Friday, November 9, 2012

For the Love of Maddox

Hey, there.  [Sheepish grin] Yeah, I'm still alive.  Sorry, I know it's been ages since I've written.  I should have called.  I meant to.  I got a new phone and couldn't transfer my contacts. . .or something.  Actually, I can give you a million reasons for being MIA for so long, and some of them are even valid.  But I won't.  Not today, at least.  I'll save them for another day.  I'll be around. 

The only excuse I'll offer right now is that I've struggled for topics.  No, I wouldn't say I've had writer's block; or that I didn't have anything I wanted to say.  If you know me personally, or have read my posts, you know I always have something to say.  Usually too many somethings. 

And that's been part of the problem.  I've got a lot on my plate these days (I'll spare you the details for the present); and have needed to take a break from posting to attend to other parts of my life, at least until I came across an idea or topic that I could not not write about. 

Sadly, I have found such a topic. 

I've lost a lot of sleep this past week over the loss of a little boy named Maddox.  A little boy I've never met.  A little boy who is not a relative or anyone connected to me.  Maddox Derkosh was an adorable little 2-year-old who lived with his mother and father in Pennsylvania, and who died in a horrific and profoundly tragic accident while visiting the zoo last weekend.  His mother, Elizabeth, had placed him on a railing overlooking a wild-dog exhibit so he could get a better view of the animals.  Somehow, Maddox lost his balance, and fell into the exhibit, where he was attacked by the dogs, and died.  The entire incident spanned only a handful of minutes.  In those minutes, a rapid series of events, that in any other context would have been inconsequential, perhaps, in and of themselves, were woven together in a way such that the resulting consequences were the violent end of Baby Maddox's life, and the shattering of the world as they knew it for all of Maddox's loved ones. 

And I've lost a lot of sleep over this.  I've been walking around with a dull, twisting, ache in my stomach because my challenged mind that insists on bouncing all over the place - including to places where it has no personal business being - conjures images of an innocent child lost in a moment that must have been joyful for him only a second before; and images of a mother who is suffering now more than I can possibly even begin to imagine.  And for some reason, it feels very close to home.  Too close to home than there is any logical reason for.  Kids die in accidents all over the country every day.  Admittedly, I don't lose sleep over most of them.  But there's something about this situation. . .

To make my own pain worse (which I don't claim is anything of any significance compared to the pain that Maddox's loved ones), is that I have an annoying impulse-resistance problem when in comes to reading forum comments on news sites.  I shouldn't read them.  No one should read them.  No one should post on them.  They are a place where cowards go to freely vent hatred, and where well-meaning folks share pithy remarks and pearls of wisdom that fade into nothingness because people really aren't all that interested.  I think most of us who venture into the underbelly of the comment forum do so out of morbid curiosity and because on some level, we want to get riled up.  We certainly don't go there because we want to get schooled by other sad people just like ourselves, all of us hiding out in the comment forum.

So despite knowing that I should never read them because it's just emotionally unhealthy for me to do so, I do.  And sometimes I even post, when I'm bored.  Or when I feel strongly enough about something. 
For some reason, I've felt very strongly about what happened to Maddox and his mom.  Strongly sick and sleepless, and compelled to make sense of it all, including why I care so much.

I think I've figured it out.  This horror of this situation invokes my very deepest fears:  my fears of harm coming to my children; my fears of the thought of ever losing my children; my fear of having something horrific happening to my children . . . and of it being somehow my fault. 

There's no question here about the cause and effect relationship of what happened to Maddox.  A loving mom took her only child out for what was supposed to be a fun trip to the zoo.  She took him around the various exhibits to see all the cute and interesting animals, and eventually, they came to the African painted-dog exhibit.  Aesthetically, these dogs are beautiful - definitely interesting to look at.  Little boys like to see dogs - I know my little guys both love cute doggies.  Mom wanted her little guy to have a good view, so she positioned him where she thought he could better take it all in.  And here we reach the threshold between joy and unimaginable sorrow. 

I don't know why Maddox's mom thought it would be okay to have him on the ledge.  But she loved Maddox and for whatever reason, she thought it would be okay and fun for him. But as we know, it was from this ledge that Maddox fell - in an instant - into the expanse of Time, Time that would bear no resemblance ever again - for him or his family - to that final moment of innocence that preceded it. 

So, now I read - against all my better judgement - the comments on the news forums.  Comments dripping with vitriol and judgement.  Comments that proclaim Maddox's mother to be a criminal, stupid, someone so vile and unworthy that she should never have been permitted to have children.  Someone who deserves her pain and then some, for killing her own child. 

As heinously ugly as such comments are, they do not reflect the worst I read.  People have even more hateful things to say that I can't bring my fingers to type here.  Trust me, you don't want to see them anyway. 

Then I think about Maddox's mom, and know in my heart, that the words of these commenters are probably not nearly as damning and hurtful as those she would use on herself.  As a mom who can put myself in her shoes to only the most tiny degree, I can't imagine how the guilt she must be feeling doesn't just kill her.  I imagine that if it were me, my heart would just stop with my child's.  I wouldn't be able to go on.  I'd die with the dogs too.

As much as all mom's fear our kids being harmed, I'll throw a little ADHD into the mix.  For my entire life, I've been challenged by distractability, difficulty keeping track of small details, challenges with foreseeing potential outcomes to impulsive actions that seem like "no big deal."  Yes, I can see myself doing exactly what Maddox's mom did, or something along those lines.  In fact, I'm certain that at some point, I did do what Maddox's mom did - make a little judgment call that unbeknownst to me, carried the risk of unimaginably awful consequences. Yet by grace or chance, we were spared from a tragedy, without me ever seeing it come or go.  My feeling is that we all have such moments in our lives. 

My father often said to me that the greatest blessing in life is that we cannot know the alternative destinies of our lives,  because to see the might-have-beens would be far too painful for us to be able to stand.  Because however bad we think we have it in any given moment, there is a worse alternative.  I don't think I ever really understood what he meant by that until now, now that I've gotten a glimpse of what might have been that time - all those many times - I momentarily took my eye off my baby when I probably shouldn't have. 

In the end I couldn't help but post my feelings to that seedy comment forum.  By now, my comment has probably been mocked.  Haters have probably upped the ante to say even more awful things about Elizabeth Derkosh.  Other readers/posters will have read my comment and quietly agreed with me, and moved on.  I'm okay with that.  I'm not going to go back in and look.  But, for the love of little Maddox and his mom, I will share my post here, on my own blog, in my own "house," remembering that there but for the grace of God, go I.

"There is not a human being alive who has not at some point, in a momentary lapse of judgement, or second of distraction, contributed to a consequence that we did not expect or want. Perhaps 99.9% of the time, we don't ever even see the bullet we dodged; or we survive and move on from the results of our actions that could have been much worse. But then there is that rare occasion when the unthinkable happens. Would I have put my little boy up on that ledge? I don't know. Perhaps not. But I have - and every mother and father out there who is honest would say the same - have turned my head for just a second when I should have been paying attention. I have allowed my child to do something that seemed harmless without thinking it through carefully enough. I have made what I thought was a good decision with the information I had available to me at the time, but it turned out to be the wrong decision. Maddox's mother is not a criminal. She is a mother, who in the blink of an eye, didn't realize the enormity of a risk. But her fate was cruel, and a blink of an eye was too long, and she was afforded no chance to fix it. Most of us cannot even begin to imagine the guilt and suffering of this grieving mom. Yet each one of us could find ourselves grieving at some point over something that happens in the blink of an eye, despite all our best efforts to control ourselves and the world around us. Trashing this mother, stoning her, calling her a criminal in a public comment forum is a dog attack more vicious than the one that took little Maddox. Comment forums are a great place to vent cruel unwarranted hatred without having to show your face. Please, please, please, let's not do this here, to this family. We can be sure that however stupid or criminal we might feel this lady's actions were, we've done something in our own lives - whether we realize it or not - that was at least as criminal or stupid. We were just luckier."


  1. Very well written and oh so true. All I can say is... Amen, sister. Amen.

    1. Thank you for your comment - I appreciate the feedback. :)

  2. Absolutely wonderful insightful post, right on the money, and it makes me cry, because I can so identify, as well, and not just about mom-moments, but about any number of OMG-what-might-have-happened moments. Your response in the comments will help somebody, I am sure of it. Probably a lot of somebodies. It helps me. And thanks for the caution, because of course part of me is tempted to go read those other comments, but I not only know I shouldn't, I don't have to, because you've summed it up and responded to it in a way that lets me know all I need to know. Peace!

  3. Well said... It is safe to assume that the amount of really stupid things I did up to this point in my life is far higher than the amount other people will accumulate in their whole lifetime. There is not a single situation in life that does not make me think "oh my... that could easily have happened to me...". If nothing else, this makes it easy to follow the good old advice to "Judge not, lest thou not be judged". My thoughts are with the Derkosh family. They lost more than a child and I wish people would understand this...

  4. Thank you for writing this. This is exactly how I feel, even so many months later, about this precious baby boy and his family who I have never met. I still think of Maddox everyday and shed many tears over him. I have never been affected so profoundly by a news story and to hear that others feel the same is somehow comforting. I too have tortured myself many times by reading people's cruel comments online; I take solace in knowing that there are so many more who have reached out to support the Derkosh family, cried with them, and fallen in love with their sweet Maddox.

    1. Thank you, Anon, for your message. It makes me happy, too, to know that others can relate to my words. I still think about Elizabeth Derkosh from time to time, and pray for her. I know there is probably next to no chance that she is "okay," and there's nothing I, personally, can really do for her. Yet, in a weird way, she has helped me, I think. She tends to come to mind when I'm feeling critical and smug over someone's "stupid" mistake that *I* "never" would make. She reminds me of how it could very well be me, and if not that, then it would be something else. I have to battle the urge to point fingers as much as anyone; but I like to think maybe I'm a little better person as a result of this lesson. Thanks again. :)

  5. I too would rather have died in the pit with my child then face this the rest of my life. Whoever held Elizabeth back did her a great disservice. I would not be able to cope with this accident. She now faces a lifetime of horrific guilt and regret. She bore witness to this horrific catastrophy and there is no escape for her for the rest of her life.

    Say a prayer for the Derkosh's and be thank you this did not happen to you.

    Thanks you for writing this.

  6. While I used to have the same position as you do, my opinion has changed greatly in recent months. I find it repulsive watching my local news (I'm from Pittsburgh) to hear that the Mom is now suing Pittsburgh Zool No amount of money will bring her son back and will only cripple the Zoo financially, a place her and her son loved. If she really felt that the exhibit was unsafe, she could have made an agreement with the zoo that if they made improvements to prevent others falling, then she would be satisfied and not sue them for personal gain. I know for a fact that the Pittsburgh Zoo board felt so badly about the loss of her child that they didn't publicly place blame on the Mom even though other witnesses said she stepped back to take her sons picture leaving him unattended. Now they are placed in a difficult position, the zoo is forced to testify to the very obvious fact that this mother was negligent in spite of signs stating stay off the wall in order to protect the assets of a zoo that runs on such a tight budget. So I guess I have lost respect for these parents after hearing the terrible things they are saying about the zoo while looking for financial gain!