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The Day My Heart Broke

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

For me it was my ex-husband, Michael Budge, who actually received the call from the coroners’ office (while he was out to dinner for his birthday) that our son, Conner Michael Budge, was killed in a car crash. Conner and his brother were not only brothers, but best friends. They took the whole summer off and went on an adventurous road trip because this was going to be the first year that they would be apart, since Ian was starting at the University of Pittsburgh as Conner would be completing his last year at Pepperdine University. Once Ian was in school, Conner really felt like he needed to to work and make up for taking the whole summer off, and decided to work double shifts at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu, California. The day before the accident, he told his father that he may not be able to make it to his birthday dinner due to work commitments. So, of course, Michael thought perhaps it was odd that Conner didn’t text him, but just assumed he was working and couldn’t text.

When Michael recalls these moments, it is so unbelievable that in our modern society, living in one of the biggest cities in the world, he would have been treated in such a disrespectful manner. He said, “ it was about 9:00pm and he was finishing dessert with his family and girlfriend, when he received a call from a 213 number, his gut felt it was odd and he just ignored the call.” Then there was an immediate call right back with the same number, Michael had this sinking feeling and answered it, as the voice on the other end said, “ Hi this is officer something, something, are you Conner Michael Budge's father, Michael Budge?” Michael told me that he was very confused and didn’t really put anything together as the officer started to ask questions. Does your son go to Pepperdine University? Does your son drive a gray Honda Accord? Is there a chance that someone else was driving his car? So Michael thought for a moment, "oh no, an accident". Does your son own an IPhone 14? Does the screensaver on the phone look like a graffiti art piece? And then Michael said, he started to feel blank.

The next words out of the officers mouth was, sir I am so sorry, your son was in a car accident on Malibu Canyon Road and is deceased. Michael was so confused. He asked, “How do you know it’s him?” The officer said, “Sir, we have his Pepperdine University ID and his phone. I am so sorry, sir. We have your son at the coroner’s office, but you can’t come down, you won’t be allowed in, if you have an email I can email you all of the information". What the F_____! Email you the information?

You just receive the most horrific news of your life, and someone will email you the information??? You are in a state of shock! The officer never asked Michael, “Sir are you in a safe place?Are you driving a car?” Has society gotten so detached, so insensitive, so cruel?

This is not Okay! The next hour was a blur for us both. I remember exactly what I was doing and where I was. I truly don’t know how he drove from Beverly Hills to my house in Shadow Hills knowing that his amazing son died.

Life is so strange.

The day before I was speaking to Conner on facetime. I was coming back from Hawaii and I spoke to Conner because I was really afraid to ride a helicopter. I called him several times and he kept saying, “Mom I want you to do all the things you want in life, you won’t die or anything, life is short so go for it.” I will never forge that FaceTime call. He must have told me ten times, “Mom everything is just perfect. I will see you on Sunday and we can go over all of the poetry. He had just finished writing his last poem for a poetry contest and wanted me to hear them before he submitted them. "Oh, and don’t forget to bring the ring light!” That morning my brother also made a comment about how great life was! He said, “See Karen, you did well. Conner is going to graduate from Pepperdine University and Ian is at the University of Pittsburgh. You spent all these years so focussed on them to make sure everything is just right, now it is time for you! You did it, you have nothing to worry about, everything is perfect.” How these words still ring in my head.

That night I was sitting at my kitchen table on the computer,and (this is strange) but I was creating a profile on the dating site Match. My son’s had both been telling me that I needed to get out and date because they didn’t want me to be alone. So I had just finished my profile with the exact words saying that I was a “true empty nester”, clicked the final button at 10:15 pm, and at 10:25 Michael was at my front door.

It was a hot night so my screen door was open and I heard a someone coming to the door, which was odd because I live on a cul-de-sac. I heard a quiet voice say "Karen?" I was a little confused and could kind of see Michael just standing there motionless. "Michael?" It was confusing because I knew it was his birthday and his girlfriend wasn’t with him. He was alone.

I will never forget that moment. I opened the door and he was crying so I asked him "What is going on? Is your dad okay? Is your mom okay?" And then, it was the faint stuttering of the first three letters Con, Con, Con and then I started to go Con what.. And then he just said it.. Conner’s Dead.

I started to scream…

My friend Jason was staying at my house and thought we were getting robbed because of (what he called) the life-threatening screams and grabbed his gun ( I didn’t even know he had a gun). He said when he heard Conner’s dad’s voice combined with my screaming, there was no question, he just knew that I had just lost a son. Wasn’t sure which one, but he knew. Afterwards Jason told me “The thing I really heard was your screaming. The screams were like that of a mother who was giving birth!” To this day that makes perfect sense. The pain of this moment is indescribable.

I couldn’t believe it. I remember being on the ground crying and screaming "NO, NO, this isn’t true". Not sure how long this went on for, but the neighbors texted asking if we were okay. Then I recall saying, “I need to see my boy, I need to see him now, I am going to the Coroners office.” I started to run for the car and Michael said, “You can’t go... they will not let you... they are not open.. You can’t Karen.. Conner is gone…" It was so F_______. I tried calling and there was no answer…and then something just clicked in.

It is amazing how the survival instinct kicks in.

It didn’t take long for me to say "If I can’t see Conner then I need to get my other boy." My baby boy, Ian, Conner’s younger brother was in his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh. Within 30 minutes we had airfare and on the very first flight. We needed to reach Ian before he read about Conner on social media.

A love so deep… A pain so deep…A parent never forgets the moment they have to tell the sibling that their best friend/brother or sister has died.

We both cried the entire flight to Pittsburgh . Family members called to comfort us and we emphasized how important it was that no one tell Ian until we were there by his side. Thank God when we arrived my amazing family met us and were ready to drive us. Trust me, we were too much of a mess to drive. To this day my heart still breaks when I think about the next moments. I still remember every detail of the moment of telling Ian. We arrived at the towers (his dorm on campus) and Michael called him and said, “Hey, just wanted to say hi, why don’t you walk down to the lobby because I think the reception is better.” Of course, Ian thought that this was strange, but he walked down and Michael and I were waiting in the lobby. The room was divided by glass, but Ian could see us. I remember his huge smile his arms wide open for a hug . As the doors opened he said, “ Wow, it only has been like six weeks, you miss me that much?”

I couldn’t speak. I started to cry so hard and just hugged him as his father said, “ I am so sorry, Ian...Conners gone.”

He was in such shock and didn’t say a word and started to tear up as Michael continued to tell him it was a bad car accident on Malibu Canyon Road. The next words, I remember so well. He repeated them for the next 24 hours.

“Okay, an accident. That’s okay...he's in the hospital right?" He's at St Joseph's Hospital, (that is where they were both born) with tubes in his mouth right?” He continued to say, “That’s okay, I will just push him around in a wheelchair until he gets better."

"I am so sorry honey, he's gone, he is in heaven."

Ian’s phone started to blow up with the news that his brother was truly dead. Thank god, Michael and were in Pittsburgh with him. That night, we all stayed in one hotel room with Michael on one bed and Ian and I in the other and it was as if he was my five year old boy again. The pain was so beyond hard. It was surreal. He continued to say he was going to push Conner around in a wheelchair as he drifted off to sleep and continued the next day and even on our flight back to Los Angeles. His brain simply could not comprehend he would never see his brother again. In his mind, if there is no body, then how do we know he is really dead?

We stayed in the same house for the next two weeks and continued to go through the most important part of our grieving journey as a family. Those days were pivotal for me, Ian and Michael. These were sacred hours that helped us to ease into this life long journey of grief. I am so grateful for my faith, family, friends & community. Without their support, I could not have survived my broken heart.

Months later, my cardiologist diagnosed me with Broken Heart Syndrome because part of my heart was paralyzed. I have since been given a clean bill of health.

Broken heart syndrome is very real.

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