The Death of a Child

11 Oct 2003 /

My nephew died yesterday in a car smash in Amarillo, TX, where he lived.

He was 10 years old, the same age as my son. He was my son’s favorite cousin.

Fatal wreck in Amarillo

He and his mom were passengers in an SUV that ran off the road on I-40. He was not wearing a seat belt, and was thrown out of the vehicle.

His mom is in the hospital in critical condition. Her prognosis is unclear.

I-40 is the main east-west route through Amarillo. Anywhere you want to go, unless it’s due north or south, you take I-40.

So it’s not all that coincidental that a short time after the accident, the boy’s father — my wife’s brother — drove by and stopped when he saw his wrecked car, emergency vehicles, police and medical personnel.

“That’s my car,” he said, and a policeman told him his son was gone.

 

Yesterday morning, my wife put on a pair of black pants, a white blouse and a black jacket. She looked at herself in the mirror, said “Looks too much like a funeral,” and changed into something else.

A premonition maybe. Certainly a foreshadowing.

When I came home in the afternoon, she was on the phone crying, in a way that immediately made me think that someone had died, possibly her dad, who’s been in poor health.

When she hung up the phone, she said the child’s name and “He’s dead!”

I replay that in my mind and get the same empty chill every time.

Death and children don’t mix.

My wife and I gave a lot of thought to how to tell our son about what happened. There’s hardly any upside to confronting a 10-year-old with the fact that Death is coming for all of us — and maybe a lot sooner than you think — except that I probably won’t have to remind him to wear his seat belt for a while.

 

There’s an interesting word that I learned a long time ago: teleology, which means “the use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena” — in other words, a belief that everything happens for a reason.

It seems like a comforting thought. I don’t believe it myself, but it may help people who’ve had the rug pulled out from under their lives by an event like this to survive it without imploding from grief, or collapsing in on themselves like accordions.

 

We visited the boy’s family in Amarillo just last month, so I remember him very clearly. He was their only child.

He’ll always be a boy now. He’ll never grow up. He’ll never get old.


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