Chapter 3: The Hard Goodbye

Chapter 3

The Hard Goodbye


Ed and Theresa Murphy Family reduced for web.jpeg

Here I sit eleven months after Nick's death going back in time.

Back to our last day together on this Earth. The last time we were able to see Nick alive. I wish I could say it seems like yesterday, but it does not. It seems like another life, a lifetime ago.

Everyone says that it will get better.

That you will get better as time goes on. That time heals all wounds. That Nick will never be forgotten. All of that sounds so good when you hear it. It sounds good on paper. Unfortunately, it isn't really true. It is true that you will heal. You will grieve and you will mourn. Time will help you. But you will never fully recover. There will always be a part of you missing. Life will never be the same. The new normal isn't very normal.

Tomorrow will be the 19th.

A day that will always bring great joy and great sadness. Joy from all of the birthdays and celebrations on this date. Sadness because of Nick's date of death and age. 19 is too young to die. It is too soon to go. Too soon for me anyway, but just right for God.  That is the real key. It was the right time for Nick and the right time for God.  It was Nick's time to go. Whatever purpose he had on Earth was fulfilled and he was sent home. I am happy. I am happy I will see him again.

It was Sunday morning on November 20, 2016.

I had written my two Posts telling the world how much I loved Nick, Grant, Alec, Laney and Theresa. Telling them how proud I was of my family. How thankful I was to have had this wonderful life and four awesome children for the last 19 and 1/2 years. I sat there in the condo looking out at the Gulf of Mexico and felt peace. It was weird. My world was shattered, but all I felt was love. I loved my wife and children so much I had to write it on Facebook. I love my extended family and friends and had to tell them so. I sat there reading on Facebook all of the wonderful tributes to Nick and our family from other family and friends and it made me so proud of our family. I know I was in shock, but I also know that God was there carrying me all by Himself through the sand. Despite everything that was falling apart around me, God was there. He was holding me up, making me brave, giving me strength. I can state without a doubt there is no way I would have made it through that weekend, let alone these past eleven months, without God by my side and lifting me up. I stated before that when bad things happen you either turn to God or turn away. I am so blessed and thankful that I turned toward Him. 

Once everyone got up that Sunday morning, we knew it was going to be another long day.

We knew today was the day. The day that would be the last time we ever physically saw Nick. We saw him for a couple of hours on Saturday, but today would be it. There was no going back. No more holding his hand or feeling his breath. No more listening to his heartbeat. That night his heart would belong to someone else. It was God's plan and we had to come to grips with it.

As we went to the hospital, everyone was pretty quiet. Everyone knew what this meant. No one wanted to say it. We were all on auto-pilot in some respects, but we were also well aware of the finality of this moment. When we arrived to the hospital floor, we all went in to see Nick. He was still there, obviously, and still alive. We all went in and paid our respects to him. We held his warm hands, hugged his body, listened to his heartbeat, and kissed him good-bye. I remember standing next to his legs and uncovering his leg from the blanket. I grabbed his leg and squeezed his calf. He was so strong and alive. He was so muscular for Nick. He had gained 27 pounds of muscle since July and was "huge" for him. I thought to myself how proud he must have been that all of his weight lifting and hard work had paid off. He was strong. He was proud. He was defending our country and he was going to be a SEAL, no matter what it took. I was so proud of Nick then and still am to this day. He represents the good of our young people and we should all be proud of those that make the sacrifice to join the military.

One by one we said good-bye and left the room. Grant, Alec and Laney went first. It was hard. All three of them loved Nick more than anything and he them. They were four close siblings and all best friends. A parent could not ask for more. Then it was just Theresa, Nick and I. It was time to say good-bye. As I stood and looked at Theresa and Nick, all I could do was be proud. There is nothing more profound and awesome than a mothers love. Theresa is the best mother I have ever seen and Nick was her baby. He looked like her and her side of the family. He was a Murphy, but he was also a Brodeur, that is for sure.

Nothing can prepare you as a parent to say good-bye to your teenage son. There is no textbook you can read. No speech that can be given. No list to make. There is just love. So much love. We will see you again Nick. And it will be great. Until then, we will survive. We will do more than survive, we will thrive.

We will carry on your legacy of sacrifice and commitment and bravery. We will change the world, one person at a time. We will make the world and our community a better place. You will not be forgotten. And that was the beginning of the Nicholas J. Murphy Foundation.

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As we walked out of Nick's room, there was peace.

We were not hysterical. We were sad and we were upset inside, but mostly there was just love. I know it sounds crazy, and I cannot tell you for sure why, but I was just so full of love that entire day and so proud of my family that all of the sadness in the world could not change that. That was when I again knew that God was with me. I could never have done that alone. I am simply not that strong.

As we walked out, we passed by the hospital room that Breona Mackoff was in. She was hooked up to all kinds of machines and out of it from surgery and the drugs she was on for pain. She was a mess, but she was going to be fine. At that time, we only knew her name, that she was with Nick the night before, and that she was going to live. We did not know any details of the day before. As we left, we walked through the waiting room that we had been in the prior day on Saturday afternoon. There was a large number of people waiting there so I shouted out, "Is there anyone from Breona's family here?" Immediately, Breona's mother, Wendy Mackoff, stood up and came over to me.

She instantly gave me a hug and started crying, and started telling us "Thank you, thank you for saving Breona's life". At that time, we had no idea what she was talking about.

She then proceeded to tell us all about the day before. We had not talked to anyone yet about the actual incident, so this was all news to us. She told us how the three of them (Nick, Breona and another sailor) were walking across the street in the crosswalk right after midnight and a car came out of nowhere and hit them. The car never saw any of them and never slowed down at all. Nick saw the car at the last second and pushed Breona forward and out of the way. His actions saved her life. The other sailor was behind Nick a few feet and saw the whole thing. She kept telling us "thank you" and giving us hugs. We did not know what to say. We had just said good bye to Nick forever and now she was telling us he was a hero. It was a crazy ten minutes to say the least. It was also the beginning of a friendship that will last forever. Our families will always be connected for the rest of our lives. Wendy and Breona seem like family and I am convinced that Breona is meant for great things down the road. There is a reason Nick helped save her life. I am happy to report that she is making a full recovery and doing great in the Navy.  

After a few minutes, we left the hospital and were then on our own. It was a little after 2:00 p.m. and we had not eaten lunch. So we went to lunch. There is a mall nearby and a lot of restaurants. We found one and went in to be seated. Obviously, we were not saying much. We were still in shock by the whole incident. By saying good-bye to Nick. And then everything with Wendy. It was a little overwhelming for us all. We literally rode to the restaurant in silence just trying to hold it together. We made it until we got inside the door to the hostess. As we got up to her, she asked "How many?" and Alec said "Five". She said "Ok, party of five". That was it. I know it sounds stupid, but just that one phrase was all it took. We had been a "party of six" for the last fifteen years. Just the thought that we lost one and now had "five" was too much. It meant it was real. It was not a bad dream and Nick was really gone. We broke down crying and the hostess must have thought we were totally crazy. Luckily we were at a table off to the side.

That is one of the things that no one will understand unless you live through a tragedy.

It is the little things that set you off, that remind you of your loss. A picture you see, a song you hear, a favorite place you used to go. All of these things and a million others can set you off into hysteria. It is a part of the grieving process, but it still sucks. It is a constant reminder that your loved one is gone. 

We made it through lunch and went back to the condo. It was all auto-pilot and a lot of going through a checklist. There was so much to do and no one there to help. There was just the five of us. No extended family. No friends. That is what happens when you are out of town for a tragedy. No one else is there. 

We were told the organ transplant surgery would take place sometime that Sunday night or Monday morning. We were told that the funeral for the Navy would hopefully be Tuesday or Wednesday but it might not be until after Thanksgiving because of the holiday. That sounded horrible. We couldn't come back to Illinois without Nick and the thought of being there all week until Friday was dreadful. It was not a vacation and it was really lonely. Luckily, Grant's girlfriend Maria Puetz was flying down on Monday so that would help. So there we were at the condo, trying to make plans for everything. Since there was going to be a Navy funeral on the base in Pensacola and then a funeral back in Illinois, we had a lot to plan. We also had to write Nick's obituary.

Wow, this was not going to be a fun night.

Everyone participated. It helped get our minds off of everything. The Navy asked us to plan out his entire funeral, so we needed songs, religious readings, everything. It was a lot to think about. The kids kicked into high gear and it was unbelievable. We talked about Nick all night. What songs he loved, what readings he would like. We listened to a hundred songs, but we did it all together. Grant, Alec and Laney were unbelievable. Theresa was a rock of strength. I was just along for the ride watching my family in action. Despite it all, we were going to survive as a family. There would be dark days ahead, but we were strong. 

For a long time, Grant sat at the kitchen table writing notes. I did not know what he was doing until he was done. Then he announced he had, by himself, written Nick's obituary. He gave it to everyone to read. It was unbelievably great. We didn't hardly change a word. Every word was from the heart and was truly Nick. Grant's love and kindness as the oldest brother came shining through.

We all looked at it and said "Yes, this is it." And then we used it. In honor of Nick and thanks to Grant, here it is:

DUNLAP - Nicholas James Murphy, 19, of Dunlap, IL, passed away the morning of Saturday, November 19, 2016, at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. Nick or "Murph," as people would call him, was serving in the United States Navy trying to attain his life-long dream of becoming a Navy SEAL. He was born in Peoria, Illinois, to G. Edward and Theresa Brodeur Murphy on May 17, 1997. He grew up in Peoria and Dunlap, where, like his older brothers, Grant and Alec Murphy, he fell in love with baseball and football. He played all types of sports and was always trying to beat his older brothers and playing up on the older teams. Even though Nick had the competitive spirit to always try to beat his brothers, he had a special soft spot and love for his younger sister, Delaney Murphy. He loved being her big brother more than anything in the world. You would often find him and Delaney eating Buffalo Wild Wings together and just hanging out being best friends.

Nick graduated from Dunlap High School in May of 2015. Nick played football and baseball throughout high school, the highlight being his junior year, where he made all conference in baseball and was the starting second baseman right next to his older brother, Alec, who was the starting shortstop. The two were unbelievable at turning double plays and Nick was known for having "the fastest hands in the Mid-Illini." You would often find his family and grandparents, George and Dolores Murphy, at every baseball game behind home plate, supporting Nick and getting on the umpires for any bad call.

There were not any two people who supported Nick's dreams and ambitions more than his parents, Ed and Theresa Murphy. You would often find Nick and his Dad lifting weights together to get Nick ready for his intense training in the Navy. Ed was also Nick's first baseball coach and taught him everything he knew on the diamond, from holding a glove to running around the bases. His mother, who Nick called "Madre" for fun, was the emotional outlet for Nick. She would give him love and support in anything he did. She would often keep Nick in line and tell him to "go clean his room," hoping that he could learn this lesson before joining the Navy. Nick's smile would light up the room and there was nothing more enjoyable for his Mom and all those who knew him to see everyday.

Not only did Ed and Theresa love and support him, his siblings Grant, Alec and Delaney, were equally proud of everything he did and to say that their brother was in the Navy and working to become a Navy SEAL. Nick and his three siblings were always the best of friends and fully supported all that each of them did.

Nick joined the Navy in the hope of protecting his country and protecting the people in it. He had a heart of gold and this was shown in the last days of his life. A vehicle struck him and two friends and fellow sailors the morning of November 19, 2016. At the last second, he pushed his friend out of the way right before he was hit by the car. She is alive and will recover from her injuries. Everyone who knows Nick knew he cared about others more than himself. In addition, Nick has saved another 6 people through organ donation. All of his organs were donated and transplanted, and we were told that many of those transplant recipients would not have lived through the night without Nick's organs. Even in his death, he is a hero saving lives. Nick was a great son, brother, grandson, cousin, nephew and friend to all he came in contact with. We love you Nick and you will be dearly missed.

In Nick's honor and to make sure Nick is never forgotten, his family has created a scholarship that will go to a baseball player each year from Dunlap High School to help pay for his college expenses or to a baseball player that will be joining the Armed Forces. His parents, Ed and Theresa, and his siblings, Grant, Alec and Delaney Murphy, survive him. He is also survived by his paternal grandparents, George and Dolores Murphy; his maternal grandmother, Diana Brodeur, who he called "Meme" as well as aunts, uncles and cousins. He was preceded in death by his maternal grandfather, Jerry Brodeur; and his aunt, Debbie Brodeur.

To celebrate the life of Nick, there was be a visitation service at St. Vincent de Paul Church on Friday, November 25, 2016, from 4 to 8 p.m., and on Saturday, November 26, 2016, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., prior to the funeral. The funeral was held at 10:30 a.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Church on Saturday. Nick had a full military burial on Monday, November 28, 2016, at 11 a.m. The Armed Forces Color Guard took Nick from the funeral home at Wright & Salmon Mortuary in a procession then from there to the Rock Island National Cemetery.

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That was what Grant wrote.

We updated it after the organ transplant information was known, but the rest is all Grant.

That is who we are. Us Murphys are built of good stock. We stick together, in good times and in bad. We look out for each other. We take care of each other. In the end, we are family and family comes first. I am proud of what we did that weekend and every day since that date. Nick would be proud of us, just like we are proud of him.