I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.
-Robert Browning Hamilton
I saw this poem today on my friend’s Facebook wall and felt compelled to share some thoughts I had. Yesterday marks one year since sweet Kayson Shelton left this life. In that time I feel like I have grown and changed so much and I wanted to share some of that experience here.
On June 6, 2014 I was at home with my family and we were getting ready to eat dinner. My sister was over with her son and my brother was over too, we were just about ready to head up to the local swimming pool for a fun evening before a trip to California the next day. Just as we were about to pray over the food Eric pulled me aside. He told me he’d just received a text that the Shelton’s son had just passed away in an accident. My first reaction was just “oh, how sad” without much feeling behind it – like this was something that had happened to someone far away that I didn’t know very well. I gathered the family for a blessing on the food and prepared to go on with our evening. For whatever reason it takes me a little while to fully react to things like this. As I stood there a minute longer while we were praying it really started to hit me what had happened, Kayson – the little boy who I’d seen just a week before, my son’s friend, my friend’s son – was gone. Suddenly I started to cry, hopeless, helpless tears of sorrow. I was imagining what Toni was going through, what she was explaining to her children. I could see myself in her shoes trying to grapple with such a loss. It was so overwhelming.
I went down the street to talk to my visiting teaching companion (Toni was one of the sisters we were assigned to watch over) and met a neighbor at the door. I cried with our neighbor, and then cried some more with my companion. I went home, took Maeli upstairs with me and just cried and cried some more. I walked into my closet and cried, I nursed Maeli and cried. I sent Toni a text feeling so inadequate but needing to do *something*, and I cried some more. I tried to think through what I could do but since the Sheltons were in another state I felt at a total loss. So I put on my swim suit and cried. I called my mom to tell her what had happened, and cried. We drove up to the swimming pool and luckily Maeli had fallen asleep so I just sat with her on my chest, on a beach chair with my sunglasses on and cried. We came back home and I started trying to pack for our own trip to California and cried some more.
A couple hours later, as the news had spread through the neighborhood and we’d gotten our boys to bed, I saw a gathering of neighbors at the Shelton’s house. I didn’t know what they were doing or what I could do, but I had to be with them. So I walked down the street and hugged my friends, and cried. We saw Toni’s facebook post with her last picture of Kayson telling us that his last words in this life were “I love you” and we cried some more. We sprang into action to find things that we could do for the Sheltons, but since it was late at night most of those plans would have to wait until morning. We said goodnight to our friends and walked home. I sat on our couch and put together a memorial website for Kayson and my head was throbbing from crying so much and there were no more tears left in me, but still I cried as I put pictures and memories of him together to share with the world.
The next day we packed to go to California. I hated to be leaving during a time of crisis , but I knew there wasn’t much I could do there. I did what I could to be part of the service projects before we left – I made a freezer meal, helped with care packages, fielded website inquiries, and cried some more – then we packed up the car and left. I cried periodically the whole way to California. Then we got there and I cried some more with my mom. On Sunday I attended church in my parents ward and just sobbed violently for most of the meetings. I received hugs and support from people who had known me since I was a young woman, and the families in my parents ward cried with me.
The next week was filled with media inquiries as the news caught wind of Kayson’s story. I cried as I responded to emails. I had put together an online fundraiser and was touched as I watched donations roll in from all over the world. My phone was beeping incessantly and my mom commented on it. I told her that I received an email every time someone made a donation. I was so grateful for all those beeps and dings. So much of my faith in humanity was built as I watched how people rallied around this family. And I cried some more. We came back for the funeral and cried and cried and cried.
The next several months consisted of frequent periods of crying. I would watch any Mormon Message and cry. I would see my kids playing and think of Toni and cry. I would be doing dishes and start crying. Little kids are not supposed to die, that’s just not the way I felt this world is supposed to work. Obviously I knew that little kids could die, but that happened on the news, to people far away from me. Not to my neighbor. Not to my friend. Suddenly my own children were much more mortal than I could handle. I found myself checking multiple times during the night that they were still breathing and not wanting to go to sleep lest I wake up and find one of them gone. All I wanted to do was to snuggle up close with my family and never ever let them go.
Going through this experience I felt like there was a part of me that was broken that could never be fixed again. It was too much, the pain was too big. However, as the time went by I cried hourly for days, daily for several weeks, several times a week for a few months and then several times a month. Slowly I found myself able to look at my children without a feeling of terror that they would slip away at any moment. I still cry sometimes, but that soul wrenching pain that I felt has passed somewhat. My overwhelming grief was able to be replaced by a tenderness in my soul that won’t go away, but it’s not broken anymore. The tenderness is a good thing, it’s a new part of who I am, I’ve been re-made into a more kinder, more loving, more compassionate person.
I just felt the need to share this experience and reiterate my testimony of the atonement. It is so very very real. It can take the things that you think can never be fixed, never be made clean, never be healed, and somehow – it heals them. Our Father in Heaven loves us, dearly. He is there for us when we have reasons to cry, and he cries with us. He sends others to help us in those times of despair, and we can be made whole again. I truly am grateful for this opportunity that I’ve had to walk a mile with sorrow. I have learned and grown in ways that I couldn’t have any other way. It might not be an experience I would wish for, but it’s certainly one I will cherish. I just want to say thank you to Toni and Scott for letting me be a small part of this experience, it has touched my life and changed me for the better, and I know it’s done the same for many others as well.