IMG_0670I often hear from people who have heard our story the following words: “I cannot imagine what you are going through.”  I understand where that statement comes from: Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare.  This fear is shared by every parent from the moment their first bundle of joy enters the world.   I acutely recall the conflicting feelings of ultimate joy and nebulous fear when my first daughter, Abigail, was born. – Actually I think those feelings actually started from the moment we found out my wife was pregnant!  Regardless of when those feelings started, every parent is intimately aware of their presence – and time does nothing to abate them.  Even though I am 38, I know my Mother worries just as much about me now as she did the day I was born.  Being a parent presents the opportunity for unmatched reward at a significant cost:  A lifetime with your children brings great joy nearly every moment of our lives, yet at the same time provides a continuous source of worry.

These worries manifest almost immediately:  Will he/she meet the milestones they are supposed to reach?  Will they do well in school?  Will they find a significant other?  Will they find a meaningful career? – all of these questions, and more, are the questions we as parents openly ask ourselves and each other.  I often hear parents at  any gathering of children posing these questions to each other, attempting to ascertain whether or not their child is doing well in relation to the other children.  If you have ever spent time at a gathering of parents, especially parents of young children, you find that almost no topic regarding their child is off limits – even topics that in normal conversation would be considered taboo or socially inappropriate.  conversations about fecal color/consistency are just as common as political discussions.  It appears that most parents do not have a problem sharing both their hopes and fears regarding their children with each other save for one, ultimate fear: the potential of losing their child.

The fact that we can lose our children is a gnawing fear that permeates nearly every facet of being a parent, yet it is almost never mentioned among parents and rarely even acknowledged to the self.  Much like Voldemort from the Harry Potter series of books, the fear of losing a child  is omnipresent yet “must not be spoken of”, perhaps out of an additional fear that mentioning it could potentially awaken the fates and place their gaze upon you and your most precious of belongings.  No one wishes to “Tempt Fate”, and as such we keep this fear locked away from its prying eye.  Thankfully, for most us, we never have to face that fear head on.  Statistically speaking, most of us in the modern world, will never face the specter of losing a child – yet we nevertheless fear it constantly.

Statistics do very little to comfort those unfortunate enough to have lost a child.  For those who have lost the most precious thing their world, there is almost nothing that can be done, or said,  that will take away  or even mitigate the pain.  Knowing that the pain is untenable for the suffering parent may cause some to stay away, figuring there is nothing they can do to stop the pain.  The people who fall into this category seem be people with whom you were friendly but perhaps not “friends”.  I have mentioned before that there are still people in my workplace who look down and away when I come down the hallway, when they used to look up and greet me.  I don’t blame them, or judge them…  I think they do it because the very site of me, and what I am going through,  is a reminder that unimaginable can happen – and seeing someone they know go through it hits too close to home.  I believe in their eye’s it is easier to avoid the fear than face it, so they look away, hoping I wont engage them and confirm the reality they dread .    Still, for the vast majority, most will go out of their way to try and help – regardless of how uncomfortable or reality affirming the situation may be.   It is in the conversations I have with these people that the universal refrain is “I cannot imagine what you are going through”…

The real  truth is that everyone who states they have no idea what we are going through is incorrect.  In fact, every parent knows exactly what it feels like to lose a child:  it’s the manifestation of the fear that is always there that we never want to acknowledge.  The feeling every parent has had when a child trips and falls, bangs their head, wanders off out of site – all of these moments illicit the fear of “What if?”.  What if I had not broken their fall?  What if I turned my head for a second longer?  What if they walked out of our view in a crowded place?  What if?…  Every time we as parents face these “What if?” moments, and walk away untouched, we thank good fortune, or God.  We breath a sigh of relief and catch our breath and we regain our relative peace and comfort knowing everything is ok.  In these times we tuck away the “What if?” back into the recesses of our brain where it cannot come out and hurt us or taint the good times ahead.

For a parent who has lost a child the fleeting fear that lived in the backs of our minds as a “What if?”  becomes real.  Like Voldemort,  “he who must not be named”  attains its corporeal form and becomes an ever present facet of life, haunting you and causing immeasurable pain. This pain permeates every aspect of your life.  Interests that once brought joy are rendered inert.  Activities you used to count on to alleviate the tedium of life now only serve as agents that promote it.  Everything changes, and you are forced to accept a “new normal” that places an asterisk on your life that you cannot shake, ever.   The realization that life will never be the same makes things even worse, as you begin to think that you will never really enjoy life again.  “What if?” becomes reality, and the reality is something you never, ever want to wake up into again.

My wife and I live the “What if?” nightmare every day.  I wake up every morning to a collage of pictures that will never be added to – a reminder of happier times that also serves to reinforce the permanence of his absence.  In our case the “What if?” morphed from a fear to a longing for what could have been.  Instead of fearing about losing Rees, we lament what could have been.  In my case, my “what if(s)?” are now a recurring cycle of thoughts about what I could have done differently on that October day.  What if I hadn’t played one more video game that afternoon during his nap? –  I could have done the furniture while he was sleeping.  Ironically, it was a “What if?” that stopped me from doing that, as I distinctly remember thinking what if he gets hurt while I am outside not able to hear him?  What if I just closed those garage doors and joined my friend and Rees?  What if I didn’t yell at Craig for giving Rees that toy truck that wasn’t age appropriate?  What if? What if?  What if?…

What if is a double edged sword:  It can drive me mad as my mind computes the permutations of what I could have done differently that day, but it also caused me to aspire to do something audacious.  What if we take the worst thing that can happen to a parent and turn it around?  What if we counter a great negative with an equally strong positive?  For a scientist, the words “what if” are what lead us to the answers of tomorrow.  I no longer worry about what if I did this or did that…  My what if’s are now solely based on what I hope to do with the foundation we started in Rees’ name.  What if we raise enough money to get truly meaningful scholarships in schools that reward students not for athletic prowess or academic acumen, but rather for simply being a good person in their community?  What if we start so many acts of kindness that people begin to think of others first, before themselves? What if I fail at my goal and Rees Specht life does not take off?  What if one day children everywhere are as familiar with Rees Specht Cultivating kindness as they are the Wiggles making fruit salad?    What if people grow tired of our message and move on to the next big thing?  –  There certainly is the possibility for any of those “What if’s?”- yet the beauty of “What if”, is that I can still dream of those possibilities becoming reality.  If that happens I wont look back at the end of my days saying “What if?” –  I will look back and smile knowing that we helped make this a better world, one little Rees’ piece at a time…







11 Responses

  1. I pray for you and and your family…that you may continue to find healing by finding positive energy in the face of tragedy. I look forward to spreading goodness in Rees name and in the name of all other children who have left this world. You speak and do for those parents who simply cannot at this point in their grieving and for that, I thank you.

  2. Rich have often wondered how your friend you wereith that day is doing? As a grandmother of 7 I can’t imagine how you are feeling! Yet I do! Lived in the lands of what ifs with my 4 children and now with my 7 grandchildren! Much love and prayers for your family! Grammy from LOng Island!

    • Peggy,
      I wish I could give you an answer as to how my friend is doing… sadly he chose a different path after Rees’ death and refuses to speak to me. Forces outside of the scope of the events that lead to Rees’ death placed a strain on us that he could not work through. Unfortunately, I cannot elaborate at this time but there is a blog entry titled “I thought he was with you” that I wrote a while ago that gets into why this happened. I will be publishing that entry most likely within the next few weeks. I wish there was something happier to report 🙁

  3. Thank you for your message. I lost my son 8 months ago and I feel like it was just yesterday. Today I went for counseling and it helped. Bless you and your family.

  4. as always., your writings never fail to move me. you are right, we all live in a world of what it’s- just we all have out own what ifs, yours are, however, a lot more tragic than most, but they are all still there molding and changing each of our lives. about those at work, or other friends, who cant seem to look you in the eye anymore- many times its because they just don’t know what to say and are afraid that if they do say something it will be the wrong thing to say. they don’t want to hurt you and are afraid that they will. And, as time goes by it becomes more and more difficult because they feel inside that they should have said something a lot sooner are unsure of how to start a conversation at this point. Hang in there- you and your family are doing more than you can ever know and will probably never know just how far reaching your message has been and will continue to be, God bless

  5. You have put the thoughts of those, including me sometimes, into the most eloquent words. It is that fear that bows our heads. It is the need to avert the possibility of something that terrifying being turned in our direction. I’m sending you as much love and positive energy as I can and think of you and Reese every day, though we have never met. I often talk about the need for kind and good acts to be acknowledged when the state or government is looking for ways to increase funding to schools. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you and your son could make this mindset a reality. Thank you for all you do.

  6. I am coming up on my son’s 10th anniversary in a few days. You and I are blessed because we are able to do some good after our child’s passing. I put my energy into helping other Moms who are going through this journey to let them know that I do understand and I am there. God Bless you for all that you are doing in your dear son’s memory.

  7. Dear Mitch,
    So sorry that I can count you among the “Unfortunate fraternity”… It is hard to find those rays of light when we are faced with the darkness of losing a child. My thoughts and prayers are with you tonight. God bless 🙂

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