'Daddy has died'

There was no guidebook for how to tell my children about Dan's sudden death

The phone call came at 7:00 on a Sunday night. The children were eating pizza and I had just poured myself a glass of wine. "Dan has been in an accident, Deb--a very bad accident. All we know is that he fell off of his bicycle, he wasn't wearing a helmet, he has some type of head injury, and he is being MediVacked from Aspen to a trauma center in Grand Junction, Colorado."

"That's not possible," I whispered, not wanting the children to hear me and at the same time not understanding a word being said to me. "He is supposed to be on his way home, I expect to hear from him any minute as he lands at Laguardia. What do you mean, 'accident'? What kind of accident? Medivacked? That's really serious. I don't know what you mean? What are you saying to me?" Looking back on that very short phone conversation, the first of many I would have that night, I instinctively knew that my life, and the lives of my husband and two children, would never be the same.

Within 15 minutes of the first phone call, three of my closest friends materialized, called by others to get to the house to be with me. A young man named Matthew arrived to take care of the children. The children, at that time ages 6 and 4, could tell that something had happened, something that made their mommy unhappy and very scared.

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I couldn't control what was happening in Colorado with my husband, but I tried my best to control what happened at home. The children and their safety became my focus. I told them almost immediately that Daddy had been in a very serious accident, and that I was going to Colorado to be with him. I promised them that I would call all the time, and that I would take their kisses and hugs and pictures to him to make him feel better. I knew that I had to appear strong and confident for them. They looked at me with such scared and worried eyes--they were so little, so needy, and yet so trusting. But with all the hope that happy children seem to have, they believed that I would come home soon with Dad.

When I left for Colorado the next morning, I was prepared to be away from home for several weeks. The doctor had left me with the impression that Dan's injuries were such that if he recovered, and there was every reason to believe that he would, the recovery would take several months. I just assumed that I would take a leave of absence from work, stay in Colorado with my husband, and commute home every couple of weeks. Such a deal was not necessary. On July 25, 1999, Dan died--within 24 hours of my arrival in Grand Junction. He was 54.

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Debbie Jospin
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