Mother's grief is 'lonely'

Decade on from floods and tragedy

SANDRA CROSBIE
Last updated 14:54 13/02/2014
Caleb White
SANDRA CROSBIE/FAIRFAX NZ
TRAGIC: Feilding mother Janet White holds a photo of her son, Caleb.

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Janet White's memories of the Feilding floods bring nothing but heartache, not for lost property or possessions, but for her son.

Ten years on, the grief caused by the sudden, still unexplained, death of her 3-year-old son Caleb remains raw.

On the Monday, when the town was shut down due to the flooding, her husband Neville was forced to stay at home as he couldn't get to work in Palmerston North.

On reflection they are grateful for the inconvenience, as it meant the family of six had an unexpected day together.

The following two days, Janet had a bustling house. With schools closed, she helped care for extra children.

On Wednesday at lunchtime, Caleb fell asleep at the lunch table. He told his mother he was tired and went off to have an afternoon sleep.

"It was unusual, but not totally unexpected as our routines had been a bit out of sorts because of the flooding," said Janet.

She checked on Caleb often, and checked his temperature, which continued to be normal. After two hours, she woke him up thinking he had had enough sleep.

Caleb told her "I'm still tired" and returned to sleep. Tears came to Janet as she remembered they were the last words she heard her son say.

Half an hour later she checked on him again and found him face down in his pillow, not breathing.

With seven other young boys in the house, she screamed for her eldest, Kris, who was 14 at the time, to help her. He helped her perform CPR on the bench and rang for an ambulance.

But due to the flooding in town and road closures, the ambulance had trouble getting there and it was the fire brigade who were the first to attend.

"I knew he was dead, but the minute help came, I started thinking that he would be OK."

Caleb, however, could not be revived. His father Neville, who rushed home from work, was greeted by a fire crew, ambulance and police in the driveway.

An ambulance officer - Lois - stayed on with the family for some time

"She kept calling back to visit and I really appreciate what she did for us."

Janet is also thankful police let them keep Caleb home that night, before he was taken away for an autopsy - something which is not normally allowed.

A best friend helped Janet and her family organise Caleb's funeral which included a Bob the Builder casket.

Because of the floods, the family had no water and limited power, which kept getting turned on and off.

"Someone arranged a water tank to keep us up with water as with lots of visitors, we needed to keep the toilets going. It definitely made life trickier. But nothing could be as bad as losing Caleb, so it really didn't seem to be an issue."

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Trips to Palmerston North were required for showers and washing.

"I wasn't really aware of anything outside of my house."

Ten years on, the family still have no answers as to why Caleb died. All they know is is was a sudden, unexplained death. Six months earlier he had had two seizures that were put down to being viral.

The family has joined an American Support group, Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC), for parents who have had children between the ages of 1 and 4 die suddenly.

"Every February is really hard. I cry so much. You don't know what is going to hit you - it doesn't take much. People say 'get over it'. You never get over it. Your heart is broken and people can't see that, even though you may seem happy or smiling."

Further challenges have been thrown to Janet and her family. Five years ago she had a brain aneurism and nearly died.

"I'm grateful I'm still alive, but at the time I didn't realise that there was a strong possibility I wouldn't survive the surgery. It was a major, but still nothing like losing Caleb. If anything bad happens, you think back that nothing could be worse."

There has also been joy for the White family. Son Jayden was born in 2005. The other boys have grown up and she now has a daughter-in-law.

Janet was able to turn her hobby in to a business, Creative Names Plus, which is doing well and keeps her busy.

"Grief, however, is lonely. It is enough to deal with your own grief, but watching the boys' grief was heart-breaking. I relied on the three Fs - faith, family and friends'.

"It is a lifetime of grief. Most of the year I'm fine, until the big days."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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