As the mother of a twelve year old girl with Down syndrome, Christina’s safety has always been my primary concern, and too often my obsession:
. . . sometimes I have to put in a load of wash or get involved in yard work, look up and Christina is gone. The house is eerily silent, and she does not answer my panicked calls. It last happened on Sunday, in the dark, and she was found in the car in the driveway, waiting to go pick up Bella from youth group. Most times it is something normal which any other ten year old could do without freaking me out. But Christina is NOT a normal ten year old and stories like this terrify me.
News that a child with Down syndrome like Christina has died in an auto accident as she wandered from her home in the middle of the night sets off my inner terror. So I put up extra high fences with locks around my property on a quiet country road, and changed all the door locks so that Christina could be locked in and allow us to sleep in peace knowing that this probably will not happen to us.
Recent news events have made me very grateful that my daughter’s tendency to wander and her inability to be left alone for long periods has made me a super-vigilant parent. I don’t have the luxury of being distracted very often. I must know where she is at all times, and rarely leave her with a babysitter who is not a family member. It’s difficult to supervise someone that closely at age twelve, when she, an adolescent, pointedly slams the door in my face to get some privacy, yet it makes me feel that a certain type of agony is less likely to happen to me.
I don’t know if I could ever recover from the horror of finding that I left my child to die an agonizing death in a hot car.
When I read the multiple stories of such deaths in the news this summer, I wondered how parents could be so forgetful or careless that they forget their child, and then I remember that two of the holiest people who ever lived, St Joseph and Our Lady, left a twelve-year-old behind in Jerusalem. Surely such holy parents were not guilty of sin, but Mary was most likely thinking that Jesus was with the company of men, and St. Joseph was sure He was with His mother. Its a familiar scenario to even an obsessed mother like me.
It happens to the best parents who misunderstand one another, who are overburdened with work schedules, or a large, disorganized family. It happens to parents who share custody and are not accustomed to caring for their child, and it happens to parents whose motives are questionable.
The real questions we need to be asking are:
How to prevent this tragedy from happening, and
How to help grieving parents.
There is a novel written after the author, Michelle Buckman, read such a news article, and pondered for some time what sort of agony the mother who left the toddler in the car endured, and how she regained her sanity.
Rachel’s Contrition is a wrenching novel about Rachel’s grief after leaving her child in a car, and how it hurtled her spiraling downward into near insanity. She was delusional, almost catatonic and lost her home, her husband and custody of their son. She had nothing to live for as she slept her days away in her friend’s guest house, visited only by her wraith-like, disturbed teenage daughter.
Rachel’s Contrition shows how deep is the suffering that these parents endure, and how futile it is to expect them to recover in a short period of time regardless of how many children remain in their care.
The novel reveals how help can come from the most unlikely of places, which gives the reader hope, how the grace of God, through His friend St Therese of Lisieux, reached into the pit of despair in which Rachel found herself and offered her a way out.
When it was published, it rocketed to the top of Amazon’s list of books for women, and rightly so, as its power and impact are unforgettable. If you like me are puzzled and disturbed by this rash of terrible events and want to know how you might survive such a tragedy, this book is a riveting read and a consoling companion in this dark journey.
Leticia Velasquez is a wife and mother to three girls. Christina, her youngest, has Down syndrome. She is the co-founder of KIDS Keep Infants with Down Syndrome. Leticia blogs about daily life with Christina at Cause of Our Joy, and Causa Nostrae Laetitae. is her Culture of Life blog. She reviews books and films at Catholic Media Review. Her articles have been published in Canticle, Faith and Family, and Celebrate Life magazines, and the National Catholic Register . You can find her work online at Catholic.net, Catholic Exchange, and Catholic Online. The
Velasquez family lives in rural Connecticut.