“I went to all of his football games, videotaped them. I spent a lot of time throwing the football around with him. We worked out together. We fished together,” said Darryl Rodgers through tears as he describes his relationship with his son before drugs.
Chase Rodgers, 20, was a passenger in his own car when he died on May 29, 2014, in a crash on I-40. Drugs were found in the car. The driver, his friend, had trace amounts of marijuana in her system. Darryl Rodgers believes his son was impaired and asked her to drive. She recently took her own life, which means we will probably never know exactly what went wrong that night.
What Rodgers does know is that his son was wrestling with drug addiction. He had dropped out of college and completed a stint in a rehabilitation facility in Florida and returned home only to find the same people, places and things that encouraged his drug use were still all around him. Rodgers calls it a “drug culture” that tragically took two lives seven months apart.
Rodgers believes his son’s addiction started with marijuana.
“You could go to any rehab facility in the country and talk to teenagers and young adults who have a bad drug problem and I’d say probably 98 percent of them started out smoking marijuana. So you can say that it’s not a gateway drug, but that’s just not the case, it is,” Rodgers tells me as he clutches a medallion he gave his son just before the crash, one that he found in the wrecked car. “A lot of people would like to argue that it’s not as bad as alcohol, but I would say a chainsaw is a dangerous tool, so is a hammer. I don’t want to be hit with a hammer or attacked with a chainsaw. They’re both dangerous tools.”
Chase’s boyhood room is just how he left it for the most part. There's his teddy bear from a friend dressed in camo, a model car, a football in a glass case, a stick with the words “I Love You” written on them, words he wrote for his grandparents as a child. But there have been changes. Next to his bed sits a desk with a laptop where his father is writing a book about his son’s short life in the hopes that other young people will learn from his mistakes.
“One of the messages I would like to send to young people is that where you end up in life five to 10 years down the road is going to be dependent upon the people you associate with,” Rodgers says, “And the choices you make.”
Right after the accident, Rodgers asked police to please find his son’s medallion that he felt sure was in the car. He had given it to him just a few days earlier. It was inscribed with the words: “Put on the full armor of God.”
Police came up empty. He then went back to the accident scene with a metal detector and scoured the ground. Nothing. As a symbol, he purchased more medallions for the young men who acted as Chase’s pall bearers at his funeral, but it still bothered him that the original one was missing.
But recently, police returned the mangled car to him now that the criminal case against the driver is closed. In a compartment near the steering wheel he found what he was looking for, Chase’s medallion. He greeted me the day of the interview with it dangling on a chain around his neck.
“Finding this ... was another level of closure to me because I know that it meant something to him. It was important to him.”
I have been humbled to interview many people over the years who have lost a child. It is not something you “get over.” There is no such thing as true “closure.” You never stop thinking about that child.
But if you’re fortunate, your grief and reflection give you a clarity that allows you to reach out to others so that they may relate to and learn from your experience. Rodgers has that clarity.
“Don’t let a day go by that you don’t tell your kids how much you love them and give them a hug.”
Words to live by.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.