Death and Kids

As a newspaper reporter, there are parts of my job I could definitely do without. And on Saturday night one of those parts reared it’s ugly head.

We came across an obituary for a 21-year-old Centerville native who died while attending college in South Carolina. When someone so young passes away, we always like to check into it because even though its sad when someone in their 80s or 90s dies, its usually far more heartbreaking and unusual to see someone die so young. Especially on Cape Cod where the average age is about 106 years old.

So when this happens, my editors decide whether or not they want a reporter to check into it. In this case, they did so it was my job to call the family and try to set up an interview.

A few things to keep in mind here. 1) It was 6:30 pm and deadline was rapidly approaching. 2) I had to call these parents, who were mourning their son, and see if I could interrupt their lives for an hour to interview them about their dead son. This is not an easy task for anyone involved. But truth be told, I’m pretty good at it because I’ve had a lot of practice now. And while you may think most people would slam the door in my face and tell me to go piss up a rope, that’s not usually the case at all. In fact, I find that 9 times out of 10 they welcome the opportunity to get things off their chest. It’s cathartic and it brings them a small bit of closure, or at least sets them on that path.

So last night, the Riley family welcomed me into their home and regaled me with stories about a truly remarkable young man. It was very difficult, for everyone. There were a house full of mourning friends and relatives, with new ones arriving every 5-10 minutes. And his poor parents would just be finished wiping the tears from their eyes when all of a sudden new people would come in and the wave of grief washed over them again. Not to mention Adam’s popularity could easily be measured in the non-stop slew of phone calls, some from complete strangers, who offered their sympathies to Kevin and Carol Riley. And throughout the whole ordeal, they were unbelievably hospitable, warm, welcoming and courageous. Same for Kara, Adam’s longtime girlfriend who conducted herself with┬ámore class and dignity than any other 19-year-old I know.

And honestly, I used to be able to separate my personal feelings from my job duties. I used to be able to keep emotion out of it as much as possible and just write the story. But that all changed now that Will is here.

Now instead of writing about grieving parents, I can’t help but put myself in their shoes. Because even though I could imagine how horrible it is to lose a child, now that I’m a parent the thought is as devastating as anything I can imagine. And I couldn’t help but think what if something happened to Will? What if Will died and was gone forever. It doesn’t matter that Will is 9 months and Adam Riley was 21 years old. Parents should never have to suffer the hell that is outliving their children. To bury a child is…well, I have no words.

Any story I write is important because I’m a professional and I take pride in my work. But these stories have taken on added importance and significance now that I’m a dad. That’s why I listened carefully to everything Adam’s parents told me. How their honor student son was too low key for an article that did nothing but brag about how wonderful he is. And I listened to how he felt a sense of duty to his country from the age of 6. How he committed himself to 8 years of service to the US Army so he could attend The Citadel in South Carolina. How he loved his family and friends above all else. And I looked at pictures that alternately displayed an easygoing, laid back Cape kid mixed with an intense, patriotic, disciplined military persona.

The result is this article and I can only hope its something that provides Adam’s friends and family members with even the slightest respite from their overwhelming grief.

I know that while sad, it provided me personally with a reminder to cherish every single day with Will. I came home from work last night and sat by his crib. I listened to his rhythmic breathing and watched his chest rise and fall. I touched his hair and kissed him gently on the forehead. And I cried for Kevin and Carol Riley, who no longer have that opportunity and privilege.

Give your kids a hug today.

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9 thoughts on “Death and Kids

  1. It is amazing how having a child changes your perspective on just about everything in life. As hard and challenging and un-fun parenting can be at times, a tragedy like this forces you to take a moment and realize what a gift it is to have a child. It also makes us realize that we have to cherish every moment we have with all of our loved ones – that tomorrow is not guaranteed. The Riley family sounds like they were truly blessed with a wonderful son.

  2. My life and the way I looked at it, changed each time I brought a new life into the world, 3 of them. I can’t imagine having to bury one of them, I don’t think I would be very graceful or dignified, in fact, I would probably hide from the world, not wanting anyone around me. It would rip a hole in my soul for sure.

    You’re article was excellently done. You are a talented writer, thanks for sharing that.

  3. Excellent article (guess I should start looking at the by-lines) … I would not have envied that assignment

  4. I don’t know that I could have handled that assigment- a job well done. Hopefully you won’t have to do it again.

  5. I totally agree with Moo, it is a strange thing how children effect us. I am much more of a sappy guy now after having three kids than before. Kids changed me from being a hardlined idealist into a soft hearted mamby pamby who gives most everyone a break. I am so glad I have kids because it truly is fulfilling, but hearing stories like this one, losing a 21 year old son, just is unimaginable.

  6. I was once lambasted for saying I wouldn’t take a bullet for my father. The 4 or 5 people that were trying to tell me what an asshole that made me had nothing to say after I explained my answer. The only thing worse than the death of your child would be knowing they died so you could live. I don’t have the heart to do that to my dad, or mom for that matter.

    It’s unnatural. About 5 or 6 years ago my friends son died in a car accident in Mashpee. He was only 6 or 7. I went to that wake and nothing prepares you for the sight of such a small casket.

  7. Adam Riley was my Step Grandmothers grandson. We live in Toronto and they on the Cape. I actually met him only once. My Grandmother has talked about Adam and his brothers so much over the past 25 years that I feel I know them very well, however, your article in the Cape Cod Times really gave me the insight into what a brave and wonderful young man Adam was. I am so saddened for Kevin and Carol, Justin and Matthew his brothers, and Kara whom I have heard so much about that I feel as though I know her as well. A wonderful article and I thank you for having the empathy and bravery to make that phonecall and talk to the Riley Family. Thank you for writing something that the entire family will look at in years to come and take comfort from.

    Pam Eisen-Goldfarb

  8. Thank you Pam. The pleasure was all mine. I just wish we could’ve written about him under different circumstances. I’m sorry for your loss and thank you for taking the time to comment.

  9. Aaron, I just read your article about Shannon Thompson. My heart breaks for her family, but for you as well. Another fine job- but I can’t imagine how you must feel. I see extra hugs and kisses in Will’s future….i know Matt will be getting them.

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