When Tragedy Strikes Your Child’s Friend

My son recently lost a friend in a tragic bicycle accident. And now I can’t stop wondering: What if something happened to my boy?

A month has passed since my son lost one of his friends to a tragic bicycle accident. It happened on a summer day, three adolescent boys riding their bikes only a half-mile from the boy’s home. I know it’s not my story to tell. It’s not my tragedy. But, yet.

This feeling of unfathomable loss overwhelms me—its presence, its reality. And my 13-year-old son’s sadness. How can I comfort him, help him to fall asleep at night, tell him it’s all going to be OK? I wish I had these answers but I don’t. It leaves me thinking of so many things, both ethereal and concrete and, for some reason, although I can’t pinpoint exactly why, it makes me long for his baby blanket.

The last time I saw the blanket, it had been torn from years of use, unraveled pieces of cotton-like string dangling from its corners, holes that had turned into rips, breathing a renewed life at its every stage. But that was at least three years ago, the last time I had seen it, touched it, smelled it, when upon reaching “double digits” my son started to leave the shredded blanket on the floor next to his bed, forgoing his nightly ritual of cuddling with it in a fetal position, touching the edges, rolling the corners around in his tiny, nimble fingers as he soothed himself to sleep.

Where is that blanket now? Didn’t I salvage at least half of it, or was it just a piece, a tattered remnant of my son’s first 10 years of childhood. I thought I had kept it, tucked away in the corner of the hallway linen closet. But it’s not there. Where did it go? Where does the time go?

My 13-year-old son is still a boy but on the cusp of manhood, half of his friends with pimply faces, defined bodies, deeper voices. “I want to record your voice,” I told him last spring, during a more cheerful time, on a sunny afternoon when we sat together on the back deck. He stretched the corners of his mouth with his index fingers and stuck out his tongue between giggles. Then he wiped his wet fingers on his navy Adidas shorts and accentuated a throat clearing—three times—as if he were ready for his “moment.” I looked closely at his face—his freckles, his hazel eyes, his long eyelashes—the same features I had looked at for the past 13 years, now just a little more grown up. “Hi Mama,” he began, the red light blinking as I recorded. “The year is 2013. The age is 13. You wanted to record my voice so here it is.” With his braces filled mouth, he smiled, revealing the gaps where his six teeth had recently been pulled. Then he waved, gave me a nod and walked inside.

Perhaps it’s this looming transition to manhood that has made me long for the past and think about my son’s blanket. Or is it the irrational yet primal maternal question “what if?” What if something were to happen to my boy, what would I hold onto besides pictures and his voice on my phone? Would I want something more tangible, something that defines his first important need and possession, something that he slept with every night? Or do I need to find the blanket as a way to soothe me, as it once did him.

Years ago, when I would lull my son to sleep, the softness of the cotton blanket would graze my skin, comfortably, like a soothing pacifier. It was the kind of softness that took years to perfect naturally, organically with the loving touch of a little boy. Over time, its pure ivory color faded to a lighter shade, a tannish beige, unlike the tarnished yellowing of a grandmother’s once crisp linen napkin. And the smell, at its inception, a fresh scent—a mixture of fabric softener and baby shampoo that, over time, morphed into his own distinct aroma.

And now, in the wake of this unexplainable tragedy, I hold my son some nights as he tries to fall asleep, just as I had years before. There are no monsters under your bed my sweet boy, there’s nothing in your closet. The noises you hear outside are the sounds of crickets and swaying trees. I know it’s hard to fall asleep I think, as I hold you and watch your eyelids grow heavy. The questions linger; the pain remains. My arms are wrapped around you, just as your blanket once was. It is in this moment that I feel the power to soothe you. And this makes me feel whole.

Randi Olin is the Senior Editor at Brain, Child Magazine. Her work has appeared in Brain, ChildYour Teen, Kveller.com, Scary Mommy, among other publications. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, her two teens, and her door-scratching, counter-jumping, never-wanting-to-be-alone dog Tobey.

Related Links: