Every now and again I am asked to speak to another family about the loss of their child. To be a compassionate ear. As someone who has been through that type of heartbreak, I simply cannot say no. I figure it is a small way for me to pay it forward, a drop in the bucket toward the outpouring of kindness and compassion I have received through the years.

About a month ago I got a request from a bereavement counselor I have worked with in the past for these situations, and I readily agreed to accept whatever form of contact the grieving family felt comfortable reaching out to me. While I am absolutely no substitute for professional therapy in any situation, I am a good listener and can fairly accurately describe how those parents feel. Losing a child is the most difficult and painful experience of my entire life, and I have had some traumatic experiences to select from for comparison purposes.

On Wednesday night/Thursday morning I got a middle of the night txt from this mother whose 4 year old son had died in a bathtub accident. It was no one’s fault – he slipped getting out of the tub and hit his head against the side. She was awake at 3 in the morning, sobbing uncontrollably in her grief, feeling her heart break yet again. Not just from the loss of her child, but also the resulting separation from her husband after their loss. Finding their way back to each other is so difficult, and she had no one to turn to or to talk with.

I texted her as soon as I woke up and read the message. I waited for her to call or to text and received no reply. I checked my phone every free moment the last 36 hours, hoping she would reach out to me again.

Until this afternoon, when I received a phone call from her husband.

He found her last night after a series of texts throughout the day and then a blurry/slurry voice mail message. She had carefully hoarded a supply of sleeping pills and taken them all with a good quantity of Glen Livet, then secured a plastic bag over her head to sufforcate herself once she passed out.

I am devastated. I did not know this woman at all. Except for the few texts reaching out for help, we never communicated. I texted in reply as soon as I could, and then waited for her to reply or to phone. It’s hard to know what the right course of action is in these types of situations, and I did what I thought was best.

But she is/was a real person, another mother completely destroyed and heart broken by the loss of her only child. I get that, and I am trying so hard not to judge her final choice. What I know about her and the circumstances of her life is completely encapsulated into a couple of conversations with other people and some very brief texts. I am simply a passing stranger who truly wanted to be there and to help.

I was too late. And I will live with that knowledge. Maybe someday I will forget about the very spare contact we had, where our lives intersected, but I seriously doubt I will ever forget how poorly it makes me feel.

Tonight is family dinner night, and we have much to discuss and cause to celebrate. After a month and 14 (and counting) interviews, K has received her first offer and is currenly undergoing a thorough background check. While nothing is completely, 100% firm right now, she feels infinitely better having that in hand. In the meantime, while she waits for the investigation to conclude, she is continuing to interview (2 more set up next week). C’s birthday is in December, and we are hoping to be celebrating together in Disneyland. M and I have hotel rooms lined up for all of us, plus our plane reservations are made. G and K are not sure yet, with the new job and school finals being that week for both, but we are hopeful. A and C cannot put in for time-off until mid-September, but since it is before the Christmas holiday it is likely to work out fine.

It will be wonderful to be together, at our favorite Chinese restaurant, to share a meal, talk, laugh, catch up.

I will hug them all extra tight when we say goodbye, make sure I tell them (as I always do) how much I love them. I will blink away any excess tears left from this moment and this woman I did not have opportunity to know.

Life is fragile and it can be irrevocably altered in a blink. Today, I am unbearably ungrateful for the reminder.

6 thoughts on “Family

  1. I dont know what to say. As a Catholic, I would never do that but as a Mom, I can’t image the pain of losing a child. Such a stupid accident, they happen so fast. She must have been in such pain, not even having a spouse to lean on. I will say a prayer for both her and you. Even if you would have spoken with this lady the night she called, you know Janelle that at some point it would have ended the same. Cheryl

    1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment, Cheryl. All I keep thinking – that poor family, so much pain – and my heart truly breaks for them. As a person. As a mom.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear this. For you and her. For some the pain is too unbearable to go on – especially when she must have felt so alone without her husband. Your willingness to extend a hand into the darkness you know well is incredibly kind, but not all will be strong enough to grab it and hold on. Be kind to yourself these next few days as well.

    1. Thanks, SAK. I ate chinese food with willful abandon last night – carb counting be damned! But no lasting damage on the meter this morning, so I must have dosed accurately. That said, I’m back to yoga later this morning, back to carb counting and eating carefully, to the gym tonight! Living well and being healthy is the best, most lasting gift I can give myself and those who love me.

  3. That is so sad. I cannot imagine the pain she must have been going through. I am quite sure you have helped many over the years and you did what you could for this poor mother.

  4. You have helped so many families over the years no matter how hard it is for you. But sometimes no matter no matter how much we want to we can’t save the one person who has given up and doesn’t want to be saved. And I agree the greatest gift you can give your family and friends who love and care about you is living well and being healthy both mentally and physically.

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