My spiritual journey took a sudden devastating detour on the night of September 1, 2008. My only son was visiting a friend. She and Matt were talking outside of her home in a quiet neighborhood, when all of a sudden several shots rang out and Matt was hit.
There are no words to describe what transpired within me as I was faced with the knowledge that my child had been a victim of violence.
After all, helping to decrease violence in our city had been Matt’s passion. Just 10 months before Matt was shot, he was elected to a seat on the Fairfield city council in December of 2007 at the age of 21. He was the youngest person to have ever been elected to public office at that time. We were beyond proud.
The horrible call that night had to be a mistake. This could not be happening – it could not be our son, not Briana and TeaRae’s big brother. It had to be someone else. I prayed that this was a nightmare that I would soon awaken from.
A police officer was dispatched to pick our family up and drive us to John Muir Trauma Hospital miles away from where we lived in Fairfield. It was approximately 9:00 pm by the time the officer arrived. Our youngest daughter had already left to head to the hospital with another family member.
Word was spreading fast that Matt had been shot. Our cell phones were ringing nonstop as my husband Raymond, my oldest daughter Briana, and I sat in the cramped back seat of the police car. The seat felt like I was sitting on hard and slippery ceramic. My message to everyone that called was to Pray! Pray! Pray!
It was Monday, September 1, 2008 on Labor Day night. We were inching slowly forward in massive traffic as folks were returning home from their Labor Day weekend festivities.
The only thing that I could think of at the time was that I needed to get word to my boss that I would not be coming into work the next day. It is strange to look back now and notice how the mind works when faced with a horrifying situation.
At this point we had no idea what part of Matt’s body was hit by gunfire. It never even occurred to me that we were being driven to a trauma hospital.
The last time I had been to John Muir Hospital was seven years earlier. My friend Melissa’s father had been in a terrible car accident on interstate 80. Tom was in a coma. Many of us stayed several nights on the floor of the John Muir ICU waiting room. We waited with Melissa praying for a miracle. We prayed that Tom would heal and wake up. Tom died 12 days later.
It did not seem to us that he officer driving us to the hospital was using all the resources he had available to get us to the hospital quickly. We started yelling at him to turn his sirens on and get us there already! My God, my son has been shot! I will never forget my question and the officer’s answer as we were driving over the Benicia Bridge. I asked him, “Do you know what happened to my boy?” His reply will forever echo in my mind: “All that I know is that he was shot in the head.” Everything from that moment on until we reached the emergency room is a blur to me.
Upon arriving at the hospital our family waited in the crowded but eerily quiet emergency room. It was filled with city, county and law enforcement officials. I felt like a vacuum had sucked everything out of my mind, body and spirit. I was an empty shell sitting there waiting for word about my son. In that silent space, I literally felt God’s arms around wrap around me.
When I finally was led to the area where my son was, I was horrified to see him with tubes running through every part of his body. The image that I have of him laying there will never leave me. I can still remember the blood that was in his ear. I wanted someone to wipe it away from him.
I was hysterical and horrified. Our beautiful Matt had been so alive just hours earlier when I stopped by to see him at his grandmother’s house. My son, who was doing so much with his life by helping others, was now lying there motionless.
When I asked the emergency room doctor about Matt’s condition, he just said that Matt’s wound was “devastating.” What did that mean? Could he recover from devastation? My mind was flailing. I was confused and shocked. I just could not comprehend this situation.
Being in a place of complete and utter powerlessness is both frightening and humbling. People began arriving at the hospital in droves. Matt’s friends were angry and wanted to find whoever did this to their friend. We all held hands and prayed. As our prayers lifted, everyone came to a quiet agreement that Matt would not want more violence to come from this.
Our friends came wanting to support us. The news media was there for a story. It was all so surreal.
I remember telling my friend Laura, “This is why I have been working on all that forgiveness stuff.” In that moment of clarity I understood that God was preparing and carrying me. That moment was fleeting.
Nothing could be done for Matt. He was on a ventilator. We would know nothing more until the neurologist came in at 9:00 the following morning.
I was thinking of our daughters. How are they going to get through all of this? Tearae has already shut down at this point. Briana was hysterical.
Like a mantra, I repeated in my mind, “God, Please clear our minds and heal our hearts.”
After several hours, Matt was transferred to the ICU. Armed detectives were assigned to him. The shooter had not been caught. It wasn't clear if Matt had been targeted and they couldn't take the chance of someone coming to finish him off. I never had the opportunity to sit with my boy alone. I am still so sad about that.
I thought, “How ironic, my friends and I are again sitting together, just like years before in that same ICU waiting room.” Only now our prayers for a miracle were for Matt.
There was no sleeping for me. I went in to see Matt several times. Nothing had changed. He didn't squeeze my hand when I asked him to. He didn't blink his eyes. He was just laying there, with the detective beside him, the loud sounds of the machines surrounding us. The blood in his ear was gone now. Someone must have cleaned him.Deep in my soul, in that quiet place inside, I knew that he was already gone.
At 9:15 the next morning, the doctor called us into the ICU. He informed us that Matt had zero brain activity. He showed us the X-Ray of Matt’s brain. The bullet had severed his brain stem and was still in his head. There would be no surgery. Matt would never wake up.
Even though I had felt that Matt had already left us, I was not prepared to hear the finality in the doctor’s words. I am sure that no parent is prepared to hear that.Oh My God, Oh My God! How could this be happening? Why? What did I do? This is so crazy! God, please I will give anything. Please, let my boy live. My pleas went unanswered.
Everything went so fast. The next thing that I knew, we were in an office and the donor network people were there to talk with us about donating Matthew’s organs. Matt liked the fact that he was a donor. He was also proud that he had the much needed 0 negative blood. He donated his blood often.
Knowing all of this about my boy didn't make this discussion any easier. I was still completely in shock from everything that had already happened. And now I am expected to have a conversation regarding which one of my son’s organs will be donated. They asked if we would consider the donation of his eyes and his skin. It was all just too much to even try to wrap my mind around.
Matt was a very handsome young man. He was also a bit vain. We teased him often about how he had to have his hair cut twice a week. The answer to the donor network was No! Matt’s eyes and skin was not negotiable.
The beautiful correspondence that we have received from the donor recipients has been amazing. The gratitude they share with us for the gift of life that Matt gave to them is so humbling. I know that God is here.
Since Matt’s death I have been on a journey of seeking. I have reached out and attended many different spiritual and religious teachings.
On my journey I became friends with baseball Hall of Farmer. He is Buddhist. I began to attend Buddhist meetings with him and his wife on Monday evenings. We chanted for an hour and then ate wonderful Japanese food.
During this time a woman named Jenni sent me a message in regards to Matt’s gift to her. She mentioned that she corresponded with me a couple years before but I had no recollection. The email stated that she felt the need to write me and tell me that she is Buddhist, and when she meditates, she and Matt breathe together. Jenni had received Matt’s lungs. My heart smiled reading that and I knew that my seeking was exactly what I was guided to do.
I don’t know that I will ever get used to Matt not being here. Learning how to find a life of hope, love, and forgiveness after the murder of my son has become the quest of my life.