Wednesday, August 12, 2009


June 16, 2009

I had a dream several weeks ago and parts of it keep popping up while I’m awake over and over. Mostly it’s one particular image, which leads me to think of other things. In the dream, Zach was dead and the funeral and everything was over, but his body was lost. The whole thing was kind of like a CSI setup where one clue led to another to another until we finally found him.

He was wedged in a tree between the trunk and a large branch. I really like trees and this tree was my favorite tree. He was really stuck in there. Some guy standing next to me (I never actually saw him) said that we were going to have to cut the branch or maybe even cut whole tree down to get Zach out. I thought that would make the whole clump of trees where this tree was located look odd. Zach’s body was leaning on a large branch that led to a cluster of smaller branches that made up about 1/3 of the whole tree facing the front. Suddenly when I looked at the tree again, the whole section he was leaning on was dead. I wondered if there was a way to cut that section out without mangling Zach and I just couldn’t figure it out.

In the dream I was frustrated over not knowing whether or not to cut the dead section out. I imagined what the tree would look like without it and it would look very odd and sad. I didn’t even know if the tree could survive with one third of itself missing like that. I imagined the whole tree gone and it looked even worse.

The image of that tree with Zach and the dead section keeps coming back to me. Almost every time when I go to Trinity Lutheran Church/School, I look over at a certain tree next to the parking lot. Last fall, I took a picture of it before it lost its leaves. I wanted to try and draw it. I don’t know why I’ve been drawn to it so much, kind of strange. One day (after this dream) when I got out of the car I looked over and saw that the tree is missing several large branches and sections. It just doesn’t look right anymore. It looks wounded. Its trunk still stands tall and the leaves on the remaining branches still reach out for nourishment, but it just isn’t right.

At times I feel angry because I don’t understand why the branches were cut. I think, “Why did they have to deprive the tree of its needs? How is it supposed to survive without its branches, without reaching out for what it needs? How can people be so cruel?” In the middle of the night one night when I couldn’t sleep, I actually cried about it. I know that pruning trees is sometimes necessary and it can promote new growth, which can be healthy for the tree. Admittedly, I don’t know much about tree health. I’m just reacting (actually over-reacting – it is, after all only a tree) to the whole situation emotionally. I’m angry and sad every time I look at the tree at the edge of the parking lot. I want it to be the way it was. It never will be the way it was. It’s all different now. It’s ugly and is just part of itself now, it will never be whole again. Nature may cover its wounds. The white, raw ovals on the trunk of the tree will darken in time, but there will always be scars. The scars may be hidden by superficial sprouting of leaves near the spot where the branches used to be. But, the tree is forever changed and I don’t like it.

I’m angry that the city cut major branches off of all of the trees lining my street. Again, it seems cruel to deprive them of what they need. Those who are suppose to be responsible for the trees are cruelly depriving them of what they need – in fact severing the ability of the trees to get all of their needs met. The trees on my street are small, like children. The tree at Trinity is like an adult, once standing tall and proud, now flimsy and uncertain.

The River

The River
Barb Dreyer

The River of Life provides support, transportation and protection to so many. As I sat by the bank of the river, I watched it flow gently with its edges lapping playfully at the bank. White cotton clouds dotted the deep blue sky. The breeze was brisk and provided comfort in the heat of late morn. I leaned against my favorite tree. The mighty oak that provided so much solace – shading me from bombarding rays and allowing me to blend in with the surroundings. It seemed to engulf my very being, nothing could penetrate its invisible hold.
A feeling of uneasiness bubbled within as I noticed my young visitor had not yet arrived. I searched the horizon for signs of his presence but all was quiet. I pressed closer against the tree, hoping it would protect me from this dread brewing within. I shook the feeling off, certainly all is fine. I gazed upward and noticed the changing edges of the clouds as they drifted uncaringly by. The breeze felt warmer and its strength on my cheek almost felt like a slap.
The sound of the water changed. It was so subtle at first that I did not notice, yet it forced me to look down. The water’s edge no longer lapped playfully, it moved with purpose and swiftness. I looked upstream and gazed in disbelief. Jumping to my feet, I screamed! The River of Life showed its other side. Just as the River gives, it sometimes takes away. The approaching river looked like a gray wall with chips of paint falling leaving white specks. As it neared and grew larger, I realized the paint chips were white cap waves.
I trembled, at first unable to move. I thought of my young visitor, he always took the same route to meet me. Because of the landscape, I knew he could not have escaped. The River of Death had come for him and he had no choice but to submit. My heart was heavy, I felt numb, surely the River would take me as well. As the water grabbed my ankles, the fear became overwhelming and I felt myself turn to run. I couldn’t hold on to my protector any longer. I had to leave the oak who had served me so well for so long. As I climbed clumsily up the slippery, jagged hill, I left the hold of my comforter. I was exposed. My eyes burned to see the world around me in a different light.
I turned to see the rising current. The eddies, waves and surge were unstoppable. “Why” was the question I heard in the back of my head. I didn’t have time to reflect on the question, the River was pursuing me. I fell and slid down. It seemed the River had widened its mouth to greet me. Its edge was teasing me. The hill I was attempting to climb seemed like a mountain. I struggled to climb, grabbing anything I could find. I felt weak and heard the River of Death calling to me, “My water is cool and soothing, it will cleanse your wounds. Come to me. Relax and let gravity bring you to me.” I was sure I had no more reserves, the beckoning of the River was enveloping me, just as my mighty oak had done before.
Suddenly I felt a surge, a push on my back. I felt comfort. I don’t remember climbing to the top of the hill, but I was there. I turned just in time to see my mighty oak uprooted and whisked away. It could not withstand the forceful current.
The water slowly receded and the River of Life was again peaceful and giving. I surveyed my world. It was destroyed. I noticed that many much, much smaller trees were still standing. Although they sustained some damage, they were not uprooted and whisked away. The mighty oak had been foolish. It grounded itself in the shifting sand and did not have the support it needed to withstand the devastating current. The smaller, quieter trees were well-grounded in heavy dirt and they depended upon each other for support. Their roots were intertwined. They learned to hold hands in times of trouble. The oak was lonely and did not hold hands and therefore it could not survive.

Purple Petunias

For years on Mother’s Day, my son, Zach, would ask my mom and dad to take him to the garden store so he could get me a plant or hanging flower basket to put in the front yard. This year was the first Mother’s Day without Zach and it was very hard. However, my daughter Brenna, gave me a beautiful hanging basket with purple petunias (with the help of my mom and dad, of course) for Mother’s Day and it helped bring a smile to both of our faces as we shared memories of Zach.

I got rather depressed and busy in July and forgot to water Brenna’s beautiful gift. Brenna cried when she saw the wilted, dead flowers. I apologized and felt like a failure as a mother. I couldn’t keep the flowers, or my son, alive. I left the basket in the front yard, not having the energy to throw it away. Also, it brought back memories of Zach’s last Mother’s Day present as I looked at the empty basket all Winter and early Spring as I yearned for Zach.

Suddenly, about a month later, there was new growth in the basket. The plants grew quickly and more flowers than ever emerged on the young plants! We were all stunned. Brenna and I believe it is a sign from Zach that he is well and watching over us. Maybe a sign that he died and has been reborn?

As Fall came and it grew colder, the basket of flowers hanging on the opposite side of the front porch slowly wilted and died as the plant could not take the freezing temperatures at night. However, the new purple petunias are still alive and well. We have had several hard freezes so far and the plant is sturdy and flourishing, although it did lose a few flowers. Today I decided to take the plant inside to repot it. It is so special, I can’t bear to leave it struggling in the cold all alone.

I have been told from several books I’ve read and from people in my grief group that the process of grief is grueling, hard work. I’ve heard it compared to a dark ravine, which you must move through and emerge at the other end. I’ve heard that by going through this “ravine” you endure much pain, loneliness and that part of you dies. I’ve been told that when you emerge from the other end of the ravine, you are a new person. You are stronger and able to overcome life’s difficulties and are able to flourish and live life more fully.

I don’t know. I haven’t emerged from the other end of that horrible, rocky, ravine filled with peaks, valleys, dark tunnels and sharp rocks. I have had glimpses of the other end. I see faint light off in the distance and my suffering is eased now and then by the beauty of a blue sky, a peacefully gliding bird, or a sturdy, flourishing petunia.

November 15, 2008
Barb Dreyer

Alone and Empty

People surround me – at work, in public and at home
Wherever I go, I never appear to be alone
Yet, inside me is a cavern so dark and deep
I struggle not to fall, it’s so hard, and I weep

I reach out and tell some I thought were so close
My pain, my memories, my grief and remorse
Only to be met with stabbing words or turned backs
Shallow words without meaning feel like sharp tacks

I don’t want to go through the motions in a sea of indifference
To live this way to me just doesn’t make any sense
So much conflicted pain inside and no one can see
That I am trapped in quick-sand that resides in me

Just when I think there might be a glimmer of hope
It’s just a tease, a mirage, a terrible joke
I want so badly to be good and right
But the mirror does not lie, I don’t like its sight

To be in a sea of people you see,
Is meaningless, pointless and empty
I’m surrounded by an ocean of water with nothing to drink
I’m thirsty, longing, empty…I sink

Barb Dreyer


I feel cheated. I know that’s selfish. My son is in Heaven – Paradise. I’m happy for him and am thankful to God for that. However, here, in my own little corner of the world, I feel, among many other things, cheated.

I was looking forward to seeing how tall Zach would be. I was excited about his future and wondered what career path he would follow. I imagined him attending college for a year or two in England because he loved it so much over there. I was looking forward to seeing who he would marry and if he would have kids.

Although I won’t have to endure the pain that other parents experience when their teenage driving children are late, believe it or not, I feel cheated about that as well. I feel cheated when I pass the stadium on a very brisk autumn day. I should be freezing in the stands with the other parents while watching my son in the marching band.

There will be no prom, no graduation. There will be no arguments as he struggles to find himself and becomes a man. There will be no gradual letting go as he learns to fly.

Letting go suddenly, unexpectedly and permanently is too hard. I’m jealous of the parents who get to experience the turmoil – as well as joy – of their children’s adolescence. I still complain when I have trying times with my almost-seven-year-old little girl. But, deep down, I cherish it. I would give almost anything to experience anything, even turmoil, with my boy.

I miss you, Zachy, more than anyone can know…

Barb Dreyer
Zach Hughes’ mom

And I miss you, Zachary Hughes

It’s late at night but I cannot sleep
My mind is racing and into
my head thoughts of you creep
and I weep, and I weep

I miss your laughing and your
talking and your dreaming
I miss your smile and the way
you would stall at night
Mostly I just miss your sight

Your outlook on life was one of a kind
You were thoughtful and loving
and had a witful mind

I praise the Lord for our time together
Even though I knew it wouldn’t be forever –
I thought I would be the first to leave
Isn’t that what most parents believe?

You were the best son a parent could ever have
- a true blessing and a treat
You brought happiness to the
people you’d meet
And I miss you
Zachary Hughes

Barb Dreyer
October 2007

"What?" I said.

August 5, 2007, I got a phone call from Steve (Zach’s dad). “I know this is going to sound strange, but , have you seen Zach?” Zach spent the night at his dad’s house that night so he could tell his dad, step-mom Laurie, brother Blake, and step-aunt Angie all about his trip to England he just returned home from on August 2nd. Actually, he was suppose to come home on August 4th, but I told him to just spend some time with Angie while she was in town and he could come home after church on the 5th.
“No…he was suppose to come home after church but I haven’t seen him yet. Did he go to church?” I missed church that morning and was sitting in a chair doing a word-find when Steve called. Steve told me that when Angie got up, Zach’s alarm was going off, but he was nowhere to be found. He said he was forming a search party to find him. He laughed and said, “Knowing Zach he’s curled up at the bottom of some tree after taking a midnight hike because he couldn’t sleep. He was having trouble sleeping because of the jet lag, you know.” I knew. He had trouble sleeping the night he came home.
I had a bad feeling in my stomach but thought Steve was probably right. I was annoyed that he allowed Zach to leave the house in the middle of the night and thought that was too much freedom for a 15 year old, but we disagreed about that. The whole summer, actually starting the latter half of Zach’s freshman year, Steve and I had several heated discussions about Zach, and cars, and living arrangements, and rules. I consulted an attorney in June or July for advice on what to do about Steve “luring” Zach away with promises of a car, no curfew, choice of going to school in a town far away from Davenport, among other things. Her advice was that he would eventually see through it and if I let him go, he would come back. She recommended that I let him go with some very clear, well-stated restrictions, on a trial basis. Then she said something I’ll never forget, “Besides, what better, safer place for a boy to be than at a Boy Scout Camp.”
It was almost 2:00 p.m. and I hadn’t heard anything. I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to call. Tim and his step-son were standing in front of the t.v. talking. I went to the kitchen and called Steve. When he answered, I asked, “Did you have any luck yet?” The next voice I heard was unknown to me. “Ms. Dreyer? This is Officer ____(I can’t remember his name).” I think my heart stopped beating as I felt it drop into my stomach. “Yes? Where’s Zach? What’s going on?”
“Ms. Dreyer, there’s been an accident. I’m going to need you to come out here so we can discuss some things with you. Is there anyone who can drive you?”
“Yes. Somebody can drive me. Is Zach alright? Can I talk to him?”
“We really need you to come out here. I can’t discuss anything over the phone. Steve wants you to bring your father. Can you arrange that?”
“Ummm, I think so, I’ll get there right away. I need to know about Zach.”
“We’ll talk when you get here.”
“O.k.” When I hung up the phone, my heart had sprang up into my throat and was beating wildly. I yelled for Tim, “Tim!!! Oh my God!!!! Steve wouldn’t talk to me and handed the phone to some cop and he wouldn’t tell me anything and said I needed to go out there and that I needed to have someone else drive and they want my dad to come with and they won’t tell me anything and I need to see Zach !!! Why won’t they tell me anything?! We have to go, we have to go now! I’ll call my dad. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. Please let him be o.k. What if he’s hurt? What if he drown? We have to go. I have to get out there right now!” I remember speaking faster than I’ve ever spoken before. Tim said a bunch of things to me, but I don’t remember anything he said. I don’t even think I heard him. He started to get ready and I called my parents’ house. Nobody was home. I got dressed and got my shoes on. Tim was getting ready the way he always does. I yelled at him, “You don’t have to do all that! You don’t have to be pretty! Just get dressed and let’s go. I need my boy. I need my boy. I need my boy….” He stopped what he was doing and got dressed.
It was the hottest day of the year. The high temp that day was ______ and the humidity was _______%
I rocked back and forth and cried on and off the whole way from Davenport to Camp Loud Thunder. The drive was excruciatingly longer than usual. I kept saying over and over, “Zachy will be o.k., Zachy will be o.k. Please God, let Zachy be o.k. Why are the police there? What won’t they tell me? That can’t be good. I hope he just got in trouble or something. Maybe he tripped and fell in the lake. Maybe he’s in a coma. Maybe he’s paralyzed. It’s alright, we’ll help him through it, it’ll be o.k.” I knew it wasn’t o.k.
When we pulled up the driveway, I saw so many police vehicles and there was ugly yellow tape blocking the way. There were lots of people standing in groups of three or four. Tim told me to stay in the car while he found out what happened. I started yelling again. “I’m not staying in the car! I’m going to find out where my boy is!” I started walking toward a group of officers behind the yellow tape. They started to hold their hands up to keep me back when they heard what I said. A very large African-American uniformed officer came up to me along with a short light brown haired plain-clothes officer. They were trying to get me to sit down in my car. I refused to sit down. I told them I was absolutely not getting back in my car. I did a half sit-stand against the front of somebody’s minivan. “There, I’m sitting, is this alright with you? I’m NOT getting back in my car.”

I saw Steve up a small hill close to the house pacing. He saw me and looked away. I saw that my brother and Dad were there, “How did they know? Oh, that’s right I called Dad’s cell phone. Muscatine must be closer than Davenport.” I thought to myself.
I glanced over at my brother. He was fidgeting and looked angry and uncomfortable. I saw a man I didn’t know standing there. He looked to be about 60 or so and had a weird grin on his face. I wondered what he was all about.
The short officer introduced himself. “Investigator,” I thought. “You have the bluest eyes. You look kind. Why are you telling me such terrible things?” I remember my thoughts more than I remember his horrible words. He was so matter-of-fact. He looked right at me and said, “Zachary hung himself.” I was stunned. I was expecting him to say that he was driving his four wheeler and it flipped over and he’s at the hospital or something. “What?” I said