Parents of Flight 800 Victim Put Grief to Work

By Nan Ross
Episcopal News Service

Ann Dwyer walks up the dirt driveway to her hilltop New River home in Arizona, sorting through the mail. The pile includes an edition of Forward Movement's Day by Day, the Episcopal devotional, which she ordered weeks ago.

The way she responds you get a feeling that this is the brightest spot in her day. Ann and her husband, Ron, are living every parent's worst nightmare--enduring the death of their child.

They are a study in courage. And they have put their grief to work, not only on the new home they had purchased just three weeks before their daughter's death, but in making their new community a better place for other children.

Larkyn Lynn Dwyer would have been 12 years old last August 14. She loved school, her friends, her mother and father, and older brother, Kyle, the violin, and horses.

All of her loves were represented at a memorial service last summer at St. Barnabas on the Desert, Scottsdale. Larkyn's own drawings of horses filled a booklet about her. Her cowboy hat was there, along with flowers shaped in a horseshoe, and photographs that told of a carefree, active childhood. And young musicians played violins.

Heading for France

Larkyn was on her way to France to visit a Phoenix schoolmate whose parents have a home there. On July 17 Ron and Ann sent her off on Transworld Airlines Flight 800, which would have her in Paris in a matter of hours.

"In some ways it hasn't seemed real," Ann says. "It's on our minds all the time. Life is so dreamlike. There are days when I'm a little lost. It's a lost feeling. And I'm missing a lot of love."

News reports of the continuing investigation intrude often. Her husband, Ron, calls from another room in the house: "Did you see this?" referring to a newspaper article. "They've identified another victim."

The Dwyers became acquainted with most of the grieving families by keeping vigil while bodies were searched for. "We were pretty lucky. They found Larkyn the first night." But they feel deeply for their comrades who have not been so fortunate.

The public nature of the tragedy, rescue efforts and the investigation into its cause have been among the biggest challenges. "For the most part, the best came out in most people," says Ann, who believes that "people need to be kinder--treat others with more kindness."

"I don't think we're going to find out the truth about this for a long time. But finding out won't help us out. We would just be angry."

A Monument to Larkyn

For Ron and Ann staying angry is not an option. Instead they have put their energies into a community project and their new home, the fixer-upper they found in rural New River north of Phoenix.

"We had looked for two years for property so Larkyn could have her horses with her" instead of boarding them, Ron says. "Larkyn and I found it together. We wanted to be able to look out the back and see the corral down below."

Weeks of hard labor and 600 tons of fill dirt have turned the property into the perfect home for horses Red and Scotty. Even Ann has started to ride.

But their real focus is on what will be called the Larkyn Memorial Arena at the New River Community Park on North 15th Avenue. They are working with the local Kiwanis Club to provide "a place for kids to ride and practice for gymkhanas and horse shows," Ron says. "The Kiwanis Club is also helping us find support for a handicapped riders group." This is especially important to the Dwyers because their son Kyle has grown up with special needs. The fund-raising effort to build the arena "defocuses the pain," Ron says. "It helps you cope with it. But there's a down side: When it's over, it's hard. Like the Poker Ride we worked on for two months--it was very successful and raised lots of money, but the day afterward, you fall back into reality and nothing has changed."

No Escape From Loss

The same has been true at home, Ron adds. "We worked hard on the house for two months, adding fences, a barn and water. But then it really hits you again. October was my best sales month ever, but there's just no meaning to it. There's no excitement. I met a five-year goal, but it doesn't matter. There's just no fanfare. No celebrating."

"My faith has helped me a lot," says Ann, who grew up attending St. Christopher of the Valley in Cobleskill, New York, which held a memorial service for Larkyn a week after the crash. The children of the parish drew a rainbow on the sidewalk and wrote "Welcome Larkyn" in colored chalk, an act that moved her deeply.

"A lot of answers don't come in this life," she says. "I think there is everlasting life and you'll get to see your relatives again. I know that Larkyn's on the other side--wherever the light is."

The family has worshipped together at monthly Sunday evening prayer services at Good Shepherd of the Hills, Cave Creek. The familiar strains of Larkyn's favorite violin music combine with simple chants to comfort them.

"Life is pretty wonderful," Ann says. "You'd better count your blessings every day because they can be taken from you.

"There's a lot to be learned from an experience like this. When people die suddenly, we need to reflect on how they lived their life, how they treated others, how they went about being good to people."

[ Return to Christian News Archives | Return to Village Life Magazine ]

Copyright © 1999 Inc. All Rights Reserved