Posted by: David | April 5, 2007

Fourteen Years

April 2nd is a sad anniversary for my family and me. It has been fourteen years since our little Daniel died suddenly while walking back to school with his 3rd grade classmates from an event at the Warner town hall. They had made it almost halfway back when he suddenly went down, sliding with the other rebels in his class on a frozen puddle in front of the little office building just down the street from Simonds Elementary School. One of the girls had felt bad for a while because she thought that he might not have died if they hadn’t been fooling around sliding on the ice.

Talking to her several years later, I told her what had happened. It was that the artificial valve in his heart had malfunctioned just at that moment, after 8 years of working perfectly, and got stuck shut. I told her that those playful moments she enjoyed with him were sort of like the last fun thing he did in his short life, and I thanked her for that. But it must have been awfully scary to see a classmate go down and not get up. I don’t know how many terrifying seconds passed before his teacher aide scooped him up and ran the remaining hundred yards to the school. The teacher aide said that he did open his eyes briefly and seemed to recognize her as he lay dying on the bed in the nurse’s office.

I didn’t get there until well after he’d passed on, and I was frozen as I watched them load him into the ambulance to take him to Concord Hospital. He was so gray. For many years after, I’d wished that I had not just stood there frozen, but had at least tried to touch him. It had seemed like such a long time that I stared at him on that gurney before they loaded him on. I remember asking them if I could ride with them. Of course they said no. But the school nurse took me down to the hospital, driving about 90 most of the way. It was the hardest, saddest day. To put him on the bus that morning and not pick him up that afternoon. We all met at the hospital and sat in a quieter part of the ER section that we could tell was for people who’d lost or were about to lose loved ones. A counselor type person sat with us until Dan’s doctor arrived to tell us the bad news. [He was a great doctor whom we’d met the day Dan was born. Dan’s home birth on a hot August day in 1983 was a little tricky and delayed because he’d gotten tangled in the umbilical cord. It was wrapped around his neck twice. The midwives had to give him some oxygen as he was a bit dusky looking, but he pinkened right up. It was a few years before I figured out why the midwife was looking so closely at the palm of his hand. I thought the trip to the hospital was clear any complications connected to the birth drama. But the doctor was the first person to tell us that Dan probably had Down Syndrome, and would need a test to confirm that.]

So we had to sign some papers. We agreed to send his body down to Boston Children’s Hospital for autopsy. That was where he’d had his 2 cardiac surgeries back when he just over a year old. We also agreed to donate his corneas, and when we had some time to spend with his body, the nurse embarassedly removed the icepack from over his closed eyes. We didn’t really spend that much time there and we were just entering that thick, cloudy envelope of shock. When we got home, one of the midwives who’d helped deliver Dan was at our house waiting for us. She lived in Warner too. She took my wife into her arms and they walked down the road a bit. Before too long the phone began a long ringing phase. And all our friends came and helped us as much as they could. And it was a lot. One friend even came and took our dirty laundry away and brought it back clean and folded the next day. It was probably a few months before the shock began to lift. An almost physical feeling of something having been ripped from my midsection and leaving a hole gave way to things like noticing that I needed to cook rice for 3 and not 4. I always wondered whether we were grieving “properly”. Tears came to all of us, sometimes together, sometimes alone. For a time they would sneak up and catch you unexpectedly. We didn’t touch his bed for over over a year, except to cover it with all his favorite toys and stuff. Even when we moved away from that house in the woods of Warner’s Mink Hills a couple of years later, we took most of his stuff with us. Pictures of him are in every room (well, not the bathroom) of our home. Sure do miss him sometimes.


  1. David,

    You frequent my blog quite often, so I decided to hop on over to yours, only to find this story.

    I’m very sorry. I admire your strength and honesty and willingness to share your story with everyone.

    I’ve never been in your shoes, although I do have a 2.5 year old boy. The thought of losing him terrifies me.

    Recently, I learned that a friend of our family lost a seven year old son. I didn’t know the family intimately, but they were friends. What’s strange is the hearing the news rocked me to my core — I was more upset about this little boy than I was when I lost my own grandfather.

    I tell Timmy’s story here, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing yours.

    Take care and be strong.

    Jeff Ventura

  2. Hi Dave,

    I cannot begin to fathom how hard that must have been. Since losing my dad when I was three, I would have periods of deep sadness. That all stopped the day tat Lauren was born. I don’t know what to say but thanks for sharing the memory of your son with me.

  3. Hi Todd,

    Thanks for your comment. For not knowing what to say, you said it pretty well my friend.

  4. David, I know you’ve mentioned losing a child before, but I never knew the story. I’m so glad that you told it. This was such a beautiful, heartbreaking post. Your family is so strong. I love it that you keep Dan’s picture throughout the house, and I love the one you’ve posted. Thanks for letting us stand in your shoes for a moment.

    Thanks moonbeam. It pretty much flowed out of me. The picture in the post is a pastel that my mother-in-law had someone do from a photo. It nicely captured Danny’s joie de vivre. Despite all his challenges he had a pretty happy little life and we’re glad to have shared it with him.

  5. David, thank you so much for sending me the link to this post. I never know what to say about profoundly heartbreaking loss, but your post was so brave, both powerful and gentle at the same time. Your strength is amazing, and it’s clear from that sweet and happy little face smiling out from the portrait that your family has a beautiful spirit. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    You’re very welcome Wendy, and thank YOU for your kind words. If it’s any comfort to you, I never know what to say about profoundly heartbreaking loss either, but have learned that this is OK! Only time has made this possible. Our community was amazingly and wonderfully supportive.

  6. Love is an amazing thing and although this story shows the great loss your family has suffered, it also shows the great love of your family too. You have touched me this evening with something that I can give to my family. Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration.

    You’re welcome MTAE, and thank you for that lovely comment. Danny’s too-short life life was an inspiration for many of us.

  7. Dave,

    I had no idea about this. I was reading your most current post and then clicked on to this one. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you and your family. This post really made me sad, but I know you keep Daniel in your thoughts and heart all the time.

    Thanks VAGB, I’m glad that you read it. It’s not meant to induce sadness, but rather fond recollection. It was the worst day ever for our little family, when we four became three. People often say that they can’t imagine such a thing. Why would one try? But in the healing process it became apparent that there are worse things that happen to children than sudden death. Believe it or not, this was somehow helpful in my grieving. Anyway, yes, his nine year old grin is forever with us.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Dave. My favorite part was…

    “I told her that those playful moments she enjoyed with him were sort of like the last fun thing he did in his short life, and I thanked her for that.”

    I’m sorry for you and your family’s loss, and amazed by your strength to share such a part of you.

    Thanks again.

    Thank you Peter. That’s a very nice comment. Danny’s classmate seemed to understand what this meant. As nice as it was to have those points of light in the vortex of the first few months afterward, it was also helpful to occasionally ‘ground out’ on darker, ‘it-could-be-worse’ scenarios. For example, where in our case our son’s passing was quick and pretty much painless for him, and medically explainable, which allowed for some eventual closure, I cannot imagine how parents can possibly deal with having their child go missing. To literally lose a child and have no idea what became of them is the worst thing I can imagine.

  9. I love his smile in that watercolor…and his happy eyes. Thank you for sharing your Daniel with us.

    It was done from a snapshot and the artist did a very nice job capturing his expression. With all the challenges before him, he was a pretty happy kid most of the time. Fairly contemplative too. He loved looking at all our various farm animals. One of the last photos we took of him was with some spring lambs.

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