Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reflections of a Father (Written by My Dad, Ben Miree- July 4, 2010)

It’s been more than two months now since the staggering tragedy that took Kyser Miree from us. I am overwhelmed with emotion from the flood of compassion with which you have covered us. The notes of gratitude that we plan to send for individual acts of kindness cannot convey my feelings as comprehensively or as promptly as this statement will allow. So I am glad to hide behind my computer and share with you, our friends, some of the facts and reflections regarding this passage, without having to speak. Hopefully, it is not an undue imposition on our friendship, for me to give you information that you did not solicit. It is good tonic for me to reflect, not just on the horrors of death, but on the joys of life, and to anticipate that we will be back to our normal relationships with you soon.


On Friday night, April 16, 2010, Annie and Maurice Green are having dinner with Kathryn and me at Sawtooth Branch, our property in Chilton County. Maurice and I are looking forward to being partners in the annual Sawtooth Branch fishing tournament, which is set to begin at 10:00 Saturday morning. This is more of a social outing than a serious competition, as you can tell from the start time. We host it each year with Vicki and Craig Rogers, who also have a place there, and altogether we have about ten teams of two fishermen per boat. We all put a few bucks in the pot, and compete for the various prizes. Kyser and his friend Adam Fry are one of the teams entered, and Kyser was planning to come from Mobile after work to join us for the night, and be ready to fish on Saturday morning. About 7:30 pm the phone rings, and it’s Kyser. “Dad, the water pump on the purple dragon (his pickup truck) is leaking, and I’ve squandered too much time fixing it. I’ll just get up early and be on the dock in time to hammer those bass tomorrow”. “No problem, little buddy. We’ll miss seeing you tonight, but look forward to tomorrow”, I say as I think to myself that one of the great joys in my life is to see a son who I taught to fish, become a better fisherman than I.


About five hours later, at 12:30 am, the phone awakens us, and thus began the worst day of my life, a day that no parent should have to endure. Kathryn answered the call from Curtis Wright, Kyser’s roommate, who immediately gave his phone to the Mobile Police. I heard her say “No, he has never had an allergic reaction or a seizure”. She asked if she could speak to Curtis again, which the policeman did not allow, and the call ended. Kathryn gave me their report that Kyser had been hurt, and that we should come to the University of South Alabama Medical Center as soon as possible. We called USA Medical Center to verify and that Kyser was in their care, which they confirmed, then informed us that his injury was a bullet wound to the head. With so many unanswered questions, we called Curtis’s cell phone back. The policeman answered, and said he had taken the phone, and that Curtis wasn’t going to be talking to anyone, because he was a suspect. We woke up Annie and Maurice, and told them we were leaving for Mobile and why, and we hit the road.


I dreaded the next conversation as I dialed Harry’s cell phone as we drove south, but there was no answer. I left this message, “Harry, this is Dad. Please call me when you get this message, no matter what time it is”. Harry, coincidentally, had made a rare trip home from Berklee College of Music in Boston this weekend. He was making a presentation on Friday with fellow musician, James Harb, at the University of Alabama, a presentation in which they took top honors. By about 4:00 am, we are running across the hospital parking lot. Our hopes rise when the attendant at the front desk tells us he in the 8th Floor ICU, Room 5. There we were met by about three or four members of the staff including a young oriental female doctor, who said she wanted to talk to us before we saw our son. She was bright, competent and candid as she showed us the film of his brain scan. Then she destroyed all remaining hope that Kyser would survive. Irreversible damage was done the instant the bullet hit him, there was nothing they could do, there was no brain activity, and that as soon as the life support was disconnected, he would die.


The following is a recap of some of the occurrences of the day:

  1. The hospital provided us a room, and while we were getting situated, a couple of the detectives from homicide stopped by the hospital after they left the crime scene to let us know they were working on the case. They were not giving out any information.
  2. We met Curtis’s parents, Tootie and Phillip Wright, who were already in the ICU waiting room when we arrived. They had grown to know and love Kyser, and they are fine people.
  3. We met Marshall Thomson, Kyser’s friend and co-worked at Chevron, who was with Curtis when they found Kyser. They placed the 911 call.
  4. We met Sarah Wright, Kyser’s girl friend, when she came to the hospital after being released from questioning by the police. She had met Curtis and Marshall just moments after they arrived at the house where Kyser was shot, but prior to the arrival of the police.
  5. Later Curtis, who I knew because he had joined Kyser and me on a duck hunting trip earlier in the year, was released by the police, and he came to the ICU waiting room also.
  6. Marshall, Sarah and Curtis were all crushed by the incomprehensible murder of their friend. They had just been separated and interrogated by the police, where they were essentially accused for several hours of killing Kyser. I understand and support the police procedure to separate and interrogate them, since they were the ones who found Kyser. But, I’m glad I did not hear their screams.
  7. Harry called from Birmingham, and I gave him the facts. I said “Harry, if you want to see your brother alive, you need to get down here as soon as you can”. I added, “other than seeing him in a coma, there is nothing that you can do if you come, and it is not a pretty sight”. Harry cut me off, “I’m on the way Dad; I’m coming as fast as I can”. In about four and a half hours, Harry and his friend Jessica Johnson were there.
  8. We were joined during the course of the day by numerous friends and family, including Kathryn’s Dad, Kyser’s beloved Papa; her brother, Bogue; sisters Virginia and Louise; my brother, Dick and his son in law, Marc. We all had time to be with Kyser, to hold him close, and say the things to him that we wanted him to know.
  9. It is not until this point in time that one can make organ donations. We went through the process of answering about three pages of ghoulish questions, but we took comfort in knowing Kyser could help someone else live, and in some way, that he would live on through them.
  10. There were conversations with the funeral home, the coroner, discussion about an obituary, and I talked with God.
  11. Before someone can be declared legally dead, there are statutory requirements for a specific series of brain scans by separate neurologists, which take about twelve hours. At about 3:00 in the afternoon, when the final neurologist completed this process, the Death Certificate was signed.
  12. The hospital official who gave us this news also told us that the Mobile Police Department had sent them a directive not allowing organ donations, since they might still need them in the investigation. We objected. The official asked us to wait while she checked, but when she returned, she informed us that the hospital was bound to follow the directive of the police, and that the police authority trumped the wishes of the parents. Someone missed, among other things, a great heart.
  13. A different hospital administrator subsequently asked us if we were prepared for them to disconnect Kyser’s life support apparatus. We gave our consent, but we wanted to be there. We kissed him goodbye and held him tight as they removed the breathing tube. As he drew his last breath, we could feel his magnificent sprit leave his body, and he was gone.
  14. By now it was dusk. Harry and Jessica had left, and Kathryn and I were ready to leave, but I was not so sure that I was fit to make the drive home. Brother Dick and Marc Novellino, who is married to Dick’s daughter Allison, did us a huge favor by putting us in their car, and driving our car and us, all back to Birmingham. They delivered us home before midnight.


Still incomprehensible grief and anger swirled through me, and I have never felt more alone. It was like I was a visitor from outer space who had come home to the wrong planet. While I was desperate to be able to take some action that could help my shattered family, this long, dark day was over, and I would have to deal with that tomorrow. We went to bed.


In the following days sobs would come bursting out that didn’t even sound like me. A memory would pierce my core so deeply that I would spin out of control, gasp for breath and feel claustrophobic. There was no reason to live, no hope for the future and nowhere to go. Since the tragedy, I’m no longer afraid of much, and certainly not my own death. I do have a heightened fear that another tragedy could strike our family, and the pain for those remaining would be magnified.


The memorial service on Tuesday brought a tremendous outpouring of affection for Kyser, when so many people whose lives he had touched came from all over the country, overflowing the Church, the Narthex, the main Foyer on the side, and out into the courtyard, as they paid their final respects to their friend. One matchless bright spot at the service was listening to Harry as he calmly and poignantly described the love and respect that filled the Church, and captured the essence of being Kyser’s little brother. He made us laugh, he made us cry, and he provided us a glimpse of Kyser by the genius and courage he demonstrated under devastating circumstances, as he portrayed their special relationship. I hope Harry will bat cleanup at my funeral, and tell my friends about our special relationship.


The stream of condolences continues and is, in a way, a constant reminder of the tragedy, but these words of sympathy have been a great comfort and help in the healing process, no matter how they are offered. I could tell little difference in who got

the message right most often, whether what was said were the well composed words of a person with experience in these matters, like a doctor, pastor or a grief counselor, or if the words were the awkward effort of an amateur. The right message is “I care; I hurt for myself; I hurt for you and your family; and if there is anything I can do, please call”.


The question “How are you doing?” makes a liar out of me, because invariably I say, “Fine”. I say it no more convincingly than a bad actor in an awful play that won’t end. The truth is I hope that one day I’ll be fine, but deep down inside, I’m not so sure. I am sure that I am anguished for all of you who adored him. You did not deserve this, and you have shown that you are the most magnificent people in the world.


Our faith remains strong, and Kathryn and I understand that we have been blessed with two extraordinary talented boys. While the tragedy is never far from our consciousness, the reality of a confronting a life without Kyser, has drawn all three of us closer. As much as I have worried about their well being, they have done the same for me. We are all three in this together.


For all of the members of my family it was always, “What can I do for you”? Baseball glove got a broken lace? Valve on the saxophone stuck? Bully at school teasing you? Car won’t crank? Algebra problem got you stumped? Ask Dad, he can always fix things. But not this – this is beyond imagination.


My parents are gone, and I smile when I remember them. There is very little training for confronting the grief of losing a child. I feel like I am 100 yards into a marathon, and I realize that I did not prepare. I wonder if I will eventually be able to smile when I think of Kyser. My heart says “No way”.


Since I have been delivered into that fraternity of those who have lost a child, a group that we all hope will initiate no new members, I now realize things I should have seen, but didn’t. When I saw my friends who had joined this group before me, I saw them carry themselves with dignity, while they carried that heavy burden of sadness, and I didn’t understand how they could do it. Hopefully, when others look at our family, they will see that in us as well, and they will hug their own children.


Kyser had his special relationships with many, and sometimes I wonder on what was our relationship based. He was that rare person who was totally devoted to me, unquestionably loyal and astoundingly trusting. His commitment was irreplaceable, and it was mutual. Certainly we had shared countless happy hours hunting, fishing, skiing and talking, and we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that we loved each other. We had no unfinished business between us that needed to be discussed, no rough spots that needed smoothing over. Possibly we had an unspoken acceptance of each other’s essential loneliness, something we did not air with others. Not surprising for me, since I am basically shy. But I always felt that in Kyser, the speed and power of his phenomenal mind induced a certain isolation. When others could not comprehend things as quickly and completely as he, and few could, he accepted it without boasting about his understanding or humiliating anyone. For us, this world was mostly paradise with a small patch of desert. Our paths after high school had begun to scatter us, but would never prevent us from thinking of each other often, because we knew our buddy was out there. On that Friday night in April, an intruder intervened, and now that door is locked against us. At that moment our mourning began.


Now that Kyser has met the Lord, he can have some idea of how I felt at Brookwood Hospital on that cold December morning twenty three years ago when the nurse handed him to me. I miss him dearly. He is with the angels now, and they are all praying for us to join them. But, as Kyser, with that easy charm and huge smile would add, not anytime soon.


Since the tragedy, Kyser has been honored in wonderful ways by colleagues from all phases of his young life. I understand that one day there may be at least one as yet unconceived child out there who will be named for Kyser. The Altamont School has an honor code that is an important part of their culture, and in his senior year, Kyser had served as the student representative on their Honor Council. The school had planned to create a World Center for Ethical Leadership as a part of its ongoing emphasis on the importance high standards of ethical conduct in our leaders. Their Board of Directors voted recently to change the name of that venture to the C. Kyser Miree Center for Ethical Leadership. At Vanderbilt University each year from this point forward, some bright young student in the School of Engineering will receive the Kyser Miree Memorial Scholarship, which has been established in his honor. In Mobile, the first annual Kyser Miler 5K Run was sponsored by Chevron Corporation. Over 300 runners started and finished at the Mellow Mushroom, with proceeds going to the above mentioned Leadership Center at The Altamont School.


When a powerful intellect and great social skills, in combination with those fine qualities of honor, integrity, civility and humility are all rolled into one individual like Kyser, we have someone extraordinary among us who will be recognized as a leader wherever they go. Death was probably the only thing that could have prevented this gifted young genius from achieving his unlimited potential. In addition to the personal loss to all who knew him, there is a larger circle including those who would have been influenced by him in the future, and we all are diminished by this despicable act of violence that took him from us. I don’t know when we crossed the line from his depending on me to guide him, to teach him to brush his teeth, or do his homework, or to cast a fly. But somewhere things changed, and I found myself looking up to him. We love you very much little buddy; we will never forget you; and, by the manner in which you conducted yourself, you will continue to inspire us until the day we die. You are my hero. R.I.P.