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 out 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.