My life was turned upside down on a Monday evening in May of 2012. It was the day after Mother’s Day, 7:30 in the evening. My husband was taking a shower, and I was in my office listening to a recorded call. It was an ordinary Monday night, when the phone rang. It was Foxboro’s chief of police.
“Wendy, I’m at the entrance of your apartments. Can you tell me which apartment you’re in?”
I replied, “We don’t live there anymore.” (My husband and I had been married 17 years and had moved six times in those 17 years. We like change.) “Where are you?”
I gave him our new address. He said he needed to see me. I calmly said “okay, see you in a few minutes, Ed,” and hung up the phone. Immediately, I went into the bathroom to tell my husband that the Chief just called and was on his way over. He wants to speak with me.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
I told him I thought it was Nick.
“What do you mean you think it’s Nick?” He sounded scared and irritated at the same time.
“I think something’s happened to Nick. Hurry up and get out of the shower.”
When the Chief entered the house, he said “there’s been an accident.”
“It’s Nick. We found his car at the scene.” This was not making any sense. My head was spinning out of control trying to understand what he was trying to tell me. I wanted to ask, What scene? Where? but I just kept silent. Feeling respectful of his position, that this was probably the last thing he wanted to be doing that Monday night. Finally – “It appears it was suicide.” There it was – that news I never wanted to hear. My husband who had been standing beside me fell into the chair that was behind him, crying “no, no.” The Chief stood there with us, giving us time to absorb the news he had just delivered. I was numb with the news so remained silent. He told me that Nick had been hit by a train. An Acela train.
Nick’s car was parked in a small lot beside the tracks. It was locked, and his phone was in the car. They unlocked the car and accessed Nick’s cell phone. Looking at his Facebook account, seeing his profile picture, it became pretty clear it was him. The recovery along with searching the car and viewing his phone gave them sufficient evidence. They compared Nick’s Facebook profile picture with a sleeve tattoo that Nick had proudly designed and wore on his right arm. It was his profile page that gave them enough evidence to contact me.
He had recently updated his profile picture. It was not a recent picture, but it was a clear picture of his tattoo. Did he do that knowing it would be one step used to identify his remains?
The Chief asked if I was up to speaking with the detective who had accompanied him – to answer some questions. “Sure.” The detective ended up staying about an hour until friends and my other son started showing up. Later that evening while speaking with the detective, he told me that the Chief never made these visits, but he had known me and my two boys for almost thirty years, so it was important to do it himself. I loved talking about Nick even under those circumstances.
I later understood that they were asking all these questions for their ongoing investigation, because Nick had broken the law by trespassing onto the railroad tracks. The next day they would be searching his apartment and his vehicle for any information they could gather. I’m sure drugs were in question.
Some of the detective’s comments made me smile. He found it interesting that Nick locked his car with the keys hidden from sight. Unless you knew Nick well, you would probably wonder why he bothered locking his car. I explained that Nick probably locked his car because that is the responsible thing to do, and he was a responsible man. In later weeks I discovered that on the morning of the day Nick died, he had gone to his eye doctor’s, who happens to be my eye doctor too, to pick up a pair of glasses he had ordered. It just so happened that I had an appointment with that eye doctor three years later on the third anniversary of Nick’s death. I asked the doctor if he knew what day it was, and his facial expression said it all. He did remember that day as if it were yesterday. I asked him why he thought Nick picked up his glasses the day he had planned his suicide. He was baffled by that question. I explained to him that Nick was one of those incredibly responsible kids (kid in my eyes) who wouldn’t want to stick anyone with a bill; he ordered the glasses, so he should pay for them. It was just the right thing to do.
That evening of Nick’s death feels like it happened yesterday. It was the beginning of an incredible journey into unchartered territory. How do you respond to something like this? I describe it as an outer body experience. I had no problem speaking with the detective in a calm, controlled manner. It helped that I loved to talk about Nick. I was so proud of his accomplishments and his moral character. I’ll never forget my husband Buddy asking me that unforgettable, “How can you stay so calm?” I learned many years ago how to “let go” of anything that is not in my control. My son’s death was not something I could have controlled, but it was something I could choose to recover from, in my own time. But my immediate answer was, “It’s my job. I need to do this for Nick. He has left me with the biggest challenge of my life.”
Over the next couple of weeks in preparing for the funeral services, I connected with friends of Nick, co-workers, and fellow students of his. It pleased me no end to hear the stories about Nick helping others, or teasing them, and how they would never forget him.
At the wake and funeral, it felt as if we were all walking through a thick fog, searching for one another while pondering what to say when we found each other. In this regard, there are no failures, only experiences, doing the best you can. Almost seven years later in hopes of helping others, I am starting to share written experiences as a Mom who lost her son to suicide the day after Mother’s Day.