P. O. Box 1115
St. Peters, MO 63376


Todd Christopher Werner
April 10, 1975 ~ November 2, 1993


My Grief’s Gear Bag
Speech given at the Candlelight Ceremony
 December 2004

Thank you and good evening:

My name is Betty Werner and I became a Bereaved Parent on November 2, 1993 when my son Todd died as the result of a motor vehicle accident.  When I suddenly became a bereaved parent I realized no one is ever prepared for this grief journey.  Each of us travels the grief journey individually, and it is essential we discover what works for us.  I hope tonight I can help you believe you can laugh, smile and live again.  When my son died I never believed I would see a beautiful sunrise, appreciate a puppy or hear my daughter laugh the way she did when Todd was alive.

On Halloween night, the phone rang and when I realized this was a serious phone call I woke up—to realize the dream was over and the nightmare had begun.  It was a very long time before I realized I would not wake from this nightmare.  Todd had received his EMT license that very week, he loved being a first responder, those wonderful people who try to heal the body the way bereaved parents’ groups try to help us heal our hearts. Todd wanted to be a life flight nurse.  He got his ride in the Life Flight helicopter, but the end result was different than his dream.  As we spent those days at SLU I heard words like:
     Massive head trauma
     Brain swelling
     We did everything we could
     Organ donation
I heard these things but I did not process them.  I heard his grandmother wail, “Please take me instead, please, please.”  And I did my own bargaining:  “Please take me not my 18 year old who just danced at his sister’s birthday party and who loved life, loved people, and loved helping people.”

I felt like I was drowning, trying to understand what was going on.  Todd was not a saint, we had our moments just as all families do, but I thought I would grow old under the watchful eye of my kids.  Nothing prepared me for the moment the doctor said, “when do you want to declare him?”  Todd was an organ donor so he was declared dead at 8 a.m. on November 2 and we went home to prepare for the ordeal…never knowing it only begins with the “arrangements and funeral.”  I don’t remember anything about that winter other than it was gray. My brain was overwhelmed by the desire for my son’s return and concern for my daughter’s well being.  Our only surviving child was a junior in high school and what a horrible time for her brother and mother to abandon her.

That comforting blanket of shock keeps you in a distant fog allowing your brain to slowly process the fact that your child is not coming home.  I would beg to wake up from this nightmare. 

About five months after Todd’s death a good friend said, “ be ready at six Thursday we’re going to a meeting in St. Louis” and I said “ sure go”.  She insisted that I would attend my first Bereaved Parents meeting because she no longer knew what to do for me and she wanted me back in life.  I told her to leave me alone.

So for the next three months she drove me to the meetings here at the temple and I was too numb to talk.  So Bonnie told them my name and my story and we both realized how intense these meetings were.  I did not want to go because it made Todd’s death real.  I did not want it to be real.  After  the meeting where I spoke for the first time, I got the courage to tell these folks in St. Louis that this did not work, and Washington needed its own meeting and what were they going to do about it.  So in July of 94 the Washington meeting of BPUSA got under way.

In my own journey, I was trying to decide what to do with Todd’s things and I got permission through listening at these meetings that I did not have to do anything.  So I continued to look at his things and wonder “how did this happen to me?”  When I found his various gear bags in the garage, I searched through them for clues.  Where was my gear bag with the tools to handle my grief?  I found gear bags for scuba diving, snow skiing, water skiing, jet skiing, roller hockey, ice skating…He had gear for just about everything.  My gear bag was empty and I did not know how to handle this grief journey.  How was I going to handle this pain, helplessness, and desperation?

Little by little over the next months and years, I began reading, talking and trying to learn what I needed in my gear bag.  I knew my hot tears were a sign of how desperately I miss Todd, and I learned that I did not have a timetable for any of the things the “non-bereaved” think are time limited.  I learned I personally had to talk and I wanted to talk about Todd and somehow get to a point where I could celebrate his life.  I also learned in a very subtle. gentle and special way that every time I shared my story with another bereaved parent, I healed just a tiny little bit.  I learned that each of us needs to put together the grief gear bag with the tools that work for us.  Society and our friends want us “better” quickly, except grief does not hurry. We need to wallow in our pain, question the world, scream, cry, rant and rave and know we are not crazy; we are experiencing the craziest thing that can happen to a parent.  When those inevitable days came where the brain and the heart were on the same page and the reality filtered in that he would not come home, I had to make a phone call, or see someone who let me scream about the unfairness.  Or know it was okay to scream or cry in the car.

My gear bag included the friends who tried to understand, the ones who let me be me no matter how ugly I got.  I kept my Bereaved parents friends on top of the gear bag because they had truly ‘walked the walk”. And I had to let go of the people who wanted me “to get back to the ‘me’ I was before Todd died” because I knew I would never be that person again.  No one has a pre-packed gear bag for the grief…we each have to find our own path on this journey.  Along the way there are people to help us and my BP group was my lifeline.            I also put my mask in my gear bag because I got to a point where someone would say” how are you?” and I would say “ fine” and retreat behind my mask. I couldn’t share with them.
I also tucked some realizations into my gear bag: 

  • Men and women grieve differently
    everyone has their own recipe for grief work
  • Take time to make sense of the senselessness;
  • Use your faith, if you can and say no to the things you just can’t do

I had a new appreciation for my other family member’s pain.  We each lost a unique relationship. 

My biggest personal fear that I stuffed in the bottom of my bag was my fear I would forget Todd: his smile, the twinkle in his eye when he asked to borrow money, his devotion to helping others. The gift I have received from the Bereaved parents group and their kids, Harrison, Sandy, Michael, Sean and Stevie is that I learned I never would forget Todd because all our kids are with us all the time.

The bottom line is your grief is your grief, learn about it, feel it and buckle up because it will be a rough ride.  But our kids are with us every step of the way, and when that day comes you can laugh at a silly puppy or enjoy a sunset, you will know that there are things to continue living for.

The path is difficult but the journey is worthwhile.  Todd taught us in life to laugh to dance and to live.  He embraced life and was  prepared  for  each  moment  of joy and play.

My gear bag contains a celebration of Todd’s life.  It is lighter these days because he taught me to live life to the fullest.  He would not have missed the dance in order to miss the pain. 

Recently I heard my daughter Katie, laugh like she laughed when Todd was alive.  My children have always been the wind beneath my wings, and that laugh made my heart soar, because although we will never “be over this” we can re-invest in life, the world, and the future

Our children may not be here in a physical presence but their legacy lives on in our hearts and the hearts of all who knew them. Our children’s deaths have changed us forever…their legacy is to live our lives well and to the fullest.





St. Louis Chapter of the Bereaved Parents of the USA
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