Grieving mom finds solace in writing after son’s death

What words may come

When the telephone rings at 2:21 a.m., the odds are high that it won’t be good news. When that happened for Cherie Rickard on July 12, 2007, it was the worst news she could possibly hear.

Alone in her California hotel room on a business trip, Rickard heard her husband, Wendell, say her older son, Bryant Kite, had been killed in an automobile accident. In a few hours, she would be sobbing in an airplane, beginning a journey of grief she could scarcely comprehend.

“There are no words to describe to you what I was actually feeling,” said Rickard. “I wish that there were words.”

But words would come. Rickard, who grew up in Baton Rouge and lives in Prairieville, has written “Wake-Up Call,” which recounts her son’s life and death, and how she worked her way through unspeakable pain.

Rickard said she wants the book to bring comfort to others in her situation — a larger number than she imagined before her son’s death — and to help others better relate to those mothers.

“It’s one thing to go, ‘I am so sorry. I can only imagine how bad you’re hurting,’ ” Rickard said. “As a mother, that’s comforting that you care, but you have no idea. You can’t imagine what I’m going through. ... That hole that you have can’t be filled with your other children, your husband, your friends, your mother, your sister. It’s just missing.”

Graduating from Broadmoor High School in 1983, Cherie Rowland met her first husband, Joey Kite, while at Southeastern Louisiana University. After marrying, they lived in Alabama, where Bryant was born, before settling in Memphis, Tenn. Bryant grew up there, developing a love for baseball and, because of frequent trips to Baton Rouge, for LSU. He hoped to one day play baseball for the Tigers.

“He was so laid-back,” Rickard said. “Nothing bothered him. They used to call him Be Easy; he was just so laid-back. I can sometimes be very strung-out and get nervous and stressed out and be a control freak. Bryant would say, ‘Mom, just let it go.’ ”

The Kites divorced in 1998, and she married Wendell Rickard the following year. In 2006, the Rickards moved to Prairieville so their oldest child, Kristina, could attend LSU as an in-state student, but Bryant, not wanting to leave his friends, chose to stay with his father until he graduated from Cordova High School. He visited Prairieville often, and had been in town for the Fourth of July before driving back to Memphis.

Shortly after midnight on July 12, Bryant was driving his pickup at about the 45 mph speed limit when, police said, the right tires went off the road. Bryant overcorrected, swerving left, then right. The truck flipped over three times, ejecting Bryant, who wasn’t wearing his seat belt. He was dead when EMS arrived.

The next few days were a blur, punctuated by acts of kindness — strangers who helped her at the airport and talked to her on the flight to Memphis, a memorial service at the high school baseball field, the embrace of her Memphis friends. Four months later, as Rickard faced her first birthday without her son, she decided to write about her feelings in a journal.

“It wasn’t a whole lot, but I felt good about just writing that little piece,” she said.

Finding it therapeutic, she continued writing in her computer, and especially when work took her on the road. Eventually, she thought of turning it into a book, but had no plan of how she might publish it.

That changed a couple of years ago when, through Facebook, Rickard reconnected with childhood friend Todd Horne. She didn’t know he had started a publishing company in California, DerDiZ Media, but when she mentioned her goal of finishing the book, Horne asked about it. That led to “Wake-Up Call.”

Horne said the book, which is on sale online at Wakeupcallbook.com and GriefToolbox.com, will be marketed initially through church bookstores and specialty bookstores, and will appear on Amazon in both print and digital formats in late June, and mainstream bookstores by late summer. Rickard has spoken and done book signings at meetings of Compassionate Friends, a grief support organization for those who have lost a child.

Rickard said some of the proceeds will support a foundation (bryantkitememorialfund.com) that provides a scholarship in Bryant Kite’s name to a Cordova High senior, funds that also come from an annual 5K run in Memphis.

“Someone that knows a mother who has lost a child, the takeaway for them is, ‘I get it. I understand now,’” she said. “For those people, I want them to take away a better compassion and understanding for that mother that is grieving over her child.

“I would love for a senior that’s my son’s age, that drives a car, to read this book and be more cautious about wearing your seat belt … to be a little more cautious when driving. You’ll know, when you read this book, that you never, ever want to put your mother through what Bryant’s mother went through.”