My son Jaxon passed away on August 26, 2014 at home with my children and I. His official cause of death was positional asphyxiation. It has taken me a long time to be able to say this.
On the morning of August 26, 2014, it seemed that everything was standing still. Time just stood still. My significant other returned home from work and came into our room to wake my son and I up before waking up my daughter for school that morning. As he woke me up we noticed that Jaxon was not waking up. We both began screaming! My significant other ran downstairs and out of the house as he called the paramedics, so he could give them proper directions to our house. I laid Jaxon on the floor to do CPR. It felt like an eternity until the paramedics got to our house. When the paramedics arrived, they grabbed Jaxon from my arms as I approached them outside. The ambulance headed to the hospital with Jaxon, and we grabbed our other two kids and headed the hospital to meet them. When we arrived at the hospital we headed back to the room where Jaxon was. There were doctors and nurses working desperately to save Jaxon. It felt like an eternity as I watched them try and bring Jaxon back. They worked so hard to bring him back, but one-by-one they all started to walk away. A doctor then looked at us and said “we are sorry there is nothing else they could do for your baby.” The doctor asked if we would like some time with Jaxon. We were taken to a room with a rocking chair and I sat and rocked him. I rocked Jaxon for what seemed like a lifetime. My family started coming in and they got to hold him as they said their goodbyes, along with my kids. A nurse came in the room and asked if we wanted a handprint, footprint, and a lock of hair. We agreed that this was something that we wanted. When the nurse finished the coroner came in and got Jaxon. Looking back, I know the doctors and nurses did everything they could do for my son. I have nothing but love for these doctors and nurses. It seemed like I was living in a bad dream. I don’t really remember feeling anything. I was just numb. Once our family left the room, the detective from my county said he would like to talk to me.
I went in this small room and answered all the questions they had at that time. They asked if I could go back to my house and talk with them some more. I agreed, and as I left the room I remember walking down what felt like the longest hallway ever. It seemed like this was the longest hallway in the world. I finally reached the waiting room where my family was and just remember crying and feeling ready to leave. Before we left the hospital, the doctor had stated that the coroner was going to do an autopsy to see what the official cause of death was and that we would be receiving a phone call.
On the way back to my house, I just remember thinking this cannot be real, this was a dream and I will wake up soon. I was still feeling completely numb at this point. When I arrived at my house my sister, Brandie, and my niece, Catey, were already at my house, along with the detectives, cops and a Child Protective Services (CPS) Case Worker. I walked in and went upstairs to my bedroom. I noticed everything on my bed had been removed and bagged for evidence.
The detectives asked me if I could show them what had happened and handed me a baby doll. They asked me to lay in my bed. The thought crossed my mind, to give them a piece of my mind, but I was scared that if I refused to lay in this bed with a baby doll that they would automatically assume that I was guilty of hurting my child. I did not want to risk losing my other children or be arrested. I did what they asked and I laid in my bed with their baby doll and showed them how Jaxon and I were sleeping. As I did this, they silently made their notes. I walked down the stairs and sat on my couch with my niece and sister, and answered questions for CPS worker. I also had to take a drug test so they knew I was not under the influence of any narcotics at the time of his death. Once the drug test was completed the CPS worker asked my significant other some questions. There were so many thoughts running through my mind. All I kept thinking was please someone wake me up, this cannot be real, this should not have happened to me. What did I do? I still have not processed everything that crossed my mind at that moment. When they got done with their questions, we gathered some things that we needed and went to stay at my parents’ house.
The drive to my parents’ house made me feel like I was leaving one reality behind and walking into a new one. It was uncharted territory. I did not know what was going to happen or if all that happened was even real. When we got to my parents' house, family and friends were there to show their support. We found out that the CPS worker had visited my parents' house to talk to them and ask them to take temporarily parental guardianship of my kids until the investigation was over. The kids could not be left alone with me. The feeling of losing not one child, but of possibly losing all three children sent me into panic mode. Everything about the next few hours was blurry. I remember family and friends surrounding us and showing us so much love and support. Brandie, was helping me gather my thoughts and feelings and was pushing me to go lay down and take a minute to breathe, shower and rest. At some point my significant other and I went to lay down to escape the everyone and all their questions. They asked questions that I could not answer, and I didn't know how to answer. Many of their questions were “are you ok,” and “do you need anything.” Everyone said they were here for us. The phone calls and social media comments became very over whelming. I needed to get away for a while!
As I laid in my parents' bed, I got the dreaded phone call that no one wants to get, the call from the coroner. The coroner said, “I performed the autopsy and I have to say it was an accident, but the cause of death is positional asphyxiation.” I asked, “what that does that mean?” He explained that, “it means he aspirated in his sleep.” I just remember screaming, and asking if this was my fault. He repeated that this was an accident and that it was not my fault. When I hung up the phone, I only remember screaming as I collapsed outside. I don’t really remember much beside the feeling of becoming overwhelmingly numb.
Later, I asking where we were going to have the funeral. We knew right away that we wanted to have it at the same church that we had my grandfather’s funeral six months earlier. They said we could meet with the funeral home that night and start making arrangements. My grandmother helped my significant other and I plan, because we had no idea where to start. She contacted the funeral home and asked when we could come and pick out a casket. We were scheduled to go the following day.
Sleeping that night was very hard. I was still numb, and kept hoping everything was a dream. I had so many emotions running through my head, I tossed and turned all night long.
The next morning, we got up and met everyone at the funeral home. I did not do a lot of talking. I just sat there numb and emotionless. I don’t believe there was one thought running through my head. When they spoke to us about caskets we were informed that they had two sizes and they would like for us to look at both. We opted out of picking one and we asked that they do it. They said that they would pick the size that was a better fit for him. They also asked us if we would like to bring him an outfit to wear for the service and recommended that we bring a hat just in case. I was confused as to why he would need a hat. Jaxon had never worn a hat. I decided to ask what the hat was for. They told me how an autopsy is performed on an infant, and after hearing this I remember feeling sick. I wanted to leave.
Once we finished with the funeral home we went to the church to meet with the pastor. I don’t have any memory of what was said there. I do know that my grandmother did a lot of the talking, and I did an occasional “that is fine,” or “ok.”
We had three days to plan a funeral that we were not ready for. When we left the church my significant other and I went to town to pick out Jaxon's clothes for the service. I did not want to go into the store. By this time everyone in town knew what happened. I felt like I was being judged for being out in public, with my strong face on, despite the fact that I was screaming on the inside to WAKE UP from this nightmare.
When we got to the store I was ready to get in and get out, but I did not know what I was looking for, nor did I want to look for the clothes that my son would be buried in. Walking in the store triggered my anxiety and I thought everyone was judging us, and whispering that I hurt my child and should be in jail. I retreated to the comforts of the foggy numbness I had been experiencing. After we left the store, we took the outfit to the funeral home and I went back to my parents' house.
When I laid down to try and rest, I couldn’t help but realize that my whole family’s lives had been knocked upside down and that I needed to be there for them. I got up and sat with my niece. We talked about everything that had happened and how she was feeling. To my surprise we had both been experiencing the same numb feeling, and I found out that this was what everyone was feeling. This is when it sunk in that our reality was a nightmare.
The next day, was the day before the funeral and there was a lot of planning going on. My sister and niece came up with the idea to have poster boards with pictures of Jaxon on them so everyone could see him. I really don’t remember much else about what happened besides saying “yes” and “no” to questions and going to pick up pictures for the poster boards. I felt really sick, and very worried about how I was going to protect my kids from the trauma that they had experienced. They were still really little and didn’t fully understand what was happening, besides that their brother was gone. That night, as I thought about the funeral I did not know how to help my kids get through the next day.
The morning of funeral was a difficult day. At this point my mentality was avoidance. I thought, if I don’t go then it's not real, and I don’t have to face this. I knew once I was there it would be real. I arrived at the church before everyone else so I could have some time alone with Jaxon. My significant other, my children and I went in first. I let them say their goodbyes, and then my children left with a friend. The reason I let them leave is because I didn’t want their last memory of their brother to be that memory. I wanted them to think happy thoughts when they think of him. That is all I really remember from the day of the funeral.
Days later, everybody’s lives were going back to normal—I mean as normal as it could be. I was stuck. I couldn’t shake the what if feeling. Every thought that went through my head was what if; what if I put him in his bed, what if I didn’t sleep next to him, what if etcetera. Everything that crossed my mind was what if. It made me feel like I was crazy. Anytime someone talked to me, I would say, “what if I just put him in his bed instead of lying in bed with me”. I bet I did this for months. It was to the point where I didn’t know if I was coming or going as I was completely lost in my own world. I got stuck here for a while and I didn’t know how to move past these what if thoughts until a friend who knew me better than I know myself said, “you know you can what if your life away and you can't change what has happened. You learn from it and you help others.” She also said “everything happens for a reason and to think what if you put him in his bed doesn’t mean much, because who is to say that this wouldn’t have happened then too, and if it had, you would be saying what if you had put him in your bed. You did sleep with your other two kids in bed with you and it was an accident, that’s what the coroner said, now help people understand what you now know.”
I went to a dark place. I got to the point where I hated everything. I hated the sun, I hated the birds, I hated when I saw people smile. I couldn’t stand it. I also lost my faith along the way because I hated that it was MY son. I realize now that this is a normal part of grieving that everyone goes through; it's just not talked about. I carried so much guilt because my son was in my care when it happened. I made the decision to put him in my bed that night. I personally believe that anyone who has experienced any kind of loss goes through this phase. The feeling of being alone, judged and talked about was a big factor while I was going through this dark time. I felt like I was alone, like I didn’t have anyone, even though there was so much support around me.
Being judged and talked about by my community was a horrible feeling on top of everything that happened. Our story was in the paper—word got out—and no matter where I went, or what I did, I felt like everyone was judging me for what happened. I felt like everyone was thinking the same thing I did, that I was guilty and had caused what happened.
Social media didn't help because everyone was talking about it and posting about what had happened. I didn’t think I could go any deeper in that dark place. I now know there is light at the end of the tunnel. You don’t have to stay in the dark place where you feel like there is nothing left to live for. I am here to tell you that it does get better.
Almost five years later, I can't say that I don’t have bad days or feel guilty. I can say that I know how to overcome that. With everything that has happened to my family we try to stay positive.
On July 8, Jaxon’s birthday, we celebrate his life. We always make sure that we do something positive on that day as a family. We have a cake and balloons as part of remembering him. On the day he died, we try to have a day where we remember him as well. Holidays are the same, we stay positive and celebrate them with our other kids who are now 16, 10 and 8 years old.
Understand that no matter what life throws at you, you should never give up. You can take anything negative and turn it into a positive. With everything that has happened it has given me a whole new outlook on life. I live everyday like it's my last and I don't dwell on the past because you cannot change what has happened. You can only help prevent someone else from going through the same thing.
I personally believe my mission in life is to help people understand it only takes one time for an accident to happen. It could be co-sleeping or letting your kids jump off a diving board without a life jacket. There is always a danger with anything, but I want to make sure everyone is aware of the dangers of co-sleeping and what might happen. This is why I choose to be a Grassroots Maternal and Child Health Leader in Columbus, Indiana. I know what you might be thinking oh, this won't happen to me. I did the same thing with my other two children who are now 10 and 8 and they are perfectly healthy. Just keep in mind that all it takes is one time for your whole world to change. It takes one time for you to lose someone that means everything to you. It takes one time for everything to change in one minute.