In A Mother’s Grief Observed (Tyndale 1997, p. xiiif), Rebecca Faber recounts the moments surrounding the death of their precious 18-month-old son, William, who had recently acted like a little pirate, clenching fish-shaped crackers in his chubby hand:
I remember how tired I was, how the damp, plastic tents and wet, muddy clothing felt in my hands. I remember going back into the kitchen; I can see the California sun through the huge windows, still hot and clear after 5pm, and the rich, green bushes lining the turquoise-colored pool.
I see Bob, with the long poles in his hands, down at the deep end of the pool. He had come home briefly before leaving on a business trip, to clean the pool for me. He’s practically standing still as he pushes first the nets and then the vacuum slowly back and forth, gathering debris, leaves, algae from the sides and top of the pool. William is in his high chair, whining quietly. I’m nearly frantic, with people arriving for a Bible study in a few hours and so much still to be done. I rush back and forth down the hallway.
William has not finished eating, yet does not want to sit in his high chair and finish his supper. No one else is in the kitchen, and he is bored all alone Rather than listen to him whine and cry, I decide to take him out to Bob. I figure I will sit down and finish feeding him later.
Bob objects, begging me not to leave William with him. “I can’t watch him right now.”
But I overrule him. “Honey, please! I have so much to do. Just keep him a minute while you finish vacuuming the pool. I’m doing three different things at once.”
Against Bob’s wishes, I take William outside to him. Bob pleads with me but I insist. I move William from safety, in the house, to danger, out by the pool.
I thought William would be OK. He hated deep water, even in the bathtub. He preferred to take showers with me or two-inch-deep baths. Even at the age of 18 months, he would not jump in when Bob and I swam, but had to be coaxed in slowly. Bob tried to tell me William had gotten over his fear and would need more attention than he could give just then–but I refused to listen.
I did not think about how alluring the water toys down at the Jacuzzi end might appear to a young toddler. Also, the greatest fun for William was doing something gorwn-up–perhaps he tried to push a stick around in the water, the way Daddy was doing, but lost his footing.
Perhaps he tried to cllimb the low wall beside the pool, the way Daddy does, and slipped and hit his head, falling in. Later we found a small bmp on the front of his head.
I can still see Bob, with a small boy standing at his feet, in the bright sunshine of a color-studded and vibrant evening. The last time I saw William alive.
Bobby was playing in the small yard beside the deck.
Two rings at once: the phone and the doorbell. I hand the phone to Amanda and go to the door. A homeless man is seeking help–we had been glad to help others in the past, giving housing, transport, food. He would later recall that as he and I spoke, he saw William go past the window at the back of the house.
Only moments later, I hear bob slamming up against the glass doors, trying to get in.
I had already locked up those doors, preparing for his leaving. When alone I kept only one back door open to the yard–fewer doors to watch my kids’ passage in and out.
Seconds later he is in the house, William white and limp in his arms, Bobby crying, “Daddy, is he dead?”
Bob screams, “Phone 9-1-1!”
What guilt. What regret. What grief. What introspection. What if? What nightmares. What guilt. What now?
Rebecca Faber explores it all.
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21).