Gig Harbor, WA, US
3/7/2009, Baltimore, USA
She remembers that primal noise of childbirth. It’s a sound that women have no control over, and when a child passes through the birth canal with that final push, a groan, throaty and primitive, surges from the mother’s mouth. Leslie Mayne said she heard herself make that same sound a second time — the one she made when her son Kyle was born — when she got the news that he was dead at the age of 27.
Life for Mayne and her son became a difficult journey in 2007, and continued to intensify, but she insists hers is a story of hope and healing.
Kyle Marshall Farr was born Aug. 12, 1981. He was a boy who loved life, loved sports, and played football. When he got the news that his cousin Shelley Marshall was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorists’ attack on the Pentagon in 2001, he knew what he had to do.
“He served in the Washington National Guard, and as the war started he wanted to be part of that effort,” Mayne said. “In 2004 he got out of the Guard and went into the Army.”
Kyle was a Private First Class who served as a sharpshooter and machine gunner on Humvees at Camp Seitz in Iraq, and sometimes manned the gun tower. His Humvee was hit in 2006 and Kyle suffered injuries, and was the only survivor, she said. He was sent to Germany to serve as a driver for a Colonel, and while he was there he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.
The Colonel was transferred back to the U.S. and Kyle was sent to Virginia for treatment at Walter Reed Hospital in 2008. “He was honorably discharged and then began outpatient treatment for those disorders at Walter Reed, but didn’t consider himself disabled,” she said. “He understood fully he was having difficulty adjusting. He had concentration lapses, nightmares, anxiety, depression and alcohol and substance abuse, all of those things that characterize PTSD and TBI.”
In December of 2007 Mayne was admitted to the hospital with a case of Mersa, a staph-like infection. It took three months of treatment, and she said she was almost finished with the treatments when her husband asked for a divorce. In the months following, she took a part-time position at Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor (in mid-2008) to supplement her income from her job working with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“I thought it would be a fun place to work and keep me busy on weekends,” she said. It became a second family for her.
“We adopted each other immediately,” she said.
She had been attending Harbor Christian Church (HCC), for some time. Her church family and work family were supportive during her divorce, and also knew of Kyle’s injuries. That year was a tough one for both Mayne and her son. In October, right around her birthday, Mayne’s dog Liberty, a German Shepherd and Lab mix, died suddenly.
“I helped her in, she was struggling to breathe,” she said. Mayne called the vet, but it was only 6:30 a.m. and the office wasn’t open. She called her son-in-law, Seth, and he came right away, but Liberty died as he arrived. “The two of us spent an hour digging a grave for her. I don’t know why she died. She was healthy and only 4 years old. I say she died of a broken heart. She watched me cry every day.”
The heartache was intensifying as November arrived. The mortgage on the Olalla home she had shared with her husband was split between them, and the home had to go on the market. That same month she got a heart-wrenching call. Kyle had attempted suicide.
“I spoke with him nearly every day encouraging him to admit himself to care as it became apparent he could not do it alone or with the outpatient treatment,” she said. “The nightmares were getting stronger, the noises of slamming apartment doors, or other sounds were more than just annoyances but would reduce him to a state of panic and fear and he would drop to the floor in an effort to protect himself.”
Following the suicide attempt, he was admitted for inpatient treatment at Walter Reed, she said. Mayne flew to Virginia, and she and Kyle’s father and fiancé met with the doctors who were trying to determine the next course of treatment.
“He looked disheveled, frightened and confused. I walked up to him and held him with an embrace only a mother could understand. I would not know at that time that it would be my last time.”
With his family around him, Mayne said Kyle admitted he was on a path of personal destruction and his choices leading to that day had been careless and reckless life choices.
“He reluctantly shared some of the violence that he had witnessed in Iraq and broke down several times,” she said. “We agreed he didn’t have to share any more at that time.”
He was moved to Perry Point VA Medical Center in Maryland for more specialized mental health care in December, she said. He was prescribed multiple medications.
“He started to improve,” Mayne said. “He was working hard and calling me every morning and we would talk about his day and his exit plan and what he would do when he got out.”
That Christmas, Kyle sent Mayne a card that read, “Dear Mom, 2008 has been a hard year for both of us … 2009 is going to be our year, Mom. I am going to make you very proud of me … I love you, Your son, Kyle.”
Mayne met Kyle’s psychiatrist, and had teleconferences with her and Kyle’s father as they rallied around him. Kyle planned to pursue a degree in journalism, and was reading a book his sister had given him, “A Purpose Driven Life.” He was working out, and had a list of resources such as Disabled American Vets, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.
Mayne said the family and his psychiatrist didn’t know it, but the VA hospital was planning to discharge Kyle. He was released on March 6, 2009.
“I would have moved heaven and earth to be there when he was released,” she said. “We didn’t know. He wasn’t ready, and he couldn’t self-medicate. He was on so many medicines.”
On March 6, 2009 he made a list of ten things to do. He put stars on numbers 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Number 10 was left blank.
“I am assuming the stars meant he had done them,” she said. “The number 10 he doesn’t write anything in … I would like to think that he was meaning to write in ‘call mom’ … that was the only day he didn’t.”
Though she had already endured months of stress and sadness, worry and heartache, Mayne went to work on March 7, 2009. She had spoken with Kyle the day before and said she was troubled a little.
“He would tell me how his therapies were going, his meds, his exercise, journaling, doctors, other patients, the weather and sports stuff,” she said. He didn’t call that morning. She got to work at 3 p.m. and her manager, Pam Hart, took her aside.
“She put my face in her hands and said, ‘You look tired, we don’t need you on the floor, go home and get some rest.'” Pam gave Mayne a hug and sent her on.
Mayne’s pastor, Gino Grunberg, had gotten a call from Mayne’s brother with the news that Kyle had been found dead in a hotel room in Baltimore. As Leslie made her way home, she said, she barely noticed the strange cars around her house. She reached the front door and her sister handed her the phone. The voice on the other end was Larry, Kyle’s father, Mayne’s first husband.
“He said, ‘Leslie, I need you to be strong … we lost our boy … he’s gone,’ and I remember falling down, and I remember opening my eyes to see my pastor and his wife, Mardell. They lifted me up and held me. I asked him, ‘Is my son OK?’ and Gino said, ‘Yes.'”
Surrounded by her family and church family, Mayne spent that night in prayer and reading scripture, she said. “My brother arranged travel for my daughter, my son-in-law and myself to fly to Virginia the next day.”
For nearly a year she existed, barely able to move, she said. Her divorce was final that same month, and in December 2009 she got the news that her ex had filed for bankruptcy and the mortgage would have to be her sole responsibility. The home went into foreclosure. Feeling she had nothing left to give, Mayne quit her job with Muscular Dystrophy Association in January and drove to Texas with her son Kody, and lived there until Memorial Day weekend. She came back ready to work on her grief.
When she got back to town and back to the Tides, she also returned to the work she had started with her grief counselor, Suzanne Kirsch of Shephard’s Counseling Center in Gig Harbor.
“She has walked me through these valleys for two years now. She has taught me things about myself. Learning the lessons in the losses, I am an eager student now.”
Mayne plans to go back to school to study psychology and wants to help soldiers like her son. She has done some work with the Wounded Warrior Project, and also helped plan the Patriots Day event at the Tides, where nearly 100 Green Berets received a free lunch and a pint on Oct. 15. Once she emerged from the fog of grief, Mayne said she could see clearly that she has a life to live.
“There have been so many God moments in all of this,” she said.
While trying to plan the funeral, they needed someone who could take the photographs and put it all together. Mayne asked her son’s stepmother, and she said she might know someone.
“She knew someone, she said, but he had muscular dystrophy. I had been working with these kids for 10 years, and in the darkest hour of my life someone with muscular dystrophy was there for me.”
With no real place to call home, living in her 2003 red Toyota pickup that she said is like a good friend, Mayne insists she is very blessed.
“I wanted to crawl into that casket with him,” she said. “I can do better outside the coffin. This is my journey.”