Story

Paisley Yankolovich
From the 2017 CD, Forced Witness

Lyrics

 

He was my son. He is my son. I guess I could say “was” but now that my handsome boy has gone from being an awkward, smelly, post-teen annoyance to a force as big as the sun, moon or even God, dismissing him as past-tense seems rather trite and insulting. Don’tcha think?

 

He had four names. A first and last name and two in the middle. And in his short life my son managed to fill the expectations of each one of his names, and then some. A force of nature he was and someone, in hindsight, who would remind all who knew him that every single one of us matters and is an expression of God’s love and purpose. We are all forces of His nature and our lives matter. We matter.

 

It’s so easy to canonize the dead and that is most certainly not my intent. In fact, I think if you came here tonight expecting to leave knowing my dear child, you may be disappointed as that train has left. My son has left Planet Earth as we know it forever more and all of the pictures, stories, songs and tributes you may find amongst his friends and family… or online… would hardly scratch the surface of understanding the experience of knowing him and the devastating void his death has left.

 

I am forever wounded, eternally deformed. There is no fixing me nor is there any desire in my heart and soul to be healed. A limb had been torn from my flesh. It is gaping, bloody, infected and ripe. And I wear it like a badge of honor because that is the place my son lived in me. Does he still live on in me? I don’t think so or else it wouldn’t always feel so cold and lonely. I’ll grant you he lives on through me on some inconsequential level but he lives forever cradled in the arms of Jesus.

 

Knowing that we will reunite one day offers some comfort but that comfort quickly disappears when awareness sets in. Awareness that I may have forty or more years of suffering before that Great Day occurs. Having only survived a short period without him thus far, knowing how unbearable and unbearably long each day has been, there are times when I think it is me who has died. Died and gone to Hell. A hell fiendishly designed to meet the needs of my greatest fears and, considering the guilt I carry, my just-deserved eternal torments.

 

Because, despite whatever problems we may have had over the years he was alive, he was my son. My dreams of the future, my confidante, my shadow, my twin, my friend, my brother, my teacher, My God, my devil, my favorite things, and hell is a place where I can’t see him, touch him, smell him, laugh with him, argue with him, pray with him, hold him when he cries, council him about life, love and God’s amazing purposes for his existence. But especially hell is a place where I failed at my most important earthly role as parent: keeping my child alive. Safe, alive, healthy, on the right track, hopefully facing his future which will be long, prosperous and filled with so many of God’s blessings they cannot be numbered.

 

Well they were numbered. Just like his days. Him dying at twenty makes a mockery of me having made it to fifty. After a lifetime of living, many accomplishments-and just as many failures, lessons learned and oh yes, all those blessings from God. What have I to show for it now?

 

A beautiful family with a huge, ugly hole in the center where our dear son once was. 

Paisley Yankolovich
From the 2017 CD, Forced Witness

Lyrics

 

First the misinformation from his friends “Oh, he’s ok, you just need to get to the hospital to sign papers and stuff.” Then the runaround at the hospital, “A doctor will be in soon to explain everything.” Then the news, “It’s really bad…. He didn’t make it.” Then the hours before they let me see him. Then being alone for the first time with my dead son. His open, glazed, black eyes that had once been deep brown. The useless tube in his mouth. His naked, cold, stiff body under a hospital gown they obviously put on just for show. And now the last time to touch him, to kiss him, to speak to him face to face.

 

Oh my God! The pain, the crying, the anger, no, the rage, the confusion, so lonely, so helpless, so forever changed. Then walking his mother and sisters down the hall to see him one last time as well. The screaming, no wailing, all the “Why God why’s” Again, so lonely, so helpless, so dead. The eyes of “mercy” all around us. Nurses, patients even police officers all trying to make eye contact with me to see what absolute destruction of soul looks like and to offer a glance of compassion in the process.

 

Stop looking at me! I’m a freak now! I’m dismembered! You people don’t know me. You didn’t know him. You don’t have a clue what we’ve lost here. You’ll all go home and tell your husbands and wives how pathetic that man at the hospital was tonight, the one who lost his son. And you’ll thank God you’re not me. But I have to be me forever! I have no one to go home to and my son is dead! I know what it’s like to bring a bouncing baby boy home from the hospital. The hope, the love, the joy, the excitement. The infinite dreams. Now I know what it’s like to go home empty handed. So don’t look on me with compassion you cannot muster because it’s incomprehensible to you. Just pity me. That’s right, pity me. “Poor, poor man lost his baby. Pass the salt, will ya hon?”

 

Now I’m destined to cry tears that for the first time in my life offer no relief or release. Now I know an exquisite pain that puts all other pain to shame, forever left to ponder why God deemed my earthly life more valuable, more necessary than my son’s. Such an ugly truth. For me to be alive at fifty and him dead at twenty. There are no words. But you’ll try to find them anyway.

 

You’ll try to console me with some gobbly goop about God needing him in heaven. Like my son was called from the Great Beyond to mow God’s lawn or change The Almighty’s carburetor. Stay away from me with such stories!  My son died in a senseless accident that could have easily been avoided or could have easily turned out different. But it didn’t. Don’t try to spin this into a God thing. The Lord did not take my son, He accepted him. And for that I’m grateful but it certainly wasn’t his time.

 

Sure, I’m the proud owner of a Death Certificate that puts the Time Of Death at 6:15 on December 17, 2013 but that was not my son’s time. He had a life, a future… He was alive! Don’t you see when you try to fix me by copping some slogan about Jesus, you actually make it worse? “Hey, let’s bring up Job, the man who lost ALL of his children to the guy who, so far, has only lost one.” It’s cruel! So is, “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.” I don’t want to handle this and I sure don’t want to find out what else I can handle. Would you? Just stop! Just shut your well-meaning traps long enough to put yourself in my shoes. You can’t. Because, like me, this is a life every molecule, every pore, every fiber of your being refuses to acknowledge as a possibility.

Paisley Yankolovich
From the 2017 CD, Forced Witness

Lyrics

From what I understand, he suffered. Not for hours, probably just seconds, maybe even a minute or two. But I bet it felt endless to him. Much like those eternal seconds when he saw he was about to collide into the oncoming vehicle. The medical report said his death was due to cardiac arrest brought on by blunt force trauma to his head. His friends who watched him die as they tried in vain to perform CPR said that it looked to them like he was having a heart attack, that he moaned like he was in excruciating pain as he breathed once… Paused… And breathed one last time.

 

My son’s last utterances were painful grunts while his twenty-year-old heart was exploding in his chest. His moans of pain and two final breaths were acted out for me by the buddy who failed to revive him, try as he may, but continued until the paramedics arrived twenty-five minutes later only to fail just as successfully. Later that boy said to me, “I’m sorry, I really tried to save your son.” And those paramedics, “We’re sorry, but we did all we could.” Then a hospital social worker, “So sorry for your loss, is there anyone we should call?” Then everybody on the whole freaking planet, “No words, no words… “ No words.

 

My son was helpless from conception. He needed his mom for life. He needed his dad for protection from the day his head popped out of his mother and the midwife screamed “Push!” At twenty he hated me referring to him as my little baby boy but he was my little baby boy. Every parent understands this. Our kids may get bigger but they are our children, our babies, helpless as the day they took their first breath, and destined to be there… Destined to be there when we breathe our last.

 

They are not supposed to die before us, they are not supposed to die out in the middle of nowhere, heart exploding, choking on their own blood, all alone without their mommy or daddy holding them, caressing them, telling them that Jesus is waiting on the other side, that they are loved, that they are perfect, that we will miss them. That we will miss him. That we will never forget-that we will never forget him.

 

I wasn’t supposed to see my boy dead and cold on a hospital gurney and later on a funeral home slab, or in a cardboard box with his name scribbled on it, with highly combustible paper around his head just seconds before the fires of cremation forever destroyed the most beautiful and valuable thing I’ve ever created. I invested twenty years of my life in trying to protect my son, no, trying to save him. Save his soul, save his mind from the evil influences all around us, save his body from toxins, fatty foods, smoke, drink, drugs, anything that could ultimately take his life. And mostly, I tried to save him from himself. His youth, the biggest threat of all, the little boy who saw everything as a weapon, every wall as something to climb and dive off, every aspect of life as an adventure that was insufficient unless it posed some kind of imminent danger.

 

Well, I was insufficient. I let that beautiful, perfect, helpless baby boy slip through my useless, inept fingers. He died in the desert in a fashion that becomes a cautionary tale for other parents. “Remember what happened to that other guy’s kid. We don’t want the same thing to happen to you.” Every year something terrible happens to someone’s kid-an accident or suicide. What lottery did I participate in to win the privilege for my boy to be the local example of 2013?

Paisley Yankolovich
From the 2017 CD, Forced Witness

Lyrics

Everybody needs a bad guy in a story like this, a Boogey Man. But there’s no Lurking Monster to be found here. Just boys being boys and something going horribly wrong. Had the man who crashed into my son remained on the scene till the police arrived, his existence would play only a small role in this nightmare. Instead he quickly became as much a centerpiece in this madness as my son. An anti-hero, fodder for the media- you know, the one’s who barged into my home the day after my son died to catch as many grief-stricken faces as possible. “How does it feel to lose a child?” “What do you want to say to the man who did this?”

 

But much like the media, everything about him is but a small insect circling the massive, rotting carcass that is my dead son and all that his death took with him. I wish he hadn’t fled. I could have given him a hug, prayed for his soul and called it a night. Instead, in a moment of self-serving fear he made himself the star of my son’s biggest performance and an on-going irritant to those of us actually attached to this event-trials, interviews, countless forms to fill out, deadlines, blah blah blah. Thanks buddy! As if death certificates, funeral homes, dealing with his college, banks, creditors, friends, family and every idiot on the planet who greets us at their place of business with an unwelcome, saccharine-sweet “So, how’s your day going?” weren’t enough.

 

My son’s short life will forever be all that I cling to and examine. Not any of these other players. This belongs to me, his mom, his sisters and us alone. Stand with us in solidarity on this point or join the swirling mass of misguided rage. Forget about finding a scapegoat or join the lynch mob. But don’t expect any cooperation or participation in dialogue about “him.” He’s not on my radar, not in my scope. I don’t not close my eyes at night and see a target for my rage and vengeance. I see my beautiful boy, dead, cold, taken from me far too soon. And it is ultimately him I blame.

 

Was it worth it, son? Are you a Big Man now, son? Are you in heaven? With God? With all the answers of the universe, son? I begged you not to go in the first place. Did you hear my voice pleading with you in those final seconds when you knew death was inevitable? Am I imagining your voice in my head saying, “I’m sorry, Dad” or is that really you trying to comfort me? And does it even matter at this point?  It will always be in my Bible. In Jeremiah. Again in Matthew. How many times have I read it? How many times have I closed my eyes and imagined the unreachable agony of loss? And now it’s about me! “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children were no more.”

 

My only son has been slaughtered like the children of Egypt, the children of Bethlehem, like Jesus Christ Himself! There’s no healing here and there’s none-a-comin’. Not now, not ever and if you can’t get with that, find a different church. Healing to me means to let go, to forget. These are not options. They’re just ugly little demons, disguised as quick-fix, insta-doses of positive thinking phooey, about as not-helpful as sending me some white light, loving energy and good thoughts. Pray for me! I’ve lost a child, a son, a brother, a generation, the family name, grandkids, great grandkids, hope for a better future and one third of my reason to live. NO BANDAIDS PLEASE!

Paisley Yankolovich
From the 2017 CD, Forced Witness

Lyrics

So do I blame God? Should I blame God? My son’s death taught me that if God allows the young to die then our human lives really don’t matter much. His life was not complete. His work was not over. On the contrary, it was only beginning. I cry every day, not merely because I miss my boy but because I know what he has missed out on. I’ve lived the next thirty years of his life and it kills me to know that he won’t know marriage, children, career, ministry, just the experiencing of living.

 

I prayed for a son, I prayed for my son, I prayed with my son and now he’s gone. Should I pin that on the Almighty or should I accept the fact that God’s hands are tied as we live, suffer, die and oft times perish for all eternity. Doesn’t God suffer as well? He watches us die. His children. We hurt, we wither, we die and He is our forced witness. Pain might be His closest friend as well.

 

So if God suffers along with us in our suffering, do we not then share his suffering with and for others? Is Christ’s example on the cross not the ultimate example of this unity in suffering? Salvation was and still is accomplished in suffering. Jesus challenges us to examine our hearts to determine if we are worthy to share in His suffering. So if we suffer, does that not automatically not only bring us closer to God? But even more so, our better, Higher, Spiritual Self?

 

Am I experiencing life’s greatest blessing disguised as a curse? Should I embrace my agony as a gift from On High instead of hiding the shame I feel as a son-less parent in the dark gloom that is now my home. Is there hope here that I am missing? Would I even accept it if it were so? Or would that be too painful of an admission: That my son’s earthly life didn’t matter past the twenty year mark but was to serve as God’s tool to bless me and make me the powerful super hero of faith He always intended me to be.

 

I love my son and I know that December 17, 2013 was the day the devil won. I know God did not take my son away from this life for His own pleasure and design. And I’m not sorry that I’m not quick to trivialize, spiritualize and make a big happy out of the demonic violence that has occurred. I know there is hope all over this thing. I know that redemption is for the taking. I know that God will be glorified and that testimonies galore will abound but even the disciples were sad to see Jesus go. Life without Him meant confusion, despair, fear and ultimately death.

 

Can’t I have it both ways? Can’t I be grateful that my son is in heaven and that God will always be there for me and mine but still mourn, still be angry, still be destroyed? In some alternate universe, my Jesus, my only source of hope, my refuge, has my son. I know he’s alive there, in peace, in love, but I cannot touch him, see him, hold him, and experience his beautiful life. Jesus is his captor now. I know he’s in good hands. But my hands are empty. And my heart is broken. There’s not a new angel in heaven. It’s my child. My son. His eyes are not on me, they are fixed on Jesus. I look on Jesus through tears. Endless tears that never satisfy but only encourage more tears. More tears, more rage, more hopelessness. If children are a blessing from God, then I have been cursed. I’m forever marked as one of “them.” I look in the mirror and see that I have changed. The light in my eyes has gone out for I’ve lost my hope. I’m reminded of CS Lewis lamenting his loss when I say, “His absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” I’m enveloped in loss. It has become my constant companion. Impossible to ignore. And it’s never going away.

Paisley Yankolovich
From the 2017 CD, Forced Witness

Lyrics

It was finally time pack up all of my son’s belongings. I walked into his bedroom, the room he left in disarray when he went off to college and found that most of his stuff was already in bags. He had very little furniture as he was growing away quickly from staying at my house when he returned on break-let alone live here. I was acting out a scenario I’ve seen in countless films. But unlike the movies, nothing was folded neatly and no sweet was music playing in the background. It was just stuff. A useless, mostly unwashed, lifeless collection discarded by a young man upon his death. I placed his bed in the alley hoping someone would collect it and use it. No such luck. Two weeks later when I managed to get it in into the communal dumpster I noticed that it was covered in cat pee.

 

People ask me if I’m sleeping ok and I’m tempted to laugh. Even a peaceful sleep is a four to six hour trip into denial that ends with the sudden awareness of a rude awakening.  But most of my nights are spent in nightmares or worse, the busy dreams. There was one where my son was playing drums, pounding and pounding, as if to say, “Pay attention to me!” All night long! I woke up drenched in sweat, out of breath, and exhausted only to fall back to sleep and in my next dream jump in front of a moving train. Who wants to sleep if this is what there is to look forward to only to wake up to something even worse?

 

Where there once was a family, I now have “remaining” children. Where there once was the unpredictability of phone calls, texts, visits, good news, bad news, events, life, there’s now a handful of survivors clinging together for dear life, knowing that another shoe can fall any time. Because now we all know: No one is safe. No one is “protected.” Not really. Not completely. Not ever.

 

And then there’s the silence. For a season my phone was ringing off the hook and my email box full. My home was filled with sympathy cards, gifts, flowers, casseroles, heck, a lifetime supply of groceries, and people. People visiting, and people staying with me until it was time for everyone to go back to their lives. Now there’s nothing. Just me, my House Of Memories and the ghost of the person I was only a few short weeks ago, trapped in another dimension, trying to figure out what went wrong.

 

“It’s good to talk,” people will say and call it catharsis. But they’re wrong as no purging is happening here. Just regurgitating and recycling thoughts, feelings and outrages that have no beginning, end or purpose other than to tease and torment me with what was and what could have been. There’s no music in this, no rock and roll, no good beat that I to dance to, no happy ending. God has taken my greatest agony and turned it into the Theatre Of The Absurd that is now my life. Welcome to the freak show everybody! Tell all your friends and we’ll get this baby to Broadway!

 

Do I forgive God for allowing my life to turn out this way? For being his servant, his minister and still not being immune to tragedy. Of course! I knew all along there were no guarantees not even for me but the fact that I remain Christian after an event such as this may be the greatest testimony of all.  And I do testify. I testify that God gave me a beautiful son, a wonderful friend, and challenging shard of iron, a source of dreams when he was alive and a reservoir of nightmares now that he’s gone. Nightmares I will learn to treasure as sacred keepsakes of the dead. I’m grateful for the time I had with him but it simply wasn’t enough. I stood over my dead son and prayed that God would resurrect his lifeless body right then and there. And God said no. I miss him so much. I just want him back.

Paisley Yankolovich
From the 2017 CD, Forced Witness

Lyrics

I'm Trampin'

I'm Trampin'

Tryin' to make heaven my home...

 

Ain't never been to heaven but I am told

Tryin' to make heaven my home

The streets up there are paved in gold

Tryin' to make heaven my home

 

I'm Trampin'

I'm Trampin'

Tryin' to make heaven my home...

 

They say that heaven's not at all like earth

Tryin' to make heaven my home

Jesus says He'll take away our hurt

 Tryin' to make heaven my home

 

I'm Trampin'

I'm Trampin'

Tryin' to make heaven my home...

 

Traditional

(Verse #2 by Frisco Yankolovich)

Lyrics

In the first weeks after my son died, I wrote this piece. I make no apologies. Even for performance, recording, video, and lyric errors. It's raw and real, like my experience. The closing song was co-written by my son. When he was eleven.  

 

FORCED WITNESS

c/p 2017

 

Released April 6, 2017

Written, performed, produced, recorded, and designed by Paisley Yankolovich

 

Tracks:

1. Forced Witness (Part One) (4:32)

2. Forced Witness (Part Two) (4:56)

3. Forced Witness (Part Three) (4:31)

4. Forced Witness (Part Four) (4:24)

5. Forced Witness (Part Five) (4:50)

6. Forced Witness (Part Six) (4:57)

7. Trampin' 2017 (3:11)

 

 

A Word About Angels (Heartfelt Thanks)

 

The Trinity: The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

The Kids: Chelsea, Frisco, and Molle

The Animals: Ace and Johnny

 

Special Thanks: Jerry Dieterich, Eileen Dieterich, Ed Wolfe, Craig Walker, Barbara Walker,  Michael Frickstad, Diane DiCarlo, Dorothy Buckelew, Obadiah Madsen, Shaun Klein, Carol Shaw, Sabrina Brumley, Dani Robinson, Lisa Mueller, Lois Waite, Ken Welch, Robert Moulthrop, and James Coffman

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