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Not Every Story Has a Happy Ending

Memorial to My Son
Christopher Michael Clark

Chris in high school

Born October 13, 1973
Died June 28, 1997


That's how everybody who has been through it
describes it...
Waves of grief that wash over you
like the ebb and flow of the tides.
Waves that come and go
when somebody you love very much dies...
especially when that somebody is your child.
In our case, it was a 23-year-old son,
brother, uncle, friend.
One minute, you think you're handling things just fine...
and the next, you're practically immobilized
by the grief that hits.
You learn that, like the tides, it will go away...
but you also know that it will be back.

Chris at 1 year old

Chris at 1 year old
October 1974

Chris in kindergarten

Chris in

Chris in 2nd grade

Second grade

Chris in 5th grade

5th grade
Problems had
already started
Notice the smirk

Chris in baseball uniform

Chris played
Little League baseball
for 4 years

Chris at wedding

Chris having
a great time
on the last day
of his life

Roadside cross for Chris

Cross at the side
of the road
where Chris died

My son, Chris, had been a troubled young man with serious behavior problems as well as serious substance abuse problems, including a battle with cocaine, who was finally starting to see some successes. After very tumultuous teen years and a two-year stay in Alabama, he returned home determined to get his life back together. As he had dropped out of school and had never received a high school diploma, he signed up for GED classes which, to his great surprise, came very easily to him, and he had passed his GED exams less than three months after starting the classes. This was no surprise to us as Chris had tested out with an IQ of 122 when he was in school. However, this was a great confidence booster for Chris, and I remember him saying that he had not thought that getting his GED would mean so much to him. He began to consider attending college classes.

After this, Chris found a good-paying job and was considered one of the company's best workers. With a steady income, he then decided it was time to get his own place. After spending months saving his money, he secured an apartment and bought all new furniture for himself. I will never forget the day that he proudly drove me to see his new place. When I first walked in the door, I stopped in the door with my mouth hanging open. I was absolutely amazed at his good decorating sense and how nicely he had fixed everything up, as I had never seen this side of Chris before. He was so very pleased by my awed response and acknowledgement of what a great job he had done to get himself such a nice place.

Three weeks to the day after moving into his new apartment, one of Chris's best friends was about to be married, and the soon-to-be groom and some of the other groomsmen spent the night at Chris's new apartment. According to the police, there was a report some time during the night by one of Chris's new neighbors about a lot of noise coming from the apartment, and the police said they warned Chris and his friends to settle down. From this, we know that Chris had been up most of the night with his friends, probably drinking.

The next day, the last day of his life, Chris had apparently had the time of his life at his friend's wedding, serving as one of the groomsmen. He was running around bragging about how good he looked in his tuxedo, and was later quoted by a friend as telling everybody that he thought he looked so good in his tuxedo that he would like to be buried in it.

Later in the evening, when Chris went to leave the wedding reception, several of Chris's friends tried to get his car keys away from him as they could see that he was not in good shape to drive due to heavy drinking that had been taking place at the wedding reception. However, Chris could be very stubborn, especially when he was drinking, and he angrily refused to relinquish his car keys and drove off in a huff. Chris next stopped to visit his father at a private club to show off his tuxedo. According to his father and other people who saw him at this club, he seemed okay and nobody suspected there was a problem as he sat with his dad and drank 7-Up for an hour or two. He then left the club, telling his father that he was going to meet some of his friends from the wedding at another local establishment that was located less than 10-minutes away from the club.

Chris never made it. Not five minutes after leaving his father at the private club, Chris was involved in a head-on collision. Apparently the back tires of his Chevy Blazer went off the pavement and into a muddy shoulder. In his efforts to get back on the road, Chris's Blazer was propelled across the road and directly into the path of a car coming from the opposite direction. On impact, his Blazer flipped on its side and Chris was thrown from the vehicle. Of course, Chris never felt he needed a seatbelt; like many other young people, he thought he was invincible. Paramedics found him on the side of the road, face down in his tuxedo, barely breathing, and attempted to resuscitate him. He was rushed to the emergency room as resuscitation efforts continued, which was only a few minutes away, but on arrival, frantic resuscitation efforts by the emergency room staff were unable to revive Chris, and he was pronounced dead at 11:10 p.m. on June 28, 1997. Later on, the irony of Chris's statements about wanting to be buried in his tuxedo and then actually dying in that same tuxedo really got to all of us. I considered Chris's statement regarding the tuxedo like a last request, and Chris was indeed buried in a tuxedo which we purchased from one of the tuxedo rental places. The one he had been wearing, of course, had been destroyed in the accident.

Chris had been trying to reach me by phone the whole week before he died, but I was very busy running all over the place for my job and Chris worked nights, so we kept missing each other. I realized after he died that I lost my last opportunity and would never get to talk to him again...one of life's greatest tragedies for me.

This story would not be complete without mentioning the driver of the other car involved in the head-on collision, who was an older woman coming home from babysitting her grandchildren. This woman was actively involved with her grandchildren and was always seen at her grandsons' sporting events. She did volunteer work at two hospitals and was highly thought of in the community. The accident caused her to be pinned in her car, and it took over an hour to extricate her. A helicopter was called to airlift her to a major hospital and was at the scene and waiting. However, when paramedics and emergency personnel finally were able to extricate her, she died within minutes, and the helicopter simply brought her to the local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Two crosses were erected by Greg Zanis on the side of the road where Chris and the other woman were killed (Greg Zanis also made the crosses for the Columbine victims.)

Despite everything that had gone on in Chris's life, he was very loyal to his family and friends, especially his parents, but also felt great love for his seven brothers and sisters and three little nephews. He had discovered, through all the problems and turmoil in his short life, that the people in your life who care about you - your family and friends - are life's greatest blessings. On this sixth anniversary of Chris's death, we, his family and friends, miss him terribly!

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