Carson moms forever entwined by diving deaths of sons
April 4, 2012
Thea Anderson recalls the phone call in vivid detail.
“I was sitting on the floor of the ER,” she said. “I was sitting with my back up against the wall. It was the worst phone call of my life.”
It was also the worst for Paula Aiazzi. Thea was calling to tell her their sons had died together at the bottom of the ocean during a scuba diving trip. The two women – who had until that moment been casual acquaintances, mothers of best friends – would now be forever entwined.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Paula said. “But I thank God it was her.”
Thea and her husband, Chris, had accompanied the boys on the school-sanctioned scuba-diving trip to Monterey Bay, Calif. On the second day, the boys didn’t surface with their classmates.
Rescue divers found them near one another on the ocean floor. Both were pronounced dead at the hospital.
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Thea waited with both bodies until the coroner arrived.
“I would talk to Stephen and pet his hair,” she recalled. “Then I would turn to Keegan and pet his hair. When the coroner came, I told him, ‘Take care of my boys.’ Keegan was my boy, too.”
Paula cries at the memory, but she is grateful.
“I’m so glad she was there,” Paula said.
In the year since the boys’ deaths, the two mothers have continued to be there for one another. They’ve shared their grief and their memories of their sons. Together, they’ve helped comfort the hundreds of friends who also mourn the loss of the boys. Sometimes, they just hang out and laugh.
They’ve become friends. They think that’s what the boys would have wanted.
“Stephen hated to see me upset,” Thea said. “If he disappointed me, it hurt his heart. For me to dishonor him by being consumed with grief – I can’t.”
Both sets of parents – Chris and Thea and Jason and Paula – made the decision, perhaps unconsciously, to step outside of their own grief when they went to Carson High School the Monday after the Saturday accident.
They were surprised and touched by the students’ reaction.
“Every child you could imagine came up and talked to us,” Paula said. “There were big, giant football players and kids with pink hair.”
The news of the boys’ deaths spread quickly, including through texts and social media. By Sunday, a memorial had been erected in their school parking spaces, which were adjacent to one another.
After school on Monday, classmates climbed C Hill and formed an S and a K on either side of the C.
More than 900 people attended their funerals. Several memorial tributes have since been created.
Thea said it validated what they already knew.
“We knew our boys were good kids and great sons,” she said. “Kids you had no idea the boys knew came up to us and said, ‘Your boys made such a difference in (our) lives.'”
Their moms attribute it to their sons’ personalities – which weren’t always in line with their roles as popular football players at the school.
“The just didn’t take themselves too seriously,” Paula said. “They didn’t care about being popular. They just wanted to have fun.”
It’s those same qualities the two moms have found in each other.
“It’s funny – we really didn’t know each other before,” Thea said. “Now, we’re family.”
The two said they have moved through the grieving process together and have been a sounding board for each other in moments of despair, hope, anger and humor.
“The other day, the wind blew the door shut and I almost expected to see Steve-O walk in,” Thea confided. “He didn’t.”
And they turn to the same sources of comfort.
“I absolutely know I will see Stephen again,” Thea said. “And I know without a doubt my mother was there to greet him on the other side.”
And, Paula said, they both find comfort in knowing they supported their sons in all their activities and took advantage of the time they had together.
“We didn’t put anything off,” she said. “It would be so much worse if your child died and you didn’t know them. It makes it easier that you don’t have any regrets.”
April 9 will mark a year since Stephen, 16, and Keegan, 17, both juniors, died.
The moms are ready to celebrate their lives with the community at the Stephen & Keegan Memorial Run/Walk on Saturday.
Stephen’s sister, Sara, came up with the idea but turned the planning over to her mom. The run will be in honor of the boys but dedicated to all loved ones lost. Proceeds will go to help student athletes.
Paula said she hopes people will be inspired by the way the boys lived their lives.
“They lived healthy and happy up to the very last second,” she said.
And she hopes people will take time to appreciate what the boys offered.
“We are blessed we had the time we had with them,” Thea said. “Do I wish it was more? Forever.”
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