Lisa's Story "Crown of Beauty"

I struggled off and on for more than 20 years with drug and alcohol addiction. In 2007, my husband Rick, went to prison for the second time. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for transporting drugs.  We had two sons, Cain and Cole. Rick was not their biological father but he was the only father they ever knew since he had raised them from the ages of two and three.  Cain was 13 when Rick went to prison and Cole was 12.

For the most part were raised in church. They had been on the Junior Bible Quiz team and had given their hearts to Jesus. It was the year before Rick went to prison when we had stopped going to church and the boys started falling away from God. When Rick went to prison I had no job or source of income and we lost everything. We moved to another city to live with Rick’s parents so we could start rebuilding our lives.

The boys had a hard time when Rick went to prison. Cain started getting in trouble at school and failed the 8th grade. Cain was very angry and rebellious. I tried going back to church but satan, the father of lies, convinced me that I didn’t need church or God; I could do it on my own. Boy was I wrong.

Unbeknownst to me, Cain started smoking pot in the 9th grade and Cole around the age 16. Cain and Cole’s high school years were filled with parties, drinking, smoking pot, Cain getting in trouble at school and both of them having run-ins with the law. Cain was outgoing, always clowning around, and had no problem making friends. He was one of the most popular kids in school. Cain was one of the sweetest most loving boys you would meet; he had a drug and alcohol problem that changed him. He became rebellious and stubborn and reminded me a lot of myself at his age. Because our personalities were so much alike we were constantly in conflict. Cole was a sweet loving boy that always tried to do things that would be pleasing in my sight. He had always tried to maintain the “good kid” image and even when he started doing things wrong he tried to hide it from me. Even with the drug and alcohol use Cole was an honor roll student throughout high school, he very rarely missed a day of school, started working at a restaurant at age 16, where in over two years he only missed a couple days of work the entire time.

Our house was filled with constant chaos. With Rick in prison, raising two teenage boys alone wasn’t easy. I was stressed out, upset and nervous all the time. Cain would get in trouble, I would punish him or at least try to because he would have total disregard for the punishment. For the sake of having peace in our home I decided to step back and allow them to make their own choices and be their friend. I would later find out that Cain was doing a lot more than I ever knew about, the drug use was more than I thought, he was stealing, and he was dealing marijuana. Cain dropped out of high school the second semester of his senior year just because he refused to go to class. I encourage him to get his GED, which he did. He started dating a girl that he fell madly in love with and I thought maybe he would change some of what he was doing for her. Cain started college in August 2012, at that point I thought he was doing good and getting his life on track.

However, September 9, 2012 I got the phone call that would forever change my life: “Cain is dead”. Early that morning Cain’s girlfriend had broken up with him and he went off the deep end, wrecked the car driving to her house, and when he got there he called her outside and stuck a gun to the side of his head and shot himself as she stood and watched. He died instantly. I could not comprehend the thought that Cain had committed suicide. I had not known him to have suicidal thoughts or tendencies. It took over a year but I finally called and got information from the police report. Cain had not been drinking but had been smoking marijuana and had large quantities of 4 or 5 different drugs in his system, Xanax, condone, opiates. I was told by the officer that these are mind altering drugs that can change a person so drastically that they will do things that they wouldn’t normally do. After the police analyzed the scene, we  speculated that Cain had thought he had emptied the gun before sticking it to his head maybe trying to scare his girlfriend. I don’t know which thought is worse, that he intentionally committed suicide or that in a drug induced state he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger not intending to kill himself.  

The next few days after his death were a haze arranging the funeral for my first born son something no mother should ever have to do. We buried Cain on September 12 and that night I received a call that my 92 year old grandfather had passed away in his sleep. He had lung cancer and we knew his time was short but the timing created more grief than I thought I could bear. We buried him three days later.

Cole took Cain’s death really hard. Cain was not only Cole’s brother but he was his best friend; they had been extremely close their entire lives. Cole had just started his senior year when Cain died. Luckily Cole was taking easy classes that first semester and was able to still pass them and stay on the honor roll. Cole decided to finish high school early at the end of first semester and in January started attending East Central College. With my encouragement Cole applied and was accepted at Mizzou for the fall of 2013.  

I didn’t know how to deal with my own grief let alone Cole’s. I was drinking daily to try and take the pain away. Cole was doing the same and  smoking pot from the moment he woke up until he went to bed. Cole started changing - he was angry, didn’t want to talk about Cain’s death, and started acting like Cain, like he was trying to step into his shoes and be the person he was. We both tried counseling but it didn’t last. Cole didn’t want to talk to a stranger and I was upset every time I left so we both stopped going. My life was in shambles - I didn’t know how I was going to live the rest of my life without Cain. I was all consumed with guilt and grief and at the same time I was trying to protect Cole so afraid something bad might happen to him.

In 2013  started going back to church. I realized that alcohol was not going to make the pain go away so I thought maybe God could help ease the pain. I was going through the motions of church but was having a hard time feeling anything. It was honestly a struggle to go.

Cole graduated high school May 23, 2013, two weeks later on June 6, 2013 he was killed in a car accident. Cole and his friends had been fishing and drinking all evening and then they had gone to a party. Around 2 a.m. I woke to sirens, we lived on a dead end road and the sirens sounded like they were right outside my door. I jumped out of bed and ran. When I got outside I could see flames and smoke up the road. I ran up the street only to see a car smashed against a tree, burning. The car belonged to one of Cole’s best friends and I knew Cole had been with him all day. I was screaming trying to locate Cole, but I couldn’t and none of the emergency personnel would tell me anything. All I knew there were five boys in the car and of the two that died on impact, neither  was Cole. After what seemed like hours a deputy sheriff arrived and told me Cole was at the hospital and I needed to leave with him immediately. We drove to the hospital fast and then he turned the lights on. When I got there Cole was laying there with tubes in his mouth, skin missing from his face and arms. They said they had to take him to St Louis immediately but no one would tell me about his condition. For some reason I had hope when I left that hospital thinking that the doctors in St Louis would fix whatever was broken and he would recover. I didn’t realize that Cole was on life support and they had already lost him on the way to the hospital.

At the hospital in St Louis the doctor called us into a room and told us that Cole’s brain had separated from his skull, there was massive swelling and nothing they could do to make it stop. Surgery was not an option. I would have to give them permission to turn off life support. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was to tell them to shut if off knowing that when they did Cole would be gone. I stood there and held him and cried. How could this be happening? How could Cole be dead? It had only been nine months since I had lost Cain now Cole was gone as well. In my mind there was no possible way this could be happening, my worst nightmare had just come true. I had tried to protect Cole after Cain’s death but I didn’t protect him, I had failed. He had been drinking heavily that night and his cause of death was closed head trauma with a significant condition of acute ethanol intoxication. Thoughts ran through my mind, would Cole still be alive had he not been drinking so much? Would he be alive had he been wearing his seat belt? Would he be alive if he had made a choice not to get into the car with someone who had been drinking? His night had been filled with so many wrong choices.

Again I spent the week in a haze making funeral arrangements for my youngest son. We decided to have visitation for all three boys on the same night and the funerals the next day one right after the other. The other two boys had been best friends with Cain and Cole all throughout high school, at times they practically lived at my house. I loved them like my own which made the day of the funerals one of the longest most emotional days of my life.

After Cole died I went right back to drinking. It was the only way I knew how to deal with the grief and try to numb the pain. At times the grief was so bad that dying seemed like an easier solution than trying to live without them. Throughout all of this tragedy Rick was still in prison so we each had to deal with the grief on our own. I carried so much guilt; all I could do was think about the things that I had done wrong as a mother. I would look back and wonder: if I had kept them in church would they still be alive? If we hadn’t started using drugs again and had Rick not gone to prison would they still be alive? All the should haves, would haves, could haves, made no difference now because they were both gone and nothing would ever bring them back. I was headed down a path of destruction and knew it but I didn’t care. I blamed God because He didn’t stop them from dying. I didn’t know what I had done so wrong for this to happen to me and I felt like He hadn’t been there for me when the boys had died. (Now I realize He was always there I was the one not letting Him in).  

Thankfully I had a praying husband that never gave up on me. He knew if he prayed things would change and I would come back to Jesus. It worked; the Holy Spirit started drawing me back to Him. It started with a thought, “if the rapture happened today I would be left behind and I wouldn’t get to go be with my boys”; it took that one thought to lead me back to church because all I wanted was to see my boys again. I would go to church on Sunday and sing the songs and listen to the sermon but I was dead inside, I felt nothing, absolutely no emotion.

For months I went to church on a consistent basis and during that time the Holy Spirit started breaking down the walls and my thoughts started changing from wanting to go to Heaven to see my boys to wanting to live my life for the Lord and have relationship with Him. I still had so much guilt and condemnation that I needed set free from and I needed to forgive myself for all my past mistakes. In May 2014 I attended the women’s encounter, Ashes to Beauty, and that was my turning point. That weekend I was set free from all the guilt and condemnation. I wrote all the things I needed set free from and I laid it at the foot of the cross vowing never to take it back again. I had an encounter with God and I knew from that point on the direction my life would go, I was moving forward. I allowed God to cleanse me and I completely turned my life back to Him. God has taken my ashes and given me a crown of beauty, instead of mourning I now have a joyous blessing and I no longer live in despair, my life is filled with praise.

Today I am filled with peace and joy because of God’s grace. Rick was released from prison in February 2015 and we are now on this journey together. I have not only forgiven myself but I have accepted God’s forgiveness. God has opened the door of hope for me. My hope has been fully restored and my life is a testimony of God’s goodness and grace. I have been through terrible tragedy and not only survived but I am thriving. What satan meant for my destruction God has turned around for His good.