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Losing a Child: A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Three southeast Michigan families share their stories of facing the unthinkable – death of their kid – fighting through the grief and continuing to live and love and, yes, even laugh

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Feeling blessed in spite of the loss

The kindness of family, friends and strangers has enabled Mindie Wolvin to see her life as blessed even after losing Jake.

"I have met people I never would have met if I hadn't lost Jake," she says. "You don't know how wonderful people can be. People who didn't even know Jake well came out of the woodwork to comfort us after he died."

Shortly after Jake's death, some women who worked with Mindie but didn't know her well asked for Jake's photo.

"Later they gave me a necklace with Jake's picture and the words 'Forever Remembered' engraved on it," she recalls. "I wore that necklace every day for four years."

Creating good out of a tragic loss is often a common thread among bereaved parents. Anne and Marc Vachon created the Timmy Vachon Foundation to memorialize their son and the can-do, optimistic spirit he embodied. The foundation's mission is to keep Timmy's legacy alive by supporting other children who exemplify Timmy's mantra of "Never Give Up."

The foundation provides financial aid in the form of scholarships for students attending metro Detroit Catholic schools and grants for charities.

"We knew from the very beginning – even while still in the hospital with Timmy – that we wanted some good to come from his death," Anne says. "Through the foundation, we have been able to help so many awesome kids. It has really been our gift."

Yet perhaps the brightest beacon of hope to come out of the Anne and Marc's grief is Hope herself. Almost three years after Timmy's death, Anne and Marc welcomed a baby girl, Julia Hope, into their lives to join big sisters, Charlotte and Mary Claire, Timmy's twin.

"Right away, I wanted another baby," Anne says. "And we were done. But I felt that need. Not as a replacement. I wanted my hands to be busy because my heart ached so badly. I felt if my hands were going to be busy, they may as well be busy doing something I loved. Child rearing has given me more satisfaction than anything.

"Julia saved our lives. Not all our prayers were heard, but that one was."

Finding a new normal

It has been more than 10 years now since Cliff and Tammy Patton bid farewell to their daughter Erin, but she is still very much a part of her mom and dad's lives and that of her five siblings.

"Erin's younger brother and sister never got to meet her," Tammy notes. "But we talk about her so much that it's like they know her."

The entire Patton family regularly visit Erin's grave to lay blankets.

"We want the kids to understand who she was," Tammy says. "Time doesn't heal your pain, but it does lessen it."

Anne Vachon feels it is her responsibility to lead a happy life and to continue parenting Timmy, albeit in a different way.

"What people don't understand is that he is still my child," Anne says. "I will parent him until the day I die. I devote the same amount of time to him in my actions that I did before. He will always be my child. We have to go on happily because that is what he would want."

Similarly, Mindie Wolvin says she has transformed her relationship with Jake.

"I'm still his mom," she says. "Instead of buying clothes for him, I buy flowers for his grave or balloons for a launch."

Now at the five-year mark since Jake's death, Mindie and Ken feel they're finally open to considering the possibility of adopting or fostering a child.

"You're not getting over your child by allowing yourself to be happy again," Mindie says. "Grief is like a weight. When you first pick it up, it's heavy and hard. While the weight never changes, your muscles get stronger. You learn new ways to carry it."

Old to new | New to old
Jun 15, 2014 01:26 am
 Posted by  christina/34

On June 25 I received a phone call to go to the hospital my daughter was there. They said she went there because she couldn't breathe. In two more days she was going to deliver my grandson. The doctor said her heart collapsed. It took them fifteen minutes to get it started then they did a c-section and got the baby. While all that was going on she had a stroke in her brain it blinded, paralyzed her and put her in a coma. They said she would be a vegetable. We waited two months but no miracle came.I talked to her brother and her oldest son and decided to put her in hospice. Then I had to do the unthinkable, take her feeding tube out. I told myself I would never regret the decisions I had to make. I lied. The guilt is unbearable. I thought I could deal with it on my own. I was very wrong. My grandson is blind and brain damaged. It took my daughter 32 days from the time I stopped her feeding tube. My only daughter Christina left us on Aug, 22 2012. Her brother and father and two other sons had to suffer. It took my baby from day one 57 days. My husband says I never moved on. I don't know how.

Jul 10, 2014 12:32 pm
 Posted by  LaurieM

Dear Sister,
I am so sorry that you have lost your daughter and that you are suffering. My daughter Lindsey died last summer at age 17, also from a stroke. Mercifully, we did not have to make any of the agonizing decisions that you had to because of the severity of her condition. I would not even begin to try to tell you to "move on" or "get over it". Everything you are going through is huge and seems hopeless. I have been in those dark places myself, and I still go in and out of despair. 2013 was already shaping up to be a personally challenging year for us, and our grief has not lessened any of our problems. Regarding your guilt, I am sure that your loved ones have already told you that you did the best you could given a horrible circumstance, that you are not responsible, and I would say the same thing to you. But 2 years later, you still are burdened with guilt. If you are or have ever been a Christian, you were taught that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But how does that help us now in our grief? Being the punishment for our sin meant he would bear everything related to sin: death, sickness, war, hunger, greed, despair, and even guilt. Christ's sacrifice can buy even the worst criminal back for God and he has already paid the price for all of your suffering and sin too. Please know that God does not want you to live with this guilt; He wants it. He paid for it. And nothing would delight Him more than for you to hand it over along with everything that burdens you. In my grief, I sometimes feel that nobody is suffering as much as I am, and I feel alone. Centuries before Jesus was born, Isaiah wrote that the Christ would be "a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering." (Read Is 53) A suffering God sent to love a suffering world. He loves you, your daughter, and your grandson so much. With all the boy's trials from birth, God still has a purpose for him, and people will be changed by loving him. You will be changed by loving him. I will pray for you all.

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