Investigation and Absolution

Just before Christmas, a letter came in the mail from Child Protective Services. It was a very thin envelope. I opened it in the car along with the other non-junk mail. The first line made me feel like I needed to throw up.

“The case of child abuse and neglect opened in the interest of E. and J. on October 9, 2014, has been closed.”

Wait. WHAT? The first few weeks after Kai passed are just flashes of memory, but I sort of recalled a social worker coming around a few times, asking if we had grief resources or something. We had been under investigation? For NEGLECT and ABUSE? I was shaking, shaking with hot anger and feeling that acidic tingle at the back of my throat that was vomit.

I didn’t expect an actual person to answer when I called the number on the letter, much less the social worker who had come to our house. She explained that in the state of California, the police who respond to a juvenile death have to report to CPS, regardless of circumstances or evidence. Although I understood that it was necessary, it didn’t matter. The thin scab holding me together peeled back and words erupted.

“Do you understand why this is so hurtful?” I quiet-yelled at the social worker. “When you lose a child, you question every parenting decision you’ve ever made. This … this letter … this INVESTIGATION … means STRANGERS are questioning our parenting. We did nothing, nothing wrong. And to presume our other children are in some kind of danger? It’s more than insulting. This is horrible! Horrible!”

She was very quiet. She’s probably used to people being less than kind. I was quiet. I’m not a completely-lose-my-shit kind of a person. Not usually. I immediately apologized, and she said she understood. Maybe she did, and maybe she didn’t.

As a parent, your primary job is to protect your children, even from themselves. When you lose a child, it feels like you have completely failed as a parent. You go back through the events of That Day like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Book. “If you decide to leave Kai at home, go to page 67. If you make Kai get in the car and go with you, go to page 73.” As though a different series of choices would have changed the story.

Maybe the day could have played IMG_5209out differently, but the choice I had to make was this: either my husband and I did absolutely everything we could as parents, and are not in any way responsible for Kai’s death; or we made some mistakes as parents, but have to let the past remain in the past.

I’ve chosen the latter, because for me, that’s the only way I can parent our other two children. If I’m completely not responsible for my son’s death, which a lot of people, even my therapist, have said to me, then … why does my parenting even matter? It makes more sense to me to accept the absolution I asked for, and received. I didn’t ask specifically, “Lord, please absolve me of _______, because I know that’s what contributed to my son’s death.” I simply prayed, and still pray, “If I’ve made mistakes, and I know I have, please forgive me. Guide my decisions. Help me to be a better mom today than I was yesterday.”

At the end of my phone call to CPS, the social worker said, “For what it’s worth, I see a lot of really bad parenting. I knew from the minute I met you that you’re a good mom, and that you loved your son very much.”

I still love my son very much. I will always love him, imperfectly and absolutely. 

3 thoughts on “Investigation and Absolution

  1. “either my husband and I did absolutely everything we could as parents, and are not in any way responsible for Kai’s death; or we made some mistakes as parents, but have to let the past remain in the past.” There’s a third choice, and the one I think is right: You made some mistakes as parents and are still, ultimately, not responsible for his death. We can only protect our kids, which means letting them do stuff, and make mistakes. This is an irrecoverable mistake, but ultimately, it was his, and he was old enough to make it. It was a bad choice – a horrible choice, but it was not your choice. Either we respect our kids as people, thus giving them responsibility for their actions, or we don’t – and the latter is a much bigger mistake to make as a parent. In all of your memories of him, he was not oppressed, or repressed, right? There’s no such thing as perfect parenting, and from what I can tell through all of your posts, you are GOOD parents. I’m still an outsider judging, but I don’t see fault – I see all the things you’ve done so right. I don’t blame, but see your good qualities and want to emulate them. I also see Kai’s actions and use them to remind myself that this is not a choice I want to make because I see how it hurts, even though I fight with pretty serious depression sometimes. I know you never asked to be inspiration for me, but you are in so many ways. Sara

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  2. I would have been furious as well, I am sorry for what you have endured and continue to endure, I can relate, 2 months after my daughter died the hospital sent a letter saying we were approved to receive the home medical equipment she needed, I disregarded the letter assuming it was an oversight and surely they know she died at THEIR hospital not long ago, then a few weeks after I got a call the name on the phone was the childrens hospital, I hated seeing that display name, I started shaking, I answered, they asked me if I received the letter of approval, they asked why I never responded, they asked if she(my dead daughter) still needed the equipment. I simply said no, she’d dead, she died at your hospital, I would have assumed your staff communicate with each other. She was shocked, she apologized. I simply hung up.

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