Losing What We Love the Most


The Death of a Child

The most painful death in all the world is the death of a child.
When a child dies, when one child dies - not the 11 per 1,000 we talk about statistically, but the one that a mother held in her arms -
he leaves an empty place in a parent's heart that will never heal.

- Thomas H Kean

Blenheim Boy Died Accidentally in Bath

A post-mortem has found that 5-year-old Blenheim boy Elijah Malins accidentally drowned in the bath on Thursday.  His mother, 32-year-old Caroline Malins, was found dead in her car later the same day.  It is believed Ms Malins was in the house at the time Elijah died.

Source: nzherald.co.nz New Zealand Herald 22 July 2002

Man Responsible for Son's Death Returns to Scene for Suicide

by Hannah Wolfson

At age 2, Gage Wayment was his father's constant companion.  For Paul Wayment,
taking his only son into the wilderness brought together the two things he loved most.
(Salt Lake City Tribune) Source: www.pulitzer.org/year/2002/feature-writing/works

Salt Lake City - A man who was due to report to jail for the death of his 2-year-old son apparently killed himself in the same mountains where the boy wandered off and froze.  Paul Wayment's body was found Wednesday, hours after he was supposed to surrender to begin serving a 30-day sentence.  A hunting rifle and pair of binoculars were found at his side.  Wayment, 38, pleaded no contest Tuesday to negligent homicide for leaving son Gage alone in a pickup truck for 45 minutes while he scouted for deer last October.  When Wayment returned, the boy was gone.  Gage's frozen body was found five days later, more than a mile from the truck.

"In one brief and monumental moment while Gage slept in the truck, I made the biggest mistake of my life," Wayment said before his sentencing.  "If I could change places with my son, I would give up my life in a second."

Wayment apparently shot himself in the head, Summit County sheriff's Detective Robert Berry said.  Wayment told his family as they left the courtroom Tuesday that he was "going to drive up into the mountains to be by himself for a little while," Berry said.

Still Dressed in His Court Clothes

Berry said Wayment, who was still dressed in his court clothes, walked around a small pond and out to a low rise.  "From there he could look out at all the country where the search went on for his son," Berry said.

The sentence from District Judge Robert K Hilder was a surprise, because prosecutors had recommended against jail time as a condition of Wayment's no contest plea to negligent homicide.  "He could have done the jail time," Wayment's attorney Glen Cook told KUTV.  "I think it was the overwhelming burden at that point that tipped the scale."

Paul and Gage were inseparable.  A neighbour said she used to sit on her porch
just to watch them when she felt she needed her spirits lifted.
Source: pulitzer.org/year/2002/feature-writing/works

Hilder said the death revived memories of his own father's suicide 20 years ago.  "If the jail sentence I imposed was a factor, large or small, in Mr Wayment's decision, I regret that result with all my heart, but I cannot change my decision," Hilder said in a statement.  "For the rest of my career I will remember Paul Wayment and try never to lose sight of the human consequences as I discharge my responsibilities."

Source: ABC News.com 19 July 2001 © Associated Press and ABC News all rights reserved; Paul Wayment's photo from citizenrob.com/book/072001.html.  For more details, please visit pulitzer.org/year/2002/feature-writing/works for a very moving account of this tragedy.

Indeed.  The lesson Hilder learned is one that could benefit us all.

Toddler's Last Hours of Despair

by Scott MacLeod, Rebecca Walsh and Ainsley Thomson

Starved of water and food, Tabitha Cox lay down on the living-room floor next to the body of her New Zealand mother, Joy, and drifted towards death.  Mother and daughter lay there for days, undisturbed, until police and social workers broke into their little flat in Doncaster, Melbourne, on September 26.  Seventeen-month-old Tabitha took up to a week to starve and dehydrate to death after Joy Cox, 42, died from an unknown cause.

Victoria police said Joy Cox was from New Zealand, but they did not know from which area or how long she had lived in Australia.  Her sister in New Zealand is believed to be flying to Australia after the deaths.  Her mother is thought to be living on the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast and is ill with cancer.

The grim discovery has shocked Australia and placed Melbourne's social services under scrutiny.  But behind the finger-pointing and accusations is the story of a quiet, lonely woman with such pride in her daughter that she often entered her in baby shows.  Joy Cox also had a dark side - drug, alcohol and domestic violence problems that thrust her into the arms of welfare agencies.  Her neighbour told the Herald that she kept to herself.

"Her daughter was beautiful.  She had blue eyes and blonde hair and beautiful skin."

The Age newspaper in Melbourne said Joy Cox and Tabitha had lived in the flat for seven months after fleeing an abusive relationship.  Joy Cox was polite but private.  She had no car, and did most of her shopping at a nearby mall.  She told neighbours little of her personal life, and had only one or two regular visitors.

One person Joy Cox did speak to was a man called Dave, thought to be the last person to see her alive.  He told the Herald Sun newspaper that mother and baby were "both lovely people" and that Tabitha was a beautiful and happy toddler.  "Everyone loved her.  She was an angel."  Dave, who lived in the same block of flats as the pair, said Joy Cox told him 10 days before her body was found that she needed time to herself.  After several days of not seeing her, Dave assumed she had flown to New Zealand to see her sister.  Instead, she and her daughter were dead or dying in their flat.

The Herald Sun said welfare officers from Doncare, the agency assigned to monitor the family, last visited them on 12 September.  Doncare left 12 messages on Joy Cox's phone after she missed a welfare appointment a week later.  By 25 September, the Department of Human Services was alerted.  The bodies were found the next day.  The Age reported that the deaths had shocked welfare workers and raised questions about the contracting of child protection to non-Government welfare agencies such as Doncare.  Child protection authorities took note of the family in June last year after alleged domestic violence.  A child protection order stipulated that the child's father have counselling.

Source: nzherald.co.nz New Zealand Herald 7 October 2002

"Out, Out--"

by Robert Frost (1916)

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap -
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all -
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart -
He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off -
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then - the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

This poem was based on an incident that occurred in 1901.  Raymond Fitzgerald, the son of Frost’s friend and neighbour, lost his hand to a buzz saw and bled so profusely that he went into shock, dying of heart failure in spite of his doctor’s efforts.  Frost’s title invites us to compare the poem’s shocking story with Macbeth’s speech on learning of his wife’s death:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusky death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale,
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

- Act V, scene v, lines 17-28

In each story, the survivors rapidly turn to their own affairs, as everyone must eventually, but the story in Frost's poem deserves the despairing speech more even than Macbeth does.  It is clear that Lady Macbeth dies from the exhaustion and illness brought on by her guilt.  Her tale signifies this much, surely, and though Macbeth himself ignores that meaning (as he has so many others), we hear, at least in his speech, the fading value of the "vaulting ambition" that caused the crimes that caused the guilt.  But what crimes did Raymond Fitzgerald commit?  His story fulfills Frost's definition of tragedy, so different from Shakespeare's: something terrible has happened and no one is to blame.  Yet blame is highly prized as a provider of meaning for trouble, as our litigious age shows.  People turn to blame as a refuge from the helplessness of grief.  In this poem, however, blame provides not an answer, but a sense of desperation at a lack of answers.

At the end, the poet seems to blame the family and doctor for turning to their affairs, but he turned to his too - the composition of the poem - just as readers of that poem will quickly turn to theirs.  Earlier, the poet seems to blame the family for not giving the boy time for play, but an accident can happen at any time, and everyone worked in rural America then (his sister has on her apron).  Earlier still, the poet seems to blame the saw, animated with the menacing snarl of a bully and the warning rattle of a snake; but everyone knows these are only literary devices and the saw is only a machine.  Even the boy hysterically imagines the doctor assuming blame for what has already been lost.

Frost, who lost four of his five children before he himself died, was a frequent and much-admired public reader of his own verse, but he thought this poem too cruel to read aloud.  Part of the cruelty lies in the meaninglessness of a death that not blame nor even poetry can make meaningful.  Yet the feel of those times when life and death seem meaningless in spite of frantic efforts to give them significance - this is the unforgettable effect that both Shakespeare and Frost achieve.  The lack of passion in phrases like "that ended it" and "no more to build on there" create that feel to which the failure of a frantic and unsuccessful search for a blameworthy cause contributes.

William Vesterman, PhD, is a professor of English literature at Rutgers University.

Source: cached google copy of http://praxis.md/post/williamscorner/051601 posted 16 May 2001

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