Today’s guest post is written Caleb Cook:
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged my hometown of Pass Christian, MS I was left with next to nothing. My belongings were either swept into the back bay near Bay St. Louis, or left soaked with only what could be described as a toxic gumbo of mold, brackish water, and sewage. The few things I had left were a few books of poetry and some CD’s, the stuff that would fit into a 98 Kia Sephia.
I was 18, fresh out of graduating high school and only a few weeks into my freshmen year of college when Hurricane Katrina hit. With the feelings of summer still in the air I made the rushed decision to take the destruction of my life and turn it into a way out. I needed money and an apartment, my parents and siblings were living in Florida temporary. So without guidance I hastily quit school and decided to find work. The odd jobs were relentless, back breaking in fact, like helping gut houses out in my town to where there was nothing left but a solid shell, everything gone except wood. Others included laying tile or landscaping; stuff I admittedly wasn’t in love with doing.
Soon thereafter, I was offered the opportunity to work for a DME company delivering Durable Medical Equipment from a friend who had lost everything just as I had done. The job was simple, I was to deliver the equipment to homes and hospitals. The equipment ranged from hospital beds, bed side commodes, oxygen and the related stuff. I was to also show the patients how to use the equipment after I assembled it all. My deliveries took me all over South Mississippi into patients homes and nursing homes. I dealt daily with hospice patients, people with a mere hours left to live, their families, and a vast array of folks from every walk of life.
One delivery stands out more than any of them in my mind. It was early fall almost dusk, when I got the ticket to fix a hospital bed and move it from one room to the next. The delivery was the last one of a long ass day, a Friday to be exact. I could practically taste the freedom of the weekend. This particular delivery would offer a challenge I was getting used to: It was in a FEMA trailer, at a lot off of I-10 in Gulfport. These trailers were small and often challenging maneuvering bulky equipment around. Needless to say I was ready for this problem and expected to be in and out.
I knocked on the door and a polite elderly lady answered, the patient was her husband, a senior with terminal brain cancer. He was sitting in a wheelchair in front of the TV asleep. She proceeded to show me the room and I began the process of disassembling the bed. I was sweating as it was hot inside the trailer as was most homes I visited. The bed was taken apart with ease and soon I was setting it back up in the adjacent room. It was then I hear a big loud THUD. The women begans crying “Help Me!” I immediately run into the living room to find the patient on the floor. The women pleading for my response, my help.
Except I, by law, could not under any circumstance touch the patient. Hypothetically if I did help, and the patient was to die I could be arrested, sued or fired. This was explained to me countless times during my job orientation months prior. So I did what any 18 year old would do, I ran. I ran outside and into the safety of my work van. I called my boss, who we will name Ralph. Ralph proceeded to tell me to get the signature for delivery and GET OUT of there. He would call the hospice nurse in charge of the patient or an EMT. His voice was of concern, but also nervousness for me his youngest delivery driver ever. I was scared and morally confused about what I should do.
I would like to say I gave in to the pleads and cries by offering my hand of help. However I can not say I manned up because I was still a boy trapped in this strange land between Hurricane Katrina destruction, medical equipment, hospice, death, and mostly fear. I left the FEMA trailer and never looked back. As I returned to the warehouse, Ralph my boss only offered a simple “Are you okay?” and that was that.
6 months later I was home from work watching the local nightly news when a photo of this couple flashed on my TV. They had been murdered in cold blood and the killers were arrested soon after. They were looking for money, one was a neighbor in the park who occasionally took care of the man. My heart sank and then shattered into a million pieces. All I could think of was how I left that couple months prior. How she was crying, and pleading with no physical strength to lift him off that cold, dank, FEMA trailer floor. I left somebody when they were in need and at the end of their life. I began to cry, the cry only a kid of now 19 can cry when his heart is broken. My body still aches with regret.
The next day at work I was given the ticket from FEMA to pick up our equipment from the crime scene so they can move the FEMA trailer out of the park. This pick up would alter me and change me from a boy to a man. At about 11am on a cloudy February day I pulled into the park off of I-10. I had to pick up the bed, oxygen, commode, wheelchair, and a shower chair. The same wheelchair the man fell out of and onto the floor. I felt, as if in this moment Deja Vu and Karma were real. I felt as if God was playing a cruel trick on me by making me relive my regret.
I assumed the equipment would be outside the trailer waiting, and that a clean up crew would have already cleaned the trailer. I never in a million years would have thought I would be going inside this place. The equipment was not outside, it was still inside and I discovered this as I was greeted by a FEMA official smoking a cigarette near the entrance of a door. The glass on the door had been knocked out and police tape was blocking the entrance.
“This is my first time inside,” the FEMA official declared. With a solemn look on her face. I said “It’s my second.” She looked confused.
I realized the reason she was smoking was because it was to cover the smell, she explained to me that the bodies were discovered about 6 days after they were murdered. She also explained that in the police reports she received, that the killers “Not only murdered the couple, but turned the heater on to its maximum temp, as well as turning on the oven and burners. They did this in hopes of killing the dog, and at this point killing the bedridden husband from heat exhaustion.”
She opened the trailer with a set of shiny jangling keys, which I noticed had a smiley keychain on it. The smell instantly hit my nostrils, it was a smell that almost a decade later I still smell from time to time like a phantom of harshness, or the God of Regret punching me in the face. There was a pull of blood and what I assumed was coagulated yellow bile hardened on the floor a mere foot from the door. That was the spot she died. She was shot to death with, an unknown to me, amount of bullets. There were bullet holes in the recliner where she was sitting when she was killed. The living room trashed, with furniture overturned and obviously ransacked. There were bloody footsteps leading into the kitchen before they trailed off down the narrow hall. Around the oven there was plastic cooking spoons partially melted from the heat.
His room was basically untouched from the way I left it that day months ago. There was no sign of struggle or anything just the makings of a robbery gone bad. The pick up of the equipment was without trouble, I got in and got out. Filled with sadness, and regret I finished the order in a half an hour. After it was all said and done the FEMA official closed the door and locked it. She explained that they would come to pick up the trailer in a few days and maybe burn it but she wasn’t sure. She offered me a cigarette, I accepted. Then she drove away without saying a word, never knowing my story of guilt and regret with this couple. I took a drag of the cigarette and immediately vomited on my boots.
I’m 28 years old now and I often think about the delivery, the couple, the murder and that trailer. I replay those scenes in my head like a movie, or maybe it’s just me trying to keep their ghost alive, like a family members who passed away suddenly. I like to say I have no regrets in life, but that would be a lie.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caleb Cook currently resides in Birmingham, AL and is the author of 4 books of poetry including “Troubleshooting for the Modern Soul” and “The World All Strung Out”. When he isn’t writing he is a father, husband, and chef.
A couple miles from my home on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, three-year-old Scotty McMillan was found unresponsive in his home, the victim of abuse and torture from the hands of his mother and his mother’s boyfriend.
Local District Attorney Tom Hogan said, “Little Scotty McMillan is dead. Over a three day period … he was systematically tortured and beaten to death. He was punched in the face and in the stomach. He was scourged with a homemade whip. He was lashed with a metal rod. He was tied to a chair and beaten. He was tied upside down by his feet and beaten. His head was smashed through a wall.”
Via ABC 6,
Hogan said professionals with deep experience in these types of cases were brought to tears.
“Our ER nurses see a lot of terrible things. But when they saw his body, they wept,” Hogan said.
The district attorney says Gary Fellanbaum and Tait (the boyfriend and mother) went car shopping, bought pizza, took a nap and engaged in sexual activity – all while the child lay dying after weeks of relentless torture.”
Scotty’s death has shocked our quiet little countryside. As the father of two-year-old Jeremiah, I haven’t been able to read our daily newspaper’s more detailed descriptions of Scotty’s abuse. The idea of two full-grown adults abusing the small, defenseless body of a three year old …. My Jeremiah is so full of innocence, so full of wonder, trust and love, such actions committed against someone his age (or any age) have literally made my stomach turn in disgust. Over the last couple days, as we’ve attempted to process this story with family and friends, my emotions have gone from extreme anger towards Scotty’s “parents” to extreme sadness as I’ve imagined the pain Scotty must have felt in his final days.
As a way to protect myself, I’ve tried my best to ignore this story. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to imagine it. I don’t want to believe a mother could commit such actions. But I can’t ignore it.
Instead of directing my emotions in anger and hatred, I’ve decided my wife and I will make promises to our Jeremiah as a way of honoring Scotty’s short and brutal life. This is the only positive way I can cope. This is the best I can do.
To Jeremiah: In Memory and Honor of Scotty McMillan
You will never fear our hand or our touch.
You will never cower in fear of our anger.
You will never see us as monsters.
We will protect you from the monsters.
We promise to be your light, not your darkness.
We promise to use our strength in gentleness.
We promise our bodies will never harm yours.
We promise to teach you to love others, by loving you.
We, your mom and dad, will hold each other accountable.
And if we find ourselves straying as parents,
We won’t be proud. We won’t be arrogant.
We will seek outside help, because you — our child — deserve our best.
Peace will be found in our embrace.
Freedom will be found in our love.
Security will be found in our home.
Confidence in our love will be found in your heart.
This home is a place of peace.
This home is a place of rest.
This home is a place of patience.
This home is a place of growth.
Dear one, the world is full of trouble and pain.
But trouble and pain will not be found in this home.
The world is full of violence and abuse.
But violence and abuse will NEVER be found in this home.
Today’s guest post is written by Tim Kreider:
I had thought I had found a path to healing and wholeness, but then, in May of 2007, one of my oldest son’s best friends and his parents were murdered in their home. It was a gruesome crime that instilled fear into our home and the entire community. Nothing was stolen. There were no clues and no leads.
Approximately 30 days later my oldest son, who was 16 at the time, was admitted to a local mental health facility because of threats of suicide. I feared the loss of his friend had been too much for him. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning.
During a family counseling session my son confessed to his mother and me that he was the one responsible for the death or his friend and his parents! Thus began the darkest and most devastating period of my life. The wholeness I thought I had obtained was shattered into a life consumed by pain and brokenness. There was a time when I thought I would drown in the wave of despair that washed over me.
Fortunately, I was eventually able to rise above the despair and find my way to healing and wholeness. This doesn’t mean I’m perfect and never have a “bad” day. I’m human. Events and people sometimes chip away at me. I have moments where I feel sad or down. I get angry at things I know shouldn’t bother me. I say things that shouldn’t be said.
But I respond totally differently today. I don’t stay there. The peace and joy I’ve found soon return. I recognize when my past hurt and brokenness rears its ugly head and I now am able to acknowledge it, respond to it and not allow it to derail my day, my relationships, my life and ultimately the joy I’ve found in life.
I believe that if I can do it, everyone can do the same thing. Their lives can be joyful. My intense conviction is that no one needs to be or deserves to be lost in the wasteland of pain and brokenness. If I can help just one person heal and become whole again, then I will have spared one person the continued pain of being hurt and broken. In doing so, I’ll improve not only their life but also the lives of everyone they touch. What a gift to bring to the world.
People ask me how did I do it? How did I find joy? How did I find a way to give myself permission to be happy again?
I wish I had an easy answer. I remember at one point in time asking a therapist, “Just tell me what to do to get better and I’ll do it.” He smiled and told me it doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple 1 -2 -3 step to healing and becoming whole. Each of us needs to find our own path.
We may need to change our view of the world. Is our view negative and angry or do we find the best in a situation and approach each “obstacle” with hope? How do we change our view of the world? Start by filling your mind and environment with positive words, books and people. This may sound harsh, but if it doesn’t lift you up, it tears you down. Remove what tears you down and replace it with what lifts you up. I’ve read many books by self-help gurus and spiritual leaders that reinforced positive and life-altering ways of thinking and approaching life.
I went to counseling, seeing a psychologist and having a safe place to be broken and honest was incredibly valuable. He helped me understand the process I was going through and how events and people in life influenced my attitudes and actions. It enabled me to respond differently and in a healthier fashion.
I realized the incredible liberation of forgiveness – accept God’s forgiveness given to you, no matter what you have done. Forgive yourself for all of the “mistakes” you have ever made. Forgive those who have “wronged” you – parents, siblings, spouses, co workers, leaders, strangers on the street – it doesn’t matter who – forgive – let go of the anger and the pain. It only damages you!
When I was asked to share my passion for healing and wholeness, the task seemed overwhelming to me. Our search for healing and wholeness has been a quest of mankind since the fall of Adam and Eve. There have been lives dedicated to this quest. Volumes and volumes of writings have attempted to show us the way. Jesus came, taught, died and rose to share with us how to become healed and whole. Yet we ALL remain hurt and broken.
Yes, everyone is hurt or broken in some way. You’re broken just like the rest of us. But that’s okay. There is always a way back to healing and wholeness.
On Friday, December 14th, Sandy Hook Elementary experienced a tragedy that is creating a new normal for the town of Newtown, Connecticut.
The very same day as the school shootings I worked a viewing at a small Mennonite church in Gap, PA. As with most Mennonite churches, the pastor is bi-vocational. This specific pastor works as a part-time pastor and full-time salesman for an agricultural feed company. The area that he covers includes Bart Township, the same area that experienced the Amish school shootings in 2006.
We walked in to the church, set up the casket and flowers and I broke the news to the pastor about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. His countenance fell as he immediately connected the Sandy Hook shooting to the Amish School shooting. “I’ve been the salesman there for years. All the Amish families are my friends. Just the other day one of the mothers who lost a daughter told me she’s reminded of her daughter every time she sees children coming home from school.”
This, like all tragedy, finds a life of its own. Friday, December 14th marks the first day of a new normal for Newtown, Connecticut. In many ways, this new normal is a sad birth. In this blog post, I want to look at the practical side of how the next couple days and weeks will look for Newtown.
TRAUMA RESPONSE: Thankfully, there are professionals who are being tasked this very moment in setting up response teams. The American Red Cross, various hospice programs and the American Psychological Association all have large scale trauma response teams who are trained to counsel children and parents in psychological and bereavement support, organize support groups and guide the community back to some type of semblance. The response teams will evaluate, support, offer guidance and help as the children, parents and teachers begin this dark journey.
Children do grieve. As long as there are relationships formed, there’s grief. And while the general public is not very adept at understanding a child’s ability to grasp death, those from the APA, Red Cross and hospice programs are. All the children will experience traumatic grief (CTG), many will experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the hope will be that these children, like the youth from Columbine, will bond together and find deep fellowship in their grief, sorrow and pain.
Pragmatic questions like, “When do we restart school?” and “When should I go back to work?” will be guided by these wonderful angels from the response teams.
BODY IDENTIFICATION AND FAMILY NOTIFICATION: By deduction, the families know whether or not their son or daughter, husband or wife is dead by the simple fact that they didn’t come home. But, their son or daughter, husband or wife may be so … that the bodies have yet to be identified.
Some families may be called into the hospital to visually identify their loved ones, other bodies may be too distorted and will need to be identified through other, more technical means. All the bodies will be studied, some autopsied, some given for organ donation and one – the shooters – will be looked upon with contempt by all who view him.
Once identified, the families will start the funeral arrangements.
FUNERAL ANNOUNCEMENTS: There’s only one funeral home in Newtown, Connecticut. And while I doubt the Honan Funeral Home will bury all the victims and the shooter, they will probably bury many of them. From what I can tell by the obituary section on their website, the Honan Funeral Home is not a very large funeral home. In fact, they’ve only advertised 12 obituaries in the past year. They will need help as they could very well have twice their yearly volume in one week. And thankfully, per this article, other surrounding funeral directors are offering their help to Honan.
Any funeral home and funeral director who works with these families will need their own type of support over the months to come. Most of us don’t enter this business because we’re cold hearted; rather, we enter it because we’re generally big hearted. These tragedies hurt us as well. Embalming the body of an elementary school student that has been autopsied and shot is enough to permanently disturb anyone, including a seasoned funeral director.
Questions of “how will this family pay for this funeral?” are likely taken off the table, either by the funeral director’s generosity or by nonprofits like Bury a Child (run by my friend Nancy Burban, who lives in a neighboring town) who are already donating caskets and raising funds for funeral expenses of the children (UPDATE: Per Nancy, all the funds have been raised to cover the funeral expenses of the victims).
Police and other first responders will carry a burden that no man or woman should ever carry. They have seen images no one should ever see.
Pastors, too, will experience many sleepless nights as they prepare words for an unspeakable event.
THE NEAR FUTURE: The funerals will be large, sad and no doubt full of horrible theology explaining how we can’t question God, how God will turn this into good, etc. Yet, despite the horrible theology, many churches will find themselves full. Churches will comfort some families. The community will become more closely knit. Memorials and monuments will be built to honor the memory of the children and the teachers. School will eventually reconvene. On December 14th, 2013 CNN will hold a special marking the one year anniversary of the shootings. And in five years the world will forget.
But the pain will linger. The grief will remain in the hearts of the parents and their families. Time will not heal these wounds. This is the new normal for Newtown, Connecticut.