OHIO VALLEY — There’s a bittersweetness about love. When you have fully experienced it — and then it is lost — the pain of that loss can be overwhelming, even devastating. It is difficult to imagine a scenario that more fully tests the limits of the resulting depth of grief than that of a parent losing a child.
It’s such a heartbreaking and sobering thought, that many try to avoid broaching the subject altogether, while grieving parents are left to sort out the pieces left of their lives quietly and often inwardly.
James Vinson knows all about this. He wishes he didn’t.
Approximately 12 years ago, after a year of struggling to have a baby, Vinson and his then-wife, who were living near Dayton, discovered they were expecting their first child, and they were delighted. However, the pregnancy took an unexpected turn when on August 25, 2001, at just five-and-a-half months, Matthew Hunter Vinson was born.
“I knew this wasn’t good,” said Vinson. “I already knew his survival rate at this point was next to none. I was so scared for my child I hadn’t even got to truly meet yet.”
But Matthew was a fighter, and after months of battling complications common to premature babies, he was home and growing stronger and healthier every day.
The Vinsons treasured every milestone, from coming off of assisted oxygen to stacking his first blocks and saying his first words.
The Vinsons were happy and whole — until tragedy struck on September 15, 2003. Matthew had fallen from his crib sometime in the night, and his mother found him unresponsive first thing the next morning.
“She started screaming, ‘Matthew, Matthew, no, no, no!’,” said Vinson. “She came into the living room carrying him. I could see he was limp in her arms.”
Vinson said the time following this horrific discovery is a painful blur of attempting CPR, calling 9-1-1 and praying.
“I have remembered bits and pieces of that day, but one thing I’ve always remembered was praying, ‘God, please no. Don’t take my son’,” said Vinson. “And that went from praying to outright yelling at God to do what I demanded. ‘No, God. You are supposed to take me, remember?’”
Matthew did not make it.
Vinson said he and his wife were overcome with grief as they muddled through the police investigation that is protocol in cases of toddler death. He said that he was taught suicide was a ticket to hell, and he wanted so badly to see Matthew in heaven.
“So, I never pondered the idea,” said Vinson, “but that didn’t keep me from thinking, hoping and wishing that every time I went to sleep, I would never wake up again. I didn’t want to face reality, the reality that my child was gone.”
Soon after the funeral, Matthew’s death was ruled accidental. After all the struggle, it was a simple accident that claimed his life.
Vinson said it took everything in his power to function day to day. He said he stayed medicated just to try to remain numb. He said this went on for several months. Finally, he said, he received help when some friends began referring him to local grief support groups, namely the Compassionate Friends and Help Endure A Loss (HEAL).
“The overwhelming support was almost too much, and I came very close to not going anymore,” said Vinson. “It was hard to talk about what had happened, and bringing it up was like pouring salt into an opened wound. When the meeting was over, and I got home, I just felt completely exhausted — mentally, physically and spiritually. I would say I didn’t want to go back, but after four weeks had gone by and it was meeting time again, I felt like I couldn’t go any longer without going. I wanted to be in the presence of others who truly understood my pain, my grief and darkness.”
Vinson said the healing came slowly and not without depression and rage. He said that his best friend, David, helped him tremendously with one of the simpler messages he received during that time.
“Out of everybody, family and friends included, he was the only one who didn’t ask all of the dumb questions I’m sure we’ve all heard, ‘What can I do?’ ‘What do you need?’ … Well, heck, I had no idea. I had just lost a child. I didn’t know what I needed except that I wanted my child back.
“When David found out what had happened that day, he came as soon as he could, and the two words that did come out of his mouth meant more to me than anything else — ‘I’m here’,” said Vinson.
Eventually, as months turned to years, the Vinsons had another child, Kaden, but even that joy was at times overshadowed by the grief they felt over the loss of Matthew. It took time, friendship and faith to slowly come out of the depression that plagued Vinson’s life, and it took grace and love to set him on a path to help others who are dealing with this kind of loss.
Vinson now lives in the Vinton area and has recently launched a grief support group for families called the Healing After Losing One’s Child Support Group. Vinson said it is a slow process to get the word out to other parents who are grieving, but if he can help just one person, his efforts will not have been in vain.
Vinson said the group meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at the Community Christian Fellowship, located at 290 Trails End, Thurman, Ohio 45685. The group meeting is for families that have lost children and is not affiliated with any particular faith. Vinson emphasizes that the meetings aren’t only for parents, but also welcomes grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles … and anyone else who feels inclined to join.
“The situations or reasons for our loss may all be different, but if there is one thing I have learned along the way, our pain is the same — the pain of losing them and living without them,” said Vinson.
The next scheduled meeting is Thursday, April 18. Vinson is also planning to host special guest Alan Pedersen May 14, at 7 p.m. when the Angels Across the USA Tour 2013 makes a stop at Community Christian Fellowship. Pedersen is a bereaved father, nationally recognized inspirational speaker on grief and loss, award winning singer/songwriter and successful recording artist.
These meetings and events are free of charge.
“What I can do for you,” explained Vinson in what he claims as a personal motto, “is lend an ear to listen to your story and offer you my hand to hold tight while you struggle to tell it. I can give you a shoulder to lean on when you feel like you can’t go on and hold yourself up. I’ll share with you my strength and my tears for when you don’t think you have any left to give, and I’ll show you compassion from my heart to help yours heal everyday that yours breaks all over again.”
For more information about the Healing After Losing One’s Child support group, contact Vinson via email at Fishersofmen2004@yahoo.com; via Facebook at www.facebook.com/JamesPaulVinson; via the Facebook group page, Healing After Losing One’s Child; or via phone at (740) 645-2776. You can also follow Vinson’s blog on Wordpress at fishersofmen2004.wordpress.com.