Families united in surviving loss of children

CHURUBUSCO — Losing a child has been described as the worst kind of loss anyone could possibly go though, a searing and unspeakable pain. For two Churubusco-area families, July 16, 2009 will be a day never forgotten. It was that day that Andrew C. (“Andy”) Spencer, 17, and Megan Christine Young, 16, died from results of a one-vehicle accident in rural Whitley County. The young couple had just eaten lunch and were heading to Megan’s house for a swim before her volleyball practice. Unfortunately, the day’s scheduled events were never completed. Nobody knows what caused the couple to go off the road into a water-filled ditch with their windows down and seat belts intact, killing both teens.“They couldn’t be without each other even for a few minutes at a time,” Andy’s mother Cathy Spencer said. Parents of the children, Tanya and Chris Young, and Cathy and Mike Spencer, never officially met each other while their children were dating, but plans were on the horizon. “Six to eight weeks prior to the kids’ deaths, they were all over us about meeting each other, but we would just send cookies and cakes back and forth amongst the kids,” Tanya said. “We were two pretty close-knit families and we were sharing our kids with each other.”Even though they had only been together for six months, Megan and Andy claimed they were in love and going to be together for the rest of their lives, Tanya said.Instead of a planned meeting between the two sets of parents, the Youngs and the Spencers met under the most tragic circumstances — meeting face-to-face for the first time in the funeral home to plan their children’s funerals.“The funeral home allowed us a private room to meet,” Tanya said.Today, the Youngs and Spencers have formed a close and supportive relationship, helping each other one step at a time through the days since their lives changed forever. Through each other they continue to learn more about their children’s lives together and provide an outlet to express grief and find strength. “The four of us met each other at the funeral home planning funerals for our children and we are so close now,” Chris said. “We definitely won’t go two weeks without seeing each other, normally once a week, whether it be by texting or calling,” Tanya said. “They are our support group. They want to know more about Megan, and we want to know more about Andy. It‘s a time to share with each other about the kids.”They also rely on their faith.Just weeks before the accident, on June 28, 2009, Chris and his other daughter, Morgan, built a 14-foot tall cross and mounted it on their barn to express their faith to the world. Lit at night, the big, bright cross can be seen along state Route 205, near Collins.“I remember Megan saying that it was a big cross and wanted to know if we were going to hold services in the barn,” Chris said. “The cross was up before the kids passed away and I originally put the cross up making a statement that you should not be afraid to show your faith and Christianity, that was the motivation behind it.”Since the death of their children, the cross has come to serve a second purpose.“It’s in memory of the kids and dedicated to the kids, along with the garden below it,” Chris said. “We go through life with faith and I truly believe that we will see Megan and Andy again,”The garden below the cross is full of many beautiful flowers, which are just now starting to rise above the soil. There is a sitting bench, an Eagle, memory plaques and many other items donated by the community.One memory plaque in the garden reads “No farewell words were spoken, no time to say good-bye, you were gone before we knew it, and only God knows why.”To keep Megan’s and Andy’s memory alive, a community picnic is held every September in front of the large cross. Since Megan and Andy were Churubusco High School students, a special prayer is read before dinner which reflects on all students connected to Churubusco who have lost their lives. “When Megan and Andy died, we wanted to thank the community in some way for all their support, but we were so numb, we didn’t exactly know how to do it,” Tanya said. The picnic was a success with 150 to 200 people attending. Along with remembering Megan and Andy, the picnic had a list of 21 students going back 17 years just from Churubusco.A part of the picnic is a balloon launch with approximately 240 balloons released. One balloon was found as far away as West Virginia.“The first picnic was a thank you, but the second one we made a free-will fundraiser for scholarships,” Tanya said. In September 2009, a committee of parents, community members, Smith-Green staff and students were meeting to develop a plan to recognize and remember former students and staff members of the Smith-Green Community Schools’ family who had passed away. The ultimate outcome was a garden, named Eagles Garden, a living space of trees, plants, benches and a new brick walkway designated as “Our guardian Eagle Walkway” to honor those who have passed away and those individuals who have dedicated themselves to the school and community. The walkway is composed of commemorative bricks honoring and remembering individuals who have made an impact on SGCS and the community. Andy and Megan have a commemorative brick on this walkway.“Officially, the garden started after Megan and Andy died,” said Tanya, who is a member of the school board. “It (the garden) was actually the decision of the (school) board the year prior when we had lost another student.”Now, the Youngs and the Spencers are trying to go on through life remember their children and taking comfort in memories, their faith and each other.“When you bury a parent you lose your past, and that is very difficult, but when you bury a child, you lose your future so you have to learn how to find your joys again and not allow those joys to be taken away,” Tanya said. One of those joys, for Chris, is a book that Megan was reading at the time of her death, “The Shack” by William P. Young.The book was about a man whose daughter had been abducted and never found. For the next four years “a great sadness” fell over this man until a note from God showed up in his mailbox which become a greater understanding of God’s unfailing love. “I read this book (after Megan’s death) and I have actually read it twice, there are some parts which just make me cry,” Chris said. “It’s about a relationship of a guy, his daughter and God.”“The Shack” is now displayed in the Young’s kitchen among pictures of Andy and Megan, along with other memorabilia. Tanya said memories of the children can be pleasant and (at times) painful. For instance, going to the grocery store and seeing a mother with her two little girls, which can trigger memories of your own.“Or, maybe you see a lady next to you at a restaurant who may have the same purse that Megan had,” Tanya said. “The most sad thing is when you hear of another parent who has lost a child.”“I remember when this first happened,” Andy’s father Mike said. “You are desperately looking for assurance and a personal sign that everything is going to be OK — the kids are OK,” Mike said. “You try so badly for something you can cling to, but on Andy’s X-Box the screen name reads ‘is okay’, so I know I have seen God at work in so many different forms and fashions, it just takes a while to stabilize that foundation again.“There are days that are really bad, but no day that things don’t cross your mind,” Mike said. “You know that you aren’t painfully aware of where you are at, but it doesn’t preclude you from having joy in your life and experiencing joy with family and friends.”Leaning on one another is what these parents have done, taking pride in being strong for each other and self-sufficient. They have drawn their loved ones closer, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or a past moment to reflect on.God provided further proof to both families that Andy and Megan are OK. On the day of their funerals, a double rainbow shone in a stormy sky. The double rainbow is the basis for a business card directing people to a website created by Mike in memory of Megan and Andy. The site offers a link to scholarship information, along with many pictures and the community’s input. The site can be found at www.andyandmegan.shutterfly.com.