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."