My early years were chaotic. My mom and grandmother were in a serious car wreck when I was four, my mom was in and out of the hospital over several months with injuries from the accident and subsequent surgeries.
At five, my oldest brother Tom was killed in a car wreck.
It wasn’t easy, but I am sure for the rest of my family, who could actually comprehend what was going on in our family, the pain was much worse.
My family did the best we could to overcome these tragedies, but still decades later, the grief in losing my brother still remains.
Not long after my brother died, my mom entered a hospital in Augusta, GA for an extended stay. This left my dad to take care of two boys, keep a household running, work and grieve the death of his oldest son.
I don’t remember much about that time, but I am confident, like he did with everything, my dad handled this with grace and determination.
As a five-year-old, I was put in the care of many wonderful people who stepped up to help our family out.
I am sure my brother Sam got stuck with me when he would have preferred to be out enjoying life as a young teen.
My grandparents did what they could, and my Aunt and Uncle in Florida helped out when possible. Our friends, the Hudson’s had me visit for extended stays on their farm in South Georgia and I spent lots of afternoons with family friends.
During this time, I had many loving caretakers, often dealing with their own grief and pain, who took me in and cared for me when my family could not.
I know I have forgotten so many, but a few come to mind when I think back on these angels. Not only the ones mentioned above, but many of my brother’s classmates and friends.
Just a few weeks after Tom died, I celebrated my sixth birthday. Obviously, the last thing my family wanted to do was celebrate, but my family made sure my sixth birthday was celebrated in a big way.
On that day, dressed in a new blue shorts outfit mama got me at Belk’s in Toccoa, children from throughout the town gathered at the old RCHS gymnasium to celebrate me. My grandmother made the cake, and my family did everything they could to make it special.
On that day, like other days, some of Tom’s female friends from school stepped in to make sure my day was perfect. Tom’s girlfriend Claudia Henson (who would be taken by leukemia just a few months later), along with her friends Glendis Bearden, Margaret Keller, Deborah Ramey and others ran games and activities for all the kids in attendance.
These same young women, along with others, often found time after school and on weekends to care for a little boy that had lost too much, but they made me feel special in every way.
That following summer, Tim Marchman, my brother’s best friend, picked me up every day and took me to his job as a lifeguard at Kingwood Country Club. We spent that summer together, he taught me to swim, we ate lunch and we talked. That summer, he stepped in for my big brother that had died and took me under his wing.
Certainly I had a chaotic young life, but what I also had was many wonderful caregivers who made sure my life was as normal as possible.
Those people have been and will always be angels in my eyes. They didn’t have to do what they did, they just saw a need and did it.
I am a better man for these angels on earth and I will always be grateful for their care.
Thank you really isn’t enough, but it is all I have….. thank you!