The Heartache in One Headline

Dear Eli,
It’s the day after Christmas, and I’m so tired. One day, when you’re a father, you will understand the enormity of Christmas. The late-night wrapping on Christmas Eve, the early-morning rising on Christmas Day.
And the visiting of relatives.
Because you’d better visit me every Christmas. I’m just putting that thought out there. I expect Christmas visits from you kiddos every Christmas as long as I’m alive.
So be ready. It’s busy. A little crazy. I fell asleep on the couch at your Maw Maw and Paw Paw’s house on Christmas Day. I was that tired.
But tonight, though my eyes should be shut, I’m awake with thoughts that aren’t leaving my head. So I’m writing you a letter. It’s one that has to be written. I feel that to not mention it would be remiss. This Christmas was incredibly happy for our family. We just moved into our new house. We gave the girls a cat and you boys got a puppy and a dog. (That could definitely be part of the tiredness. We have officially become a zoo.)
But what I’m writing about doesn’t directly involve our family. We heard rumor of it Christmas night. But in today’s paper, it was confirmed as true. A trailer fire in a trailer park called Whispering Oaks caused the death of three children.
For many people, it was just a sad headline. For your father and I, it brought back memories of years ago.
Because we used to go several times a week to that place called Whispering Oaks. Huge oak trees covered a trailer park in such disarray that my first time visiting caused such grief to well up in me that I walked out of the trailer in tears.
Not that much changed from inside to outside. Because inside the trailer were holes in the floor, where insulation tried, to no avail, to keep the weather outside. But instead, if it was cold outside, it was cold inside. Hot weather outside meant hot weather inside.
It was truly my first look at the unfairness of this thing called life. Because in front of that decrepit trailer park was a large brick home that disguised the rundown trailers behind it. Society often doesn’t want to view the poverty hidden away in their hometown.
I’m writing this letter to you because during our visits, you were still in my belly. I remember Whispering Oaks well because the bouncing caused by deep potholes on the gravel road into the trailer park made my pregnant belly ache. My very pregnant belly groaned in protest at being jostled.
But my discomfort ended when we left the trailer park.
Those who lived there don’t have that story. They called Whispering Oaks home. I called it “ministry.”  That doesn’t really seem fair.
I particularly fell in love with a girl named Sada who lived there. Her name is pronounced Shar-day. And she captured my heart.
She doesn’t live there anymore. Your dad and I don’t know the kids who died in the trailer. The 12, 11 and 9-year-old children who died didn’t ever wake up Christmas morning. Their mom and dad were visiting family in the trailer park. The Alabama family of six was visiting the Houma family of six. Twelve people were sleeping in that small trailer, waiting for Christmas morning. One of the four children of the visiting family survived the fire. The dad suffered severe burns trying to save his children. When he realized one made it, he fell to the ground, overcome with gratitude for one saved and crying the worst of tears for the three lost.
Eli, if I lost three of you four children. I would fall to the ground. And I’m not sure I could ever get up again.
They say the fire was caused by a combination of candles and space heaters. What the article doesn’t say is that people use candles and space heaters when they are living in a trailer that doesn’t have adequate heat. It’s the only way to stay warm.
The loss of three children isn’t a headline. It’s heartache. It’s the story of a family already struggling whose lives just became exponentially harder.
I guess what I’m trying to write to you is a letter of caution. Look past the big, brick houses and see the rundown trailer park behind it. Don’t just drive on and assume that everyone has the same life as you.
When you see their hurt, offer what you can to heal. Give them your heart. Learn their world and help make it better. The trailer had broken smoke detectors. What if someone had given them smoke detectors that worked before the fire? It would have meant saved lives.
Because while you children were tucked safely in your bed, with Christmas presents piled by the tree, another family with four children fought for their lives. And some of them lost. Their family of six became a family of three.
And that’s a heartache that shouldn’t ever be.


  1. Theresa says:

    Oh my gosh! I remember this news but you have put it into perspective in a way that everyone should have heard! Thank you. Blessings! Now where’s the doggone kleenex😟

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