A mother without her son

Derek was my precious first-born. He arrived August 15, 1954 at Lewis Memorial Hospital in Yosemite National Park. He was born at 4 p.m. on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. He had dark blue eyes and gobs of black hair and I recall laughingly asking the nurse if he was really Derek George De Backer?  Every mother thinks her baby is the cutest, smartest and most wonderful among all babies. But he truly was. He grew to be a remarkable, intelligent and caring man. He was interested in learning and loved to read. Even as a young boy, he read the newspaper from cover to cover and could discuss what he read or ask questions about things he didn’t understand. He was a happy baby, boy, teen and young man.

He went through all the stages – learned to swim when he was five, loved to wear his cowboy outfit with holster, rode his first tricycle with great gusto and then had a shiny new bike at about eight-years-old. We attended St. Columbus Episcopal Church on Las Posas Road in what was then the sleepy town of Camarillo. When the church’s director in charge of the youth group lost his battle to cancer, I was asked to take the volunteer position – with three children and a full-time job. It was a fun opportunity to plan special events for the more than 75  boys and girls in the group. Derek was eventually elected president and his sister Debi was secretary. One Sunday afternoon, we had 75 kids for a party in what was then called our “Rumpus Room.” Derek was always active in Little League and I tried to attend all his games in spite of a full working schedule. In high school, he was also active and popular, elected as Junior Class President. I have pictures of him and other members of the Class of ’72 in our garage (then on West Loop – we moved there in 1968) during a “Paper Drive” to earn monies for the Junior Class. Derek also played Center on the high school football team.

Derek was growing up in a time of turmoil (much as it is today, sadly), with our country torn by violence and the conflict in Vietnam. Derek was sensitive to the chaos and we often discussed the news and its consequences. He was appalled, as we all were, when our President, John F. Kennedy, was killed, then later, his brother Bobby. One day he came to me as I got home from work and his beautiful blue eyes were filled with sadness as he asked me “Why?” And there were no answers. But that night, I sat down at my typewriter (no computers in those days) and began to write. In those days, I was a career journalist, Lifestyle Editor of my local newspaper, The Press-Courier, and I wrote a weekly column in addition to “covering” various social and political events in Ventura County. That week’s column, titled “A Mother Looks at Violence,” ran in the Sunday edition of my Lifestyle section. Early Sunday morning as we got ready for church, Father Jerry Graves, priest of St. Columbus. called and asked my permission to read my “A Mother Looks at Violence” in  place of his planned sermon. I don’t think Derek got all of his answers as to “Why?” but his question to me confirmed that many others were asking “Why?” Another time, Derek and I sat together with tears in our eyes as we watched on TV as another President, Richard Nixon, resigned his office.

There are many priceless memories of my Derek. He was a good man, a wonderful father and a loving son. His friends were legion and came from all walks of life. He was loved by many and he adored his first-born Jason and his darling daughter Aimee who brought him great joy. He would be most proud of them if he had lived to see Jason graduate last year with his AA degree from Tahoe Community College, and his Aimee receive her degree from Chico almost two years ago. He also is dearly missed by his sister Debi and his “little bro” Daryl. Daryl finds it especially hard  to realize that he and his “bro” will never be able to watch their favorite Laker games and other sports.

Adding my thoughts to Peace of Derek has given me an opportunity to experience again the joys of being a mother to a truly remarkable man. I don’t think I did anything to contribute to this wonderful life (which ended too soon) except give him life. Aimee’s Peace of Life dedicated to her father, gave me a rare look into my own feelings and allowed me to remember some of the precious times we shared together.

I miss Derek more than I can ever express. We talked every day “Hey, how’s it going?” “Did you read about ….” He was my darling son but he was also my best friend. Now, his beautiful sister Debi and “bro” Daryl and I talk almost every day. I think his younger brother Daryl recalls his brother’s devotion as Daryl tells me he loves me during most every phone call from beautiful Lake Tahoe. I believe that Derek looks down at us with his love and is the strength that will guide his handsome Jason and beautiful Aimee. Derek’s ashes were scattered in his beloved ocean. When I look at the ocean (which is only steps from our front door), I think of my dear first-born and know he is in a better place. In our guest room are many pictures of my beloved family. On one wall is a plaque which is surrounded by pictures of Derek in all phases of his short life. The words on the plaque are dedicated to Derek with love:

“We little knew that morning that God was going to call your name. In life we loved you dearly; in death, we do the same.
It broke our hearts to lose you, you did not go alone; for part of us went with you, the day God called you home.
You left us peaceful memories, your love is still our guide; and though we cannot see you, you are always at our side.
Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same; but as God calls us one by one, the CHAIN will link again.”
Until we meet again, my darling son.

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