‘Honey, they’ve tried reviving him 6 times. He’s not coming back.’ I was barely hanging on.’: Mom loses son to fatal car accident, finds ‘beauty in the ruins’ of child loss

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“A little after 11 p.m., I was woken up by my cell phone ringing. ‘Mrs. Barbosa?’ said an unfamiliar voice on the other end of the phone. ‘Yes. This is Mrs. Barbosa,’ I replied, still half asleep.

‘I’m sorry, but there’s been an accident with your son. We aren’t sure whether we are going to take him by ambulance or if we are going to air flight him, but head to the hospital right away.’ I was so disoriented, but I managed to ask, ‘Is he going to be ok?’ He paused for a moment – a moment that felt like an eternity. Finally, he managed to respond with, ‘He’s going to have a long road ahead of him.’

That is all I needed to hear. Relief came over me because that meant my son would make it. A long road meant lots of mom kisses and unending home cooked meals. I hung up and quickly explained everything to Chris who had woken up to my voice.

He reassured me everything was going to be ok. I was extremely hopeful, not worried at all. That might come across as odd, but, just three months prior to this, Christiano had been hit and run over by a car while riding his bike. When I got to the hospital to see him, he was completely fine, chatting it up and laughing with all the nurses. He walked away without any injuries – a true miracle. I expected nothing less this time. The words ‘long road’ didn’t worry me. I kept thinking maybe he endured some road rash or maybe a broken bone. Either way, I was fully prepared to bring my boy home with me that night. Never did I come close to envisioning what was ahead for us.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

We arrived at the hospital before Christiano did. As we sat in the waiting room, I wondered what was taking them so long. Did we go to the wrong hospital? Was he there, and, somehow, the front desk people didn’t know? After about 10 minutes of waiting, a police officer came over with a Ziploc baggie of Christiano’s belongings. His watch, his wallet and his cell phone all intact. I asked again how he was doing, and, while the police officer avoided making eye contact with me, he still said those same words: ‘He’s got a long road ahead.’

I asked when we could see him, and he said a doctor would be out to get us shortly. Soon after the police officer left, a woman came over to get us. She asked us to follow her, and she brought us into a private room the size of a walk-in closet. She explained she was a trauma specialist. This started to feel a little bit different than the last time. Why weren’t we taken right into our son’s room? Where were the doctors? She asked if we had any questions or concerns, and we both said we just wanted to see our son. She assured us that we would be able to see him very soon.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

Next, a woman doctor came in and sat in front of Chris and me. She said, ‘Your son has been in a very serious accident, and there has been some trauma to his brain.’ We just stared at her like ok… fix it. She went on to say that when Christiano came in, he was coughing. Coughing was a really good sign because it meant his brain still had some level of communication. I blurted out, ‘Praise God!’ She said, ‘Praise God is right. Are you a Christian?’ We both said yes, and she went on to tell us that she was, too, and she was going to fight with us in prayer. I was sure our miracle story was about to unfold. When she walked out, she promised she would be back. Chris looked at me, took both of my hands in his, and said, ‘Honey, this is what we have been trained for our entire Christian lives. He is going to make it. He is going to live, and it will be a miracle.’

When the second doctor came in, not only did he have an entirely different report and demeanor, but he also had a completely different style of delivering the news to us. He was gruff, unfeeling, and cold. Maybe he wanted to crush our hope, so the traumatic blow would be a little easier to face. His report was that Christiano had no chance of recovery. He explained our boy not only had bleeding on his brain, but he had crushed his brain stem. He spoke the words ‘unsurviveable injury’ over and over and over again. I asked where the other doctor was. I was desperate for her optimism. He didn’t answer me. I argued with him, almost laughing at his report and said. ‘You don’t know my God. My son is going to make it. He is going to recover.’ I believe he chalked these words up to Chris and I being in denial. He left, and we rallied in prayer. All I kept thinking was, ‘He has so much life left to live. His story wasn’t over.’

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

Finally, a nurse came in to bring us to see our boy. As we walked down the long hallway toward his room, I realized he was in the same exact room he had been in just three months prior. Visions of days past flooded my heart. I pictured him sitting up, laughing, and joking again. But, what I saw when I walked in that room was a dire contrast. My boy was unrecognizable. My sweet first born, who was once so full of life and charisma, laid there lifeless with tubes all throughout his body. I couldn’t make out his face at all, except his beautifully chiseled chin with peach fuzz whiskers poking through. He was covered in blood, and it just kept pouring and pouring out of his mouth. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen in my life.

His condition was worsening by the second, and, within the next 2 hours, Christiano’s body began to seriously decline. They were unable to find any brain activity, and he flat lined several times. The doctors seemed very stressed and made it clear to me they were only prolonging the inevitable each time they used the defibrillator to revive him. They began asking me if I wanted to donate his organs and told me I was ruining his chances of donating by keeping him alive. Truly, in that moment, I couldn’t have cared any less about other people needing my sons body parts and wondered how this doctor could be so concerned with saving one life, while being so inclined to let another go. Chris was so much braver than I was – he never left Christiano’s side. He stayed right up by his head and continually wiped blood from his mouth. When I went in there, I couldn’t look at his face for too long, so I ended up rubbing his feet. Another one of my biggest regrets is not just lying beside him to feel his heartbeat next to mine. Looking back, I feel like such a coward.

‘God, take me instead.’

‘God, if you won’t bring him back for me, bring him back for the kids.’

‘God, I promise to share your miracle story everywhere!’

Not one of these pleas seemed to be working. By the time I arrived at the hospital with the kids, it was about 6:00 a.m. Chris pulled me aside and said, ‘Honey, they’ve tried reviving him six times. I don’t think he is coming back to us.’ Hearing Chris say this was beyond hard because, deep down, I knew he was right.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

Each of the kids went in to see their big brother for the last time. I think they, too, knew, in the final moment, that he was not coming home with us. As soon as the last sibling said his goodbye, Christiano uttered his last breath. My heart was ripped right out of my chest after witnessing the pain my children had to go through saying goodbye to one of their very own.

How do you leave your son’s lifeless body behind and expect to walk forward? So much of me stayed behind with him; so much of me died that day, too. I truly didn’t think I was going to make it.

The minutes, hours, days and weeks after are still such a blur. My home was flooded with people at all times in the early days following Christiano’s death. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I wanted to die, but knew my other children needed me. I was in a place of shock and confusion and kept thinking I was going to wake up from this recurring nightmare. I was a mess in every way.

Those first few days, those words ‘unsurviveable injury’ whispered and chanted, hauntingly in my head – over and over again. It was now me who was barely hanging on for life. Would I, too, perish along with my son? Would that really be so bad? I cannot say I ever pondered suicide as an actual option for myself, but I did believe I would die from the pain in my heart. Each breath took more physical effort, each step more mental preparation than the last. I had to talk myself into living – in every sense of the word. I truly believed that child loss could never be survived – at least, not by me. Maybe Chris would make it, and that would be good because my surviving children would need him once I was gone. I was preparing myself to succumb to my injuries because there was no way my heart would ever beat the life it once did – each part of me was slowly fading, my heart, mind, soul and spirit. Everything I was once so sure of now made no sense at all. I couldn’t piece any of it together, as my reality did not line up to the truths I once stood so firmly on.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

I had seen things for my son. I had envisioned him growing up, getting married, having children, reaching so many lost and broken people, and, one day, growing old. I sat on the same seat on my couch for what felt like ages. Time stood stiller than still. Maybe I willed it to stop, or maybe life without Christiano didn’t feel like a life worth living. Monsoons of denial, fear, anger, guilt flooded my days, sometimes in passing showers and sometimes in raging floods. Mom guilt is no joke as most moms know, but grieving mom guilt – it can kill you if you let it.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

It started with one last minute cancellation, but each time got easier and easier to say no, while it got harder and harder to see people. I only wanted to see Christiano’s friends. So much so, that for poor Gabriella’s fifteenth birthday, I invited all of Christiano’s friends and none of hers. I didn’t want them to stop coming – ever. They made me feel close to him. They gave me vicarious insight into new memories of him and made me feel like, through them, a part of him was still here with me. Thankfully, his friends willingly obliged. People came together to do various projects around Christiano’s memory and keeping it alive. Still to this day, old friends of his will shoot me messages if they have new memories of him or dreams about him.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

I never believed I would make it a day without my son, never mind a week or a month or a year. Even when I realized I did survive the unsurviveable, I had trouble believing my quality of life would ever be what it is today. I never believed I’d live long enough to share my journey of grief with the world, but, by the grace of God, here I am 6 years later. I made it out alive. Not always with flying colors or gold medals, but I have actually come through the dark, scary, and lonely journey of child loss.

One day at a time isn’t just an Alcoholics Anonymous statement. There were things we had to do in those first few days that parents can never prepare for. Would he be buried or cremated? Where would we bury him? Who would write his obituary? How long would his wake be? Open casket or closed? Who would deliver his eulogy? What songs would be sung at his funeral? Who would speak? Who would carry our boys’ casket? The questions I wanted to be asking was what time my son was going to walk through the front door or what he wanted for dinner. I wanted him to be choosing his best man and ushers instead of picking out pallbearers. People say it feels like a dream to walk through the aftermath of child loss… I wish it felt that way because maybe then I could have felt like I was going to wake up and have everything in my world back in order, but I knew. I knew it wasn’t a dream. I knew that I couldn’t make any of it go away. Yet, I kept asking God to make a miracle.

I still don’t know why this happened to our family. I still don’t understand, and I’ll never pretend to. I’ve learned along the broken way of life that when we force and answer for all the injustices and wrongdoings in this world, we end up getting off track. This is how false doctrines come in to play and theologies become twisted. At the end of the day, we do live in a fallen world that is broken. It is full of evil and tragedy and pain. Sometimes, there is no answer to the pressing questions in our mind.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

Looking back, I think, as Christians, we are conditioned to think that nothing really bad is ever going to happen to us. We convince ourselves that we are God’s favorite, and even when we see Christians being persecuted all over the world, we think that nothing like that will ever happen to us. We are so far removed from the aftermath and effects of grief until the eye of the storm directly hits us smack in the face; and, while I never in a million years expected to leave the hospital without my son, I did. I lost a child. This was my new reality.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

After a few days of screaming and shaking my fists at God, somehow he still got through to me and calmed me with His still small voice saying, ‘Sweet child, do not bring me down to a level you can understand.’ I knew in that moment that God was still good and that He loved me. These truths carried me. They still do. God has remained faithful, even six years later. He has continued to wipe every tear from my eyes and restored my broken heart.

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

If anyone showed me a picture of all the beauty that would come from our ruins, I wouldn’t have been able to see it. Thankfully, God doesn’t change His plans based on my inability to see. He is faithful even to the faithless, and He has continued to prove Himself faithful over and over – even when my heart cannot see. I will forever wish that my story was different. But, even if not, God is still good.”

Courtesy of Shannon Barbosa

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannon Barbosa of Providence, Rhode Island. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

Read more from Shannon:

‘I was 15, pregnant. My principal looked at me. ‘Your mom didn’t graduate. Your dad didn’t graduate. Just drop out.’ I never felt more hopeless.’ Teen keeps pregnancy against all odds, loses son 18 years later

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