Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Aimee's last day

I spent the flight from Miami to Los Angeles writing this post. It may or may not flow in one long account, but it was written in pieces, often broken by me having to stop and collect myself as emotions of what I was recalling overwhelmed me.

This is the account of Aimee's last day, written from my point of view. At some other point, I may also share what happened on the boat, but I only have others' limited accounts at this point, and I'm not quite ready to share what I do know. But it will be soon, I promise.

Aimee’s last day, Part I: Snuggles and breakfast

Aimee was scheduled to go on her first-ever scuba diving trip on Sunday (12/18). She was supposed to be at Jacobs Aquatic Center in Key Largo at 8:30 for skills classes, done in a pool, so they could learn the basics. (Jacobs Aquatic Center has three pools – all outdoor – a kiddie pool, swimming pool, and lap pool.) After that, they would go on a “Discovery Dive” at Molasses Reef. We had thought she’d be up and out before Rowan woke up, but as luck would have it, Rowan woke up around 7:30, while Aimee and I were still in bed (we shared a room with Rowan at the vacation house – she slept in a bunk near us).

Since Rowan was awake and Aimee didn’t have to leave quite yet, we all three snuggled in bed for a few minutes before Aimee got up to get ready. It was really a nice moment for the three of us. But already Aimee was nervous about her dive, as she had been every time she talked about it.

Aimee just wanted to drink some ‘green sludge’, as she called it (some vegetarian drink that made her stomach feel better when she had “tummy trouble”), for breakfast but I made her take some toast with her. I told her, “You’re going to exert yourself in the pool, and then have TWO dives. You’re going to burn a lot of calories. You won’t be home until WELL after lunch, and you’ll be starving. You’re diving, you need the energy. TAKE THE TOAST.” She gave me that look that loved ones give each other when the other one tells us something we know is right and for our own good because they love us, and she took the toast.

She left shortly afterwards, with Justin and Caroline taking her and dropping her off at the pool. She was still nervous.

After Rowan and I had eaten and Justin and Caroline returned, I took Rowan to Key Largo Community Center. There’s a playground there, athletic fields, and also, as it turns out, Jacobs Aquatic Center. The plan I had was for us to play in the kiddie pool, but for us to play on the playground for a bit first, because I was hoping we WOULDN’T run into Aimee. I was afraid if Rowan saw her, Rowan would cry that Aimee couldn’t play with us or when she had to leave on her dive. I figured we’d wait a bit, and then I’d take Rowan to the kiddie pool after Aimee had finished her classes and gone.

My timing was close, but not quite close enough.

Aimee’s last day, Part II: a goodbye kiss through a chain link fence

When I took Rowan to the kiddie pool at Jacob’s Aquatic Center (after playing at the playground for a while), the divers taking their class were nowhere to be seen in the adjacent adult pool, so I figured we’d timed it right. Rowan and I started playing in the kiddie pool.

After we’d been there for a bit, I spotted a group of people in wet suits walking towards the neighboring parking lot. Trailing just a bit behind was a familiar figure – Aimee. Figuring I’d take my chances with Rowan being sad, I said to her, “Look Rowie (one of my nicknames for her), there’s mommy! Want to say hi?” Rowan did, so I called out to Aimee, picked up Rowan, and walked over to the chain link fence separating the pools from the sidewalk.

Fence at Jacobs Aquatic Center
When we met at the fence, I asked Aimee how the class went and how she felt. She said it was fine, but she was even more nervous than before. I reassured her (for at least the tenth time), that she’d be just fine, and I told her to have fun. I also made sure to say I’d see her soon, as a way of reassuring her that everything would be ok. I knew she was nervous, and I felt by telling her that I’d see her soon that she’d hold on to that to feel better. Then I kissed her goodbye through the fence.

It was our final kiss goodbye.

I did see her one last time, a moment later and a short ways away. She’d changed out of her wet suit and into shorts and a t-shirt as they headed for the boat to go out. I waved, and she waved back. That is the last time I ever saw her.

Aimee’s last day, Part III:  What’s taking so long?

When Rowan and I got home, Justin was there with Donna. Caroline had driven over to the dock to meet Aimee and go on the dives with her to maker her feel more comfortable and ease her anxiety. (Justin and Caroline had been diving for more than a year, so Aimee felt reassured by having Caroline along. In fact, I don’t think she was going to go unless Caroline did go with her.) As the afternoon wore on, Justin and I both became more concerned.

Finally, Justin received a call (I don’t know from whom). He sounded panicked, and asked me for the keys to my rental car (Caroline had his), saying as he ran for the door, “I need your car, there’s been a problem with the boat!” It felt odd, because a ‘problem with the boat’ to me means a stall, or grounded on a reef, or something else that’s not serious. But his tone was on the verge of hysteria.

I waited.

And waited.

And got more and more worried.

I walked out on our deck and watched the darkening skies over the water with foreboding. I felt like I was maybe being a bit dramatic, but Aimee’s nervousness all day was catching up to me, and combing with the dark skies and her brother’s panicked voice, I was getting a pit in my stomach. I kept trying to reassure myself.

Donna and I wondered what was taking so long, so finally I sent Justin a text, “What’s the word?” Calm enough to belie the fear I was starting to feel. No response.

A while later, I tried to call Justin. No answer. I left a message, but he never called back.

Aimee’s last day, Part IV: Terrible news

After an eternity (I have no idea how long it really was), the door flew open and Justin burst in, wide-eyed and on the verge of tears saying, “There’s been an accident, Pat. I’m sorry. She’s gone, she’s gone. Aimee’s gone” As he said this he was rushing towards me and I stood up from the couch where I’d been playing with Rowan. The first split second I was filled with disbelief but a second after Justin came in he was followed by local police officers, a grief counselor, and a pastor. And I knew this was no mistake, no joke. Justin grabbed me and held me and sobbed into my neck, crying out “I’m so sorry!” over and over After a moment I became aware of Rowan clutching the back of my leg and Donna’s shocked, grief-stricken face. Someone went to her, and I disengaged from Justin and he went to Donna as well. I picked up Rowan and headed for the front door, looking for a second to escape and grasp the reality of the news. The police had stayed there by the door, as had the counselor. I stood there a moment and then asked the counselor if she could take Rowan down by the pool for a few minutes while I collected myself and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. She readily agreed.

The next 10-20 minutes were a blur, but Justin gave me the most basic of info: the boat capsized, and Aimee had been trapped underneath. No one had been able to get her out in time.

The whole time I kept thinking, “This can’t be right. If Rowan is to be raised by only one parent, it was to be Aimee, it can’t be me. I’m not the right one for her to be left with. This can’t be right. This can’t be right” It wasn’t exactly denial of her death, but of my sense of order of the world, that Rowan would be best served being raised by both parents, but in lieu of that, Aimee being the one to do it. I can’t. I’m not strong enough, good enough, patient enough, whatever. Aimee has to be in her life for her entire childhood at least. It simply has to be this way. Hell, Aimee was my role model, for crying out loud. How could I be expected to do this without her?

But eventually, I ‘came to’ and realized that this was real, I was going to raise Rowan, and Aimee was in fact gone. I then noticed that I hadn’t seen Caroline come in. I asked someone where she was, if she was ok, and was told she was still in the car, and she was fine. That, at least, was a relief.

The next realization was that I was going to have to have a talk with Rowan, a talk that no parent EVER wants to have to have with their child, especially when that child is only 3 years old. Her mommy is gone.

Aimee’s last day, Part V: Telling Rowan

I told someone near me that I probably needed to go tell my daughter, and that I didn’t know how to say it. One of the officers gently said to me, “She heard what’s going on, she’s aware”. It was meant as a reassurance that Rowan had an idea, but I would still need to explain things to her.
The pool at the vacation house - lots of fun, but near
where I told Rowan her mommy was gone
I said a prayer to God for strength, wisdom and courage, and I went downstairs to the bench by the pool.

Rowan was sitting there with the grief counselor (her name was Carol), and they were playing or talking or something, just sitting on the bench. I told the Carol that I needed to talk to Rowan. She nodded and left.

I sat down and picked Rowan up and set her on my lap. She looked calm, but unsettled. I explained as best as I could that there had been a bad accident while mommy was on the boat, and that she had drowned. I told her that mommy was not coming home, that now she was in heaven with grandpa (we used this same language with her a lot the previous year when Aimee’s dad had died from cancer). It only took a second for me to know if she understood.

She started crying, heartbreaking sobs of a little child who loves her mommy more than anything else in the world. The mommy she cried out to when she woke in the night, and the mommy who held her and comforted her when she was sick.

I cried with her.

We cried together and I held her and we sat there on the bench next to the pool where we’d all had so much fun all week and we cried some more.

After a few moments I saw her look at me with a small degree of curiosity (she’s never seen me cry before), and somehow seeing me cry seemed to make her feel a bit better, as if seeing that daddy was also sad made this somehow less tragic for her, because she wasn’t alone in her sadness. Maybe I’m reading her look wrong, but at any event she stopped crying then, and I got myself under control and I just held her for a few minutes more before I headed back upstairs.

Aimee’s last day, Part VI: Rowan sleeps with daddy, and daddy doesn’t sleep

Much later that night, Rowan and I went to bed. Our room had a queen bed and a set of bunk beds, and Rowan told me she wanted to sleep on the top bunk. I was surprised – I thought she’d want to sleep with me – but I told her she could sleep there since it had a railing.

We read stories, brushed teeth, and said the Lord’s Prayer, as we do every night. “Night, night, Rowie” I said to her.

That’s when something seemed to dawn on her.

“Can I sleep with you tonight?”

“Yes, honey, of course you can.”

“I’m gonna sleep on momma’s side, cuz I’m missing her.”

“OK, sweetheart.”

And we snuggled in the bed together. Rowan slept pretty fitfully, and I slept almost not at all.

I spent the night trying to focus on tangibles, tasks, arrangements. Because when I didn’t, I pictured my beloved wife trying to gasp for air trapped under a boat, struggling to break free, and I couldn’t bear those images.

Aimee’s last day, Part VII: a word about faith
As I think everyone who’s reading this knows, I am a Christian. If you didn’t know that, hopefully it’s only because you don’t know me. My faith should be obvious, and if it’s not, I need to do a better job expressing that faith in how I live my life.
So how do I match my Christian faith up against what happened? For me, that part is easy.
I don’t know why this happened, but I don’t have to know to have faith that all things will work to the best for those that love God. I can’t see how that will be now, but I’ve seen it often enough previously in my life to know it will be so again in this.
I hate what I’m going through and will go through. I hate more, by a factor of thousands, that Rowan has been deprived of her mommy, and that the mother she’s now missing was as amazing a mother and human being as God ever saw fit to put on this planet. And for those who think I’m just building her up posthumously, you’ve never seen my Facebook posts or heard me talk about her. I’ve always know she was something special, and that I was incredibly lucky to have been so loved by her. But despite that, I know that in the greater workings of the world, somehow good will come of this, and it will be greater than the loss suffered. Of that I am confident.
Am I mad at God? Not yet, but I may get there at some point. This loss is huge to me, to Rowan, to the rest of her family, friends and coworkers. Can he handle my being mad at him? Of course. Will He help me through this? Oh yes, and He already is. The sheer amount of people crawling out of the woodwork to help me is amazing, and as we are all called to be God’s hands and feet to each other, so many of my friends from church, former coworkers from World Vision, and many others (not all of them Christians) are coming forward with offers of help. God is surrounding me with tangible love and support in this time of my need.
God loves me. I love God, Aimee loved God. God loves Aimee. Aimee is with God, and so will I also be someday.


  1. Pat this is so beautiful. I've had to wipe off my keyboard several times, and take breaks because I couldn't read through the tears. Thank you so much for sharing this, I can't imagine how hard it was to write it. Rowan is lucky to have such a wonderful father like you, Aimee will never really leave you both, she will always be there to help guide you. The ones we love are always near; you'll hear her voice in your head helping you along and you'll see her smile in Rowan. I agree that Gods plan for us isn't always easy, but I hope that you find comfort knowing that she is with Him in heaven. We are here for you now and always.

  2. Pat:

    Thank you for writing this . . . which must have been very hard.

    I am praying now for you and Rowan and your extended family.

    Mark Rhode

  3. Pat- Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing Aimee's story with us. I am sure this helps you to process it better, and it helps us all as well. As hard as that post was to read (emotionally) it was encouraging. I know your faith and I know where Aimee is, and that we (who believe in Jesus) will see her once again....One sweet day! When you are crying out to God...rememeber.... God's name is "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort." When we share our sorrow with our Father in Heaven, He gives us comfort. In the Psalm 40:1 David cried out to God and waited patiently and God heard his cry. God will hear your cry as well. Here is an encouraging promise: "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psalm 126:5-6).

    We love you and are always lifting you up in prayers. The Thomas Family -Sara and Trevor

  4. Pat, this just breaks my heart, what a tragedy. I only met your beautiful wife on a few occasions and she made such a positive impact on me. Your courage and faith comes through so clearly in what you've written. In the face of tragedy you have inspired and encouraged me. I pray for you and Rowan for Gods peace and strength as there are many difficult challenges ahead, but God is faithful.

    John V.

  5. Dearest Pat,

    Thank You for sharing with us, I can only imagine how difficult it was to write. I woke up with a heavy heart this morning, as I had dreamt about Aimee last night. Aimee was my husband's dental assistant in Gig Harbor for a time...and while I know dentistry might not have been her calling, but loving people and supporting and comforting them was. She had a smile..that would"light up the sky"...and as I got in my car yesterday to go to work...Light up the sky by the Afters was playing, and I knew Aimee was home in the arms of our Lord. We would laugh together about being midwest girls from Indiana. We knew the state flower, the state bird and everything else you needed to know about Indiana. Chris and I moved to Pennsylvania about 5 years ago, and a couple of years ago I was blessed to find Aimee on Facebook and we reconnected. I thank God for the great gift of being able to catch up in her life...see pictures of your precious daughter, who looks just like Aimee and know that she was blessedly happy. I hope that you know that Aimee touched so many of our lives in a powerful way. She was a beautiful woman of God who cared deeply for others, who knew how to be "present". I pray for you dear brother in Christ, that God would give you strength as you go on raising your daughter. You will be on my heart and in my prayers...always.

  6. Pat, I'm amazed by how beautifully written all your thoughts are both on this blog and Facebook. And I'm so thankful for all the moments you were "lucky" to get together on Aimee's last day. We continue to pray for you daily.

  7. Wow Pat. So powerful.... Thank you for sharing your very difficult journey with us and being so transparent. Although this is so tragic, victory is yours to hold on to.

    1 Corinthians 15:53-58
    For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

    Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

    “Death is swallowed up in victory.
    O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

    For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

    Love you brother. Just sayin....

  8. Pat,

    Your bit about faith is inspiring. Rowan is very lucky to have a dad so strong, even in the midst of tragedy and pain. You will surprise yourself.

  9. Pat,

    You do not know me, but I am a colleague of Justin's. I just want you to know my prayers are with you and Rowan and all of your family. I am a Christian too and in my own struggles the last few years as a single mom- I find your faith and openness admirable and inspiring.

    I am truly and deeply sorry for the loss of your wife and Rowan's mother.

    Johanna Brown

  10. I went to Jr High and High School with Aimee. She graduated a year before I did. I was a bit of a social misfit in those days, but she always treated me with kindness.

    We were both in Drama Club, and I remember one year we were in a production of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." I played one of the "bad" kids in the story, no big casting surprise there. Aimee played my sister, the rambunctious girl who got the part of Mary in the pageant. She, of course, did a fantastic job and we all had great fun playing the bad kids.

    Aimee was such a kind soul with a great heart. Social status didn't matter. Popularity didn't matter. She was nice to everybody. Her time on this earth was far too short, but she did several lifetimes' worth of good in those thirty-six years. You, Rowan, Donna, Justin,
    and Caroline are in my thoughts and prayers.


    Matt B

  11. Pat, I am so sorry. As Justin is a dear friend of mine, I want to extend to you the same sympathies I've shared with him. I told Justin losing a sibling must be one of the hardest things to go through and I can only imagine losing a spouse is entirely unreal. Despite great distances, I will try to support Justin and Caroline as best I can because I consider them family. In the same respect, I would like to help you take care of your family. You are charged with raising a young adult who, hopefully, will one day attend college. When a fund is established I would like to donate what I can. Aimee, Rowan and yourself are in my prayers. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. ~ Dillon Lees and family

  12. Pat, while you don't me personally, I'm a friend of your sister Samantha, and a Sister-in-Christ. Thank you for sharing your last day with Aimee and your incredible testimony from what must feel like a surreal test..... I am so very sorry for the grief and loss you're experiencing and it hurts my heart especially for sweet Rowan who is missing her Mom. Having a father like you, as well as a loving Father in heaven and the faith of a child will sustain her and you. We are in prayer for the Lord to carry you both when you just feel like you can't put one foot in front of the other.... You are loved.....

  13. Pat-I don't know you or your family but after reading a post of a friend (Missi Cavins) I searched until I found this story. You are a VERY brave man and you seem to be a wonderful father to be able to express your thoughts and emotions so shortly after your horrible loss. I will pray for you, Rowan and the rest of your friends and family and will give my daughter an extra hug and kiss tonight for Rowan. May God keep you strong and bless your family in your time of need.