THE FIRST FIFTEEN PAGES OF
THE OTHER SIDE OF TRAGEDY
A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERING WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT
Have you ever wondered how people survive the real tragedies—the death of a child, the guilt from a suicide, cancer, losing one’s home in a natural disaster? This author describes the help that comes through from the other side when one becomes overwhelmed by tragic circumstances. This is one mother’s journey of discovering what life and death are all about.
THE OTHER SIDE OF TRAGEDY is dedicated to:
My husband Ray,
Who taught me unconditional love
My son Gregory,
Who connected me to the eternal world
My son Clifford,
Who keeps me centered in this world
as a place to continue loving and learning
My teacher Mary Jo McCabe,
Who introduced me to “The Guides”
THE OTHER SIDE OF TRAGEDY
By Louise Wright
CHAPTER 1. THE WORST POSSIBLE THING ………………………………........… 05
CHAPTER 2. THE SUICIDE NOTE …………………………………………...........……. 26
CHAPTER 3. THE VISIT …………………………………..…………………..............……. 41
CHAPTER 4. THE TRUTHS IN BOOKS …………………………… …………........….. 68
CHAPTER 5. A CRUISE TO ENLIGHTENMENT…………....……...........………… 96
CHAPTER 6. A GENUINE PSYCHIC …...………………......................................... 110
CHAPTER 7. THE NEW YEAR ………………………………………..…….....................147
CHAPTER 8. LESSONS FROM “THE GUIDES”…………..…......….…………….... 153
CHAPTER 9. THE SCARIEST WORD…………………………....…………….........…..159
CHAPTER 10. THE LOSS OF THINGS ……………………........………….....………..168
CHAPTER 11. THE RIGHT PLACE …………………………………………........…..…. 201
CHAPTER 1. THE WORST POSSIBLE THING
Gregory didn’t come home Sunday night. That wasn’t like him. If he had made plans to stay overnight at his brother’s or with some other friend, he would have told me. Only once before he had stayed out all night without previous arrangements, and that time he had fallen asleep at a friend’s home watching a rented video and called early the next morning so I wouldn’t worry. Gregory was a freshman at Loyola University. He had early classes there this morning, so he should have come home.
Starting at eight a.m., which was as early as I dared, for young college men like to sleep as late as possible, I made phone calls to his friends. Gregory’s older brother Clifford, a junior at Loyola with a jointly rented apartment near the campus, had gone to Ole Miss for a party weekend, and I phoned and got him up to call around also. All we could come up with was that Gregory left his friends around six o’clock Sunday evening to come home; they said he seemed just fine.
Since there was nothing on the bulletin board in the kitchen where we left messages, I went into Gregory’s bedroom looking for a note, any clues as to his whereabouts. His room was a mess. Dirty clothes were strewn on the floor—nothing unusual about that. His Loyola backpack was on the floor beside his desk with books and composition tablets scattered beside it. So he didn’t have the backpack for his classes this morning.
By nine a.m., we were running out of logical explanations. My husband Cliff called 911 requesting information about making a missing person report. He decided to wait before filing the report. Since we had reached recorded messages on two of Gregory’s friends’ answering machines, Cliff decided to drive by their residences to see if the car Gregory had driven was parked nearby. Maybe Gregory had fallen asleep at one of these friends’ homes.
While my husband did this, I called the bank to see if Gregory’s ABBY card had been used recently, and his credit card company to see if anyone had used his credit card in the last few hours. This was New Orleans, and it was a mean city.
After talking with the father of one of Gregory’s friends who was a police detective, and after Cliff called to say Gregory wasn’t at the places he checked, I called the sheriff’s office to make the missing person report around 10:30 a.m. The detective answering the phone said we had a bad connection and he would send someone out to get the information.
I started making notes: the license plate number of the car Gregory was driving, what he was wearing (jeans and a plain white shirt), and the address where he left his friends. I said another prayer and wondered if I should start calling the emergency rooms at local hospitals.
When I answered the door March 6, 1995, at eleven o’clock and saw three detectives there, I knew Gregory was dead. All I could say was “Gregory, Gregory, Gregory.”
Their manner was gruff as they ordered me to go inside before they would tell me anything. I walked into the den and sank onto an ottoman.
Immediately, I went into a state of shock that turned off the emotional sector of the brain. Losing Gregory was too painful to deal with. I went numb. I could not process this tragedy through my mind. The rest was a blur—the detectives bluntly told me Gregory was dead and something about his death would be hard to take. I remember thinking at that moment that Gregory had been brutally murdered.
“It looks like a suicide,” one detective said without feeling.
Another explained Gregory had driven out to the Bonnet Carre Spillway in St. Charles Parish, left a suicide note on the front seat of the car, locked the car, and sat on the side of the spillway levee where he had shot himself in the head.
I got up and walked away from them. I felt my body drain of all energy. I quickly sat down on the closest chair. My mouth became so dry. I looked into these men’s faces, believing they had to be lying. Their features reflected confusion. They wanted answers to why this handsome young man of nineteen had ended his life. To them, he was simply a body that should not have been wasted.
They continued talking, asking questions. I answered like a robot, without feeling. I said words but felt nothing. They asked about getting someone to be with me. I wanted to be alone—wanted them to go away, wanted them to go tell my husband Cliff at work.
I gave them the name of a close friend who lived nearby. While we waited for her to arrive, they kept asking questions.
“Was Gregory depressed?”
“He was having trouble at school.” And I told them about two bad experiences Gregory had gone through the previous week. “But nothing that would cause him to do this.”
“Has he recently broken up with a girlfriend?”
“A girl he liked broke up with him—but that was months ago.”
“Did he work out? He was so muscular.”
“Yes, he used to. But he quit going to the gym since he started college last September.”
I told them I’d never seen any signs that Gregory would commit suicide. He never once had talked about taking his life, never mentioned suicide.
I wanted the suicide note. They said they couldn’t give it to me. I asked what was in it. Their answer was vague, forgettable.
I asked them, “Why does someone commit suicide?” Again, what they said was unhelpful. And their tone was dismissing.
They then ordered me to get my husband home, but without telling him about Gregory. I started saying over and over, “This will destroy him.”
Cliff and I had spent all morning searching for Gregory. He would know something horrible had happened if I told him to come home. I asked them again to go to his office.
One of these officers then responded, “No, you get him home. You should know him better than we do. You should be able to think of something.”
They were getting irritated with me. Not one person in that room, including myself at that moment, had any idea of the impact of losing a child.
I told them I wanted to be alone and asked them to wait outside until my friend arrived. That she could take me to my husband’s office so I could tell him in person.
When the detectives went outside, I knew I should call Cliff. Yet I felt every minute he didn’t know he was happier, better off. I didn’t want to devastate him. I didn’t want him to know. I didn’t want to cause anyone to feel the emptiness I now experienced. From the moment a person knows he has lost a child, he will never be the same.
The phone rang. I knew it would be my husband calling to see if I had found out anything. The last time we talked I’d told him a detective was coming out to get the information for the missing person report. I was trying to think fast of some way to get him home without knowing.
Cliff immediately asked, “Have you heard anything from Gregory?”
“Cliff, you need to come home now. I don’t want to say anything more than that.”
Cliff told me later that he thought Gregory had been in a car accident and I wanted him to come get me before going to the hospital.
My friend Dottie arrived with tears streaming down her face. She ran to me and held me. And then I cried, sounds of anguish coming from the heart.
I started pacing then. Dottie stood in the kitchen by the counter, and I told her I didn’t know why but I couldn’t keep still. I walked around the counter and then back and forth. Every now and then we would give each other a hug, but I still had to keep traveling. My mouth was still so dry, with a sensation of no saliva at all, and Dottie got me some water to drink.
Cliff charged in the garage door to the kitchen with a harried expression on his face. I grabbed him with Dottie supporting his other side. I told him Gregory was dead. He supported his head with his hands and leaned down on the counter and cried so hard he was shaking all over. Dottie walked in the dining room as Cliff and I held each other and sobbed together for some time.
Cliff asked, “How?”
I told him it looked like Gregory committed suicide. He screamed, “No, Oh God, No!” His initial pain and agony was relived.
Dottie rejoined us in a circle of arms and then went off into another room and came back. Her own agony as a dear friend was evident, and she kept asking what she could do—anything to help. I paced again.
Dottie was one of the nicest people I knew, with a great sense of fair play and love for other people and animals. Her husband Charlie joked that there were more dolphins named “Charlie” than any other name because of Dottie’s generous contributions to save the beautiful creatures.
Our next torturous hurdle was to get our older son Clifford home. Our two sons were more than brothers—they were best friends. Each boy’s friends were the other’s friends. When Clifford went to college at Loyola, Loyola became Gregory’s first choice of where he wanted to apply when he graduated from high school two years after Clifford. Their network of local friends at Loyola and Tulane was the same group that got together almost every Friday and Saturday night.
Cliff called Clifford’s apartment, and Gregory’s good friend Billy answered the phone. My husband said, “Billy, I need you to bring Clifford home right now. Don’t let him drive—you drive him here.”
In the meantime, I paced. Our home was a one-story ranch, U-shaped around a swimming pool area in the back. I traveled from one end of the U to the other, occasionally making detours to the front entrance. I would sometimes pause wherever Cliff was to make sure he was coping before continuing my route. Walking somehow kept my mind from dealing with Gregory.
Clifford and Billy came in already knowing Gregory was dead. They figured that would be the only reason for the phone call. But suicide hadn’t occurred to either of them. My husband and I surrounded them as they entered, and they both started crying as soon as they saw us. Billy slumped in a corner against the wall as Clifford cried in our arms.
My husband lay down in the master bedroom, and Clifford and Billy went to Clifford’s bedroom. I walked around in a daze, my mind starting to focus on Gregory. My children were the most important and most wonderful parts of my life. Things like that didn’t happen where there was so much love.
Gregory’s ambition was to be a veterinarian, and he had entered Loyola University in the premed program. If vet school became too hard to get in, his only compromise was to go into sports medicine. He hadn’t made the grades that first semester at Loyola and was placed on probation. I hadn’t been aware of his poor performance in college until receiving his first semester final grade report in December because his midterm grades had been good. When I questioned Gregory about it, he admitted he had been lazy about doing the work. If something more fun than studying was going on, then that was what he did. He would get behind and then be overwhelmed with the classwork that needed to be caught up. He said he hadn’t coped well with the freedom that came with college after the structured environment of his private school background, where he could not get away with not turning in the required schoolwork.
Whenever I asked Gregory how things were going, his standard answer was “Just fine.” His goodbye to telephone conversations was “No worries.” He was a gentle, big teddy bear of a guy who never complained or argued. I felt he carried his burdens inside, and with a smile told others what he thought they wanted to hear. He didn’t want his family or friends distressed by any of his personal problems. He was a likable introvert—his laid-back, unconditional love for his family and friends, and his dry wit, made his phone ring constantly with calls from those who wanted to include him in their activities.
Clifford, the older brother, was Gregory’s opposite. When anything bothered Clifford, he let his feelings out immediately with an explosive, comedian-like commentary on anything he perceived as an unfair situation. Gregory would laugh uncontrollably, the appreciative audience to Clifford’s Seinfeld-style presentations.
An extrovert from birth, Clifford was the planner, the one who came up with ideas for fun and excitement during their high school years. Our home was a center for their friends to meet on weekends. As soon as school let out on Fridays, the boys’ line never quit ringing. The house teemed with youth activity—a flow of young people coming and going. Most of their activities revolved around sports—Gregory played football and basketball, pitched on the baseball team, and later threw javelin and discus for the track team. Clifford was on the football, wrestling, track, and soccer teams.
My strongest memory of that time was the laughter of these young people. Gregory’s laugh was contagious—a naturally deeper sound. A few phone calls could gather enough bodies for a baseball game on the levee behind our home. A case of Cokes from Sam’s and all food in the house disappeared each weekend. Sometimes they boiled crayfish or barbecued hamburgers on the grill.
Their college years brought more bar hopping and a partying crowd. More girls came to our house. The decadent atmosphere of New Orleans, where greedy bars willingly served underage kids, was well known to these young people under twenty-one looking for a place to drink. I didn’t allow drinking in our home, but I found evidence every now and then of smashed beer cans hidden in the bottom of the trash. My sons were now finding where the partying was going on each weekend. They went everywhere in boy-girl groups, sometimes pairing off with a particular girl for a while, but still going out with their own crowd. That was the only safe way to travel the nightlife in New Orleans.
Gregory loved animals. Over the years, he always wanted another pet. We had two Yorkshire terriers; a cocker spaniel; an attacking rooster we thought was a chicken when it was a fuzzy little chick that Cliff ended up giving to a farmer; two Jackson’s chameleons (the male would rub its horn against Gregory’s hand when he picked it up) which ate live crickets that they retrieved with long tongues; a teddy-bear hamster that escaped from his cage and was never seen again, and gerbils that reproduced faster than rabbits. A Guinea pig that had been his third-grade mascot was given to Gregory to take care of when it got old, and it survived another three years with us.
Next came aquariums, freshwater and then saltwater. Once, a fifty-gallon tank leaked, causing rug-replacement damage. Snakes, to me, were the worst aquarium tenants, a python and then a boa constrictor. I told Gregory if I ever saw the aquarium containing the snake empty, I would leave home and not return until the snake was found. My wonderful housekeeper and friend who had been with us since Gregory’s birth, must have loved us to have continued cleaning his room because Rose was as snake phobic as I was. Luckily, confined snakes have a short lifespan since they need the activity of slithering around to keep their digestion of mice working right. To me, the mice fed to the snakes were so much cuter. One mouse smart enough to outmaneuver the snake’s capture became another pet in a separate cage. One day I noticed the snake aquarium empty and Gregory said it had died and he had buried it in our backyard. Around six weeks later I had painters in, and when they moved Gregory’s chest of drawers, there was the snake—still alive. The first man to see it had a horrible fear of snakes and fell backward in fright. I was sure I had a lawsuit on my hands. Gregory said he was so afraid I would leave home that he made up the part about the snake dying.
To my relief, Gregory decided that caged pets weren’t happy animals, and all creatures should have the freedom to roam at will. At that time, the only living, confined beings were several dozen gerbils. When we had gone to the pet store for their purchase, I explained to the clerk that we wanted just one sex so there would be no offspring. He said two males would probably fight, so we brought home two females. The fact that they were both pregnant at purchase time wasn’t something we had considered. So one beautiful spring day, Gregory and I freed all those gerbils on the wooded side of the levee to continue multiplying at will. I had nightmares after that of hundreds of these rat-like rodents marching down the levee to our house.
One afternoon, Gregory called from a video game arcade. He said that as he was leaving, a carload of teenagers had driven through the parking lot and thrown a kitten out their car window. It was raining hard, and the kitten kept trying to get into the arcade building, and the owner kept kicking the poor little thing back outside. He could not leave this kitten out in the rain. Could he bring it home? I told him only if he would try to find someone to take it. I’d never had a cat inside the house. This kitten was so wild it attacked our two dogs and us for months. Patches is now still with us and lives a life of leisure. She jumps on the bed each morning and rubs my face when she thinks it’s time for me to get up and feed her.
On a trip with neighbors to a dude ranch when he was fourteen, Gregory returned with a little black puppy with brown feet of unknown breeding. A man at the ranch was giving out free puppies. This puppy grew to resemble a Rottweiler-Doberman mix and was a gentle, muscular being like Gregory. Boots was a problem dog from the beginning. Each dog we had before would stay right beside any of us when taken outside. I never needed a leash with them. But Boots looked for any opportunity to maneuver out the front door and take off, and then played a game of escaping capture by letting the pursuer get within a few feet of him before taking off again. He always came home, panting at the door to be let back inside. With all the young-people traffic in and out of our house, Boots learned methods of slipping out whenever the front door opened. I had him neutered early and even put signs on the front door saying, “Don’t Let Boots Out.”
This troublesome, large black dog ended up saving me three times. The first time was one morning I heard Boots barking in the backyard. Glancing out the front of the house, I noticed a neighbor several doors down the street lying on the ground with another neighbor helping him. Going to the back, Boots was growling and jumping up and down trying to keep a hooded man from entering our gate. This dark man pulled off his hood and saw me now standing at the back, so he took off running down the levee. Police showed up right after that and captured him. This hooded guy had previously worked for this neighbor and knew he kept large sums of money inside his home. He had gotten the neighbor when he went outside to get his morning newspaper by approaching with a gun. The neighbor screamed for his wife to lock the door and not let them inside no matter what. The robber started pistol-whipping the man! Luckily, another neighbor was returning from jogging and stopped the fight. This led to this criminal trying to get into my backyard, which Boots prevented.