Survivors move ahead but keep memories close

Survivors move ahead but keep memories close

April 27th, 2012 by Kate Belz in News

From left, Mike Glasgow, Shiloh Glasgow, Kayci Glasgow and Tsavo Glasgow sit around their table at their apartment in Cleveland, Tenn. Mike and Kayci lost their 3-month-old son, Chase, in the tornadoes that struck the area on April 27, 2011. Mike's sister, in town visiting, was also killed.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.


The tornadoes brought many people to a crossroads where they had to face questions about life and self, the future and sometimes the past.

Mike and Kayci Glasgow want their little girls to remember.

They want 5-year-old Tsavo and 3-and-a-half-year-old Shiloh to remember the big house on Blue Springs Road, which was so much more than a house.

It was a home the Glasgows had designed themselves and moved into five years ago, shortly after Tsavo was born. It was the home where Shiloh was born, and where Chase Zion followed her in 2011.

In a nearby field, Mike had turned an old pole barn into a chicken house and the "Glasgow Girls Clubhouse," painted with a large heart and smiley face that were visible from the road.

They had -- in the most literal sense -- made their marks on that house. The members of the family painted the bottoms of their feet in bright paint and made prints on the basement stairs. Even baby Chase had a little yellow blob of a footprint on the wooden step -- proof that this was his house, too.

The photos the Glasgows gleaned from a hard drive found later in the home's rubble last April show the house standing proud and sturdy in piles of January snow, a snowman in the foreground. Other photos show the house and surrounding fields bathed in warm spring light as the family huddles together for a picture in the tall grass dotted with Easter eggs. Even baby Chase had his own Easter egg. The girls remember that.

The Glasgows want their girls to remember the stormy day one year ago when the power went out. They want to remember the lovely evening walk the family took with Mike's sister, Tammi Glasgow, who was in town from Milwaukee. They wanted to feel the fresh air in the brisk, storm-tinged winds with Chase nestled in a Snuggie.

And -- hard as it is -- the parents want their little girls to remember the tornado that took Baby Chase and Tammi's lives, just a few hours after that walk. The storm that took away the big beautiful house and the Glasgow Girls Clubhouse.

They let the girls see pictures of their own injuries that night and those days -- bandaged heads, stitches, bruises across their little limbs. The girls remember that it hurt, but they also remember the fun of getting to ride in the wheelchair and how funny Tsavo's swollen lips looked.

Last May, Mike interviewed the girls on tape about the storm.

"Tell me the name of your baby brother," Mike says to Shiloh on the tape.

"Chase Zion. He died," Shiloh answers, matter-of-fact in her little toddler voice.

"What did he die from?"

"The house ... it break."

"Why did it break?"

"There was bad thunder," she says.

The Glasgows don't want the memories to haunt their girls or trouble them. They want their girls -- and themselves -- to work through them, to make peace with them.

"We don't know why it happened," Mike says. "It hurts like crazy sometimes when you think about your son or sister, but we know God is trustworthy. We know he loves us. We know he loves our son. And my sister. And that we'll see them again."

He asks the girls at the dinner table, "Do you think we'll see Chase and Tammi again? Where do you think we'll see them again?"

The girls nod and softly reply, "Heaven."

They like to show the girls a slideshow Tammi's son made. Shiloh and Tsavo know the music by heart, and sing along as the video shows Tammi feeding swans, hugging friends, wearing her cap and gown at college graduation.

They also like to look at pictures of Chase. Three months was enough time to collect dozens of photos of him smiling, yawning, crying -- living a baby's life to the fullest.

The girls remember playing pattycake with his little hands, singing to him, watching him sleep in his crib.

It's strange for Mike how memories affect grief. The grief for Tammi and the grief for Chase are so different, but both so strong.

"My sister was 42. My mom has years and years of memories with Tammi. We had Chase for three months, and it was priceless. But it's not the same as years of memories. That doesn't make it easier. It's still very hard."

For a while, the memories felt like a curse.

Along with the new, raw grief, Kayci still was suffering from post-partum depression that had set in shortly before the tornado. And her body had been pummeled. Her arm was broken in two, her tailbone was broken, and she had severe cuts and bruises from chest to toe.

In June, Mike took her and the girls back to Kayci's family in North Dakota, where she started therapy. Sitting and lying down were painful -- a constant reminder of all the brokenness.

"There was a long time where I didn't come back. There were times I didn't want to have anything to do with this place," she remembers.

Kayci and Mike had a hard time seeing and holding babies this year. Mike's good friends had a baby in January, and when he saw the baby he broke down.

"I was just thinking, 'I don't want to hold someone else's baby. I want to hold my baby.'"

Kayci felt an important shift several weeks ago when one of her college friends visited with her 4-month-old. Kayci felt happy holding him and watching him smile.

"You realize that time goes on and things heal up a little," she says. "It's been fun to see how babies grow. I can take part in that now."

On Feb. 4, Chase's first birthday, the family went out and bought balloons -- green, blue, white and yellow.

Kayci and the girls were still in North Dakota and Mike was at the old house site in Cleveland, Tenn., but they each wrote messages on the balloons and let them go one at a time. Shiloh remembers snipping the weights from the balloon strings.

"We just stood and watched them go up. To Chase," says Kayci.

It was one of several sweet moments that began to fill the void of so much loss. There was the birthday party where Kayci actually realized she was enjoying herself. The day Mike brought her a necklace with Chase's footprint engraved in it. The victories of being able to button buttons and lift their children.

By March, Kayci and the girls were ready to come back to Cleveland. Mike was finally back to work that month, after 10 months of therapy for a severely torn rotator cuff and the endless tasks gathering the scattered debris of the family's lives.

They moved back at the start of tornado season, right as the March 2 tornadoes hit Harrison and Cleveland. The Glasgows hid in a friend's basement but were strangely peaceful.

"You realize that you can't really hide from it. You can't control it," Kayci says. "You learn to accept it and live with it."

Compared to the big house on Blue Springs Road, the Glasgows' apartment now is cozy -- but they enjoy that.

Mike would like to move back out to the country, but he agrees with Kayci that the family needs to be someplace new. They've obtained a third of an acre in Cleveland and plan to start building soon. They may even sign the contract today.

And they'll fill that house with new memories, new reminders of where they have come from.

They'll remind the girls of everyone -- the hundreds of people across the community -- who loved them and cared for them after the storms.

The dozens of volunteers who scoured the Glasgows' property in the days after the storms found and saved every scrap of wood with a footprint on it. Chase's little yellow print was found last. The family keeps his on a shelf in the new apartment. The rest are in storage.

After they move into the new house, Kayci wants to put them all together again.