Why I won’t — and can’t — be funny today

image I stand in the slightly cracked doorway of my son’s room, studying the sliver of his face illuminated by the dim light spilling in from the hallway. He’s 15, and just a year younger than the two teens who died earlier this morning. On the floor next to his bed is his cell phone, seemingly discarded, just below a dangling hand.

The one with the baseball scar on the knuckle.

It’s not until I notice the moisture glistening around his eyes, and see the tear edge hesitantly down his cheek, that I realize he’s only pretending to sleep

His phone buzzes and lights up momentarily as someone’s grief is expressed in a Tweet. I glimpse a screen that scrolls endlessly with disbelief. Outrage. Sadness and pain. Classmates, friends and family trying to comprehend the incomprehensible…

It began with my fire department pager buzzing and shrieking a little after 7 a.m., followed by the report of a motor vehicle accident 15 miles away. A car over an embankment. Possible entrapment. Five occupants; two unresponsive. The caller was one of the victims. All were students heading to school.

It’s a small town. In my five years as a volunteer firefighter, I’ve responded to many emergencies and fatalities involving a bloodied but still familiar face.

But not this many faces at once.

Not this young.

I move to the living room and sit on the couch, clutching the pager. Listening. Unsure if my inability to respond until after surgery next week is a blessing or curse. I want to help. I want to BE the familiar face that gets the remaining victims through. At the same time, I want to stay on the couch and never see what I know my engine company is seeing as it announces its arrival on-scene. I can hear it in my captain’s voice — the tone of forced sanity and calm; the desire to scream, tightly squelched by duty. There would be time to scream later.

“Two code greens. One code yellow,” a medic reports, then adds: “Two code blacks.”

Though I didn’t know who it was at the time, in that moment Abby Boydston and Weston Bowman are officially pronounced dead. Two kids I had written about in Wednesday’s sports section. Kids whose images were in a file on my desktop; photos I’d taken last week during football and volleyball games; smiling faces after hard-fought wins, celebrating with teammates and coaches.

Unknowingly for the last time…

As I stand in the doorway, I see my son reach down for his cell phone. The light from the screen reveals his glossy, puffy eyes. The door creaks as I open it and step into the room.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I just need to be alone.”

I say nothing and kneel next to his bed, wrapping my arms around him. He remains rigid except for the a slow, rhythmic sob that escapes despite of his best efforts.

I continue to hold him.


After a few minutes, there is a muffled thud as his phone drops to the floor. I feel his arms slide over me, getting tighter. As we hold each other in the darkness, the repetitive chime of Twitter notifications is the only sound — until, gradually, it is overtaken by his sobbing.

Then mine.

I selfishly give thanks for still having all my children to hold.

And pray I never have to arrive within the flashing hues of red and blue and recognize any of their faces.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

137 thoughts on “Why I won’t — and can’t — be funny today”

    1. Thanks, Beth. It will be a long healing process made more difficult for those poor families — and this community — by the holidays. But it’s a grief we will bare together.

      1. ned, this happened with two young men who i went to school with, right before graduation and again with two of my youngest daughter’s high school classmates. these experiences have changed us, their families, the community, and the responders, forever.

  1. I can’t hit like on this one, Ned. I am so, so sorry. I pray for the families of those kids taken far too soon. I pray for your son and their other friends left behind to deal with a grief they should never have to. And I pray for you..that you find peace and strength for yourself and to guide your son through this tragedy. This truly breaks my heart.

  2. Your putting words to this kind of shock and grief is as much a light to darkness as the humor that gives us strength to live in a world where this can happen. My kids have lost so many classmates over the last few years. The time to love is always now.

  3. Ned, I am so, so sorry for your town’s loss, the loss by those families, those friends. Thank you, to you and your son for giving this window to your pain and letting us cry for your friends from so far away. I hope the healing is strong and brings everyone who loved them even closer.

    1. Thank you so much, Marla. It’s a small community, so its something that has touched everyone. At the same time, everyone is also an active part of the healing process. It’s just going to take time. Having this tragedy happen so close to the holidays is going to make it especially difficult for their close family and friends. But we as a community are there for them.

  4. I just happened upon your blog and scrolled through your entries by chance. this one made my eyes tear, mostly because I can only imagine how hard it would be to see your child in that kind of pain. My son is only 7 now, and I dread the day where I have to console him through any sort of heartbreak.

    I am not one to pray, but I will say that you are in my thoughts. Your family and those affected by this tragedy, as well. I hope that you all find peace among this grief, and those who passed did so without pain.

    Best of luck to you, and please keep up the beautiful writing.

    1. Thank you so much, Kay. No parent wants to see their child in pain, but in those moments when they are hurting, I think every parent is thankful that they can be there for their child.

      I truly appreciate your thoughts and kind words.

  5. Death is almost always unwelcome. As a teacher I lost so many students that I thought it was a curse. Drunk drivers, stupid accidents and even suicide. They always hit me hard because I related to them as their teacher and because I thought of my own. I understand and there are no words to say.

  6. I didn’t “Like” this post because I liked the topic. I wanted to let you know as a former volunteer firefighter dispatcher from a small town, I am standing shoulder to shoulder with you as you mourn young people in your community; people you knew, people whose faces you will miss. I have been on the other end of the radio during these calls & heard the firefighter choking back the emotion as he/she reports the results of a mishap.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, for doing what you did as a dispatcher, and for standing shoulder to shoulder with all of us who serve our communities as first responders. And thanks for being the voice on the other end of the radio.

No one is watching, I swear...

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