By Savannah Cole
Every time the Beeson family sits around their fire pit, Connor’s Lane, they reminisce over the 19 years they shared with their son. They smile, they laugh, and sometimes, they cry.
It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Ryan Beeson had just returned to East Carolina University after a nice weekend at home. His day started just as any other. He headed to Cook Out for lunch, unaware that his family had been trying to call him all day. That afternoon, Ryan got a knock on his door. It was his cousin, Sid.
Sid sat Ryan down and told him there had been a death in the family. Ryan’s first thought was his dad. He never expected it to be his younger brother, only sibling and best friend. Ryan said, “I just remember crying and screaming.”
Connor was working on his truck, White Thunder. He was pumping air into its tires when one exploded, instantly killing him. Connor was just 19 years old. Jan. 19, 2015, would be a day that changed the Beesons’ lives forever.
‘I love you to the moon and back’
Ryan was about two years older than Connor. Some of Ryan’s favorite memories include playing with his younger brother every day after school. They played Us Big, a game where they would pretend to be grown-ups from different time periods. Ryan also remembers the two playing with their cousins in their grandparents’ sandbox until high school.
Connor and Ryan’s rooms were beside each other, connected by a bathroom. Every night they would tell each other good night and that they loved each other.
Connor enjoyed spending time with his family and friends, hunting, working on White Thunder and playing with Dixie and Daisy, his bluetick coonhounds. Ryan describes his younger brother as “dedicated, loyal and loving.”
Connor was a special person who was taken too soon. One of his friends, Kyle Hollingsworth, said, “Connor was a kindhearted, faithful friend. He always wore a beautiful smile on his face but was very unpretentious.”
Ryan remembers that the last time he saw Connor, they spent the whole afternoon walking around where Connor hoped to build his house. Ryan said, “I’m so thankful the last time we had together was forward-looking.”
The night before his death, Connor woke his mom up in the middle of the night to tell her he loved her and that he knew how much she loved him. The two had always told each other, “I love you to the moon and back.” That was the last time they spoke.
Connor had also written a note to his girlfriend saying, “When I die, people are going to know how much I loved you.” Ryan said, “There’s a lot of things that can’t be explained but by God; I felt like God was trying to prepare us to say goodbye.”
Ryan misses his brother every day, but has peace in knowing that Connor left this earth feeling loved while letting his family know of his love for them.
The days, weeks and months following Connor’s death were agonizing for the Beesons. They lived on autopilot. Ryan said, “I look back at that time and I don’t know how I would sleep at night or how I ate.”
Turning tragedy to blessings
As terrible as the following days were, the Beesons had a wonderful support system. People were constantly at their house. Neighbors brought food, did their laundry, prayed with them and read Scripture with them.
The week after Connor died, Ryan’s family and friends told him that he needed to go back to school. People said that if he took too much time off, he would never return. Despite the heartache Ryan was going through, he put on a brave face and went to school.
About five or six weeks after returning to school, the pain took over and Ryan had to leave of his classes. It was unbearable. “You feel like the world has ended, but the world is still going on around you,” Ryan remembers. “How are these people just acting like everything’s normal? My brother is dead.” That day, he called his parents and decided to withdraw until he was ready to go back.
The family searched for ways to cope with the pain of losing their loved one; they knew they could not spend every day in mourning. They had to do something, so they decided to make a spot where they could go to remember Connor. The family built Connor’s Lane. They got chainsaws, cleared out all the trees and made an area for a fire pit.
The Beesons use Connor’s Lane to gather as a family and remember all the wonderful times they spent with him. Ryan said, “It’s a weird thing; sometimes it feels so fresh like it was just yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen him.”
Ryan and Connor’s mother, Christine, prayed for a sign that her son was with the Lord. Soon after, a yellow butterfly appeared and kept circling her. The Beesons often see yellow butterflies and believe it is God’s way of sending a “hello” from Connor. Whether at the lake or Connor’s grave, when they see a yellow butterfly, they know that Connor is OK.
The family decided to create a scholarship in Connor’s memory. Connor loved cows and often played with toy cows when he was younger, so they came up with the MOO Scholarship. The MOO (Make Others Outstanding) Scholarship goes to one graduating senior at Randleman High School each year.
Connor’s family and girlfriend adopted a highway in his memory. They are joined in the project by community members four times each year as a way to remember Connor. The Randleman Bojangles’ donates biscuits to feed those who come out to help.
A way forward
Nov. 20, 2019, would have been Connor’s 24th birthday. The community gathered to clean up the highway, but also to honor his life. There were food, friends and a cake.
Ryan wears a necklace that has Connor’s fingerprint on it. It makes him feel like a piece of Connor is with him every day. The Beesons still fight through tough times. January 19 of this year was exceptionally difficult, as it was the fifth anniversary of his death. Ryan cried for about two hours until a happy memory came up to make him smile.
Ryan said, “It’s OK to hurt; you’re supposed to hurt; you would feel guilty if you didn’t.” As the Beeson family gathers around the Connor’s Lane fire pit, they remember his story. They share stories, share laughs and share tears.
Edited by Stephen Kenney