Today on Losing a Child: Always Andy’s Mom, I have the pleasure to speak with Dustan’s Dad, Jason Colyer. Dustan was a very special young man who accomplished much during his short life of 23 years. He and a few of his high school friends started an organization called DC Strong, a charitable organization that works to help kids who are battling childhood cancer. They provide care packages for pediatric cancer patients that ‘fit their unique personalities.’ Dustan’s dream was that this would become an organization with a full time staff that would be able to help children all across the country. Today, that dream has become a reality. They are continuing to grow, and each year, they are able to help more kids in more locations.
Dustan’s story begins when he was diagnosed with a very advanced Wilm’s tumor at the age of six. At that time, the family was told that Dustan would likely live less that 6 months. Dustan beat the odds then, and many other times, over the next 17 years when the cancer would come back again and again. He was, for many people, a living miracle for a very long time. Unfortunately, the cancer came back even more aggressively one last time and eventually took his life. As you will learn, however, Dustan fit a lot of life in his 23 years. He continues to help children today even after his death.
In addition to learning about Dustan and DC Strong in this episode, Jason talks about his life as a public safety officer and how this affected his grief, and perhaps even more so, how his grief affected his job. He told me that he felt drawn to our story last fall when he saw a story on a local TV newscast introducing my podcast. First of all, he, like my husband, had experienced being the dad trying to save his son by suctioning him, giving him oxygen, and putting in IVs. He said that for 17 years, he felt like he was in a fight to save his son just like Eric had to on the side of the road that August evening.
Secondly, he says that more times than he can remember,he has been the one trying to save someone’s child who had died or had to be the one to tell a family like mine, “Despite our best efforts, we were unable to save your son.” After Dustan’s death, things have changed for him. Although he always felt that he had compassion in these situations, it is greater now. The bond he feels with these families is stronger, and, at times, he feels equipped to even be able to offer some advice. I think that many of us can completely relate to that feeling. I know I can.
What an incredible young person Dustan was!! I was inspired by his courage and tenacity to take his challenges straight on! I was also inspired by the commitment his Dad made to support all Dustan’s efforts and goals. It is an incredible love story of Father and son and I can only imagine the depth of the loss, but also the comfort that Dad will experience as he processes this grief journey.
I had several responses to the podcast. Firstly, the one that struck close to my loss, was the reference to the Mom who rolled over on her infant. Please understand that infants,especially in the 2 month-year range can die suddenly and sometimes there is no way to determine death, thus the exclusionary ruling of SIDS. A healthy infant can suddenly die and the parent had no role in the death. Please consider that this Mom may be blaming herself for the death of her child. As stated in the Bible, a Mom can “overlay” her child. but please do NOT jump to that conclusion.
As a Mom who’s only son died of SIDS, I have spent years going over the research, attending National conventions and speaking to SIDS researchers about their findings. There are many medical reasons a baby can die while co-sleeping with Mom and not always should one assume the Mom “overlaid” the child. Yes, this was a hot spot for me as Dustan’s Dad referenced this case and he was not casting judgment, but I hope that I have raised another possibility for this death, other than blaming the screaming Mom in the worst moment of her life. I was that Mom, although I was not co-sleeping with my son. He was napping in his crib, with monitors broadcasting every move, I still did not know to intervene in his death. I blamed myself for over 10 years even knowing all what I learned about a SIDS death. A parent naturally assumes they should have protected their child from harm: In that sense I am guilty!
I am that Mom who 31 years on this grief journey can say there is hope. I just passed the 31st death date and relived the day, recalling every detail of the horror and sudden death of my only son. I grieve this year a 31 year old, who would be possibly beginning a family and allowing me to become a Grandma. I grieve the relationships he would have with his one older sister and 3 younger sisters. I watch my husband continue to grieve the son he only knew for 73 days and the dreams of boy scouts. He was an Eagle Scout and dreamed that he and Derrick would return to Philmont boy scout camp together. Super Bowl Sunday would have been his day to relive his high school and college football memories with his son. I grieve the simple events in our ever growing family as the sisters marry and graduate Med school and Dental School and one who loves living and ministering in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I do not have many memories to comfort me, but my loss is different each year as he would have grown up and my dreams continue to meet reality. Parents are not supposed to out live their children, but yet I have. Is there hope?? Yes, just as one with 2 legs, if I lost my leg I would ALWAYS remember and grieve the loss of my leg, BUT I would go on and learn to live with ONE leg.
I can never “get over” my son, but the joys of life continue as do the ambushes (when his 3 males cousins born the same year graduate and marry) are mixed in to my new “normal” life. Always I remember I am Derrick’s Mom, but I have learned to find joy in being Denielle, Deanna, Denise and Deidra’s Mom. They do not replace my only son and their importance is not diminished by his life and death. Joy does return, but looks different now. Take. one. step. at. a. time!!! You will be happy again. Love yourself on this grief journey, you will find your way back! Your child will be with you every step of the way.