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When strength comes from loss

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the dark and silent hours of early morning, we mothers make a mental to-do list – most of those items involving children.

Some mothers, of course, are already up tackling that list in those early hours, tending to a crying infant, finishing up another batch of cupcakes for a school party or staying up until an errant, older child returns.

We hope each day will dawn with our children safe and happy and accounted for.

And we hope, more than anything, that we will be graced with such days as long as we breathe and long after that.

But, sometimes, no matter how much we hope or pray or fight or scream, we do not get as many of those days as we wanted. Sometimes, our children die.

For those of us who have lost a child, the mental list we make in those dark and silent and immensely lonely hours includes reminding ourselves to breathe.

In this job, I have met many mothers like that, amazing women who not only kept on breathing but who showed a strength and a grace that took my breath away. When I lost my son in 2017, many of them became my sisters, my mentors, my guides and my hope that someday I, too, would have even a fraction of their strength and grace.

I think of these women in those dark and silent hours and am reminded of the truism that the strongest person in the world is a grieving mother who wakes up and keeps going every morning.

Last Tuesday morning, when the hour was still dark and silent, another mother joined the ranks of these strong women.

Both her sons, Pedro and Mateo Sandoval, died in a head-on collision with a pickup truck on their way to school. Pedro was 16; Mateo was 14. They were, I’m told, great athletes at Moriarty High School, great kids, inseparable in life, inseparable in death.

News of their deaths spread rapidly through the East Mountains. It seemed that everybody out here has a connection to the Sandoval family.

Members of East Mountain 411, a Facebook page many of us living out here rely on for news, opinions and road conditions, began posting updates on the closure of NM 41 south of Dinkle Road where the crash occurred. Monitors of the page requested that no one reveal the names of the dead so that the family could have time to grieve in peace.

It was the boys’ mother who broke that request.

“Good morning to our kind and loving East Mtn Community,” she wrote. “I am Lexi Sandoval, the momma to the two young men, Mateo and Pedro, we lost yesterday. My husband, our daughter and I want to thank you all for the prayers. We felt them all and we still need them. Our boys were amazing young men; respectful, mindful, smart-as-hell and athletic. We are broken to our core, each prayer helps to stitch us back together again. We are blessed to have you praying for us.”

Sandoval had even more to say:

“A special note for all the parents in our community. It was not uncommon that we would engage in conversation with the boys about mental health. We spoke so much about the need to openly discuss when we are not OK and to not be ashamed to do. PLEASE be there for your kids as they navigate the loss of their dear friends and teammates. It. Is. Critical. I am grateful we were able to do so with our amazing young men when they needed to.”

Imagine. A mother with two holes in her heart had the strength and grace to reach out to other parents to comfort and support their children.

Sandoval wrote again Thursday, this time in response to a post voicing concern about the driver of the pickup truck. “We’d like to check on him as well,” the post read. “I don’t mean for this to upset anyone. I’m guessing he, too, is a member of our community.”

Sandoval responded:

“It is an absolutely appropriate question/concern. I am the mom of Mateo and Pedro and I happen to know the family personally. We have asked the very question and I have spoken to his family; they joined us at our home today. He is doing OK, both physically and emotionally. However, please lift him up in prayer and keep him in your thoughts.”

Few would have blamed Sandoval for being less than charitable to the other driver. But in the fog of her grief, she chose instead to show mercy while officials sort out what happened.

It’s not wrong, certainly, for a mother or father or anybody to be angry at whatever or whoever harms or kills a child, no matter the age of the child. But of the mothers I know whose children died because of the unjustifiable, thoughtless or cruel action of another, the ones who keep going every morning sooner are those who do not wallow forever in rage but find ways to turn their loss into something meaningful and healing and hopeful.

I think of mothers like Nadine Milford, who fought for reforms to our DWI laws after her daughter and three granddaughters were killed by a drunken driver. Like Terry Vargas, who runs the Lawrence Charles Vargas Memorial Shoes for Kids and Acts of Compassion project in honor of her murdered son. Like Jennifer Weiss-Burke, who founded the Serenity Mesa Youth Recovery Center after her son died of a heroin overdose. Like Lori DeAnda, who fights for the rights of the developmentally disabled and held accountable a supported living company that failed her son, causing his death.

Like the mothers who march to bring public awareness to the disease that stole their children. Like the mothers who bear witness in courtrooms to seek justice for their murdered children. Like the mothers who share their stories and their hand to others dealing with fresh grief.

Mothers like Sandoval who in her own dark and silent hours found strength and grace in a few words to help her community begin to heal.

May her community surround and comfort her and all who grieve as they heal, as they keep going every morning.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.


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