No one expects to outlive their children. The idea is simply unthinkable. It’s against the order of nature, an unacceptable tragedy. The death of a child has to be every parent’s worst nightmare and quite possibly the most traumatic and devastating experience a family could face.
Several months ago, I received a phone call from a distressed friend in Australia about the sudden and unexpected death of a toddler – the 2-year-old daughter of a mutual friend from a mother’s group. The news was shocking. I was devastated; children aren’t supposed to die.
I had met the little girl’s mother seven years earlier, during a course at the local child health clinic. Our firstborns were a matter of months old. Over the years, five of the first-time mums have remained in regular contact and celebrated many milestones together: new jobs, new houses, new schools, new babies, even a set of twins.
Tragically, the 2-year-old girl was one of those twins; she passed away in her sleep. The toddler had gone to bed as usual one evening, awoke at midnight when her sister was unsettled, then fell asleep again after speaking briefly with her mum. But something went terribly wrong during the next few hours of darkness. When it came time to wake the twins the following morning, her parents found a lifeless little body. They called an ambulance and administered CPR, all to no avail. They endured hours of police interrogation, all the while nursing their baby girl as forensic teams combed the house for clues. Finally, she was taken from their arms and laid to rest at a beautiful ceremony a week later.
It was a sorrowful time. I was heavily pregnant, incapable of travel and unable to say goodbye. Of my two-and-a-half years abroad, this was when I had felt the most isolated and helpless, stranded on another continent. I’ve never felt so far away from friends and family. Yet, I know my distress pales into insignificance compared with the profound grief felt by her parents, her brother and her twin sister.
Despite the media storm that surrounded her death, a full autopsy and lengthy investigation failed to determine the toddler’s cause of death. The coroner’s reports were returned inconclusive. There was no known pre-existing condition, no rhyme or reason.
In the words of this angel’s brave mother, it doesn’t matter what caused it. The outcome is still the same. I admire my friend’s strength of character and resilience in the face of grief. I remember her angelic daughter as a bright and happy child with wide brown eyes, chubby cheeks and a soft mop of curls. She was an energetic talkative tot, mischievous by nature as only a toddler can be. I remember the twins dressed in complementary outfits – never identical but always matching. I am blessed for having known this little angel, to have heard her laughter and to have seen her smile.
May we celebrate this little girl’s short life and the joy that she brought to those around her. May she know that she touched the hearts of many and remains a cherished part of the lives of everyone who knew her.
Treasure every moment you spend with your children: the good, the bad and the times in between. A child is a precious gift; be sure to hold them tight when you cuddle them tonight, just because you can.