Death of a child an unthinkable tragedy

My heart still hurts.
I knew Scott Roberts and his family, although not well. We both attended the local Episcopal Church at one time, but I hadn’t seen them in years. Still, the news of Scott’s death last week, at just 16 from alcohol poisoning, immediately broke my heart. Now it continues to sit heavily on my mind and regularly makes me stop to blink away tears.
It is every parent’s nightmare. It begins with a scene we’ve all lived many times. We wave a hasty goodbye to our goofy teenager, who we might well have been growling at a few minutes ago for not picking up his wet towels. He is just off to spend the night at a buddy’s house. You unconsciously rejoice that he has buddies, and the summer ahead to just hang out with them. He is 16. He carries the world in his pocket, and he rolls in the next morning sleepy, but happy.
But for the Roberts’ family, the next morning it all stopped. Scott was their youngest child, their life, their purpose, their joy and he was gone in an instant. All I can think of is that 16-year-olds believe they are absolutely invulnerable. They always have and always will.            
Even as we know they are fragile, parents know they must begin letting their teens go, giving them opportunities to make their own choices. We know some choices will be bad ones, but we cannot imagine, we dare not imagine, that one of those choices will end our child’s life. The others Scott was drinking with did not die. Some small and wholly unpredictable action made the shattering difference.
My sadness is amplified because I have, during the past two decades, written too many columns trying to make sense of a child’s death. I repeatedly fail. There was Lauren Rudolph, the 6-year-old La Costa child who died of e-coli poisoning; Matthew Cecchi, the 9-year-old boy murdered in the Oceanside beach bathroom; a high school girl’s suicide, a teen-age boy killed when a car rolled on a rain-slick Rancho Santa Fe Road, a 21-year-old who, in denial, allowed her asthma to claim her, and now Scott. There were others and each as viciously painful as the next.
Some of the families had strong religious faith and were comforted that their child is at peace, but that never, ever made them ready for that child’s going. I will always hear the mother who told me how incredibly hard it is when the rest of the world moves past the tragedy and goes back to their normal lives. For these parents, there will be no “back to normal.” They will never stop aching for the feel of that child in their arms just one more time.


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