By Guest Blogger Hayluri (Luly) Beckles
My son, Joshua Franklin Palomares-Beckles, was born on March 24, 1999. He was a caring and vibrant little boy who loved trains, drawing and math. Joshua also enjoyed playing soccer and riding his bike in our backyard. He was quiet and a deep thinker, and had an amazing sense of humor.
Seven short years into his precious life, Joshua was riding his bike in our former neighborhood when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver who was driving on the wrong side of the road. Joshua had stopped at the stop sign and tried to move onto the grassy area, but there was no place for him to move fast enough out of the way of the car.
Although armed with a properly fitted helmet, Joshua succumbed to his injuries at Brenner Children’s Hospital just three hours after the accident.
Joshua did not die because he was riding a bike in his neighborhood or because his parents were not being attentive. He did not die because he was not following the rules of the road. Joshua died because of the actions of an impaired driver.
The image to the right is our last family portrait. Joshua (standing) was 6 1/2, his brothers Jacob and Johan were 4 and 1 1/2, respectively. *Photographed and shared with permission by Ariel Pérez.
Although I have found the strength to talk about losing a child, writing about it has been more difficult. There is not a day that goes by that I do not miss hearing his voice, touching his hair, looking at his face and his beautiful smile.
Grief and loss are a personal journey, and I realize I am not a representation of all bereaved parents. This is my personal story through child loss and what I have chosen to do with my grief and love for my child.
Four months after his death, I read the autopsy report (something a mother should never have to read) but I needed to get some answers and find some closure. I contacted one of the doctors who so lovingly cared for him during his last hours on earth, Dr. John Petty – Pediatric Trauma Surgeon at Brenner Children’s Hospital, who explained to me very calmly and compassionately the reason Joshua made it to the hospital alive was because he received First Aid/CPR at the scene of the accident and was wearing a properly fitted helmet.
I would later meet the first officer who arrived at the scene of the accident: Officer Michael Griffith with the Winston-Salem Police Department. He was a trained paramedic in addition to being in law enforcement. He called for backup and began performing life-saving measures. I would learn years later what the “Golden Hour” means in the trauma world. The actions of the officer, of Joshua’s properly fitted helmet and receiving care at a pediatric trauma center allowed us to say goodbye to our precious child.
Shortly after Joshua’s death, I had to deal with the legal aspects surrounding his death. Jim O’Neill – the Forsyth County DA handling the criminal case, Walter Holton and his legal team and NC – MADD – Mothers against Drunk Drivers provided guidance and compassionate support during this very difficult time.
I also began doing research about bicycle safety and how children view traffic. I learned how drinking, driving, and injuring yourself, or someone else, can – and should – be prevented. I wondered why no one was talking about the fact that the number one killer of children in the US is a preventable injury.
As an Early Care and Education professional, my children always rode in a car seat. I would also get my children’s car seats inspected by a Child Passenger Safety Technician. I was trained in Infant/Child First Aid/CPR. I used home safety items to protect my children from an injury at home. I made sure all of my children took swimming lessons. Joshua, who was the bike rider, always wore a helmet.
Professionally, I assisted parents with finding quality childcare while also helping family child care home providers improve the quality of care they were providing which included setting up a safe indoor and outdoor environment for the children.
Then on May 19, 2007, we held the first Annual Bike Safety in Winston-Salem (at Kaleideum Downtown), in honor of my son, Joshua, which I helped organized. I wanted to do something to bring awareness about the importance of bicycle safety and to help prevent another child (and other families) from going through the same terrible pain and suffering my family had to endure. We distributed 254 helmets on that day and Joshua’s Friends Foundation was born.
Nine years after Joshua’s death, I became the new Pediatric Trauma Outreach Coordinator and Safe Kids Northwest Piedmont Coordinator at the Level I Pediatric Trauma Center at Brenner Children’s Hospital. My main role is to look at the trauma registry and local injury data and develop programs to reduce injuries in children. I became a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, and was given the opportunity to partner with other community organizations to teach parents/caregivers how to properly use and install their child’s car seat. We have held over 60 bike safety events in Winston-Salem and surrounding counties, and have educated over 6000 children about bicycle safety and provided properly fitted helmets. In the last 5 years, the coalition has collectively inspected over 1500 car seats in our community, in addition to home safety and baby safety workshops. In May 2018, I received the NC Safe Kids Coordinator of the year award during the Safe Kids NC Childhood Injury Prevention Conference.
In an effort to better understand addiction and substance use, I obtained a master’s degree in Addiction Research and Clinical Health from Wake Forest University. I now understand that what the driver who killed my son needed: comprehensive treatment to help him deal with his substance use. I hope he has found a way to receive treatment and support. Despite the tremendous pain his actions caused to my family, we have forgiven him.
Have I overcome child loss? No parent overcomes losing a child. I have learned to live with the pain. I have been blessed with supportive family, near and abroad, amazing friends and to live in such a caring community. God’s love has been manifested through them.
My faith tells me that Joshua is in Heaven. Every time I fit a child with a brand new helmet and I see the smile in their face, my heart rejoices. I know he is smiling at us.
If you are someone struggling with grief, depression, risky drinking or substance use, please check out the following resources. You should not be suffering alone. Below are links that provide additional support:
Triad Moms on Main’s directory of Counselors, Psychologists & Therapists
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