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Helping healing through time

5/23/2014

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

Cody Younger loved the lake. He loved barbecuing. He loved deer hunting.

Five years later, those activities still are hard for Neal Younger, his father.

Neal and Carolyn Younger, Munjor, lost their son, Cody, in a 2009 accident when the driver lost control of the vehicle on a rural Ellis County road. Jordyn Claiborn also died as a result of her injuries. Both were 16. The driver, Clayton Hoffman, also 16 at the time, suffered minor injuries.

The accident occurred at approximately 11:30 p.m. The vehicle entered a ditch, rolled multiple times, and Cody Younger and Claiborn were ejected. Both died at the scene.

"Around 1 a.m., we got a phone call," Carolyn said. "The person didn't identify themselves. They just said two had died, one was alive and you need to get to the hospital. I didn't think it could have been my son."

The vehicle was a blue Ford pickup.

"That wasn't his truck, so that couldn't be him," Carolyn said. "He drove a red pickup truck. He didn't even have any friends with a blue pickup truck."

Carolyn didn't know Cody was friends with Claiborn or Hoffman. Cody had plans to go to the football game, party and spend the night with his best friend, Jason.

"We found out later (Claiborn) wanted to drive Cody's pickup," Carolyn said. "I guess after they left the party, he drove it and Cody drove Clayton's pickup. They drove around for a while and dropped Cody's pickup off at Dillons. They went to Sonic to eat, walked around Walmart and goofed around like all teenagers do. From there, they went out to the country since (Claiborn) wanted to go mudding, but they couldn't find any mud puddles since it hadn't rained. They didn't make it home."

The person who made the anonymous phone call was Jason.

"When we got to the hospital, the parking lot was filled with teenagers," Carolyn said. "They already knew. When the sirens went off, everyone was wondering if it was them because they weren't answering their phones. So that whole bunch of teenagers went to the hospital. It should have come from a police officer or doctor. It shouldn't have come from a friend."

At approximately 3 a.m., Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin told the Youngers their son had died.

"I'll never forget," Neal said. "It was 11:11, and I told (Carolyn), 'I'm going to call Cody and tell him to come home early because we were getting ready for my dad's auction.' We had to start cleaning up. I should have called."

Five years later, Cody's bedroom lay untouched, his computer still sits in his room with an active Facebook page. A collection of Monster energy drinks remains on his bookcase.

"Cody drank Monsters everyday," Carolyn said. "He had a whole collection. The week before he died, I told him, 'I want you to throw those Monster cans away because I'm tired of dusting them.' He said, 'Mom, you better not.' A few days after he died, I had flower arrangements sitting in his room and I took one of my nieces in there to show her. One of the Monster cans made a crinkling sound."

Carolyn said she spent every night in Cody's room helping him with his homework and never heard any sound coming from the cans.

"I think that's Cody saying he's still here," she said. "They pop on a regular basis. If you believe in the afterlife, I believe it's Cody."

One month after Cody died, the Youngers were sent a postcard from Healing Hearts at the Center for Life Experiences.

Healing Hearts, started in 2001, is a local support group for parents who have lost children. The group meets monthly, and the Youngers have missed only two meetings since they began attending.

The group sends a postcard to a family whenever they see an obituary for a child.

"We're more compassionate now," Carolyn said. "Ask anyone in the Healing Hearts group, what's the first thing they read in the newspaper. Everyone will say the obituaries. I read them everyday, and I never used to. I look to see if it's a child, can I help them?"

Carolyn visits the cemetery at least once a week and decorates his headstone for every occasion.

"I have to decorate his headstone every time I possibly can," she said, "because I can't buy him anything anymore."

Each January near his birthday, the Youngers bring fireworks to the cemetery.

"We shoot them off there," Neal said. "If we get caught, we get caught. But some of the police officers know what's going on."

In order to commemorate Memorial Day, each year Healing Hearts hosts an annual event to memorialize children they have lost. Parents gathered Thursday night to place pinwheels on each child's grave. Approximately 25 community members gathered for the 13th annual Avenue of Pinwheels at Mount Allen Cemetery.

"Healing Hearts has really helped us because we're surrounded by people who are going through the same stuff," Carolyn said. "It's how we came out of the fog. The first couple years, we were in limbo. Your life stops. We feel we have helped others through this."