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A Mother's Bittersweet Memories

What did Rich Stark want to be when he grew up? A marine biologist — or to be 10, he would often tell people.

In 1977, one year before he would have turned 10, Rich was hit and killed by a reckless driver. The boy had been playing in his neighborhood in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan.

The day it happened, his mother, Myra Dean remembers, she was going out with her girlfriends. "Rich had a new friend named Steve. They were riding bikes and I said, 'Come on, we've got to go pick up the baby sitter.'"

Rich didn't want to join her. Instead, he wanted to go to the corner to watch the sunset.

"I thought to myself, I don't want to tie him to his mama's apron strings," Dean says. "So I said, 'Well, you watch for cars.'"

Then she left. When she returned, she saw a crowd and ambulance lights at the end of the street.

"I knew the minute I opened the car door and put my feet on the ground that it was Rich," she says.

She started running toward the crowd.

"A guy had been hot-rodding through our neighborhood," Dean says. "The car flipped over and it landed on Rich.

"And all I can remember is they had pulled the driver out and he kept saying, 'Oh my God, what have I done, what have I done?'"

Dean was put into a police car and she started screaming.

"The ambulance driver came to me at the hospital and said, 'There was nothing we could do. He's gone.'"

Her back against the wall, Dean slid to the floor.

"Ma'am, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but he was dead at the scene," she said the ambulance driver added.

"He'll never know what that meant to me ...," Dean says. "One of the things that was the hardest for me was, what if he was suffering and I wasn't there for him, you know?

"And the worst part is when you realize you're going to live, because you just want to die. I thought I wouldn't live 10 minutes and I was astonished when I'd lived 10 days and mortified when I'd lived 10 months, and not even grateful yet when I had lived 10 years. I was just mostly surprised.

"And there was no one more astonished that I'd survived it than myself. When you lose your child, it's like somebody has just amputated a huge chunk of your heart. The difference is people can't see the amputation.

"I miss him terribly," Dean says. "He was just a happy kid, and it's been a bittersweet thing that he died watching a sunset."

Dean, who has two grown stepchildren, helps other bereaved parents deal with grief through the Abilene, Texas, chapter of the Compassionate Friends organization.

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.