I realized last night over fireworks for July 4th that I am no good as a wife, mother or friend unless I can face who I am today and how I got here. I have utterly failed at that so far, for a variety of reasons. It is easy to talk about grief and healing but much harder to discuss why I even need to grieve or heal...why I am, well...."me." I've recently given up on the hope that I will ever be normal again. Here is my attempt to convey the 30 minutes that changed my life.
This picture was taken at 6:11 pm in New Canaan, CT, where I had spent over an hour at my oldest daughter's summer soccer practice. I remember sweating underneath the trees, talking to another mother about how this was the hottest day of the summer. It was a glorious summer day, though. Unlike some stories where parents swear they "knew" their child was in danger, I had no idea. I actually started a pick-up soccer game with a couple of younger boys who were there watching their older sisters' practice. Kyle and I usually touched base every day after daycare pickup to plan dinner - around 5:15 or so. That was the point when I started texting him that day, to no response. What's for dinner? No response. Hello???? No response. The girls were enjoying themselves so much, I actually stayed late to kick the soccer ball with them. Hence, the picture at 6:11 pm.
We eventually left the soccer field, as my anxiety began to grow. I try to not be paranoid, but there is always that chance that something is wrong. The unimaginable. I buckled the girls into the backseat of the car and told them I wanted to drive around downtown Ridgefield to find daddy and Ben. I called again. Still no answer. I texted him jokingly If you don't respond, I'm calling the police. By the time we arrived back in town, my heart was racing. Maybe Kyle is having dinner with Ben at our friend's house. Maybe he went on a daddy-son date at one of our favorite restaurants. So, I drove through the Fifty Coins parking lot...no car. Then, I turned into the CVS parking lot fully expecting to see him and Ben playing soccer at Ballard Park...no Kyle, Ben or car. At that point, I called our friend to ask if he was with them. She reassured me that he was probably just in the grocery store with no signal. Then...my world began to shatter...
My father called asking whether Ben was okay because daycare had called our house asking about him. I remember my heart beginning to race...what is he talking about??!! I drove out of the CVS parking lot onto Main Street, simultaneously dialing the daycare. As I spoke with them, my muscles automatically drove the car toward the police station. I asked the manager what was going on with Ben. The only thing I remember is the manager saying repeatedly "We don't know. Ben never came to daycare today." I anxiously yelled into the phone, "What do you mean never came to daycare??!!" She kept repeating over and over "I don't know, Lindsey. I don't know." As I hung up...that was the moment when reality coalesced. I rationalized two options: Kyle had never dropped him off and he was left in the car all day, or he had been kidnapped from daycare and his name was erased from their system. In the second option, there was a possibility I could find him. I would search forever for him! There is a chance he is alive.
But, as I hung up the phone, something inside of me knew. He was left in the car. I've heard about it every summer. It happened to us. I had no idea where to park at the police station, so I pulled over in the theatre parking lot across the street. Trying not to worry the girls, I told them everything was okay and to stay in the back seat of the car. This was the first panic attack I had ever experienced. I remember stepping out of the car and collapsing on the ground. My legs were shaking, and I couldn't stand. I could not form sentences correctly. Reality had all fallen away. I dialed our close friends to come get the girls at the police station and asked them to call my parents. I then called my closest friend in another state, leaving a message....something to the effect of I don't know what's going on, we can't find Ben, but I need you.
I then gathered the girls from the backseat, reiterating that everything was okay and walked to the police station. I believe my comment walking in was something to the effect of "I'm Lindsey Seitz, is there something I need to know about my family? I can't find them." They are gone. I was ushered back to a private room where I was told by two police officers that there was a medical emergency involving my son, and they needed to get me to the hospital asap. I just wanted to know if he was alive or not. They could not relay anything more. I remember walking into the lobby to tell the girls that Ben was just sick and everything would be okay, but I had to go be with him (I want to be with him! Hold him!) and that a friend would come get them. They seemed fine, so I left with the police officers.
In the police car, I remember they handed me a throw up bag. I wasn't going to throw up. I was speeding through Fairfield County trying to rationalize what had happened. Maybe Kyle picked Ben up and had a wreck on the way home. They are okay, I'm sure. But, the ball had already begun to drop...I knew I had lost someone I cared deeply about. I was just putting it off. That is what the brain does. When we arrived in the hospital parking lot, I only saw police cars and police officers. As they walked me into the waiting room, people stared. As I walked down the hallway, I weighed the options If he was left in the car all day, he either passed away or is very sick from hyperthermia and will probably never be the same Ben again. Walking down that hallway, all I could think was I just want him alive, no matter his state. I simply want to hold him again. But, then a man greeted us (I am still not sure who he was), but his eyes were red from crying. I knew. Definitively. Ben is dead. And, they walked me through the hallway where the living lay into a room where I knew This is where they tell people.
And they did. Tell me. What I already knew. The ball dropped and my life shattered.
So, who am I today? How did I become "me"? At 6:11 pm on July 7, 2014, when I took the picture above, Ben had already passed away in the backseat of our car, my husband had screamed in the daycare parking lot and hit another car rushing him to the hospital, he had collapsed in the hospital waiting room...and our journey had started but without my knowledge or consent.
I will never be the same. Call it trauma. Or grief. Or any word you want. But, it was the 30 minutes that changed my life. It taught me what it is like to give yourself to another person and lose them. To truly love and live...and lose.
One of my best friends in CT told me last year she never shared our story with her other friends. It is like I am taking something from you. He is yours. It is your story. I can't share it with others, she said. She is right. I am damaged at this point. We don't have pictures of Ben up in our house yet. Father's Day was the first day I saved a picture of him as the background on my phone. I rarely share our story with new friends and never share pictures or videos of him. He is that core to me. It is too much a part of me to share, no matter how much I want to open up. Pictures, this story...it is exquisite, painful, beautiful, pure love. And, this is why I am changed and can't go back.
Over the next few days leading up to July 7th, I will relive that day over and over. But, the only phrase that runs continuously though my mind is I love and miss you Ben! and I am so very sorry.