I will never get my baby back, but now all I want to do with my mama bear fighting power is to help make changes to the law of cruise ships. They need to be held liable for their negligence and be responsible for their passengers. I do not wish this pain on any parent and if I can help make changes that will prevent another parent from grieving for the rest of their life like I am, I will.
Sandra Roman started Good Grief Relief after losing her son, Matthew Kyle in 2016. After enduring the worst imaginable pain ever, she turned to writing. Sandra’s writing has served as an effective method of self-expression and a powerful tool in her grief healing journey. She is currently in the process of writing a book, and she is a member of Cruise Victims International where she has decided to be a strong voice for awareness and change. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her family.