September 25

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Life Interrupted: A Mother’s Struggle with the Loss of a Child

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Nicholas Riley Richards passed away on Easter Sunday, 2010. His mom shares his story and her struggles with coping in hopes of helping others dealing with the loss of a child.

By Victoria Ferraro Richards

This is the Story of Nicholas Riley Richards.

My son was taken away from us in the blink of an eye when he was just 18 years old.  This is his story.

Nicholas was at his father’s house during the 2010 Easter holiday.  He called me on the Thursday before Easter weekend at 2 a.m.

Of course,  when I looked at the caller ID, my motherly worry kicked into high gear.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He chuckled and told me that the girl that he wanted to take to his senior prom said yes. He was so excited.  I was relieved nothing was wrong.  We talked for a few minutes and said our goodbyes.  I told him to call me the next day.

The next day Nick called me while I was at work. He asked me for some money, and I gladly transferred it to him.  He told me that he would call me the next day to get the addresses for my side of our family so he could send out graduation invitations.

Nick was bigger than life from the moment he came into this world. We had a few laughs, as we always did, and in saying goodbye, we told each other how much we loved and missed each other.

That Saturday, I went through my usual cleaning house and then attended a friend’s little girl’s birthday at the bowling alley.  I remember thinking that I had not heard from Nicholas that day and just chalked it up to him out with his new girlfriend.  He normally called when he promised to but again, I just thought he was out enjoying life.

On Easter Sunday, my son Austin and I attended Easter dinner at a friend’s house.  We had a great time and then left to go home.

On the way home, we went to check out a vehicle that I was going to buy Nick for graduation.  On the ride home, I thought again that I had not heard from Nicholas.  But I shrugged it off. The past year, Nicholas had often waited until evening to call me. So I just put it out of my mind.

Austin and I were looking at the battery on the car when I received a call from my ex-husband, Terry.  He said that he was away for the weekend and Nick stayed at his house.

He said that Nick did not show up for work or go to church that day, which was odd.

I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that Nicholas had shot himself.  My first thought was that Nicholas accidentally shot himself in the leg or foot.

“Which hospital is he at?” I asked.

He told me he didn’t know yet.

“Is he alive?”

He didn’t know.  My heart sank.

My stepson, TJ, went over to Terry’s house where Nick was.   He looked through the windows, rang the doorbell.  Nothing.  He thought he saw Nicholas hiding behind the couch.  He was always doing funny stuff like that.  Like me.

TJ then called Terry back and told him what the status was. Terry told him to break the window of the truck that was at home and get the spare key and go into the house.  When he went in, he walked into what looked like a horror scene.

Nicholas was slumped over on his knees on the floor and blood, bone, brains were all over the walls and ceiling.   TJ ran out and called Terry and his father in law, who was a pastor at a local church.

Meanwhile, I am calling everyone trying to get info.

Finally, I got through to TJ’s wife and I asked her if Nicholas was dead.

“Yes,” she said.

Nicholas died from an accidental gunshot wound to the head while playing Russian roulette.  Apparently this is how teenagers get a high.  When they beat it, they are on top of the world.

But, my world was taken away from me that very moment.  I dropped to the ground screaming. Austin was also hysterical.  We did not want to believe it.  We are not supposed to bury our children.  In my mind, I was in denial.

We made our flight reservations and flew from Rhode Island to Houston that very evening.  Terry and I were both just in a cloud of confusion and sorrow.  I would not believe my boy was dead.  We were so lost.  We had no idea what to do, who to call.  My son’s body was sent to Corpus Christi because the coroner was not available in Houston due to the holiday.  They held his body for a week.  Still, I would not believe it was him.  I told myself they made a mistake and when I got to see who they had, it would not be Nicholas.

The Tuesday following Easter Sunday, the family got together to drive over to the funeral home.  We had to make the arrangements for “whoever” that was who they thought was my beautiful son, Nicholas.

There is no book or guidance on how to handle something like this.  Emotions and tempers were high.  If it was Nicholas, I wanted to know who was to blame.

Why was he alone for Easter?

We finally got through that day and went home.  We wanted an open casket.  At this point, we had not yet viewed the body that was dead. I was still thinking this was surely not my Nicholas.

My family was on their way from the East Coast.  I felt so alone.  My sister in law, Grace, and her family were my only support at that point.  I was so alone and scared.  I was so relieved when my family arrived.  Their presence gave me strength.

A few days later, we were finally allowed to view this body. I wanted to bathe and prepare his body if it REALLY was him.  Terry was coming out as I was walking in the room that he was laid out in.  I asked Terry if it was really him.

“Yes,” he said.

I wanted to see for myself.   This was the longest walk of my life.  I was so afraid of what I was about to see.

I looked in the casket and it WAS my Nicholas.

I continued to try to find something that would make it not him.  Was that his nose, his mouth, etc.  I completely fell apart.  As a mother, I failed my baby. I was not there to protect him.  He was 18, but still my baby.  Austin and I were in a cloud of sadness.  Half of my soul and heart was ripped away.

People, came in and spoke to me, gave me their condolences.  It was all a blur.  I did not want to leave my boy.  I hugged and kissed him.  Held his hand and just stared at him.  We had to put a hat on him to cover where he was shot.  I just wanted to die. But, I had my other son, who is very precious to me equally.

We finally came to the day that we had to lay Nicholas to rest.  I did not want him to be alone, to be cold.  In my mind, he was still my son alive.  It broke my heart to leave him in the tomb that he was laid to rest in.

Why would Nicholas play around with his life like that?  What was I to do?  How do I get through this?  Will I ever get through this?  Why did he have to die?  Why did he have to die so horribly?  Why couldn’t God save him?

People kept telling me that he is in a “better place.” Or, “He is with our savior.”  That is not good enough for me.  He belongs here with me.  God was good enough to give me my two miracles so why would he so cruelly let him be taken away?

There are no answers to my questions. I struggled and cried every day.   The pain never goes away.  My emotions are like a roller coaster.

After the funeral, most of my family and friends disappeared on us.  It was just too hard to deal with. They didn’t know what to say.

I felt like people wanted me to forget my son.  I knew that was not happening.  They could not talk to me without me crying.  I literally feel like my heart was yanked out of my chest.  I attended counseling but it all went back to the popular, but ineffective euphemism, “he is in a better place.”

I could not accept that.

Six years have passed and every day is the same as the day he died.  I can talk about him more without crying, but I still cry every day.

I get up in the morning and lie to myself that he is alive.  By the end of the day, after trying to pretend at work, I go home and fall apart.  I don’t know if that will ever change.

We spend all of our lives creating a place in our heart for the ones that we love.  There is no way to undo that.  There will forever be a void in my life, soul and heart.  The number of friends and family that showed up for his funeral really made me proud that Nicholas touched so many lives.

In closing, I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through this.  I would gladly give my life if Nicholas could come back to live his.

My advice to others who have experienced this sort of trauma is this: Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve.  Don’t let anyone tell you to just get over it.   There is no book to guide us through things like this.

If you have a loved one who has gone through this, don’t be afraid to just be there for them. Don’t try to tell them why you think it happened.  Just BE THERE.

I will continue to talk about Nicholas, as that is one of my two best subjects to talk about. The other one is Austin.  I don’t think I will ever “get over it,” but I have learned that I have to live through it.

Remember to take one day at a time.  Tomorrow is never promised.  I’m glad that the last words that we spoke to each other were “I love you.”

I am hoping that my story will help others in coping with their loss.  I hope this story lets people that have gone through this know that they have the right to grieve.  The right to feel however they feel.  I also want to make others aware of the games that teenagers are playing today.

I hold on to the good times and memories of Nicholas.  This helps me cope with my loss most of the time.

And in closing, if you have anyone in your life that has gone through this, please, just be there. Listen. Don’t judge. Don’t give opinions. Just be there for them.  Just let them talk and help them through this hard time in their lives.  It means more than you know.

About the Author

Victoria Ferraro Richards, a Pensacola native, bravely shares her story of how she survived a kidnapping as a young adult and how it has impacted her life today. Victoria Ferraro Richards, is a Pensacola native and proud mother of Nicholas and Austin Richards.