Presented by Randy Taylor – July 1, 2006
Drew Michael Taylor, son of Randy and Marcie Taylor, was killed June 13, 2006 when a logging truck crashed into the van in which he rode with his family while on vacation in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. He was 3 ½ years old. His father gave this eulogy at his funeral.
During the past 19 days, I have been asked two types of questions. One has to do with health: how is Marcie, how is your back, are you guys okay? The second has to do with help: is there anything I can do for you, is there anything you need? Last Sunday, as I was standing in her dining room, Susan Berrier asked me these questions: “Randy, what have you learned from this tragedy and what lessons can you share with me?” For the past week I’ve been thinking about her questions. I’m a teacher and a coach. This is my most valuable lesson. This is what I’ve learned.
I am reminded that I have a wonderful extended family. The Taylors. The McClures. The Ditzlers. The Walters. The Bentivoglios. The Podas. They’re good, solid people. Thank you for your love and support. I think it was 30 years ago this summer that my Aunt Betty took me to Florida on vacation with her family. You treated me like I was your own son. You really took care of me and thirty years later you still are.
I’ve only seen my cousin, Jon Taylor, who now lives with his wonderful family in San Diego three times in 15 years, but when he learned of this tragedy he dropped everything to help me out. Thank you, Jon.
We call John Bentivoglio Marcie’s cousin, but he is actually Marcie’s mom’s cousin. John is an attorney in Washington D.C. He has been so great to us that I almost regret all of those lawyer jokes. John, you moved us along in the right direction so that we weren’t trampled by the ambulance chasers. I don’t know how I can ever repay you. Especially since you charge $500 an hour.
This tragedy reminded me of all of reasons why Marcie and I decided to raise our family in a small town. The car washes, the pool parties, the birthday party for my daughter, Lauren, the local EMT’s, the donations, the food, the flowers, the pictures, the videos, the cards, the visits, the phone calls, the lawn mowing, the dog sitting, the building of ramps, the e-mails, the prayers, and The Randy and Marcie Taylor Fund at Orrstown Bank. This community’s outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming. Thank you.
This tragedy reminded me why we decided to join Messiah United Methodist Church. God’s people worship here. To Pastor Troy Howell, all I can say is thank you, I love you, and I will be forever grateful for the things that you have done for my family.
Another very important lesson that I learned is that there are great people out there who are willing to give so much of themselves to help total strangers. Like the hero who was the first person to arrive at the accident and said, “I’m an EMT from Butler, Pennsylvania. I’m here to help.” The fire fighter who gave me a blue towel to clean myself up and to wipe away the tears. The flight nurse who stayed with me hours after his shift was over to hug me and tell me how sorry he was for my loss. Marcie’s nurse, who gave us her cell phone the night of the accident and said, “keep it. I’ll come back for it in a day or two.” The members of Colonial Heights United Church of Christ in Norfolk, who learned about us via e-mail from a church secretary in Indiana.
Members of their congregation visited with us every day. Total strangers. They prayed with us, cried with us, and gave us communion. They were absolutely amazing.
I’ll never forget the Chaplains at Norfolk hospital: Gina, Michael, and Bennie.
Every Sunday Pastor Troy prays for the Chaplains. Now I understand why. Put yourself in their position: It’s a beautiful Tuesday morning around 11:00 a.m. A call comes in that a three-year-old boy is arriving shortly in critical condition. His father is with him. You see the helicopter land. The father gets out first. He has on one flip-flop, a pair of swimming trunks, a Scotland Basketball shirt, and a pair of sunglasses resting on his head. The father kisses his son on the cheek and says, “I love you” as the 3 year old is brought into the ER. You then take the father to a conference room.
What do you say?
To be honest, I don’t remember what Gina said, but I thank God for her. She was so comforting. I remember we did a lot of praying. We spoke many times in the hospital while we waited for Marcie to recover from her injuries. Gina told me that when I ran into the ER with Drew that she could tell that I was a doer. So she kept asking me what I needed to do. Who did I need to call? After about an hour with Gina, another Chaplin named Michael, spent about two hours with me. He took me to the trauma floor to wait for Drew to come out of surgery. He gave me a Gideon’s Bible. Once again, I don’t remember what we talked about. I just kept walking from one end of the small conference room to the other. Michael was sitting on a chair not saying much. But there really wasn’t anything to say. His presence was very reassuring.
After surgery, Drew was taken to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. It was there that I met Bennie, a tall black man in his 50’s with a soothing voice. Bennie is the chaplain for the Children’s Hospital and it was Bennie who asked me if Drew had been baptized. For ten hours, I hugged, cried, and prayed with those three Chaplains. They received the full flood of my emotions. Me. Randy Taylor. A total stranger. They do, what Jesus did. They sacrifice themselves for others.
I learned that even though I’ve spent 19 days in Hell. I need to be thankful.
I have an incredible wife, a beautiful seven-year-old girl. And I had Drew. After Drew passed away at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Marcie and I were taken back to the ER. I showered, changed my clothes, and began to receive treatment for the broken bones in my back. After an hour or so, Lauren arrived with Shirley, Carrie, and Tim. Lauren asked me where Drew was and if he was okay. I told her that I would take her to where Drew was. We were then taken back to the Children’s Hospital so that Shirley and Carrie could see Drew. Lauren went with Tim and some counselors to a children’s play room. I spoke to a couple of counselors about how to tell Lauren about Drew. They told me that she would take her cue from me. She’ll react based upon how I act. So I went to a bathroom and threw water on my face and prayed to God for strength. I told God that this was the most important moment of my life and please don’t let me screw it up. I walked to the playroom and asked everyone to leave me alone with Lauren. I felt a calm come over me as I began to talk to her. I told Lauren that Drew had been hurt really bad in the accident and that the doctors and nurses had done all that they could to save him, but Drew was now in Heaven. His body was still here on earth, but his soul was with the angels. Lauren began to cry. We hugged. Then she asked me, “ Can we get another one?” We talked for a while. Then she drew this picture. [Randy holds up a picture of a dog getting blamed for the cat peeing, explaining that the family had just gotten its first dog and it frequently had “accidents.”
The day after the accident I watched Lauren closely to see how she was doing. At some point in the morning, she came up to me and said that she wanted to call Mrs. Behrenshausen, her first grade teacher. When I asked her why she wanted to call Mrs. Behrenshausen, she said that she wanted to tell her about Drew. She wanted to tell her so that Mrs. Behrenshausen wouldn’t find out on the first day of school and cry in front of her new students.
Anyone who knows Marcie knows that a great word to describe her would be selfless. She is always thinking about others before herself, whether it’s organizing a variety show to benefit the Tim and Sue Cook Scholarship at Chambersburg or organizing a concert to help Justin Wolford’s family as he has a stem cell transplant. I’d like to tell you a story about the most selfless act I have ever witnessed. As I was waiting for Drew to come out of surgery I had been given word that Marcie was being airlifted to Norfolk Hospital. When I was told that Drew was not going to make it, I asked the doctors if they would be able to keep Drew alive until Marcie arrived. I told them that her kids were her life, and that she wouldn’t be able to cope if she could not see Drew before he died. The doctors assured me that they could keep Drew alive until Marcie arrived. As they wheeled Marcie in on a stretcher I could see that she was in a lot of pain. She could see in my face that things had not gone well for Drew. The doctor told her the same thing that he had told me: Drew had suffered catastrophic brain damage and there was nothing they could do for him. At that point, all of the oxygen seemed to leave Marcie’s body. It was as if she had been punched in the stomach.
She closed her eyes. Took a deep breath. Exhaled.
Then Marcie asked the doctors if they could donate any of Drew’s organs. They told her that because of the severity of Drew’s injuries that it was doubtful that they could use his organs. Marcie asked a second time. She said that Drew had to be able to help somebody else. That it would be the only way that she could make sense of this tragedy. It was the most courageous thing I have ever seen in my life. Even though Marcie was walking in the valley of the shadow of death, she was thinking about helping others. The doctors told us that they could keep Drew alive with machines if we wanted. Marcie and I both said no, let him go peacefully, naturally, in our arms. So they unhooked Drew from the machines. They gave Drew to me, and I placed Drew on Marcie’s bed between the two of us. Pastor Troy called, they put him on speaker and we prayed. After he finished, everyone left the room but the three of us. We cried, prayed, and sang songs for Drew. After about twenty minutes, Drew went to be with his savior.
One of my favorite memories of Drew was his Baptism in May 2004. Pastor Troy does a great job with Baptisms, but Drew’s was really special. During the service, Troy began to walk around the sanctuary with Drew in his arms. He walked down the aisle and walked out the door to introduce Drew to the world. Troy was wearing a microphone so we could hear what he was saying. While outside, Troy and Drew encountered a man walking his dog. Troy introduced Drew to the man and said, “This is Drew Michael Taylor, a child of God. Drew was just baptized and I’m introducing him to the world.” The man, who Troy had never seen before the service or since, said “that’s great.” It was such a special ceremony. You could feel God at work that morning. I knew that God had a special plan for Drew.
Most of you probably never spoke to Drew. He was a shy kid, a mama’s boy. In fact, for about a year we were not able leave Drew in the nursery during worship service because he just cried and cried, wanting his mommy. Eventually, Drew grew to love coming to church. He loved playing with puzzles, and especially loved singing songs with Mrs. Holtry. In May of this year, our family was greeters at church. At first, Drew really didn’t like the job much. But as the month wore on, Drew loved shaking everyone’s hand and saying “Good Morning.”
Drew was really looking forward to going to the Outer Banks. For about a week leading up to our vacation Drew would ask, “Are we going to the beach today?” “I want to go to the beach.” “Go to the beach now.” At 5:30 AM on the morning of Sunday June 11, I was in my bathroom shaving, when Drew opened the door and asked, “Are we going to the beach today?” I said, “Yes Drew.” Drew replied, “Hoorah!”
We were on the road by 6AM.
It was just the two of us. Marcie, Lauren, Shirley, and our new puppy Trey were leaving after church. Drew slept from just south of Washington D.C. to North Carolina. When he woke up he asked, “Are we at the beach yet?” We arrived at our condo, and I wanted to unpack, but Drew wanted to go to the beach, so we took a trolley to the ocean. We played football in the ocean for an hour or two. I would throw the ball into the ocean. The waves would bring it back. Drew would get it and throw it back to me…over and over again.
Monday June 12 was overcast and dreary, so most of our activities were close to the condo. Drew and Lauren took a bubble bath together. Drew stood up in the tub, covered with bubbles, and said, “I look like a snow man.” We got in the hot tub as a family and had our picture taken for the last time. On Tuesday June 13 Drew woke us up at 5:30. He slept between Marcie and me and he was anxious to play. We had the condo to ourselves, just the three of us. Drew helped Marcie make an omelet and incredibly, Drew cracked four eggs using just one hand. He was his mother’s little Renaissance man. Drew and I then played dominoes as Marcie took Trey outside for a walk. She saw a beautiful sunrise and took a picture. Drew and I went outside. Our condo was beside a golf course, and there were people playing so Drew decided he wanted to play too. I went to the car to get my golf clubs and for the next hour we hit golf balls around the yard, played with Trey, and enjoyed each other’s company. I left to play basketball, and when I returned a couple of hours later everyone was anxious to get to the beach. The five of us waited for a trolley to take us to the ocean. The first trolley came by, but it was full. The driver said another one would be coming by in a few minutes. So we waited. Another trolley came by, but it was full as well. As we waited and waited for another trolley, a jogger and a cyclist passed by. Both said, “Good Morning.” We, of course, responded by saying, “Good Morning.” Drew said, “Hey, just like in church.”
Those were his last words.
When the third trolley never came, we decided to drive to the beach. After the logging truck hit us, I crawled in the backseat of the van with Drew, where I helped the EMT’s and paramedics. Drew was taken from the accident in an ambulance. I followed in a sheriff’s car. We went to a firehouse where we waited for the helicopter to arrive. I was loaded into the helicopter first and then Drew was loaded. We flew to Norfolk Hospital, where Drew was first treated in the emergency room, then the Trauma floor, where his surgery took place. We then went to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. It was there that the surgeons told me that the surgery had not gone well. There were a lot of internal injuries and bleeding. They had removed his spleen and his small intestines. They were breathing for Drew. They told me to wait in the conference room until the pediatric surgeon arrived. I think I waited for about 15 or 20 minutes. The pediatric surgeon entered the room with a bad poker face. I knew what he was going to say. Drew had suffered catastrophic brain damage and there was really no hope of recovery. He asked me if I wanted to see Drew.
I entered a crowded room and there was my son. I cried and cried. Someone, I think it was either Gina or Bennie told me to talk to Drew. So for a couple of minutes I said, “I love you.” Over and over again. “I love you, Drew.” “I love you, Drew.” I read the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer from the Gideon’s Bible that Michael had given me. I sang Amazing Grace. Then I began to sing Mrs. Holtry’s children’s songs, but I think I was screwing up the lyrics, so I just rested my head on Drew’s. I cried. Finally, I looked up at the medical people in the room and I began to introduce them to my son. I said, “This is Drew Michael Taylor, a child of God.” “This is Drew Michael Taylor, a child of God.”
Thousands, if not millions of people have reached out to my family during this tragedy. I understand from my cousin John that we are on prayer chains in India and Russia. Candles have been lit for my family in churches in Europe. Many people have asked if there is anything that they can do for my family. The answer is yes. There are three things that everyone can do for my family. First, please continue to pray for my family. We will never stop mourning for Drew. Not in a week, a month, a year, a decade or in a lifetime. We will have broken hearts until the day that we die. However, like Coach Pitino said, we will remain positive and live life to its fullest because we have to. Second, please pray for the driver of the truck who hit us. At some point, when I was in the van with Drew and all of this chaos was going on around me, I saw a face that didn’t belong. It was a man crying and saying over and over again “I’m so sorry.” “I’m so sorry.” I’m sure that was the driver of the lumber truck. Please pray for him. Third, you can support the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation. Like Marcie said at the Children’s Hospital, the only way that we can make sense of this tragedy is to know that Drew died in order to help others. I have never been more committed to anything in my life. We will honor Drew’s memory. We will create a foundation in his name, to help kids.
To answer Susan Berrier’s questions: “What have I learned?” and “What lessons can I share?” I’ve learned a lot. But the greatest lesson I learned is discovering the meaning of life. These thoughts are not my own. I learned them from Troy during a sermon a few months ago. To paraphrase Troy: we live in a high tech, fast-paced, complicated world. But when it comes right down to it, life is about three things, and three things only: The people you love…the people who love you…what you do for God. The people you love…the people who love you…what you do for God.
Drew Michael Taylor, three and one-half year-old son to Randy and Marcie Taylor of 402 Richwalter Avenue Shippensburg, and beloved little brother to Lauren Elizabeth Taylor, entered eternal life on Tuesday, June 13, 2006.
Child of God’s making, Drew imparted energy and life to all whom he encountered with his sparkling eyes, infectious smile, curly locks, and especially his engaging disposition and determined spirit. Drew’s favorite things were wrestling and playing ball with Daddy, making chocolate chip pancakes and reading with Mommy, going to library story time with Grandma and his best friend Karsten, and playing with his big sister Lauren. Jumping on his bed, going to the playground, playing pirate, and eating popsicles were also part of Drew’s daily routine.
In addition to his parents and sister, Drew is survived by maternal grandparents, Richard and Shirley Ditzler of Conestoga; paternal grandparents, Harold and Helen Taylor of Shippensburg; maternal great grandmother, Elizabeth Walters of Pequea; uncle Michael Ditzler of Ventnor, NJ; uncle and aunt Daniel and Melissa Guyer Taylor of Chambersburg; aunt Carrie Ditzler of Conestoga; and cousin Brandon Taylor of Chambersburg. Drew is also survived by an extensive network of family and friends and his best friend Karsten Braun of Shippensburg.
Drew Michael was baptized in Christ as part of the faith community of Messiah United Methodist Church, Shippensburg, where he joyfully participated in the children’s nursery and Sunday School class activities. He especially liked hearing Mrs. Louise Holtry’s songs and stories and playing with the toys and puzzles.
The Service of Death and Resurrection will be on Saturday, July 1 at 10:00 a.m. at Messiah United Methodist Church, 30 South Penn Street, Shippensburg. For those attending the service, viewing will begin one hour prior to the start of the service. A private burial will follow at Parklawns Memorial Cemetery.
Drew Michael Taylor Foundation
402 Richwalter Ave.
Shippensburg, PA 172577.