The death of a child is always hard on the entire family, but when that death was totally avoidable and unforgivably senseless, it can be even harder to accept. A woman recently shared her sorrowful tale of loss on Reddit, sharing how her own mother betrayed her trust and whose thoughtless action tore her family apart. The woman, who we'll call Amanda, still cannot fathom why her child was taken from her. She not only lost a child that day, she also lost her mother. Names of those involved have been changed for clarity and anonymity.
Amanda had the sort of life people dreamed about. She was a college professor, married to the love of her life, Nick, who was an engineer. The couple got married in 2002 and had their first child, a son, later the same year. Just a year and a half after their son, Henry, was born, Amanda gave birth to twin girls, Holly and Hannah. It was a charmed life.
"My family was beautiful," Amanda wrote. "Every time I took a picture of us, we looked like the families in the stock photos. We had a nice house in the city. Our children were healthy and happy. We even had a golden retriever named Argo, as if we weren't the picture of familial happiness as is."
That picture-perfect family didn't last, however, and now those pictures are like a knife to Amanda's heart.
"I can no longer look at the pictures of us because it makes me too angry."
When Holly and Hannah were born, Amanda says there were no problems.
"They were born right on their due date, latched perfectly, and passed all their postnatal tests with stellar stats."
Once they were brought home, however, Holly, the oldest twin by four and a half minutes, developed a rash that just would not go away. The other two kids didn't have allergies, and no one from Amanda's immediate family suffered from allergies, either, so Amanda had no idea what could possibly be triggering Holly's allergic reaction. Since she suffered from dry, sensitive skin herself, Amanda stopped using fabric softener in the hopes that would alleviate the issue.
When that didn't work, Amanda and Nick turned to even more desperate measures to try and eliminate whatever it was that was causing such an extreme reaction in Holly.
"I bought the nicest, most comfortable bedding and clothes. At one point, I even made her clothes myself in the fear that maybe something in the manufacturing process was upsetting [Holly]."
Amanda and Nick took Holly to several doctors, but even though they knew that Holly was having an allergic reaction to something, the doctors still couldn't tell what exactly it was. They tested Holly for everything, but every test came back negative. This went on for three months, with Holly's reaction growing worse over time.
It got to the point where Nick and Amanda sent Henry and Hannah off to stay with Nick's parents so they could concentrate on figuring out just what Holly was allergic to. The only time Holly was reaction free was when she was kept in a clean room at the hospital.
"At one point, she was the only baby in the history of the hospital who had to be kept in a clean room because she seemed to have a reaction the minute she left."
During this time, Amanda and Nick were living like "Buddhist monks," but it was worth it when doctors finally figured out what Holly was allergic to: coconuts. Amanda was from a culture that used coconuts for almost everything: as oil to cook with, in sweets, they even break open coconuts during religious ceremonies. Once she found out what it was that was causing her daughter such trouble, Amanda couldn't help but laugh at the irony.
You see, Amanda's family, her mother specifically, had always advocated putting coconut oil in hair. As a kid, Amanda hated it. "It looked greasy as all get out, I hated it, and once I was old enough to start doing my own hair, I never put that stuff in my hair again," Amanda wrote.
The reason why she laughed, she explained, was "because of course, I had a daughter with a severe allergy to the one thing I hated my entire life. We had a lot of fun telling people about her allergy and everyone laughed because they all knew about my hatred for coconut oil."
Once they figured out what was causing the reaction, they were able to successfully eliminate it from their lives. Everyone in their family was very accepting and accommodating of this allergy. Amanda's brother and sister-in-law would actually lock up any products containing coconut in a safe whenever Amanda's kids came over, just so there would be no accidental exposure.
Even Amanda's mother, Mary, with whom she had a "contentious relationship at best," was quick to accept the diagnosis. After all, she had gone with Amanda to the doctor's appointments, she had helped Amanda and Nick clear out their house while they were still trying to figure out what Holly was allergic to; Mary had even suggested they make an emergency bag containing allergy medicine for Holly in case of accidental exposure. Despite the fact that Mary had hoped Amanda would follow a more traditional route in life, she was still proud of her daughter's accomplishments and never tried to overstep her boundaries, especially when it came to the children.
All in all, despite their sometimes strained relationship, Mary was almost the perfect grandmother. Yet one thing that Mary was always getting on Amanda's case about was Hannah and Holly's hair. Unlike their parents and older brother, who all had pin-straight hair, the twins both had very textured, curly hair. Mary always suggested using coconut oil on their hair to help smooth it down and soften it, but Amanda obviously always turned her down.
"Sure, we could have used a different type of oil, but my girls were still so young and the allergy process had made me terrified of incorporating new things into their routine. I made sure I explained why to my mom, too."
Mary seemed like she'd accepted Amanda's decision, which is what made what Mary did next so senseless.
November 2, 2005. That's a day that's etched into Amanda's mind. Henry was 3 years old, and Holly and Hannah were only six months from their second birthday. Amanda was giving her students a midterm exam and wouldn't be home until late, and Nick was at a conference a few hours outside of town. Their usual nanny was down with the flu, so they sent the kids off to stay with Amanda's parents.
Amanda had never had a reason not to trust her parents with the kids. The children always returned home happy and healthy, so Amanda didn't give it a second thought. She called her mother during her lunch break to check in, then again around dinner time. She called them one last time around 10:30, but the kids were already asleep, so she just chatted with Mary for a few minutes before heading to bed.
The next morning, Amanda woke up at 5 am so she could pick Nick up from the airport by 6. After picking them up, they decided to surprise the kids and Amanda's parents by treating them to breakfast. When they pulled up to the grandparents' house, however, they quickly realized that no one was home. Henry, having spotted them from the window at the neighbor's house, came running outside, crying hysterically. The neighbor followed him outside, explaining to Nick and Amanda that an ambulance had arrived at Amanda's parents' place that morning and that Amanda's father, Frank, had come running over with Henry, begging the neighbors to watch him while they went to the hospital.
At that point, Amanda was more worried that something had happened to her parents than that something had happened to her children. She and Nick managed to figure out which hospital the ambulance was from and headed that way, breaking several traffic laws in the process. Henry had calmed down a bit, but he still couldn't give them any information on what had happened. They got to the hospital in no time flat and parked in the emergency lane reserved for ambulances in their hurry.
When they rushed inside, they immediately caught the attention of the staff.
"A few nurses took notice of us immediately and were asking us what was wrong. I was calmer than [Nick] at this point, so I explained that I didn't know, but my twin girls and my parents were here somewhere. I'll never forget the look on that nurse's face. She knew exactly who I was in that moment and she was about to cry."
The nurses asked Nick and Amanda to follow them into a separate room and implored them to stay calm and not to search for their family until the doctor came by to explain what had happened.
Holly and Hannah loved it when grandma Mary did their hair and the girls had asked her to give them braids. Mary used coconut oil in both girls' hair to keep the braids smooth. While Mary was doing her hair, Holly complained that she felt dizzy and itchy. So, Mary gave her a dose of children's Benadryl, something Amanda and Nick would do when she had a small reaction, which made the little girl sleepy. Then Mary put both girls to bed, without washing away the coconut oil that was causing the reaction in the first place. Doctors told Amanda and her husband that the allergy medicine kept Holly asleep and unable to wake herself up or get anyone's attention. At one point in the night, she vomited, and she slowly choked to death in her sleep. She died while the rest of the family slept, totally unaware.
Mary discovered Holly's body in the morning and screamed for help when she saw Holly was swollen to twice her size. Frank and Mary rushed the girls to the hospital in a desperate attempt to bring Holly back, but it was too late for Holly.
"I can't even explain to you the emotions my husband and I felt. I remember seeing my little girl and just being in denial. There was no way that she was gone. This had to be a horrible, horrible nightmare. The following days, the funeral, and explaining to my other kids what had happened are events I still can't talk about because it just breaks a part of me."
In the weeks and months after Holly's death, Amanda was almost like a ghost. Henry wouldn't eat and Amanda couldn't find the energy inside herself to make him do it. Hannah was confused but could tell that something terrible had happened. Henry wouldn't let her leave his sight and she began to cling to him as well. The only one holding the family together was Nick, and he was just barely hanging on.
Child services very nearly removed Henry and Hannah from Amanda's care after investigating both Amanda and Mary, but Amanda fought hard to prove her innocence and keep her family together. Ironically, this was what motivated Amanda to come back to life.
"In a way, it was good they tried to take [Hannah] and [Henry] away because that was one of the main events that jump-started my desire to fight for what I had left," she wrote.
Mary was never arrested. Frank did leave her as he was beyond angry at his wife for what she had done, though he didn't formally divorce her. Most of Mary's own family won't even acknowledge her. She and Amanda don't see each other anymore, even though it's been over 13 years since these events took place. Mary calls Amanda about once a month, just to give her little updates, but she can't help but beg Amanda for forgiveness and to come see her. That's when Amanda hangs up, but not before she answers, "You can come see me when you bring my daughter with you."
Amanda admits that the calls actually help her in an odd way.
"It somehow feels like quelling the part of me that needs to know my mother is okay while still fueling the part of me that needs to know that woman is suffering."
The most important thing to Amanda, though, is that she and her family have finally found a bit of peace out of this and they are moving forward with their life. Though they all changed the day Holly died, they also stuck together and that's something Amanda is intensely proud of. She can never have her perfect family back, but she still has her family. That's more than her mother can say.