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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.

Aug 4, 2014 07:52 pm
 Posted by  debby8043

I lost my 21 yr old daughter June 29th, 2014 in a car accident. She left behind an 8 month old son, George. I woke that morning to hear that my daughter had been killed on the news. I didn't receive a phone call or a visit from the police. I went to the local hospital because I thought if she was in an accident she would have gone to the hospital. But, the hospital or the police stations were no help. There was a Chaplain at the hospital who searched for 4 hours until he found my daughters body. That was the most heart wrenching 4 hours of my life. All I wanted was answers & there were none. 5 weeks later & I still have no death certificate or what was the cause of her death. All I can do is pray & cry & ask god why he took my little girl. Abigail was the light of my life. I honestly don't know how to move passed this horrible time in my life. All I can do is tell her son every single day how much his mommy loved him.

Aug 26, 2014 07:51 am
 Posted by  donna

It's has almost been 2 years since my son's death. He was 28 years old, the youngest twin. I am still doing day by day. Life is soooo different and not sure what is the new normal. Just trying your keep faith and believe God.

Sep 5, 2014 07:33 pm
 Posted by  Springflowers22

I have loss four sons starting from 1992 to the year of 2003. My four sons were in good spirit, they climbed trees and rode bikes like any other normal children. One day our lives were shattered knowing the fact that they all would die with two blood disorders. They were the age 11, 14, 9, and 19. Our 19 year old was in college and was engaged to be married. After losing these four boys I thought I could never move on with life without them. But I can tell you now I have move on but I will always keep deep memories of them. I wrote a book called Angels Never Die - A true story of love loss and faith that was pulished in 2014
by Gwendolyn S. McNutt.

Oct 3, 2014 01:36 pm
 Posted by  CJ

I lost my 33 year old daughter Sept. 23, 2012, she worked with me and was also a mother of two who are now 10 and 14. she got a lethal combination of prescription drugs from a pain clinic dr. that killed her. this dr. was nothing but a pill mill dr giving out deadly addicting drugs cash only. my heart aches for her everyday and there is not one minute I'm not thinking of her.

Nov 5, 2014 12:06 am
 Posted by  JJmommy0815

I feel so close to Jake's mom. I lost my 7 year old son on October 11, 2014. He failed his second brain test but we fought for him to stay on life support for 11 days. My faith in Jesus allowed me to fight and has allowed me to continue with life. We (my two sons and I) were in a tragic car accident and I'm so blessed to be alive as well as my 1 year old son but my heart aches for my son Jahlani. Every day is a fight. I plan to change people's lives. I've met so many people since the accident as well and have been blown away by the sheer love and kindness from strangers. My life purpose has been shifted. I will always have two sons my first born will always be my first born. I love him with every ounce of me. God bless all the parents who have lost their child/ren.

Dec 4, 2014 03:57 pm
 Posted by  Rob

I lost my daughter four years ago just shy of being nine years old. She died suddenly and quickly in front of me, my wife and her younger sister in a post office of all places. She died from something I had never even heard of before, an Arterio Venus Malformation. Basically she had a defective artery in her brain stem that gave out on her. She just collapsed in the post office from it and that was basically the end. No warning no nothing. What happened after was a 2 day nightmare at the hospital. Dealing with organ donor people harassing us thru the night. Taking her off life support the next day because the neuro doc said it was hopeless and she was brain dead. The shock took about a year to wear off into the reality of it all. Four years later things arent much better and I suspect this is as good as it will ever be. I have alot of self blame guilt self hate. Whether its warranted or not I have it. Many days mentally I feel like its still 2010 and my mind is frozen in that time period and I cant seem to go forward. I hate how bad my memories are of my daughter and how little I recall of the times with her. I don't know why I don't have more memories of things we did. Its like a fog of pain that wont let me enjoy the memories. I mostly remember the last day more then anything. I no longer have any drive to do anything substantial with my life. I have no more career ambitions. I know we need to make more money and I should seek a better job but I just don't have the motivation to go and play the game again. Its easier to just stay in the current job. I work in sales and I dread landing something else where I have to be on all the time. My relationship with my wife has become one of convenience. We need each other to raise our youngest daughter and we don't have the income to be apart. Its just easier to go on this way. I watch as everyone else around us goes on and their kids grow up. Its hard going to the bus stop and seeing the friends now so much older.

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