Saturday, May 26, 2007

Forever Changed...

I don't even know how to start this post. So, I guess I'll just start from the beginning.

Two weeks ago, a dear friend of ours only sibling committed suicide. An act that left her whole family shocked and questioning why. At the funeral, we made plans to meet up with our friend and his wife and kids, who were coming back in town again for Memorial Day. Emailed plans were made for us all to meet at Galveston Beach with our kids for a day of fun and catching up. Our friend's two children would be there along with his mother, who needed a happy day at the beach to get her mind away from grief--if only for a few hours.

And, so we arrived, noticing the gray clouds looming and the strong winds that made the choppy waves crash to shore. But, it was not raining or thundering, and so we decided to stay for awhile. After we unloaded, we watched the kids playing in the sand, and then our friend's wife and I took my kids down the beach to gather shells. Neither of my kids was that interested in the water, as I'm learning they aren't much for beaches. The weather was windy enough that my son had complained of being too cold and he really didn't want to swim at all.

After we returned from the shell hunt, I noticed my husband sitting down and talking to our friend's mother, obviously about the loss of a daughter and how she was doing. So, I continued to chat with my girlfriend and watch my 3-year-old who was right by me with her shells. My seven-year-old had walked just a few feet ahead looking for more shells but then I saw him run back away from the water out of the corner of my eye. I assumed he'd run back to talk to his father, who was sitting about 10 feet behind us further from the water.

A few minutes later, my husband shouts to me and asks where our son is.

Puzzled, I looked down the beach both ways.

He was gone.

After we simultaneously realized that I had thought he was with his father, and his father had thought he was with me, we tried to contain panic and just started looking down the beach either way. Surely he was a few feet down gathering more shells, although it was very unlike him to stray like that.

After a short time of each of us searching down either side of the beach, I could say I was officially terrified. I left my daughter with our friends and began sprinting towards the parking lot, the bathrooms, and later down the same stretch of beach that my husband had just looked.

After we'd been searching for what seemed like an eternity, but had to have been about 30 minutes or so, it struck me. My son could be gone forever. Just like that. I might never see him, ever again.

My mind raced with all the horrible possibilities, and then cursed itself for thinking of them.

What if he'd decided to go into the water and a strong undertow had pulled him under somewhere and he was lost to us? What if he'd walked a little ways and had been snatched by someone, right beneath our noses? Every possibility brought me more and more terror and panic.

I began running down the beach, barefoot and hysterically screaming his name. Every few hundred yards, I'd stop to tell the concerned other families what he was wearing. I came across a beach/park ranger and described my son. "Do you think he'd go out into the water alone?" She questioned. In my gut, I didn't feel he had and I said so, but then my head questioned that as I ran the other way from her. My husband had gone in the opposite direction, and looked down the short end of the beach that I'd already combed, apparently going through the same thing.

After I'd run so far that I couldn't even see where we'd been camped and playing, my legs started to tremble beneath me. There was no sight of him at all.

I let myself crumble into the sand and threw my hands together saying frantic prayers. "Please, God. Do anything you want with me. Do not let my son be gone. Please don't take him from us. Oh, please God. I'll do anything. Anything."

I jumped back up because I knew time was of the essence and I began sprinting further down the beach. After a few more minutes of my running and screaming his name, I saw the khaki shorts and shirt of another male park ranger standing in the distance with a boy in red shorts, much too far for me to distinguish. I said another quick prayer that it wasn't just some kid who also had on red swim trunks and kept running.

As they came in to better view, I saw it was, indeed, my son. He had a few shells in his hand and a bewildered and slightly frightened look to his face. I ran quickly to him and threw my arms around him crying and saying his name over and over again, telling him how much we loved him and how scared we were. I couldn't let him go.

My son started crying. He told me that he'd thought his Dad had gone that direction down the beach and he'd though he'd run and catch up with him. We guess now that he kept running that way thinking he'd find him and then he probably realized he was lost and turned back, just before the ranger approached him, which also probably scared him because of our warnings about strangers.

The ride in another ranger's truck back to our family and friends was filled with so many prayers of thankfulness, and a lot of apologies from my son who obviously felt terrible that we'd worried. We'd stop every few feet to let the wonderful families who were searching for our boy know that he'd been found safe and sound, to hear the relieved responses of "Oh, thank God" over and over again. When we reached my husband, I could see that his face mirrored my own--traumatized and yet so grateful that we had a happy ending--but forever changed by the horrific experience.

When I think what might have happened to my child today, I still feel sick in the pit of my stomach. My son refused to play his new handheld game in the car, as we were trying to get his mind off of the incident. Finally he told us he didn't deserve to have it anymore. He cried as much as we did, and I'm not sure if it was because he had been so scared himself or it is that he realized how upset we were that he was gone.

Tonight he picked his favorite restaurant for dinner, a previously planned reward for a good report card and an attempt to help end the night on a better note. But, before he went to bed, he got hugs from all of us and extra kisses goodnight.

It only takes a few seconds for a child to be taken from your presence. And, that is a lesson that my husband and me, who are already a little over-protective, will never forget.

As we were leaving the beach, I hugged our friend's mother goodbye and thanked her for watching our youngest while we searched. It struck me how very traumatic this must have even been for her, having just lost her only daughter so suddenly. She stopped and hugged our boy for a long time, whom she hadn't seen really since he was a baby. Then, she looked and me and said, "It doesn't matter how old they are. You never stop worrying that something might happen to them."

Hug your kids a little tighter tonight and give thanks for every single day that they bless your life. I know that I will be...

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Blogger karla said...

That brought tears to my eyes. Don't do that to me anymore!

11:08 PM, May 26, 2007  
Blogger Carol said...

I cannot even imagine the terror and panic you went through. Thank God you found him.

I promise to go hug my kids right now.

11:36 PM, May 26, 2007  
Blogger lola coca-cola said...

Oh dear great goodness, that must have been so frightening. I am so relieved it has a happy ending.

5:07 AM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger daysgoby said...

Oh sweetie, how awful!

Hugging my kids a little tighter today...and hoping your heart has slowed down now...

8:15 AM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Thumper said...

Oh my God... I wouldn't wish that fear on anyone. I am *so* glad he was all right. Cripes, I am so choked up right now...

7:11 PM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Karen Rani said...

Thank goodness he was okay! Big hugs to you and hubby...what an ordeal!

1:34 PM, May 28, 2007  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Oh gosh, I cried as I read your post. I can imagine your fears and thoughts during what probably seemed like an eternity.

Life is so fragile and precious. Times like that makes us realize it. I am so glad your story had a happy ending.

4:37 PM, May 28, 2007  
Blogger Nicole said...

Well now you made me cry. I am so grateful everything was alright. That kind of thing really puts things into perspective. I'm going to go hug my little guys right now.

5:55 PM, May 28, 2007  
Blogger Tamara said...

God, Steph. I am so glad he's safe and with you. Squeeze him for me. -Tam

7:59 AM, May 29, 2007  
Anonymous Angela said...

Dear God... I was terrified that this wouldn't have a happy ending. I am SO GLAD that it did. I can't even imagine how frightened you must have been--I think about how worried I get about Colby and just multiply that by about a 1,000 I guess.

Thank God he's safe--give him an extra hug from the blogosphere!

1:31 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Aunt Vanessa said...

I don't know what to say, except thank God you had a happy ending. So sorry you had to experience that.

7:53 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Thank you all for your kind words and hugs! I still feel sick when I think about what might have been, but I'm choosing to just be so grateful that it didn't and spend this summer really enjoying being with my little boy even more than ever.

3:44 PM, May 30, 2007  

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