Parents at a Loss
Parents grieve over the loss of a ...
Don Norton, 31, is a single father living in Alva, Fla., with his two daughters, Amirath, 8, and Trinity, 6. Norton’s middle daughter, Allana, died in August 2007 when she locked herself in the cab of Norton’s truck and succumbed to the summer heat.
"I can feel it coming on. It’s like a cold — you can feel it coming. And I’ll go home, drink a lot of beer, listen to a lot of sad music and crash through it and wake up and go on about my life the next day. I don’t try to bottle it up.
She was the second child. She was an ETS baby — what they call it in the army. ETS is the process when you get out of the Army. Like every family has a baby immediately, especially when they come back from a hardship tour like Korea where you can’t have your family. I hadn’t seen my wife in a year. And I missed Amirath being born. She was six or seven months old when I met her. So we immediately got pregnant and had another baby. That was Allana.
I had never gone through the first six, seven months of “the baby.” Amirath was already starting to talk by the time I met her. So it was like coming into another kid, someone else’s kid almost because I wasn’t around for that part. But Allana I got to see from the beginning.
I remember she had her own little language. And it wasn’t like she didn’t know the right words. She’d be taught the right words, but she’d just come up with her own. Like my grandma, for some reason, was ‘Bee.’ I have no idea why. And horses were ‘ya-boes.’ We figured that out. That was actually short for ‘yahoo cowboy.’ And pigs were ‘yee-boes.’ And my sister, Rhoda, was ‘Ya-Yo.’
There was no discouraging that child from what she wanted to do. She’d get in trouble a dozen times for the same thing, until either she figured out a way to do it without getting caught or move on to something else. She was always getting out of bed. We’d put her in bed at 8 o’clock and she’d get up out of bed until 10:30 - 11 o’clock every 15 minutes. She’d just come walking down the hallway: ‘Hi.’
For what little time all three of them had together, there was actually a very strong dynamic between the three of them. Allana — she was at that middle where she was old enough to relate to Amirath and do the things that Amirath wanted to do. And she was young enough to relate to and want to play with Trinity. She was their bridge.
It was late summer. We were at my mom’s house. It was around 1 in the afternoon, during the hottest part of the day. No clouds. The sun was still beating down. My wife and my mom were sleeping with all three of them in the bed — mom’s bed. They had all played in the Jacuzzi and were taking a nap. And dad and my sister’s boyfriend Josh were downstairs burning branches. They had just trimmed the trees and they had a fire going. I was the only one up in the house. She came down the hallway and went to go out the door.
I went after her and said: ‘What are you doing?’
By that time she had already gotten down the stairs. She was quick.
She goes: ‘Outside.’
‘OK. Make sure you go see Grandpa and Uncle Josh. Make sure they know you’re down here.’
She goes: ‘OK.’
I went back inside. I didn’t think anything. They were right there. I thought they saw me talking to her actually.
Probably right from then she went and got in my car — playing hide-and-seek. She loved playing hide-and-seek, whether we were looking for her or not.
I sat down for another 10 minutes and watched TV. Then I got up to make sure Dad and Josh knew she was down there. That’s when we realized no one knew where she was. We searched for about 10 minutes. And that’s when we found her in my car.
I don’t leave my doors unlocked. It’s just a habit for me to hit the switch when I get out. And the only reason my door was unlocked that day is I had gone down and gotten a pack of cigarettes out of my car and didn’t lock it back when I shut it.
So we found her lying across the front seats. She didn’t know how to open a door. The one she went in half-latched behind her.
As soon as I pulled her out I knew. We called the ambulance and they came and tried to resuscitate her. But you just know. You just know when you’re holding someone that’s dead. She wasn’t even hanging on or anything. She was done. She was gone. Her fingernails were blue. Her eyes were glazed over. Her little lips were blue. She was just gone. She pretty much cooked in that car.
I completely shut down. Just passed in and out of consciousness for three days. I wouldn’t respond to anybody. The most they’d get is a nod out of me. They’d know I was alive because I’d blink. It had completely jolted my whole concept of reality, mortality and what God would or wouldn’t let happen. What could or couldn’t happen to me — all that went out the window. There was no more certainty in my life.
I got into drinking. I went through the whole crazy phase and fortunately managed to not lose my job.
And actually that restricted me a lot — the drinking. It delayed it. It put me in this numb bubble where I didn’t have to feel it all the time. And it worked for a while. But, eventually, you run out of money. Those things aren’t fun anymore. You have to come to terms with what it is now. It’s never going to be back the way it was. You’re never going to be who you were. You’re never going to have your kid again. Your kids aren’t going to be the same. You’re family’s never going to be the same.
So that first whole year was a delusion. It was like a sad attempt to get back to where I was. There was no bridge there. There was no way to get back there. It was all just pretending.
And I had two other girls that needed me. In some ways it’s easier because of them. In some ways it’s harder. Because you get to see how they grow up — the things they get into, get involved in, how they advance as people. It reminds you that you’ll never know that from your 2-year-old you lost. I’ll never see Allana start school. I’ll never know if she’d get into kung fu or dance, or if she’d get into singing — that kind of personality blooming that my other two are going through now. She’s static, almost 3 basically, for the rest of my life.
The whole ‘God’s plan,’ or ‘it was her time,’ doesn’t settle well with me. That’s assumption. What really happened, the real situation is I let her go downstairs. The real situation is Dad didn’t see her down there. The real situation is everyone else was asleep that would have been watching her. That’s the real situation. Those are the events that lead to the tragedy. There’s always that much that could prevent or cause a tragedy. There’s always something that far away from stopping it — her knowing how to undo the locks, me going downstairs, Dad noticing she had gone down there. Just that much.
And I understand everybody’s like: ‘Oh, you can’t blame anybody,’ ‘These are tragedies,’ and ‘These things happen’ and ‘It’s nobody’s at fault.’ That’s crap. They’re placating me.
I’m responsible. I was the one who was awake. I knew she had gone downstairs. I could have done a lot more than anybody else to prevent it. I blame myself because I was complacent. I didn’t take the time to go down and handle the situation myself or to walk her over to Dad and Josh to make sure they knew she was there. I didn’t take that time.
And everyone has their own guilt for the situation, even the people that were sleeping at the time. What were they going to do? Last they saw her she was falling asleep in bed with them.
She died. She’s gone. I mourn her memory. I talk to her in those sad moments where it really gets to me. I’ll sit there and apologize profusely to her. I tell her I miss her. Even if she does have a concept of what happened, of us, and she is a spiritual being living on, I don’t feel she’d blame me. I don’t feel she’d necessarily want me apologizing. But I feel the need to.
And I don’t expect her to be floating around watching what I do. I wouldn’t want that. That would be a horrible idea to me to have my child stuck here, not able to interact with anybody and just watch us live the life she can’t have anymore.
I’d rather her be in heaven. I’d rather her be doing whatever she wants to do — chasing dragonflies like she used to chase all the time with the dog. I’d rather think of her happy as she can be. Whether she remembers me or not, I accept she’s gone."
READ the related Compassionate Friends stories and view the photographs:
Editor's note: The editors of the Daily News and naplesnews.com have chosen to disable the ability to post comments below this story. If you wish to discuss this article, please go to facebook.com/naplesnews.