Voices: My baby died after my husband left him in a hot car - could I forgive him?
“It would have been easier on you if you had just divorced him,” my attorney said sternly, tossing my file onto the wooden table with a clack. “You are now a liability as well, and because of the way the law works, you are joined in the neglect petition.”
“But there are human lives at stake,” I replied, emotions surging up in my chest. “I love him, does that not matter?”
I was sitting in my attorney’s office, the smell of aged wood permeating through my senses, bound legal treatises lining the wall. A month prior, Kyle, my husband of twelve years and a doting stay-at-home father, had inadvertently forgotten to take our fifteen-month-old son to daycare. Our son, Ben, was left in the car and he passed away from hyperthermia on the back seat. An investigation with Connecticut child services immediately ensued, forcing me to consider the very fiber of my marriage.
I would go on to question whether I could stay with a husband in the years following our tragedy – a man who I had once loved unabashedly – after his actions caused my son’s death. In the immediate aftermath, I lived with two emotions at once – love and anger. Our past light-hearted but passionate love was gone, yet a kernel of some related emotion remained in my heart, be it sympathy or compassion. As I contemplated what divorce would mean for our family, I could not fathom living without him nor how my children would be affected from the destruction of our formerly happy, strong family unit. A doting father, two daughters attached to his very being – all to disappear in an instant.
After our move to escape media and community attention, Kyle joined us in Colorado. Together as a family, we took a hike on the switchback trails near our house, the heavily wooded area providing a safe haven of sorts for us to heal together. I was learning how to rebuild our lives, but I did not know how to rebuild love. As I watched Riley, my youngest daughter, sit atop his shoulders with a Cheshire grin, I could not decide what love attaches to and whether it was still there. Not the physical, for I could not yet stand for him to touch me. Not emotions, for only apathy filled the space where affection had once lived. I felt no familiar emotion at all, resigning myself to the realization that love had to be somewhere else, somewhere deeper, in a place I had yet to venture.
How could I stay with him under these unfathomable circumstances? Yet, how could I live without a person I knew in the deepest recesses of my heart was my soul partner? I yearned to want to leave him, but I knew it was just out of spite and a bone-searing grief. The golden thread in our marriage was that which we had both created in love – our children. A life of happiness my daughters once had was left in Connecticut when the wheels of our plane lifted, a security in the love of two parents which they cherished to their core. An innocence I could not overlook nor relinquish so easily.
Internally, I battled variegated emotions day-to-day. Pain, grief, numbness, an iteration of love, intermittent hope, and always faith. I was willing to sacrifice parts of myself in the interim for my family, hoping one day we would come back together as we had once been, though a different, stronger version. It was pure grit in the worst of times. I would try to build a love for the man who had sacrificed for me and supported me in my darkest hours struggling with manic depression in my young adulthood. I would try to hide my pain when I saw the girls’ jubilant laughter playing with their father, when there was no Ben. We would commit to battle through the onslaught of emotions to build a deeper, albeit different, connection in the future. His only job was to allow me the space to simply feel every emotion running roughshod through my very soul.
As I write this today, I am thankful that we were able to rebuild our house of love, one solid brick at a time, with the helping hands of our flourishing children. It was their love that got us through. Though I yearn for the past days of unadulterated emotion, I am willing to settle for the quiet, simple forms of love we have now established. The moments watching soccer games, laughing in the kitchen as we dance and cook, listening to the cackles of my youngest daughter around the house, a gentle touch of hands entwined at the most unexpected moment. I realize now the life we fought so hard to establish over the years was worth fighting for. Sometimes, you just have to decide to battle through the pain and hurt, in reverence to something greater. And that can be as simple as the laughter of a child in the crisp night air.