Life After Loss: Tough Love

The loss of Rob was truly a domino effect to many other worries and struggles to come. I watched the pain and confusion from the kids and how most friends and family weren't able to relate to this type of loss and couldn't even talk about it. As I sat day after day in the hospital, my kids went through their normal routine of getting up and going to school. It wasn't until the day before Rob was taken off life support that I actually told them, it didn't look like their dad would be coming home.

The older two kids ended up finding out about how their dad died from kids at school since one of the first responders told his son, who ended up sharing his knowledge at school. My older two kids were actually teased about it. This was not the way I expected them to find out how their dad died. 

I was devastated, confused and did not understand what was going on. How could I ever explain it all to them when I couldn't even understand it myself.

My son Chase had the most difficult time with his dad's death. He spiraled downward and began self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, becoming very defiant and angry. Chase was lost.

Watching my son struggle so much after Rob passed away was almost as hard as the death itself. He was out of control. I wanted help but didn't know where to get it. After a long series of events, I called 1-800-HelpMyTeen. They suggested a "character" building school in Iowa. There were many that told me to send him to military school, and said "he needs discipline" and advised me to kick him out. I didn't agree with them. I knew he was hurting. I knew he had a good heart, and I knew he needed love and understanding.

As hard as it was, I made the plan to send him away. It was 8 months before he turned 18. I truly looked at it as the last act of love I could provide for him before he turned 18 and could walk away or not attend anywhere I would send him. So, the plan was to have two men come and pick him up in the middle of the night and drive him to Iowa. Prior to, I had to send clothes and supplies with strict rules as what you can send and not send. It all happened so fast once I made up my mind. Although I was overwhelmed with fear, I always believed in giving my kids choices. Chase's choice was to clean up his act or be sent away. I don't think kids ever really believe their parents will follow through with such drastic ultimatums. On the phone one day and the next, I found myself at Meijer at 5am buying white socks, underwear, lace-less shoes, non-spiral journal books, and the list goes on. Once Chase left for the day, I washed all of the clothes. My heart broke thinking about it all, but especially watching Whitney, who was only 14 at the time, write his initials on everything I just bought and washed.  We then boxed it up and mailed it out.

Once Chase returned home, I brought Maddie to my parents for a sleepover as she was only 6 and I wasn't sure how this would all go down. Whitney and I brought Chase to dinner for barbeque and had nice conversations, yet I was a nervous wreck inside knowing in a matter of hours, two strangers would be pulling up and taking him away. Yes, it felt like something I had seen on Dr. Phil - never imagining this would happen in my own home with my own child.

At 1 am, I saw the lights come up the driveway while Chase was sleeping. I was prepped prior to their arrival with the plan. I had a letter written to Chase that he would read on the way to his school explaining why he was going and what my expectations were for him. I had to go into his room and wake him, let him know these two men were here for him, leave while he got dressed and came downstairs with his escorts. Surprisingly, he got up and agreed without running away or trying to get out of it. After just a few minutes that seemed like eternity, Chase walked with the two men to the front door. I handed him the letter, hugged him and told him I loved him. He turned, looked at me and said, "Will I be gone forever?" I will never forget those words or the look on his face.

That day and night were one of the hardest in my life. Making these decisions on my own was tough love. It took enormous strength not to share the news with anyone until that day in fear of someone trying to change my mind. Watching him walk to that car with two men I did NOT know was painful, and it hurt having to put his younger sister through the trauma of helping me do it. Whitney and I cried together for a long time and had several sleepless nights.

It was seven hours later I received a call from the office of his new school confirming that Chase had arrived safely and seemed to understand why he was there. The last words he said to me at our front door during the middle of the night, were the last words I heard from Chase for 8 months, as we were only able to send emails back and forth to each other, while staff would send pictures once a week.

If Chase got nothing out of it, I got eight months to sleep at night not worrying where he was or what he was doing. For eight months I didn't have to worry about the effect his behavior had on his sisters. For eight months, he got the help he needed. Chase left just after his 18th birthday and walked with his class in his high school graduation. He said to me, "I know why I needed to go, thank you."

by Vonnie Woodrick

About the Author
Vonnie Woodrick created i understand in 2014 in loving memory of her husband Rob who lost his battle with depression in 2003. Vonnie routinely provides speaking engagements to private organizations and community groups throughout the year in an effort to raise awareness about suicide and encourage education about mental health. Learn more about i understand's "Love Heals" Lecture Series.

This blog is part two in a six-week series titled, "Life After Loss".


  • You’re a courageous, intelligent, loving person. I wish you all the best in your struggle with Chase.

  • Vonnie – My heart just broke for you as I read this. Never did it occur to me just exactly what this does to the whole family. So thankful that Chase was able to recover from this horrible tragedy. Sometimes all the support in the world can’t help the hurt. I have prayed for you and your family and will continue to do so. I believe that God is the greatest comfort one can have as we found when we lost our daughter to cancer. Losing someone no matter the way or reason, hurts terribly and can send the strongest person spiraling if not grounded in Christ’s Love. God bless all of you.

    Marcia L. Waldmiller
  • Vonnie it was so nice meeting you today at I Understand 3rd Birthday. this is the first i have read of your family’s story. As a Praying mother, the answers you recieve are not always the easiest. It takes a lot of faith and commitment to make decisions for our children when they are suffering. I also agree with not confiding with others about your decision. This was one of those situations between you and God alone.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Mary Anne Vandam
  • Thank you for your honesty. You are helping so many.. And you are much braver than I could ever have been.


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