Valorie Engholm: Let’s Stop Judging Grieving Parents

In lieu of judgmental, rude, and thoughtless comments, this publication would like to offer its readers a chance to leave messages of love, hope, compassion, and warmth, as this family continues to deal with their loss. You may leave such messages of light in the comments section below. Horrible comments, however, will be met with much bad karma headed your way, so word your responses very carefully.


nessy and girls


Last night, I went to bed thinking of Nessy. I’ve never met her in person, but we’re definitely friends. I hold her close. I met her on the online Hip Mama boards.

It was around 2007 that I found this community and first got to know Nessy and her son, “Bugs”. Eventually, she had two more beautiful buggy and bug-eyed kids, both girls. I needed advice more than once from The Mamas, and Nessy was always there with her no-nonsense approaches. Our community needed her. Needs her. I need her.

I had a dream about Nessy once. I walked across the street from my home in Kansas City, Missouri. Across the street was Temple, Texas, and Nessy’s house. I remember walking around in my dream and hearing a disembodied voice say her first and last name, and then I found myself knocking on the door to this house. No one was home. It was a weird dream, and I’ve had three different variations of it since.

The women in this community permeate each other’s lives. After the Hip Mama community forum stop being utilized, many of us took our badass family over to a group on Facebook where we continue to take care of each other today.

Late last year, our dear Nessy was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Mamas rallied behind her, of course, setting up a fundraising site and offering her as much love and support as we could muster. Then, she lost her mother, and we all just wanted to hold her in one great big mama Hug.

lela outsideThen Sunday, something even more awful happened. I did a triple-take when another mama posted what happened. Nessy’s youngest daughter had died. She slipped out of the house to play and got herself trapped in the hot car.

I can barely even type these words.

But it gets kind of worse. I’m sort of a nerd, and I research things. I want all the information that exists on anything anywhere, so I went looking for it in the news. But the news doesn’t always get things right. I read words like “under investigation” and “left in car.” I laughed to myself reading these things, horrified. Left in the car? That’s ridiculous, that’s not what happened! Under investigation? Well, I mean, of course, they always investigate stuff, that’s just standard procedure. But . . .

Then came the comments.

Never read the comments.

The comments called my friend terrible things that I won’t repeat here. Think back to the judgement that poor mom from the Cincinnati zoo got. And even the judgement that harried parents get when they do accidentally leave their kids in the car. Other people can sure make assumptions. And nasty comments. Assumptions lead to nasty comments, usually. Some people seriously need to re-read The Four Agreements.

I am really disgusted with the way the media reported on this. Most of them were just cut-and-paste articles saying something like this:

 In terrible news today, a terrible thing happened to a toddler, and it was probably the parents’ fault and we should judge them.

 I wish they had let me write the copy-paste article. It would have said something more like this:

nessy and kidsA Temple, Texas family is grieving today after a terrible tragedy involving their two year old daughter. The mother, who has been battling stage four breast cancer, laid down for a nap on Sunday afternoon while her husband, the child’s father, dutifully watched their three beautiful children. When she awoke, however, their youngest child was nowhere to be found.

Fraught with fear and worry, the moment they realized she was missing, the couple dialed 911 to let the authorities know they were looking for her. The family, neighbors, and police searched frantically for the young girl, ultimately finding her inside the family’s van.

The girl had slipped away from the house, as many children are known to do, and climbed inside the family van where she often liked to play. This time, however, the girl found herself accidentally trapped inside the hot vehicle. She did not survive.

At this time, the girl’s kind and loving family are beside themselves with grief. Numerous family and friends, both locally and globally, are rallying together to soothe these parents and their other two children as they try to understand what happened.

In lieu of judgmental, rude, and thoughtless comments, this publication would like to offer its readers a chance to leave messages of love, hope, compassion, and warmth, as this family continues to deal with their loss. You may leave such messages of light in the comments section below. Horrible comments, however, will be met with much bad karma headed your way, so word your responses very carefully.

Nessy and her husband, Dave, have hearts that are so full of love. Vanessa faces her cancer with smiles, laughs, and fearlessness. She grieved the loss of her mother with more strength than I can imagine. If I ever meet Nessy, I bet she’ll be bathed in a beautiful pink light as butterflies bring her flowers. That’s how I imagine her.

lela slideBut the thing with having so much love in your heart is that it can also cause your heart to hurt more than ever. I don’t and can’t know how they must be feeling right now. I do know, however, that the light their daughter, Lela, brought into their lives is a light that will continue to emit it’s sunny brightness for all of the days of their lives, and her brother’s and sister’s lives, and their children’s lives. There can’t possibly be an end to that light because I could see it in Texas all the way from my home in Missouri and into my dreams.

And as we continue to read things and hear things that we really don’t want to read or hear about the people we love, we just have to think about that beautiful light and don’t let it go out just because there are strangers out there who can’t see it.


on “Valorie Engholm: Let’s Stop Judging Grieving Parents
34 Comments on “Valorie Engholm: Let’s Stop Judging Grieving Parents
  1. All our love to Nessy and her family, and to Valorie for writing this and for Ariel for sharing it here. xoxox to all the HipMamas

  2. Nessy, if you ever read the comments here: I am so sorry for your loss. I am sending you all the positive energy I possess and will keep you and your family in my thoughts. Love, love, love to you.

  3. The amount of love and respect I have for this woman is unparalleled. My heart is filled with compassion and empathy for the grief that she is feeling and for the grief of her husband and their two children. I want to surround them in a force field of love and support.

  4. So, so much love to Nessy and her family. I read about this story this morning and it blew me away. Please tell her that people, from around the whole globe (I’m from the UK) send her love. This was not her fault.

  5. I found myself so angry this morning when one of my comments had a response that was both judgemental of Nessy and of me for saying that the news was vague and that this was a horrible tragedy. I wanted to reach through my computer and slap the person who was passing judgement. Not that it would do any good. You see the problem with passing judgement is the types of people who long to pass it, who look for these stories, and who say the nastiest things don’t care what happened. They don’t care at all. My heart is so broken, and your words are beautiful and true!

  6. My heart goes out to this family, particularly the mother. I can’t imagine the pain and loss that they feel. My soul aches. May you and your family heal as best you can, knowing you are loved.

  7. This is such a tragic event. My heart goes out to Nessy and her family. I hope this helps lend them some strength through such a terrible time and that maybe happiness can come back into their lives.

  8. I am so so sorry, words could never be enough to tell you how sorry I am. Lela was a ray of sunshine, laughter and love, just like her beautiful sister and brother and her devoted parents. Nothing can take away your sorrow, but your friends are here for you. I love you now and for always.

  9. To Lela’s family: I grieve for you. It is a horrific thing to lose a child. I grew up in Texas and know exactly how hot those cars can get within seconds. I’m also mother to a very active twelve-year old boy and know how easily a child can slip away from sight.

    THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. And no, there is not “a reason” this happened. Some things are horrible, agonizing, life-changing, and completely reasonless.

    There’s nothing I can say that will ease your pain, but please know I’m sending so much love and prayers for comfort your way.

  10. Dear Nessie, I hope you’ll read this.
    We have a mutual friend, Kait. She sent me here.
    I can’t even begin to imagine what you are going through. I have a son. I don’t have words…
    I’m so sorry. So so sorry. Please know that there are people out there that do not judge you. Just the opposite. I’m sending so much love your way. I don’t know what else to say. I wish I could take your pain away. I know I can’t.
    If you ever need to talk to someone, even if it’s a stranger, please know that I am here. Really. Truly. I will listen. And cry with you. Or whatever.
    I hope you will be able to heal.

  11. I know the world can be a cruel place but I want Nessy and Dave to know that no matter how loud and numerous some people will be with their judgment, there are many of us holding this family up and grieving with them during this terrible time. There are no judgments here; only love, compassion, grief, tears, and support. We see you. We hear you. We love you.

  12. I can’t even begin to imagine the depths of the family’s pain, even without the horror of the Internet response heaped on top.

    Sending all the light and love I can to Nessy, Dave and the little ones.

  13. Nessy, if you ever happen to read this, just know that I’m so, so sorry. This isn’t your fault. Thinking of you and your poor family at this awful time and sending nothing but love xxxx

  14. Thinking of you all today, I’m so sorry this has happened to your family. No judgement here, just love. It can happen to any parent and it would devastate any family. Big hugs and prayers.

  15. Sending prayers, hugs and love to Nessy and her family. my heart breaks for her and her family. Thank you Valorie for sharing this tragic news the way it should be written. Hugs to you and all of Nessy’s friends.

  16. As someone who has met Nessy, I can firmly attest that she literally is “bathed in a beautiful pink light as butterflies bring her flowers” when you meet her. One of those people you want to hug for a full minute and just melt into their sweetness. She has a wonderful compassion about her, her skills as a mother are exemplary and though I wish she didn’t have to use this particular skill, handling the grief of her children – a 10 year old and 5 year old’s grief manifest so differently – is amazing to behold. Her depths of understanding exactly what needs to be said in the moment. I love her and am here for her in support as they go through this.

  17. My heart aches for your family. I hope that you take comfort in each other and your memories of your darling little girl, and lift each other when it feels too heavy to go on. I lost my sister almost five years ago, and it’s definitely not easy, but remembering her life with my family helps ease some of the pain.

  18. Over this past month I have been connected, by a few degrees of separation, to 4 child deaths. A toddler snatched by an alligator, whose parents are friends of my sister. Another toddler, drowned under a floating dock, who went to the same church of that same sister. A 12 year old who took his own life, who used to go to school with my oldest child. And now this beautiful little girl, whose mom was online friends with one of my online friends. It is astonishing that this article even needed to be written, but it really did. Almost immediately after each of these events, people have rushed in to make their opinions on the ‘why’ known. I can’t believe how thoughtless people can be, with their judgments and harsh words for the families — during what is probably the worst time of their entire lives. It makes me want to judge them right back, to be perfectly honest. What the heck is wrong with these people? Were they raised in some weird dystopia that discouraged compassion? But I like this approach better than mindlessly lashing back — just hang onto the light, concentrate on the good, and maybe even try to do something to show that the majority of us care about these families, and we want to help however we can.

    Lovely article, Val.

  19. My heart goes out to this family, to the parents, to the siblings. I’m so so very sorry for your loss.

    I am this mother. When my youngest was 2 (nearly 3) and I was an exhausted depressed mommy I laid down one summer day to take a nap while my little one played in her room. She was supposed to stay upstairs with me. She always stayed upstairs with me. She would play in her room and usually fall asleep there.

    I woke up and everything was quiet. I thought she had gone to sleep, and went downstairs to get a drink of water. I looked out the back door, and there was my little one, laying face down in the sunny (and very hot) back yard, not moving. I rushed out the door, picked her up, and she took a breath and started sobbing. She had gone downstairs while I slept, gone out the back door and locked herself outside. She had cried until she passed out, exhausted. She was overheated and upset. I cried, realizing how close I’d come to losing her. And then I realized I’d locked us both out of the house and I showed her how to drink out of the garden hose and we waited in the shade until daddy got home.

    Nessy and Dave, I’m so sorry. Only support and sympathy from this mommy.

  20. There exists a very small handful of mothers that, in my eleven years of motherhood, I look at and think, “Now that, that is how you do it.” That’s a confession of sorts and normally I would never name those mothers because I wouldn’t want any mama I know to think I don’t admire her. Because for the most part, all of the mothers I know amaze me regularly. But there’s a few that I literally wish I could be more like, whose mothering I aspire to achieve. Vanessa is one of those mothers. She always has been. I could articulate a thousand ways she mothers to make my point, but I’ll leave that for now and just say this…she is one of that small handful. She’s how we all should be, or endeavor to be, as a mama. I just needed to say it out loud right now. Holding you in my heart tonight and always mama. Love you. I’ll see you Saturday, and put my arms around you and your babies. And thank you Valorie, for writing this on behalf of us all.

  21. when these tragedies happen, every mother catches her breath. we all know, deep down, that it could have been us. it’s a primal bond we all share, whether we want to admit it or not. i just wish this understanding brought out better in everyone. and i hope the petrarca family can feel the support coming through the white noise of judgment.

    ~love from NJ

  22. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live with this tragedy… my deepest condolences. And yes, it could happen to anyone. Judging parents is an absurd proposition…. no two kids are alike, so, even if you are a parent yourself, you have no idea what others are struggling with. Sending healing thoughts to this poor family.

  23. There’s that ancient story of a woman who sought a mustard seed from a house with no suffering, in hopes of saving her own family. Suffering is the perhaps the one element we share as human beings. If there’s one thing we should learn, perhaps, as we get older, it might be to emphasize with tragedy and sorrow…..

  24. Twice, my kids have slipped into hot cars. One when she was Lela’s age – the only reason we found her was because my newborn started crying and caused us to realize she was missing. The second time, that newborn was 3 when he wandered outside and inexplicably managed to open the big heavy door of his dad’s truck and then close it again. Both were okay. But I could have been Vanessa.

    Parents make mistakes, dozens of mistakes every day. Usually we get away with it and say a prayer of thanks. Sometimes, we hear of another mom who didn’t, and then all we can and should do is offer up more prayers to surround the broken hearts of that family.

    Grace. Grace, grace, grace, grace, and more grace.

  25. Sending virtual hugs to the family. I heard of this story back in the summer and just came across it again. Thanks to Lela, we never leave our cars unlocked anymore, even in the garage, so our children cannot get in alone by accident. I also spread awareness as this would rarely occurre to anyone. Thank you , Angel Lela.

  26. Dear sweet Nessy, you are the definition of a doting loving Mother and friend. I surround you with love and light. Sweet Lela is surrounding the world with her heavenly light everyday and we can all feel it. Love you.

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