Today is National Heat Awareness Day.
Three weeks ago I shared a trick we’re implementing this summer as a safeguard against vehicular heat stroke. The trick is to put our left shoes in the backseat with Owen whenever he’s traveling with us. The idea is that we won’t get very far without our left shoe. This trick and the photo of Owen has gone viral on Facebook with over 85,000 shares to date. Never in a million years did I think it would spread like it has. When I shared it I thought it would maybe reach 1,000 people on Facebook, not 9.2 million people.
After I posted the photo and tip, a few mothers of children who died due to vehicular heatstroke reached out to me to thank me for sharing the tip in hopes of saving a child’s life. One of those moms was Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero. After visiting the site she created to honor her daughter, Ray Ray, and raise awareness for vehicular heatstroke, I noticed that Kristie and her husband, Brett, looked familiar. That’s because last summer, when I was 8 months pregnant with Owen, I saw them on the Today Show, and their story left me with tears streaming down my face. This was a parent’s absolute worst nightmare. My heart ached for them and the loss of their precious little girl.
When Kristie reached out to me, she offered to guest post and share her story with all of you. I hope you’ll take the time to read Kristie’s story.
Four Years into the Journey of My “New Normal”: A Mom’s Tale of Perseverance After Vehicular Heatstroke
My life underwent a major, unwelcomed transformation on Wednesday, May 25, 2011– the day that shall forever live in infamy for me. This is the day that I lost my beautiful Sophia Rayne “Ray Ray” Cavaliero through a danger to child passenger safety that I never heard of prior to my loss. Vehicular Heatstroke, oh how I loathe this under-recognized, misunderstood danger to children, especially those under two years of age. Four years into the journey of learning to live without my Ray Ray, I remain mad as hell that more attention is not devoted to this leading non-traffic cause of fatalities for children under 14 years of age. So angry, in fact, that I have waged my own war against Vehicular Heatstroke in Ray Ray’s memory. Though my body is tired, my soul is weary, and I sometimes I feel as though I am out of fuel and running on fumes, I soldier onward, carrying out my pledge to Ray Ray to end these senseless tragedies. I remind myself, almost daily, that though I lose a few battles, I MUST win this war against vehicular heatstroke. Failure is NOT an option for those precious babes of the world who are in danger and whose parents do not even recognize the risk.
THE EVENT: ONE WRONG TURN
My entire household overslept on the morning of May 25, 2011. I was awakened by Ray Ray’s sweet giggles and kisses on my face, followed by a glance at the clock that read 9:43 AM! We rushed to get ready for our day. Then I followed my husband and Ray Ray to his truck, where we both placed her securely in her car seat. I waved as they descended down the driveway, and then carried on with my workday. Fast forward about three hours. I picked up my husband at his office for a quick lunch date. We trekked down the road, gushing about our little princess and how beautiful she was in her new dress, a birthday gift from her teacher, for “Tropical Day” at the daycare. Then, as I pulled into the parking lot, my husband said to me, “Go back to the office”. I asked why. He repeated, “just go back to the office…. Immediately”. As I approach a red traffic light, he instructed me to run the light. This was so weird to me, so I asked: “WHAT is going on?” Then my world started spinning as I heard his words: “I can’t remember dropping Ray Ray off at daycare this morning.”
As I sped to the office, I instructed him to call the office and have them check the truck. At the same time, I called the daycare. Almost simultaneously as I heard confirmation from her teacher that she was not present, the office manager told my husband that they removed her from the truck. Two calls to 911 were placed within one minute of each other, one by me, the other from the office. My perpetual nightmare, my “new normal”, had begun. Then I found myself staring at my almost lifeless baby, gurgling with lips of purple, and fighting through my own shock and horror to save whatever remnant of her life that might be salvaged. I knew it was bad. I just had no clue as to how much worse it was going to get. Despite all of the efforts, my soulmate was pronounced dead at 2:49 pm. My world crumbled. I felt my mind leave my body, almost hovering over the room and looking down, all actions in slow motion and objects melting akin to a surrealist painting. It was like I was watching a really bad movie…but it wasn’t a movie; this was now MY world, MY life as a parent survivor of a vehicular heatstroke victim and statistic. Sadly, there would be many more cases that summer, and in the years since, many whose stories sounded EXACTLY like ours: a forgotten childcare drop-off by a responsible parent. Many of them also originating from one wrong turn on the morning of that fateful drive.
MY NEW NORMAL
Learning to live again after losing Ray Ray was quite an endeavor, as everyone– friends, family, neighbors, and even my employer, wanted to know when I would mentally return to “normal”. My therapist and I had to sadly enlighten them that I would NEVER be the same. Most folks failed to understand that I died as she did. The person I was, my innocence, my “perfect” world, as of May 24, 2011, was shattered into millions of pieces– some of which could never be recovered. I was only a shell of my original soul, forever wounded and scarred. Folks would need to respect the pieces that remained, and accept the scars and gaping wounds, to remain a part of my new world– my new normal. Some could not do this. Thus, they gracefully and gradually stepped away from my chaotic, forlorn world. Others journeyed into this world with me and supported me through the most difficult time of my life. And oh, how I appreciate them.
What was my new normal? Some parts were quite dreadful. I became paralyzed with the fear of also losing my husband to suicide or to the legal system during the criminal investigation that comes as a consequence of these tragedies. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also took root in my body, with multiple panic attacks daily. I struggled to breathe. For several months my sole mission was to just remember to breath– just some of the collateral damages triggered by a vehicular heatstroke tragedy. Damages that often go unseen by the public. Damages that I continue to manage today. There was, however, a “ray ray” of light in my new normal, one that brought me back to the world of the living. I was so infuriated to learn that many sources of heatstroke were identical to mine: a result of forgotten childcare drop-off. The raging momma bear inside of me knew I MUST take action rather than self-destruct from my grief, pain, and anger. Hence, Ray Ray’s Pledge was born. An opportunity to bring justice to my baby and other heatstroke victims like her, making sure that their beautiful lives were more than a sad statistic.
CALLING ALL MOMMA BEARS
As I reflect upon the past four years of my life on this National Heat Awareness Day, I appreciate how far we have come in the arena of vehicular heatstroke prevention, yet I continue to train for the upcoming battles that lie on the horizon. I implore you, fellow feisty momma bears of the world, to join my army of vehicular heatstroke prevention warriors. I call on YOU to do YOUR part in preventing vehicular heatstroke tragedies TODAY. The life you save could be YOUR child.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Kristie. I know Ray Ray is very proud of you for getting her name out there and fighting to bring awareness to vehicular heatstroke.
Friends, I encourage you, your partner, your child’s caretaker, whoever to have some sort of system in place this summer. I like the left shoe idea because it’s a sure fire thing– I’ll know I’m forgetting something if I start to walk away from my car without a shoe. The shoe idea is also great for dads because they don’t carry purses. If you don’t want to put your shoe in the backseat, put your phone or purse– just something that will make you stop and think. Another tip would be to call or text your partner after daycare drop off, and to do this every day. You could also set a daily alarm in your phone to go off around your typical daycare drop off time. These little things take seconds, and can ultimately save your child’s life. It definitely can’t hurt to have precautions in place. And putting these precautions into place doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent. It means that you’re a great parent who’s willing to take the extra steps to ensure the safety of your children.
Let’s do everything we can to keep our little ones safe.