I just wanted to write an update about recent events with my family. Many of you have commented and sent heartfelt messages and I just want to say how thankful I am. How thankful my whole family is, really.
I wanted to write this update to answer questions and fill in blanks about what happened, as well as to begin my own process of understanding and healing.
For the story of how the accident happened, you can read the article in the Rapid City Journal.
In the late afternoon on Thursday, July 31st , I was working at Ten Thousand Villages, putzing away a slow afternoon. I got a message from my grandfather asking me to call my dad and shortly after that, my dad tried calling me. I let it go to voicemail since I was at work. I checked the voicemail right away, since I thought it might be important since both my dad and my grandpa were trying to get ahold of me. I could tell in my dad’s voice that it was important. I told my coworker I needed to go return the phone call and went outside the shop and sat on a bench.
My dad’s voice was shaking when he answered the phone.
“There’s been a terrible accident,” he said.
My 16-year-old brother, Tyler James Goss, had been killed in a head on collision earlier that afternoon.
It’s strange how time and space come to a screeching halt in a moment like that. Everything around me became a blur, almost tunnel vision like. I’m sure I must have scared the hell out of the people sitting outside at the restaurant next to the shop, as I yelled “no!” and then “no!” again.
The funny thing was I wasn’t yelling “no” out of distress or pain. I was yelling “no” because my brain simply could not believe what was going on. It was like I was insistent that that my father was wrong. It couldn’t possibly be true and somehow my assertion of “no,” would change the fact.
As it started to sink in (though it barely has) I began crying and shaking (once again most like startling the poor saps at the restaurant.) I hastily told my dad I would call him back as I had to leave work. I may or may not have hung up on him, but when I called back later, he understood my hasty hang up.
As I walked back into the store, my co-worker, Paige, could clearly see I was upset. I told her I needed to leave and what had happened. My shift was nearly over anyway, so I managed to pull myself together in order to clock out and made my way to the back room. Paige was kind and sweet and put her hand on my arm and let me sob a bit until I pulled myself together enough to collect my things to go home. She asked if I was okay to drive, and I assured her I would be, but that I would send her a message assuring her I got home safely.
“I just have to get home,” I repeated to myself as I drove. I made it home safely and when I pulled into the garage, my boyfriend, Kenny (who has been an absolute rock) called, as I’d left him an urgent message. He had been in his hometown working for the summer, coming back to Sioux Falls on weekends. He would pack some things and be back in Sioux Falls in just a few hours, he assured me.
We hung up and in a haze I went inside and made my way to my bed. I called my mom and told her the news (Tyler is my half-brother. We have the same dad but different moms.)
I changed my facebook picture to one of Tyler and I. I felt it was too early to say something on facebook, before all the family had a chance to find out, but I wanted to do something. I’ve been thinking a lot since then about how facebook has become a new sort of memorial for the new millennium.
I managed to cobble together a few outfits and “packed” my suitcase. Mostly, I stuffed some clothes in a couple of different bags, knowing I’d be heading to the Black Hills the next morning, but not knowing how long I would be gone or what I would need.
I made sure my kitty, Ellie, had plenty of food and water and made my way over to Kenny’s apartment. He just held me and let me cry. He got everything ready to go for the next day and I answered calls and texts and facebook messages and stared vacantly at the wall.
How is this possible? How can this be real?
These thoughts kept running over and over again in my mind. It was a dream. A haze. Surreal.
The next morning, Friday, August 1, we loaded up Kenny’s car and headed for the Hills. (I was told probably 4 times on Thursday and twice on Friday to let him drive, which I happily obliged.) We stopped first at Barnes and Noble where I purchased a copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed and a few journals I wanted to give to family members to help process.
We made a day of the trip across the state. Honestly, I wasn’t in a hurry to get here, as being among family would make the situation more real. We stopped in Chamberlain at my aunt and uncle’s cabin and sat on the deck for a bit overlooking the Missouri River. We stopped at Wall Drug and took silly photos and I almost bought fudge.
Finally, we made it to my grandparents’ house on top of a hill between Spearfish and Belle Fourche. Not long after arriving, my dad and step-mom showed up with clothes for Tyler they needed to take to the funeral home. Pete, from Pete’s Clothing in Belle Fourche donated a beautiful blue western style shirt and matching blue silk scarf for Tyler to wear. I offered to drive Dad and Jen into town as I could see the were exhausted and emotional.
We met the funeral director, gave him the clothes and finalized a few more details for Tyler’s service. On the way out of town, I took a small detour and showed Kenny the Chicken Coop—the name of the building where I attended kindergarten. It’s now a police station. We decided there wasn’t much difference between a police station and a kindergarten building.
Not long after we got back to my grandparents’, my great aunt Jo came, brought by my cousins Michelle and Mike. Dad and Jen went home to get some much needed sleep. Jo, Mike, Michelle, Grandpa, Grandma, Kenny and I sat around in the living room telling stories until, finally, we were all able to get some sleep.
This morning (Saturday) I woke up, ate a bowl of Cheerios and drank a cup (or 2 or 3) of coffee overlooking the valley between Belle and Spearfish. Much was to be done. I spent much of the day collecting photos for the slide show and putting that together. It was healing to see such happiness in Tyler’s photos. We read through facebook messages and emails from his classmates (he was going to be a sophomore at Belle Fourche High School). The inspiration and joy he continually bestowed on others was a recurring theme. There was one message in particular that was told to us in confidentially, but it was particularly moving, evidence of the deep and profound impact my brother had on all he knew.
He was such a kind and loving person. So incredibly gentle and sensitive, a rare gift. He was an old soul, wise beyond his years, calm, even tempered, serene. There is a hole in many hearts, one that will never be filled, though Tyler would wish for us to celebrate life.
Three of Tyler’s close friends came up and helped wash and clean out his car, with Kenny at the helm. They talked and shared stories and are working through their own processing. Later, Kenny quietly left the dinner table and I found him outside, taking it upon himself to wash my grandparents’ Suburban. He has been a rock, here among a group of grieving strangers, his hands ever ready to do whatever is asked of him and substantially more.
In the afternoon, we went to the funeral home to visit Tyler. It took me several minutes to walk up to him, the casket in the distance a jolt of reality. I stood in the back and sobbed, wrapped up quickly by those I love, telling me to take my time. Finally, I made my way to the front to stand by Tyler. Only a moment after doing so, I felt release. A weight was lifted from my shoulders; my muscles relaxed, I felt physically lighter and a great sense of peace. It was like I could see him grinning and here him assure me that he was fine.
Tyler, I have peace about. The hardest part is seeing my family suffer. As I sat on the pew, nestled into Kenny’s shoulder, I watched from a distance as my grandfather spoke aloud to Tyler. I couldn’t hear much of what he said, not did I need to. It was between the two of them.
After some time together, one of the last as a whole family, we made our way back to my grandparents’ house. I’d been doing alright, but immediately after walking in the door after the afternoon, I needed a nap. I was emotionally drained. I didn’t sleep much, but it was nice to lay down in the comfort and familiarity of my grandparents’ home.
The evening was spent eating (there has been so much food,) resting and sharing stories. We sat outside, watched the sunset, gazed at the stars.
It is so good, so healing to be here with my family. The strength I see from each one of them is astounding, as is our closeness and ability to laugh and joke and know that while this is the hardest week of our lives, we maintain, we survive and we celebrate life.
Tyler would have it no other way.
You can read Tyler’s obituary here. There will be a longer one written for the pamphlet at the funeral, which I have the honor of writing. I will post that in due time.