A mother shares the horror of losing her daughter Ray Ray to the phenomenon known as “Child Hot Car Death” in hopes of helping others

kristie and brett cavaliero

Today, May 25, 2018 marks Sophia ‘Ray Ray’ Rayne Cavaliero’s Angel day.

Seven years ago today, Ray Ray died as a result of Child Hot Car Death.

She was born May 15, 2010 and taken on May 25, 2011.

This is some of her mother’s story on healing, hope, and having moved on – if that is even possible.

I’m grateful to Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero for immediately opening her heart and sharing her story, and I’m amazed at how the stars aligned, and God gently and easily opened the door to talk about Ray Ray’s life.

Just three days ago, a three-year-old baby boy was found in the parking lot outside the Crossroads Centre in Burlington, Ontario, Kirstie instantly offered to speak with us about her own tragic experience losing Ray Ray.

“I think the only thing that has ever been said that made sense to me was the priest who did Ray Ray’s ceremony – he said, “There is no, why.” – Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero.

It’s called, “Child Hot Car Death,” and “Forgotten Baby Syndrome,” a phenomenon known to affect a part of the brain that forgets about leaving a child in a car – think about the many times you’ve gone on auto-pilot under stress, or while distractions fog your mind; and few know more about it than Kristie Reeves-Cavaliero.

Kristie is a Doctor of Pharmacy by training and works in science and education in the pharmaceutical industry. Her husband, Brett works in the construction industry.

The Cavaliero’s now have two, five-year-old twin daughters – they’re called rainbow babies – called that by people who have suffered the loss of a child and then have a rainbow baby to signify the hope after the storm, and as Kristie says, “While it doesn’t take away the pain, it’s a rainbow of hope and promise.”

Ray’s short life has made a huge impact, and her life story is helping a lot of kids and families, “Because of Ray Ray’s death, a state law passed in Texas requiring all parents leaving hospital with infants to be taught about the dangers of leaving a child in the back seat of a car,” Kristie said.

The story of Ray’s tragic end made it all the way to Australia where health experts there asked Kristie if they could use Ray’s story in Health Root Cause Analyses – and what had to have happened to create that window for such a tragedy to occur.

“There are a higher number of Hot Car Deaths each year in Australia due to the longer summer and higher temperatures,” said Kristie.

They had all slept in that May morning, Kristie awoke to Ray Ray kissing her all over her face and cuddling up beside her.

Kristie now believes Ray slept in, “Because she was finished with her early morning breast feed at 5 a.m., it was the first time she skipped feeding.”

When they all awoke, “Chaos broke out,” and they scrambled to get Ray Ray to daycare and head to work.

Brett Cavaliero made a wrong turn on his way from their home to day care, to work. Instead of making a turn he’d done many times, he ended going in the opposite direction to work instead and forgot that Ray was in the back seat.

It wasn’t until they both met for lunch that day and talked about their daughter’s dress and how pretty she was that a sudden hush fell over Brett and he remembered not dropping Ray Ray off to daycare.

The terror and panic that ensued was immediate and explosive – those stories are well told in several news features with Kristie and Brett.

Kristie and I spoke on the phone – and coincidentally, or not, we spoke on the phone yesterday – the day before Ray’s Angel day.

“A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous.” Albert Einstein

SP:       IS THIS SOMETHING YOU EVER GET OVER?

KRC:     It’s not something you get over. Pieces of your heart are gone. We sit at the dinner table and Ray Ray is missing. There’s a big huge hole in your heart. You feel it pretty badly on Mother’s Day. Some people have said to me, ‘it’s time to move on;’ but there’s no X number of years to move on – regardless of what it is – losing a child unexpectedly – you never move on – you learn new coping skills.”

SP:       IN CANADA, WE ARE SADDENED AND HEARTBROKEN AFTER THE DEATH OF A 3-YEAR-OLD BABY BOY WAS FOUND WITH NO VITAL SIGNS IN THE BACKSEAT OF A CAR IN THE PARKING LOT. THERE ARE SOME KNEE-JERK, GUTTURAL, EVEN HATEFUL REACTIONS OUT THERE POINTING FINGERS AND BLAMING THE PARENTS AND SAYING THEY SHOULD PAY.

KRC:     You know, these tragedies happen to very good parents – in fact, the majority are these are great stewards of society – they are active, hardworking citizens – it was a horrible, horrible, horrible, error. And society doesn’t want to accept that sometimes – it makes you fearful – especially parents and others who dismiss these cases, “only a monster could do that! Certainly, a good parent wouldn’t forget their own child! It terrifies people to believe their memory could fail them. I understand that reflex. I promise you, you’ll have pretty hateful comments after this story – and I get them all the time.

People have a right to their opinion – all the negative comments are based out of fear – and on not understanding – so poorly misunderstood – it’s not something society likes to talk about – even though it’s the number one non-crash auto killer for kids under the age of 14.

SP:       NEWS REPORTS ONLINE SAY YOUR HUSBAND WAS “OUT OF HIS MIND,” EVEN SUICIDAL AND HAD TO BE HOSPITALIZED. YOU SAID, FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO JUDGE HIM THEY NEED ONLY WALK A MILE IN HIS SHOES – AND THAT YOU FEEL ONLY COMPASSION FOR HIM – BECAUSE THE PUNISHMENT HE ENDURES IS SOMETHING NO ONE WOULD WANT TO IMAGINE. HOW IS YOUR HUSBAND DOING NOW?

KRC:     We both have PTSD – and there are different triggers for each of us – he can’t talk about it a lot – which is why I am talking about it – it took him three years before he felt comfortable driving the twins. What he’s going through is something that I can’t imagine being that heavy a burden on my shoulders – my grief as the other parent – is one thing but I’ll never know his grief and mourning – having made the error of omission – forever asking, how did I forget? He wasn’t on his phone – they looked at his phone records. Still, what was it that made him make that one wrong turn?

All the different scenarios playing in our heads – any of us will never truly appreciate what goes on in the minds of the person who made the critical error.

SP:       HAS THE LOSS OF YOUR DAUGHTER MADE YOU ANGRY AT GOD?

KRC:     I’ve been angry for a long time – I think the only thing that has ever been said that made sense to me was the Priest who did her ceremony – there is no why – he said. Now you could explain it to my head a million times – how this happened, how someone could inadvertently forget a baby in the back. Why my baby? We were such good parents – we are good people – but there is no why – and so, I try to remind myself of that – every time I start doubting and questioning – there simply is no why. There is no why – you can tell it to my head – as much as you wish – but you’ll never find a why.”

SP:       DO YOU FEEL RAY RAY’S SPIRIT WHEN YOU VISIT HER MEMORIAL GARDEN?

KRC:     I do sometimes – in her memorial garden I saw a Monarch Butterfly that stayed with me for hours. I didn’t say anything to anyone, but the very next day, I was doing something by the pool, and my daughters were playing in Ray Ray’s garden and they ran up to me and said, “Mommy, mommy, Ray ray’s in the garden as a butterfly!”

It was a beautiful moment – I felt as if they were honouring their big sister that they have never met.

Children are amazing, they haven’t been taught yet to keep their feelings inside a box. We have so much to learn from them.”

SP:       WHAT IS THE TERM FOR THIS SYNDROME? THERE ARE CURRENTLY MANY DIFFERENT NAMES FOR IT OUT THERE.

KRC:     Child Hot Car Death – that’s what lay society can understand – it’s also referred to, Child Vehicular Heat Stroke – and some call it – Child Vehicular Hyperthermia – to describe children being inadvertently forgotten – Dr. David Diamond – who has done a lot of work and research says it’s mind versus false memory – and at first, he called it, Forgotten Baby Syndrome then got a lot of grief so he now calls it, Misremembering Syndrome.

(See: David M. Diamond, Ph.D. Professor Department of Psychology Cognitive, Neural and Social Division University of South Florida 4202 East Fowler Ave. (PCD 4118G), Tampa, Florida 33620 Director, USF Center for Preclinical and Clinical Research on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

But the general public understands Child Hot car Death.”

SP:       YOU ACTUALLY RUSHED TO RESUSCITATE YOUR DAUGHTER THAT DAY? DID YOUR MOTHERING AND MEDICAL INSTINCTS KICK IN?

KRC:     My mothering instincts were in shock – I listened to the 911 call and I could hear myself screaming – and I don’t know if actually I slapped myself in the face – slapped myself out of shock – or thought that I did, but I put my mothering instincts to the side, and put my medical instincts to work – I kept trying to resuscitate her – I literally had to put a part of me to the side – it was really bad – she was gurgling, it was horrible – I have a lot of PTSD flash backs of that moment.

SP:       WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT YOUR PTSD?

KRC:     Counseling and coaching on behaviour things – mindfulness – sometimes I get hit with a trigger and I can call it in advance and talk myself off a cliff. I do breathing exercises, and medication and meditation. I also use the app THE PTSD COACH. It has teachings and a symptom tracker, and you work your way through it.

SP:       DO YOU PRAY?                             

KRC:     I meditate. I see it as my obligation to make her short life make sense. I committed to her at her ceremony that I wasn’t going to let her life just be a horrible statistic – I felt there was a lesson to be learned – and a lesson to be shared with other parents – who could possibly prevent it – and so I made a promise to her that her short life would mean more.

I didn’t think that justice for her was just Child Death Case #4 – I wanted her life to have more meaning, and it has.

Ray Ray didn’t deserve any less – she deserves to have an impact.

For more information go to RayRaysPledge.com.

Or, KidsandCars.org.  Next week I speak with Sue Auriemma, Vice-President of Kids and Cars. Sue accidentally ran over her daughter Kate who survived. Just weeks before she got her new car, the sales person asked her if she wanted a backup camera, they were just beginning to come out as upgrades on new cars, she told him, “Oh no, I would never use that.”  Sue now works to spread the word about cars and keeping kids safe.

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