Sunday, October 18, 2009

About That Balloon Boy: A Grieving Mother's Perspective

First, let me say I am beyond relieved and grateful to God that little boy was never in that balloon.

But it now appears the whole thing was a hoax, staged for a publicity stunt.

If that is true, then this boy’s father clearly has no clue what he did to millions of parents who have lost a child, whether through illness or accident or abduction, or that split second of distraction when a child wanders off, perhaps never to be found again . . . or found, but not alive. We’re all familiar with the old fable about crying wolf. Perhaps, when a child goes missing in the future, people are more apt to wonder if it’s another hoax. Precious moments may be wasted trying to discount that possibility before real action is taken, putting an innocent child in deeper, potentially irreversible danger. I hope to God I’m wrong about that—and as a chronic world class worrywart, there’s nothing I love more than to be wrong about something.

But this man did something else: He tore open the wounds of grieving parents all across the country who saw this story on TV, and were brutally reminded of the indescribable horror that comes with losing a child forever, sometimes in circumstances the parents can barely stand to think about—but must live with for the remainder of their lives.

I’m one of those bereaved parents. And to make matters worse, this hullaballoon took place on the anniversary of my daughter’s death. I heard it on the radio as I drove to the grocery store, and the tears started flowing almost immediately. I thought not only of Fiona, but of how easily something like this runaway balloon could happen to my fast and fearless Baby Bear who is autistic and can’t even talk.

I’m at least grateful that Fiona, who succumbed to complications from a rare autoimmune polyglandular disease, died at home surrounded by those who loved her most. But what if my precious Bear ever slipped away from me in the wink of an eye, and fell into a terrifying situation where he had no escape, no comprehension of what was happening, and no one to help him? It would tear me into so many pieces, I don’t know if I could ever pull myself back together again. It’s precisely because of his special needs and recklessness that I’m so overprotective of him, and can never stop worrying about him or what will become of him if—and someday, when—I’m no longer there.

I came home from the grocery store crying, wondering if they can put a man on the moon, then why can’t they figure out how to rescue someone from a runaway balloon? (I hereby confess: Hot air balloons are pretty, but you couldn’t pay me to ride in one, let alone allow one of my children to go up.) For several hours, my heart that’s been shattered before broke again for a helpless boy I thought was trapped in the balloon—and for the frantic parents. I was unable to function until the announcement he was safe—and what a relief it was!

Every time I see a story about the death or disappearance of a child, I know the hell that child’s parents are going through—a hell I would never wish on my worst enemy—that no grieving parent would ever wish on their worst enemy. It’s a nightmare from which there is no awakening.

And don’t give me any of that “closure” crap. Maybe for the rest of the world, closure comes with the autopsy results, or the funeral, or when a body is found or the killer sent to prison. But for that child’s parents, the doorway to hell always remains wide open, gaping before us as we teeter on the threshold, struggling not to plunge into that dark, bottomless abyss, as we rack our grief-crazed minds to figure out how we are supposed to get through the rest of our lives without ever seeing and holding our beloved child again, never to watch him or her grow up and become what could have been but never will be.

It’s a hell these publicity seekers know nothing about, or they wouldn’t have pulled this stunt.

And it’s a hell I hope they never have to know.

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