CAMDEN — Mark and Theresa Long struggle through each day after their 5-year-old son Matthew died in a vehicle crash on Sept. 17, and older brother Mark, 9, is forever without his best friend.
“This feeling does not go away and it’s in fact probably getting worse as each day goes by,” Mrs. Long said from the living room of her home on Mud Mill Road in Camden last week.
“The mornings and the daytime are the worst. It’s tough to wake up each day and be without him again.”
Tragedy struck suddenly last fall when Mr. Long’s Lexus veered off Oak Point School Road on a moderate left curve at approximately 8:02 p.m., rolled over and landed upside down in a residential yard.
Father and son were ejected from the vehicle, investigating police said, and critically injured. Mr. Long was driving toward Pearsons Corner Road to buy his son ice cream at the time.
Matthew, two weeks into his kindergarten year at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center in Magnolia, was transported by the Delaware State Police Aviation Unit to Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, where he remained unconscious and died six days later. His kidney and heart were donated to a 1-year-old girl, his liver to a boy the same age.
His 53-year-old father suffered a traumatic brain injury and 13 broken bones in his neck, back, ribs, shoulder blades, sternum and spine, and was comatose for days before he slowly awakened in a fog.
Mr. Long was transported from the scene to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover as over two months in hospitals and a rehabilitation center began.
He returned home the day before Thanksgiving after intensive therapy to regain his ability to walk and talk. He said his doctor wouldn’t allow his release until his cognitive function allowed him to play chess.
“Doctors told me it was a miracle that I survived,” he said. “With all my injuries I very well might have never walked again or been a paraplegic.”
The community has since rallied to help with financial assistance.
Mrs. Long, 45, was with her son when he died, but couldn’t tell her husband of 27 years for several weeks as he recovered from a brain injury that erased his short-term memory.
“The doctor said if I told him early on he wouldn’t remember it the next day and I would have to tell him again,” she said.
“He kept asking where Matthew was and I had to make excuses why he wasn’t around, even though I think he knew something wasn’t right because he was always with me.”
Finally, Theresa told her husband in early November and he’s been regularly choked up and crying ever since.
“I’m sad all the time and now and constantly wondering how it happened,” said Mr. Long, who has no memory of the day before the accident.
“I just don’t know. All I know is that he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
At a good place
Matthew was at a good place in life at the time, especially with the launch of his school career.
“He was excited,” Mrs. Long said. “He loved getting on and off the school bus. In the afternoon, he would run to me with his arms wide open. He was doing well in school and had just begun reading to me.”
Before his passing, Matthew was known as a boy who loved anything water-related, whether it be a pool, tub and
sink with toy cars and boats and even a filled-up washing machine one time for a family photo.
Riding a four-wheeler took up his time, along with jumping on a trampoline and playing Legos with his brother.
“He was never sad, he always had a positive attitude and never got mad or had a fit,” Mrs. Long said. “He was a prankster who really loved playing with his brother.”
The brothers shared a bedroom together and Mark is still reeling from the sudden emptiness.
“He’s stayed closed up and doesn’t want to talk about it,” Mrs. Long said.
“He shut down. His brother was all he had, his playmate, his friend.
“He’s different now.”
On the awful day, Mrs. Long began to wonder what was up after father and son hadn’t returned home after an hour. She was readying to go search for them about 20 minutes after that when phone rang.
“It was A.I. duPont hospital and they were telling me that my son and husband were in a bad accident and I needed to get there now,” she remembered.
“I grabbed just a couple things and was flying up the road in a couple minutes.”
She stayed at the Wilmington-area hospital for the entirety of her son’s fight for life, fielding and taking phone calls regarding her critically injured husband’s progress.
“That’s a situation that nobody should ever be in,” she said.
Losing a child
There’s no comparing the loss of a child to any other death, Mrs. Long learned.
“When my mom died last year, I thought that was the worst pain and sadness that I could ever feel,” she said. “Losing a son is far, far worse than I ever could have imagined even compared to losing my mom.
“It’s the worst feeling that no one can understand unless they’ve gone through it.”
Fortunately, the family said, a roughly $279,000 medical bill from Kent General was covered by insurance, along with automobile coverage.
It’s unknown, however, what charges will come from Milford Memorial Hospital, A.I. duPont and a Pennsylvania rehabilitation center. Mr. Long has back surgery scheduled on Jan. 16, 2017.
“The muscles in my back were the strongest ones I had,” he said. “I’m not sure if it will ever be right again.”
Mr. Long, a Hartly native who attended Dover High, isn’t sure he’ll ever return to work as a mason, and Mrs. Long, a Lake Forest High product from Felton, has become his fulltime caretaker.
With no income, the Longs are in dire need of help to pay bills that just keep coming as if nothing happened.
A spaghetti dinner benefit on Dec. 4 at the Marydel Fire Company, put on by former June Jam organizer Matt Boller, raised enough money to cover funeral expenses and allowed the family to invest in a burial plot, and defray some medical expenses.
A GoFundMe page has been established at gofundme.com/helpthelongfamily. Donations can be mailed to the Long family at 3457 Mud Mill Road, Camden-Wyoming, DE, 19934.
This holiday season evokes precious little tidings of cheer and joy for them.
“I definitely didn’t want to participate in Christmas and I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for my other son,” Mrs. Long said.
“We knew we had to do something for him. I wanted nothing to do with Christmas.”
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org