Could I Have Saved My Child?

It took years to forgive myself.

I’d been warned. I’d been shown what was coming. I could have intervened. I could have been there. I could have saved my child.

But I hadn’t. I didn’t. If I had just…

Real Dreams

In Global Mom: A Memoir, I wrote about a dream I’d had of our son Parker two months after he’d drowned. The dream was especially forceful and allowed me to see and feel the setting he was in after death – a vivid, bright realm beyond mortality – as well as what he was doing there and with whom.

When I’ve had a dream like that, (in my life I’ve only had a few), I immediately write it down and share it with one or two others so it’s fresh and they’re “witnesses” to what I’ve been taught.  Because they have a different resonance than my run-of-the-mill bad digestion dreams, I feel a certain stewardship over their content. The Japanese call these real dreams.  They are gifts. You treasure them. You don’t thoughtlessly parade or banalize them. That being true, it was a little risky to publish one in a book. But I don’t regret that I did.

Then in On Loss and Living Onward I devoted a chapter to a dream I’d had exactly one month prior to losing Parker. In that dream, I was chasing after a toddler version of Parker (wearing a small version of the blue swim trunks we’d bought together when he was 17), who was being swept away in a small river that passed under a bridge, a passage from whence his little body never emerged. The dream was strangely corporeal. I actually felt the sun beating on my head, the icy spray of the water flecking my forearms, gravel cutting my bare feet and wild grass scraping at my ankles as I ran along the shore. I was sweaty, agitated, shaking and breathless when I awoke.

Monkey Rock Bridge Downstream Sideview 2

But that dream was not the only one I had about Parker’s accident before that accident happened. What I’ve never published is the following dream, a second one.  I used to call it God’s Final Warning.

The Second Dream

From my email to a confidant:

The second dream I had exactly the week before his accident. By then I’d managed the bulk of the move to Munich (at least our beds were set up in the apartment so we could sleep here) and Randge [Randall] had arrived from Paris to be here for legal document signing before I left on the 14th to Utah to be with the kids whom we’d sent on ahead of us, especially to get Parker into summer college.

In the dream I rush into an ICU alone to find the tall, muscular body of a beautiful young male lying face-down on a gurney, a sheet covering him up to his waist. He’s wearing a neck brace and there are tubes coming out of his nose and mouth and he’s hooked up to monitors. He has multiple head injuries and looks bruised and bludgeoned from what I can see looking at the back of his head.

I’m shocked and chilled. I reach for the body and somehow recognize it well. Reason tells me that, because of the head injuries, this is the victim of an automobile accident, so my dreaming but analytical self tells me this is Aaron, my brother,the only licensed driver I know of that would fit the form and height of the man I’m seeing on the table.

My whole chest feels kicked in and I’m keeping myself from wailing. Many people are passing in and out of the room, but I’m the one standing closest to the body whose shoulders I stroke. I speak to the body and groan. We’re that way for a while. Then the body is turned over and it’s not clear to me whose face it is as the swelling and bruising and discoloration are so severe. Blood cakes the hair. There are some facial wounds.

I conclude it’s Aaron and he’s had a terrible car accident on his commute to Salt Lake City for work. He is unconscious and it seems – I’m being told – he will not live. I am weeping and trying to find a hand to hold under the sheet draped over the body. I pray and try to understand. People are in the room at a distance, not people I know well.

Then Randge is brought into the room. He has come in a hurry from far away. He stands to my left then we lean onto each other, supporting a motionless shock. The line of onlookers is up against a far wall. We are ripped open with grief.

I awoke from this dream and was lightly crying to myself, my heart was thumping and I felt agitated – I felt warned –and sat right up in bed. (I was in our little makeshift room here in the apartment, Randge sleeping deeply to my left.)  As soon as I awoke him, I told Randge exactly what I had seen and said I needed to call Aaron right away to warn him to take no risks when driving and to at least go slowly. Then I convinced myself he’d think I’m nuts, some kind of clairvoyant or something, so I left it up to fate and to his good driving skills to avoid anything like what I had seen.

Looking Under the Bridge

Those dreams meant something important. I’d felt that while dreaming them. You know how that is? When you are dreaming and it’s as if something taps your subconscious on the shoulder, saying, “Pay attention. Pay close attention.”

Well, the “something important” came rushing at me several days later.

In full force it came rushing, but only after Thursday, July 19th when Parker, standing in his blue swim trunks on the gravelly and wild-grass-lined banks of an Idaho irrigation canal, dove back a second time into a whirlpool under a little bridge to try to rescue a drowning college classmate. It came after his death-grayed body floated a distance down the small river past the bridge and plummeted head first over a lava rock waterfall. After I had hurried to Pocatello in the middle of the night and entered alone in an ICU where Parker lay face-down on a gurney (neck brace, tubes, monitors, head injuries, under a white sheet), after he’d been turned over, after Randall had burst into the ICU from his flight from Munich, after the onlookers lined up against the other wall, after we turned off life support. After the funeral. After it was too late.

When my two dreams and their matching reality came together, a deep terror set in. It paralyzed me. All I could conclude was that I’d fatally ignored God’s  3-D cinematic warnings given an entire month and then a week ahead of time. Plenty of lead time to have yanked fate off its tracks. Plenty of time to have saved my own child.

Yet I hadn’t.

Why not? Why had I not? Why? Why?!

Monkey Rock Falls

The Eternal Now

For so long I wrestled with every psychological angle. Had I been worried what others would think if I told them I, some homemade visionary, had had a couple of disturbing dreams, so please no water activities this summer? And we’re going to be walking everywhere for a while, no cars? Would I make everyone too anxious to live if I said I’d foreseen a male loved one in his last moments in an ICU scene? Or was what kept me from using these dreams to prevent tragedy something worse, something far more sinister, a character flaw, like  a chink of sloppiness, selfishness, distraction, irresponsibility?

Whatever the reasons behind not having advertised the dreams, what it came down to in my mind was that I was to blame. And that meant that beyond the gutting of grief, a boulder of guilt weighed on top of me. I shared that boulder with only a very, very few.

This is what a confidant wrote when I shared my boulder of guilt:

Warnings that you didn’t heed? No, no. Please do not torment yourself with such thoughts. These dreams were, rather, preparatory glimpses into what we mortals call “the future.” God, we know, is not bound or limited by our understanding of time and space. For God, all eternity is one Eternal Now. Somehow, through God’s great power and mercy and your own maternal in-tune-ness, you were permitted to see into the Eternal Now for two brief moments. You were a Seer. You are right to see these experiences, these dreams or visions, as evidence of God’s grace and as a testament to the fact that, for whatever terrible and holy reasons, this was taken into account in the cosmic scheme that includes your beautiful Parker.

What you hear from my friend’s message is that after much time packed with much spiritual work, (seeking God’s guidance through meditation, study, questioning and waiting for concrete answers, seeking to live close to Parker’s ongoing spirit, serving others as lovingly as I was able, gathering evidence of God’s loving kindness to our family and to me personally), I grew settled on this matter. I no longer felt I was solely responsible for his death. I accepted (and was not conquered by) death.

Could I have used those dreams as megaphone warnings to my family and circle of friends? Could I have forbidden all water activities for the summer? Forever? Could I have locked away every male I cared for who fit the description of the man I’d seen in my dream ICU? Kept them from cars? Cross walks? Random falling timber?

(You see how quickly love, grief, and longing wax irrational.)

I suppose so, yes. I could have done all of the above. But would having done so assured their survival? And as important, perhaps: Would having done so also have wrung out the very life from life, “killing” everyone another way? Never allowing them to live? Heaping on them fear, anxiety, foreboding?

Such questions.

But let me ask again: If my dreams were given not as forewarning, (knowing that even with such forewarnings I couldn’t have prevented my son’s accident), but were given as comforting communication to be recalled in the world of after, what does all this mean?

For starters, a conventional worldview that rejects any reality outside of the physical realm we inhabit cannot offer sufficient meaning in this riddle. A worldview that denies some kind of spiritual circuitry connecting my dreaming spirit with a much Higher Source of Light and Truth, (whom I call God), doesn’t offer meaning, either. Even quantum mechanics and parallel universes don’t account for these exquisitely personal communications and their broader, this-world (irrigation canal and ICU) context. And most especially, those theories are incapable of addressing the especially precious, abiding, and reciprocal relationship I have felt all along  with my guide, my God.

But my friend’s Eternal Now. That’s something I can sink into. As cosmos-bending and challenging to our puny minds as might seem a loving God caring for each of us from the middle of an Eternal Now, it does take it all in : Horror, holiness, time, relativity, space, us, something-far-beyond-us, everything.

In the end, (if there is an end), that notion of everything sits very, very well with me.

Sweet dreams to you all.


(Evening spreads over the irrigation canal leading to Monkey Rock.)

24 thoughts on “Could I Have Saved My Child?

  1. I love this, Melissa….and I am so grateful you shared it. And I cried and cried because I understand how painful it is to feel alone and tormented with “what if’s”.

  2. I commented earlier, but I’m not sure why my comment hasn’t posted. I’ll post it again.

    When my husband was 16, his three brothers were in a horrible car accident. The eldest suffered injuries that eventually sent him home quite early from a mission. The younger brother broke his back and spent long months in a body cast, missing school. The youngest brother was also injured. When paramedics arrived on the scene, they made some mistakes in caring for him. The hospital also made grave errors which cost this nine-year old boy his life.

    My mother-in-law told me that she also had dreams foretelling her son’s death. I don’t know that her dream was a warning as much as it was preparation for what was to come. Many of the events were so out of her control.

    I believe that as mortals we do see through the glass darkly in trying to understand God’s ways and His meanings. I think we are meant to turn to God in those times–to seek for the atonement to heal our pain and our mistakes.

    • Tiffany-
      Thank you for this.
      As I’ve come to understand, there is more we do not understand than we do; and by that token, more we have to accept on faith and trust and submission than we can control with sheer reason, control and force. Your mother-in-law (again, as I have grown to understand it and am now fully at peace with) was given a token to which she could refer when the inevitable questions of “Why?” and “How?” and “What if?” crowded out anything else she could see, feel or hear.

      Guilt – debilitating and exacerbating – accompanies parental grief more than it does any other sort of grief. No matter how a child dies, even if it is on a battlefield a world away, the parent feels she or he should have somehow been able to prevent it. We are programmed to sustain the life we brought to be. When we feel we have “failed” at that, it kills us. That’s literally what it happens: your flesh and blood child dies…and your flesh and blood self dies.

      This is why major loss is such a power-packed crossroads. It is a death – your own – and therefore an ephemeral chance to actively create (as you did in creating a child), but this time in the making of another new life with God: your own.

  3. Melissa, Thank you so much for sharing this. Having lost some of my dearest family members , I can definitely relate to the guilt as it makes the grief even worse for me. I had a dream before losing my 15 year old nephew too. I have come to believe that destiny is written and there is nothing we can do about it. God just helps us understand that. I pray that our loved ones are happy in heaven and i know that they will not want us to be sad.

    • Sandhya- What a blow to lose several family members. I can only imagine that you continue to be a happy, generous force for good as your fellow surviving family members work to accommodate such heavy loss. I’m so glad to have your voice in this discussion. Thanks for coming by.

  4. Chère Melissa,

    Je n’ai jamais vraiment eu l’occasion de partager cela avec toi. J’ai eu quelques expériences moi aussi concernant la mort de Scott.

    Tout d’abord étant jeune fille, je devais avoir entre 14-16 ans, je ne me souviens plus vraiment car j’ai fait l’erreur de ne pas noter mes pensées. J’ai eu, un jour, l’impression que je serai seule, adulte, avec mon enfant. Cette pensée m’avait étonné car je savais que je ne voulais pas avoir d’enfants tant que je ne serais pas marié, ayant grandi dans l’évangile. Cette pensée, ou plutôt cette impression ne m’effraya pas du tout. Elle était là tout simplement.

    J’ai passé en tout cas beaucoup de ma jeunesse à avoir ce sentiment profond que “ma famille” ne serait pas ce que j’espérerais (un mari, des enfants, tous ensemble vivant une vie “normale”) en tant que fille dans l’évangile. Quand Scott me demanda en mariage je me souviens lui avoir dit “Es-tu sûr de vouloir te marier avec moi ? ” tellement cette situation allait au delà de ce que j’avais toujours pu ressentir !

    Nous nous sommes mariés, à ma grande joie car j’aimais Scott. J’avais presque 32 ans et lui en avait 39.

    Sans trop de difficulté et malgré le cancer des os très grave que Scott avait eu durant sa jeunesse, je suis devenue enceinte 1 année après notre mariage et nous avons eu la grande joie d’accueillir notre petit Tristan parmi nous.
    Alors que j’étais enceinte d’à peine 5 semaines et que j’étais chez ma gynécologue pour mon examen, je ressentis très fortement que c’était un garçon.

    Lorsque nous avons appris le cancer de Scott, nous fûmes tous très surpris. Pourquoi si tôt, pourquoi maintenant, pourquoi ? Tant de tristesse en moi et de peur de perdre ce mari que j’avais tant attendu !

    Scott mourut un mercredi 12 août vers 8h30 du matin. Nelson, son père, avait passé la nuit à son chevet. J’avais besoin de dormir, je dormais mal, j’étais épuisé. Le matin avant que Scott ne rende son dernier souffle, Nelson m’appela me disant qu’il ne respirait plus autant et qu’il fallait que je vienne. J’ai fait le plus vite possible, je voulais être présente. Lorsque je suis arrivée à l’hôpital, il y a au RDC comme une grande place avec deux entrées. A la jonction de ces deux entrées j’avais l’impression que Scott marchait à coté de moi en souriant et me disait comme il avait souvent l’habitude de faire “Tiens, elle est mignonne cette petite”, puis il se mit à sautiller devant moi comme un enfant me montrant qu’il allait bien. C’était très étrange car je le voyais mais je ne comprenais pas ce qu’il se passait. Je voyais surtout qu’il sautillait comme un petit enfant, j’en étais agacé car j’étais dans un état d’urgence, je marchais vite pour être au chevet de mon mari qui allait mourir, alors j’ai dit dans mon esprit “arrête de sautiller comme un enfant”. Le visage de Scott fut surpris et aussitôt disparut comme si c’était pour ne plus m’importuner. Moi j’ai continué mon chemin, prendre l’ascenseur le plus vite possible et être là à coté de Scott. Quand je suis entrée dans sa chambre Nelson me regarda et me dit “il est mort”, j’ai éclaté en sanglots et touché Scott.

    Je compris alors ce qui m’était arrivé plus tôt. Que l’esprit de Scott avait été là dans le Hall de l’entrée de l’hôpital, qu’il m’attendait devant la jonction de ces deux entrées (ne sachant pas par qu’elle entrée j’allais arriver) pour me dire au revoir, me dire qu’il allait bien maintenant qu’il ne souffrait plus.

    Je n’avais pas compris ça ! Si j’avais pris conscience de cela je me serrais assise pour parler avec lui et demander alors comment c’est maintenant, explique moi comment est ce monde des esprits comment ça se passe ?

    Voilà un peu de mon expérience,

    Je t’embrasse,


    • Arlène,
      Et je t’embrasse aussi. Une profonde et sincère “merci” pour cette effusion remarquable et sincère. Des les premiers phrases elle semble tellement sacrée (car elle l’est), et je te promets de la traiter avec respect.

      En tant qu’êtres humains, il n’y a plus que nous ne pouvons pas comprendre que ce que nous pouvons saisir et expliquer. Pour l’Inconnaissable, il nous reste de la foi et de la patience, la confiance qu’un jour (dans cette vie ou après), nous sera donné toutes les connaissances dont nous avons besoin, pour comprendre ce que nous ne pouvions pas comprendre maintenant. Dieu est toujours miséricordieux envers nous, même si parfois l’on ne le voit pas clairement.

      Voilà, mon amitié à jamais, Arlène-


  5. Thank you for sharing. I had dream about my sister dying . Years before She did. To this day the emotions are still with me. We were living at the Grand Canyon at the time dream took after my mission. There was this earthquake and we were in our Sunday dresses . I was looking for my sister’s and mom and dad finally two of my sister s with me but the youngest was not.. We started calling her name climbing rocks and boulders then around the corner my dad came looking grave come with me. There she was rocks of all sizes covering from the neck down she was dying Dad said we need to say goodbye. I couldn’t it was horrible . I woke myself sobbing uncontrollably. My one sister woke up we where in the same bed and mom came running in holding me it was so real. Years later she was diagnosed with ms but she was misdiagnosed if the had exrayed little more down the spine from the neck they would of caught it. Tumours literally crushing her moved her heart. She was in horrendous pain. I too wondered if I could at least done something for. I had dreams a few times that came about before this I should of known to do say or do to help her or the doctors.the pain was so horrible. Literally her bones were cyrstal like. the one doctor would notlisten to the nurses she needed to have a morphine drip not just the little shot I gave her. At night after nursing my son. I went to see if she need it . I felt I was intruding on something sacred for my mom dad were on each side of her holding her hands. And YANNI was playing in the background. I still have trouble hearing his music I really haven’t listened to him since its a little hard. I loved his music. I have trouble writing and expressing my thoughts I hope you understand what I wrote. Thanks again for you book!

  6. Melissa, Thank you once again for allowing us into a very sacred space. I am so glad you chose to share this experience with us. As mothers we often torture the joy out of life with all our “what if” scenarios as we try to prevent every worry we have from coming to pass. We are programmed to feel so responsible for everything that happens to our loved ones. I know that I do this. Sometimes I think I am guilty of trying to take on God’s job when it comes to controlling my own personal universe. Of course we all try to do what we can to avert tragedy, but I love how your dreams remind us that truly we are all part of a much larger plan. I don’t know how much of life is necessarily “predestined”, but your dreams help me to trust that when I am prone to cry out that “this wasn’t supposed to happen!” that there are greater powers at work that are so much larger than my very limited perspective. Thank you so much for this exquisite and expansive expression of faith.

    • Anne- Oh, let me tell you, opening up these sacred spaces is always layered with second guesses. But I’m trusting in a spirit larger than myself and my words to carry what’s of value into the hearts of those who might benefit. I’m so grateful this has value for you.

      What I’ve described here, maybe, is an example of our human strength made weak. The fierceness of our love is a strength, and the seriousness with which we take our stewardship as a parent is a strength, maybe one of our greatest. But the tendency to view ourselves as the sole sustainers of life and therefore capable of controlling circumstances that determine whether someone lives or dies is a weakness. It denies the reality that after doing all we can do (watching the quality of every gram of food that we eat when pregnant, never smoking, drinking, whiffing paint fumes, delivering that baby in the best circumstances, nursing that baby for over a year, vaccinating, well-baby check ups, cleaning bottoms, wiping noses, teaching to walk, talk, write, read, speak languages, watch street lights, protecting from TV, video games, chemical substances, and driving to lessons, to school, to church, to friends, buckling seat belts, wearing helmets, never engaging in anything physically risky, praying for them, with them––after pouring every droplet of self into the child), they are “saved” or taken back to God according to a grace and plan larger than ours. I’m with you in scratching my head about how much in this life is “predestined.” I’ve concluded I won’t know that until I look back on it from another dimension. For now, the task is to grow my understanding, faith, and capacity to love everyone else who’s battling to figure it all out, too. 🙂

      I love your enriching comments, Anne. Please keep coming back. My next post is a biggie for me.

  7. Melissa,
    What a beautiful sharing of your very personal spiritual journey. We knew you during your short time in NJ. We knew Parker as a darling, lively, little boy. You shared yourself with us then – your talents, feelings, testimony, and you have continued to bless many lives with your willingness to share. With much love.

    • Julie- Oh, no need to introduce yourself, my friend! I remember our time together like it was last month, not 25+ years ago. And that very realization – that I can experience loving memories as if no time or hardly any time and distance at all had passed – helps me glimpse the tiniest bit of an Eternal Now. Isn’t it a foretaste of how time and space are collapsed through love? There was so much love back in those NJ days, you were part of it, and that love bridges all. I’m so glad to hear your voice in this thread, Julie! Come back again…

  8. Isn’t it interesting that what some may view as once a nightmare can turn out as beautiful as that serene photo of the sun setting on that horrible canal in Idaho. How even our own perception can change through wisdom and further understanding of Gods holy realm. Thank you M for once again piercing my very soul. Much love.

    • Jenny- And that is exactly where I am, now. That smoothed, calmed stretch of canal in the evening. I am at peace with How Things Are. Occasionally, I’ll lose focus and mindlessly allow myself to get stirred up and panicky, doubting what I’ve learned and seen. Occasionally. But those eddies are brief, and I ground myself in treasured experience, knowing that I’ve crossed that river, and can witness that its bottom is sound.

  9. Thank you for showing us what you have seen. The price you paid was terrible and yet you are willing to revisit and reopen the deepest wounds so that others can have their faith deepened and their vision made more clear. I cannot express how much your experiences have helped affirm my faith. Thank you.

  10. Yet another post of yours that has lingered in my mind and heart, stirring up deep questions for my soul. I’m trying to understand if forewarnings are given only so that we can step in and prevent things. I too have had dreams showing me things that later transpired. In my case they were not life and death circumstances, but nevertheless I’ve carried my own burden of guilt for not stopping what came to pass. But as I’ve pondered your experience, it seems that God would never give a mother the burden of a dream so that she could prevent something that was truly inevitable. Perhaps He allows us a glimpse of what is coming in order to prepare us somehow, to know it was “in the cards” and not some mere accident He hadn’t planned on or hadn’t foreseen. God was not caught off guard by what happened. Does that make sense? I know He doesn’t cause our tragedies, but I do believe they are not surprises to Him in the way they are to us. He knew Parker’s mortal journey from the very beginning. Giving you a preview of what was coming could have been an act of mercy to help you know He knew what was coming and that your life, your son’s life, all of our lives, are ultimately in His hands. Reading this post has helped me have greater peace around the forewarnings I’ve been given, too. Love you and your heartfelt words so much! xooxox

    • A-
      Love to you, always.
      In the lovely, poignant lullaby written by Billy Joel, “Goodnight My Angel”, there’s one line that harpoons my heart, still: “I promised I would never leave you.” This is what all loving parents assure their children (and themselves). As originators, we think, of our children’s lives, we should be the final protectors, too. The amount of energy, focus, blood and tears that go into sustaining their lives is immeasurable, as the connection seems, in me at least, to have begun long before I actually conceived my child, and continues long after he has left my mortal care. (Eight years since his burial and I still yearn daily to mother him.) When we’re not somehow magically there to save our child from every hurt, every injustice, and even the ultimate blow of death, we bear an impossible burden. It kills some parents, slowly. What a shocking realization – but a deeply important one – to know that this child was never really exclusively “ours” to begin with, and belongs to something greater than our fragile care and this temporal, imperfect, darkly small mortal existence. And this child was not going to be saved solely by our efforts or lost solely due to our negligence. There is something bigger at play. There is something larger holding things together than our best, (even most neurotic) efforts.
      And so when I reflect on those dreams now, I’m filled with wonder and gratitude that God, knowing how passionately I love my children, how hard I am on myself, and how desperately (fanatically) I have always cared for physical safety, would entrust me with knowledge that, with spiritual reflection and faith, would help me see that things are as they should be.
      (Or course this doesn’t give license for abuse and outright deliberate neglect. That’s another topic, another post.)
      While God did not WILL my sons’s death, (I do not believe that and am super careful with how I employ the words “God’s will”), God, rather, knew circumstances, personalities, flaws and strengths with absolute perfection and in an eternal context and allowed our family the choice to learn of Him and grow greater love and life out of a hateful, irony-laden tragedy and our son’s death.
      Thank you for coming in and leaving your wise words, A. ox

  11. I have had this exact same experience. I still blame myself. My head says logically God is in charge and Michael’s death was fore-ordained. But my heart says, You’re guilty! You should have known! I too was warned, but I didn’t understand until after. God didn’t want me to intervene, which I would have at all costs. Thank you for sharing.

    • Shannah,

      In my experience, the terrain of “destiny”, “God’s will”, and “foreordination” are so slippery. Like you’ve noted, we have to be charitable with our humanness – we can’t know or control all things – and it helps to place a little more trust in something beyond and above of our capacity for knowing. I choose to exercise faith and hope.

      I sorrow with you and your loss of Michael.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s