Every parent I know would sacrifice all they are, all they have, to protect their children. It is an immutable instinct ingrained in everyone of us. From the moment our children come into this world we are both blessed with unending love and cursed with perpetual fear of losing that love. When your child dies, regardless of the cause, a certain feeling of failure washes over you with the realization of that fear.
A little over two years ago I found myself realizing that fear. The pain of losing my little boy is as acute today as it was on that fall day in 2012. Some say the pain of loss and the accompanying grief is commensurate with the love. I can confirm the accuracy of that statement: Unending love produces limitless pain. My father used to tell me that “Pain is nature’s way of letting you know you are still alive.”. Well I can definitively state that I am most assuredly alive… I am unwelcomely reminded of it nearly every waking moment of my life.
Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”
~Bernice Johnson Reagon
Rees’ death represents the ultimate challenge to me. That challenge began the moment I held his lifeless body in that hospital, and grew exponentially when I returned home that night. I remember seeing my best friend crying and blaming himself and I did what I thought was the right thing to do, what I felt in my heart: I told him it was an accident and that I would never blame him for what happened. I was half lying at the time… a part of me did blame him. I knew I could not say it to him, but so many “whys?” begged to be answered… Why did he think it was ok to leave a 22 month old in the driveway of my home? How could he go back inside and watch TV? Why didn’t I blame him? Because part of me blamed myself, and the other part knew saying those things would only serve to make an untenable situation even worse. Instead of asking my friend those “whys?”, I inquired with myself: Why didn’t I just close those garage doors and go inside? Why did I have to secure those damn doors? Why didn’t I hear my little boy wander off and fall into the pond? Those “whys?” were just as impossible to answer for myself as they were for him. The reason I didn’t blame my friend is because, in reality it was nothing more than an accident and there was no one to blame…
Of course Child Protective Services felt differently. That agency and their hierarchy needed to assign blame. And so they did. On me. According to them it was my fault for not being aware of where Rees was after I closed those garage doors. It was my lack of communication with my friend that ultimately led to my son’s death. CPS completely exonerated my friend and decided it was I who was culpable. They were going to put my name on a child abuse registry and label me something terrible, simply because they needed to show results and I made the mistake of allowing them through my door. They dragged my family and I down through an additional level of hell; all so that they could justify their existence.
Sadly, my friend was not there for me through all this. He abandoned me when I needed him most and, to be honest, that hurts more than any feelings I may still harbor about his potential “fault” regarding Rees’ death. I forgive him for the accident. It’s harder for me to forgive him for abandoning me in my time of need. One of the last conversations I had with my friend was about why he would not help me with the case CPS was making against me. I asked him why he couldn’t be there for me like I was always there for him. His answer said it all: “I want to have kids one day, and I don’t need this label hanging over me”. His sense of self preservation meant more to him than our friendship. He didn’t purposely let Rees fall into that water, but he had no problem pushing me into the fire…
Do you know how steel is made stronger? It goes through fire. Do you know how gold is purified? It goes through fire. The best and strongest things in life always go through fire.
I forgive my friend. I realize that what he did was a reflection of his weakness, and to some extent, his guilt. I can’t judge him for making a decision that I am sure haunts him and eats away at his soul. In some ways I actually want to thank him for thrusting me into a position where I was forced to fight and take a stand. The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel that emerges from those flames. That life trial tempered my resolve to make a difference in this world. Knowing I could withstand some of the worst life can offer and get back up again proved to me that I could see my goal of making this world a better place through; no matter how difficult the path may appear. A part of me still hopes to see a message from him on my phone, or have him show up at my door one day. I think the first words I would say are “Thank you”. As for the next words? Well I have not really thought that far into the conversation – and to be honest I don’t think it will ever happen anyway. (So if you are reading this, know that I truly forgive you…)
I still think about my friend. A lot. We were basically inseparable since first grade, so there exists a plethora of everyday cues that remind me of one experience or another. I really don’t have another friend in my life like him anymore, and I miss that feeling of having someone who you can share just about anything with. I understand why he did what he did – even though I cannot condone it. CPS put him in the position of choosing himself over his friend. I don’t blame him. I blame the faceless bureaucrats who needed to excise their pound of flesh in order to show “results”. Regardless of blame, the very simple truth remains that my family and I made our way through this trial and we are stronger because of it. I truly believe that anything is possible now, and I know I am capable of paying the price necessary to achieve my goals.
For everything there is a price… the cost of growth is adversity. Pain and suffering can either debilitate you, or inspire you. I choose inspiration. I choose to take my endless love for Rees and channel that pain into something that will make a difference. I don’t expect others to understand it, or even accept it. I just want to do what I feel I need to do. My little boy gave me a mission that I will never stop pursuing. My restless pursuit isn’t for fame, fortune or notierity. My restlessness resides in my unending love for a little boy who I will never cradle again in my arms, but will hold forever in my heart. I will continue to try and take the high road and be the person that I hope makes my little Richie proud. I will continue to look out for my friend, in hopes that one day I can at least have a chance to tell him how I feel, face to face. Until then, I will press on with my mission to spread kindness in Rees’ name, and make this world a kinder place, one little piece at a time.