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Megan and Chris: "I found hope."

Fifteen-year-old Megan, along with her mother, Chris, spoke of how their lives changed in an instant when the family-of-four’s small plane, with the four of them in it, had engine trouble and went down. Megan, 11 at the time, and her mother were in the back seat; they survived. Her father and younger brother in the front seat did not. A few months after the accident, Megan and Chris began attending the Caring Place.

Shattered Dreams/Rearranged Dreams

Chris: That one second shattered every dream, every hope we had. After someone you love dies, you find your life is like a jigsaw puzzle that's been scattered all over the floor. Over time, you work on putting it back together — and you find that some pieces are missing and gone forever.

You can't get all the old pieces of your life back, but you can sometimes find some new pieces. The Highmark Caring Place is one of our new pieces that’s helping us to fill the holes.

Megan: After the accident, I closed myself off. I didn’t want to hear anything about it. I was scared. And I was scared to tell anyone I was scared. I was scared to go on, scared to grow up.

I was scared to tell anyone I was scared, because I was a kid, and they were adults, and I didn’t think they'd understand what I was saying. I was scared to grow up without a dad and a brother. I couldn’t imagine how I could have a graduation, a wedding, a first baby without them.

When you're a little girl, you dream that your Daddy is going to be in your wedding. You’re going to have your brother there. You don't want to lose those dreams, but you think those people will have to be there to make them come true.

I thought, "I'm not going to get married. I'm not going to have a family. I'm not going to go see the world. I'm not going to drive out west with him. I'm never going to get to do any of those things."

But you do go on. I've had to rearrange my dreams. I've learned that there are other ways to grow up and go on and still have that person who died in your life. He may not be here in person, but in spirit, he is. He lives on in each of us.

A lot of things my dad and I wanted to do, I'm still going to do them. Even if he’s not here in person, he’ll be there with me.

After a while I realized that I can do this on my own if I have to, and I will. Coming to the Caring Place has given me the strength and courage to say these are my dreams. I’m going to accomplish them and my other teen friends say we’re going to do the same thing.

Feeling Understood/Being Strong

Megan: Going back to school after the accident was hard because I felt like the outsider. They really didn’t want to talk to me; they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. They just kind of sat there and stared at me, didn’t know what to say.

I just wanted to get back to normal. I wanted to have my friends back, I wanted to go out and play. They thought I was like a piece of glass and they were going to break me again or something.

I just wanted my friends, and they didn’t understand that they could talk to me about it. They really didn’t want to talk to me about it because they felt like I was going to bust out crying in school and it was going to hurt me. I wasn’t going to do that, but we were just on two separate pages.

It hurt a lot not to be understood because I used to have so many friends and I used to go out and play and have fun. And then for a few months I didn’t have that, and it was a shocker because I always did different things with certain people and they weren’t there anymore, and that’s the time that I needed them the most.

I wanted to be able to tell my friends what happened because I know they had questions and they were scared to ask me. They wanted to know what happened. They wanted to know what I went through but they didn’t have the courage to ask me. I wanted to tell my friends, I wanted to tell people and they didn't know how to ask me because they just didn't want to come out in the open and say, "Hey, what happened? I'm sorry to hear about that."

Chris: People would sometimes say, "You're so strong," or "You're doing so well." I know they were just trying to be nice, or sometimes they just didn't have anything else to say.

But it would still bother me, I think because for one thing it kind of opened that wound up again, when you wanted to put it back a little bit and try to start a new life.

But also, it’s like people were associating the accident, the loss, with me — that was my identity. I almost felt like I was playing second fiddle to this event in our lives instead of people focusing on me. It was always something to do with the accident.

Some of the words that I found to be helpful were ones like, "Gee, it's nice to see you," or "Thanks for coming." It was something different and it focused on me, not the accident.

Megan: People would say to me, "You're so strong. I can't believe you're doing this," "You're doing so well." And it kind of made me feel like I had to be strong. I wouldn't cry in front of any one. I wouldn't talk to anyone.

So I put on this show or this act saying, "Yeah, I am strong. I am not going to cry." And I did that for a few years and I wouldn't talk to anyone, I wouldn't cry because I felt that I had to be strong because people thought I was.

And then when I came to the Caring Place I realized that you can be strong and still be able to cry. You can be strong and go through this and be able to talk about it and let your feelings out. That’s what helped me too, knowing that being strong doesn’t mean, "Don't cry, don't talk about it." Being strong means dealing with it and getting on with your life and talking about it with everyone out there.

Not talking about it didn't let me grow, it always kept me having to be this way, having to think about the accident all the time. I couldn't grow up from it. And it held me back from having fun in my life and being truly happy.

By crying, by letting it all out I realized, "Yeah it hurts but I can go out, I can have fun and I can still do what I want to do. I still can accomplish my dreams." If I still had that old attitude, I don't think I'd be having as much fun as do now, I wouldn’t have the friends that I have, I wouldn’t be living my life this way. I think I would still be in my bedroom crying or just sitting there. And by letting go of that attitude I've become a different person and it’s great. I don’t think I could have lived just being "strong" like that.

A Lifeline

Chris: I knew something was wrong with Megan because she was acting so much like nothing was wrong. I could feel that she was torn up inside, and I couldn’t help her. Megan tucked everything inside, didn’t want to let it out to hurt her, and didn’t want it to hurt me either.

Megan and I were both on different pages. She didn't understand how I was feeling or what I was grieving. I lost my husband and my son, but I lost Megan also. I lost my little girl. It was hard because she wouldn’t talk to me and I think part of it was that she didn’t want to upset me. And I knew somehow I had to get her someplace where she could talk and where other people could relate to her.

At the Caring Place, Megan was with her peers, her friends. They could ask the questions, they could talk about it and that made a world of difference. The Caring Place was my lifeline to Megan.

The Caring Place is a safe haven. You don't feel so alone here. You share stories, tears, memories, laughter. You find people here who really understand. Who talk about the deeper issues, the real things. Who don't just give you clichés like "You must be so strong," or "I admire you so much."

This is a path that none of us would choose to walk. But we weren't given that choice. Now that we're on that path, we're at least there for each other. You know you have to face your grief, but it's good that you can do it next to somebody. At the Caring Place, you don’t get therapy, you get empathy.

Megan: At the Caring Place, they understand. It’s teens, who have all gone through the same thing. They’re all my age. We understand each other. And if you don’t want to say anything, don’t say anything. If you want to listen to music, listen to music. We talk about it sometimes, and other times we put it aside and we just talk about what’s going on in our lives. It’s great having someone who understands you and knows what you’re going through.

But you do want to remember that person as much as you can and you want to get on with your life. For me, going out and doing these things that my dad and I wanted to do, that’s going to help me remember him. It’s going to help me remember his smile and the good times we had.

At the Caring Place, I opened up and told people about my dad and my little brother. It helps, knowing I’m not the only one, being with other kids growing up without parents, or brothers or sisters. We’re all scared, and we’re not afraid to say we are. It helps, seeing other kids have the same fears that I do. It’s not as scary anymore.

I'll never forget my father and my brother; the pain is there. Because of being with the other kids here, even though I'm scared, I know I'm going to go on.

No one knows what the future holds. But I'm not as afraid to go out, alone, into the real world. And the strength to do this I've gotten at the Caring Place.

At the Caring Place, I found hope.