Steamboat family sticks together after mother, wife’s death
Family stays active, positive 1 year after Rebecca Green's drowning
June 20, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Rodney Green said the wound never heals. You just learn to manage it.
It's been about a year since his wife of 14 years, Rebecca Green, drowned near Fish Creek's upper falls while trying to reach their son, Kade, who had slipped on a rock and fallen into the rushing water. Kade was able to grab a branch and get to the other side of the creek with only minor injuries. Routt County Search and Rescue crews brought him safely down the trail that day, June 13, 2009. But the high, churning water prevented rescuers from finding Rebecca Green's body for more than two weeks. Rodney Green found her June 29 while searching with his brother, Randy Green, and Search and Rescue volunteer Ty Upson.
Rodney had searched the area for 15 consecutive days after immediately returning to Steamboat Springs from San Diego, where he was fulfilling duties as a U.S. Marine Corps reservist. Search and Rescue led the massive effort to find Rebecca.
A year later, Rodney, 12-year-old Rachael and 9-year-old Kade are dealing with the pain on a daily basis.
"Every day is a struggle, and it has been ever since Rebecca died," Rodney said last week. "But we get by because we have to."
Friends and the children's teachers say the Greens have done far more than just get by. With help from more community members than Rodney can name and with inner strength drawn from one another, the Greens have achieved successful school years for Kade and Rachael, maintained involvement in numerous athletic and social activities and reached the summit of four 14,000-foot peaks in the past year. The family climbed six fourteeners before Rebecca died.
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Rodney, 39, said he's been getting "a ton" of cards, e-mails and phone calls from friends and family lately. Not only is it a year after Rebecca's death, but Thursday is their wedding anniversary. He said days like that don't stand out, though, because he feels Rebecca's absence every day.
"Every day since she died, she's been gone. It's right in your face," he said. "June 13 was just one more day without her."
He shrugged off the fact that today is Father's Day, calling it "just a day."
Tim Selby is associate pastor at United Methodist Church, which Rodney said has been a good place for the children to be when they can. Rachael is involved in the youth program there. Selby wasn't surprised last week to hear about Rodney's reaction to Father's Day.
"Rodney's not a guy that tries to draw a lot of attention to himself, but the way he's handled himself and the way he's stepped up for his kids … has been just amazing. He's done everything a father could be expected to do and more," Selby said.
Selby also cited the community's support. But he said it pales in comparison to the effort of Rodney, Rachael and Kade.
"What's been really amazing is just the job that they've all done this year, in terms of what they've had to go through and how they're carrying on," he said. "I've really been impressed by how they're able to do that."
The Greens climbed to the top of 14,229-foot Mount Shavano earlier this month.
Rodney said Rebecca loved to climb fourteeners. Continuing that family habit quickly became essential. He, Rachael and Kade climbed Mount of the Holy Cross on July 24, carrying a poster with Rebecca's picture.
"It was something we needed to do," Rodney said about that hike, which wasn't long after Rebecca's funeral July 9. "Everybody all of a sudden was gone — it was just the three of us after it had been tons of people for weeks."
On the way up Holy Cross, Rodney said, Kade asked why they were hiking that day. But on the way down, Kade had a change of heart.
"It just made me happy that I was hiking a fourteener," Kade said last week, remembering the day. "But I always knew it'd be better with my mom."
Kade said that's what he thinks about when hiking.
"I think about how better it would be with her … her hiking it with me," he said.
Grief and support
Rodney said the children deal with their grief in different ways.
Kade is more open and talkative about what happened, Rodney said, while Rachael often uses a diary and artwork to express her feelings. Rachael made a mask that's hanging in Ciao Gelato downtown, as part of a display by local teenage girls in a grief counseling group.
Rodney said communication has been important.
"We just talk about stuff," he said. "We talk about Rebecca; we talk about how she's gone; we talk about how bad it sucks."
For 10 weeks last fall, Rodney took Rachael and Kade on trips to Judi's House in Denver. Judi's House provides peer-support groups and counseling for young children who have lost a loved one. Rodney said it was a positive experience for Rachael and Kade to meet other children dealing with similar struggles.
But the greatest support for the Greens likely has come from Steamboat Springs.
Lisa Adams taught Kade's third-grade class at Strawberry Park Elementary School this past school year. She also taught Rachael a couple of years ago, when Rachael was in fourth grade. Adams said on the first day of school in September, her third-graders were introducing themselves to the class. Much of it was lighthearted, Adams said, as several students talked about what they did last summer.
The feeling in the classroom changed when it came to be Kade's turn.
"Kade introduced himself to the class, and he shared that his mom had died over the summer," Adams said. "Cole Puckett, who was next in line to share, rather than sharing about his summer vacation, he sat next to Kade and put his arm around him and said, 'Kade is my friend.'"
Chris Puckett, Cole's father, said Cole and Kade have played soccer together. Rebecca often would bring snacks to games or practices.
Cole "definitely knew Kade's mom and knew how much his mom meant to him," Chris Puckett said. "Our kids cried for a long time over that, and I think a lot of kids in town probably did. All the kids had all (last) summer to think about that."
Puckett said Rodney has kept Rachael and Kade involved in local activities. Both participated in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's junior ability snowboard program last winter. Rachael earned an invite to the junior snowboard team for the upcoming season.
"I think Rodney has been unbelievable and probably an inspiration to any parent who's having a tough time and wondering how to deal with it," Puckett said. "I honestly didn't know how he was doing it all. … I think he's an example of how you don't quit and how you do the best you can.
"He's been a great dad through this whole thing."
'As much as ever'
Matt Tredway taught Rachael's sixth-grade math and science classes this past school year, Rachael's first at Steamboat Springs Middle School. Tredway said Rachael also had a nucleus of friends who supported her.
"I think that she was a strong girl. She and her dad and her brother kind of regrouped, and she was strong," Tredway said. "I just felt like every day she was a brave soul. It was just so impressive. It was more than you could ever imagine."
Adams said "there's nothing bigger that a child can lose" than a mother.
"There's no other way to put it — the Green family experienced the most difficult loss possible. Rebecca was a loving and devoted mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, colleague and community member," Adams said. "She was a real angel. She is fiercely missed, and her family continues to remember and honor her."
Rodney, an equipment manager at TIC, said the past year undoubtedly would have been worse without all the help from the local community.
"Everyone's been awesome," he said, including his boss, Jamie Pallotti. "I'm like the master of flex time now."
That flexibility allows Rodney to spend as much time as possible with Rachael and Kade.
"The three of us, we stick together," he said. "People always tell me they can't imagine — I can't imagine what my kids are going through."
The grief is ongoing for all of them.
"You don't get better. It's not like you heal. You just get used to it," Rodney said. "We just continue to miss her terribly and love her as much as ever."