She was three months old. She didn’t have to die.
She should not have died.
She should have grown up to join other boys and girls at Edison Park Elementary, just blocks from the home on the 6800 block of NW 5th Avenue in Miami where her grandmother left her for hours in the back of the family car.
She died alone in a locked car yards away from thousands of motorists passing north and south on I-95, none of whom could have heard her anguished cries and prayers for help before the suffocating heat silenced her forever.
She suffered alone as her 22 year-old mother struggled to earn minimum wage serving patrons at the local McDonald’s, while her 16-year-old uncle struggled to pass a test requiring him to name 39 French speaking states and label them on a map, while her 50-year-old grandmother rested inside her home, struggling with her own demons and anxieties as her daughter’s daughter left in her care struggled for her final breath.
The baby’s father was deported from the United States. The grandparents live below poverty, unable to access critical social services for themselves or their children, allegedly because of past reporting errors.
More than 28,000 infants under the age of one die each year in the United States; more than 75 each day.
This little girl didn’t have to die.
She should not have died.
Even in a recession, she lived within miles of much of the world’s greatest wealth, public and private resources, unable to benefit from the childcare, counseling, medical, housing and food assistance that could have been available because she depended on adults who themselves were unable to successfully navigate the maze of paperwork and bureaucracy to obtain the support that could have saved her life – that should have protected her life.
I met her uncle last spring while teaching a PAIRS relationship skills class to teenagers in the night school program in a Miami-Dade county high school serving youngsters whose lives are enormously challenged. When I asked for a volunteer to demonstrate the Emptying the Emotional Jug exercise in front of the classroom, he courageously stepped forward. His girlfriend followed. I coached his girlfriend as she took his hands in hers and asked, “What are you mad about?” continuing to ask and listen from her heart as he shared a laundry list of grievances. She went on to ask, “What are you sad about?” listened intently to his responses, then followed with “What are you scared about?” and finally, “What are you glad about?”
In a classroom where revealing tender emotions wasn’t likely to win empathy or compassion, the youngster cried through the exercise. I fought back tears myself as I listened to his words, especially when he shared about his anger and sadness because of the distance in his relationship with his father and his fears for his mother’s health – the same mother who left his sister’s three month old daughter alone in the back of the family car this morning.
After not hearing from him since shortly after the class ended last spring, he called me several weeks ago to say things weren’t going well for him – that he was living with his father, hadn’t seen his mother in some time, that neither of his parents were working, that he hadn’t been able to find work either, and that there wasn’t anything to eat at home or any money.
I met him that week and offered help with food and money. That weekend, I met his father and let him know he could call me for help.
Today, during his geography test, my wife was reaching out to social services that might be able to assist him and his family. He texted me after his test to let me know he’d gotten a C. When he left school at three, he texted me again to say that his three month old niece was dead.
As the news sunk in, I reached out to each of my sons and then came home to hold my own baby boy, born just two weeks ago.
My wife arranged for a social worker to speak with him and then he and I spoke again afterwards. He was anguished and afraid. His mother tried to hurt herself after realizing what she’d done, he shared. The police had taken her to a hospital and he was afraid she’d either be sent to prison or confined for psychiatric help. He didn’t know what to do.
I told him that all he could do was work as hard as possible to make the most of his life, that it was now up to him to do everything possible to live a life that mattered, to help create a world where other children don’t die, to help other youngsters more fully recognize the responsibility they take on when they choose to bring children into the world, to do what he could to be there for his sister and mother during these difficult days in all of their lives, that my wife and I would do whatever we could to help him and his family.
And I told him there’s a new angel in heaven watching over him, and that for the rest of his life, I suspected she’d be there cheering for him as he takes on his life; that now he had to do that for both of them.
My faith tells me that the baby’s soul lives on.
My heart and mind tell me that she didn’t have to die. She should not have died.
It was up to all of us to protect her.