Living with the Senseless Loss of an Only Child

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Jonathan Hayden* was a loving son, had overcome a serious medical condition, and had plans to become a pilot. Seventeen years ago, he was in a crosswalk when he was killed by a drunk driver.

In 2003, my 22-year-old cousin Jonathan was a DJ at a nightclub. One evening, his father, Letieri, called him at work. Since it was very loud inside, Jonathan told him that he would go outside and call him back in a few minutes. Jonathan never called back. While crossing the street to get to a quiet spot, Jonathan was struck by a drunk driver and killed; the driver was so impaired that she wasn’t even aware that she hit someone and kept going.

Letieri and his wife, Mila, had tried for years to have children before Jonathan entered the world in 1981. Born with an autoimmune disease that attacked his liver, Jonathan felt unwell for most of his youth. He spent many months over the years at Scripps Hospital in San Diego. Far from their home in South Africa, Letieri and Mila took their only child to Scripps because of its expertise in treating his illness. Their devotion eventually paid off, and Jonathan’s liver disease went into remission in his late teens.

"To have come so far just to have it all taken away in a flash makes Jonathan’s death all the more tragic."

In his early 20s, Jonathan felt healthy and able to think about his future for the first time. A music aficionado, he DJed a few nights a week at a local hot spot. A lover of flight, Jonathan was preparing to start pilot school when he was robbed of his life. To have come so far just to have it all taken away in a flash makes Jonathan’s death all the more tragic.

The loss of Jonathan was virtually unbearable for his parents. Adding to Letieri’s anguish was a huge sense of guilt. Had he not called Jonathan that night, Jonathan wouldn’t have gone outside to call him back and would not have been in that crosswalk. Even though the driver was completely at fault, Letieri is still haunted by that ill-fated call. When Mila unfortunately passed away a few years ago, she was still longing for her son.

Recently, Letieri found love again in a woman whom he met in a support group for parents who have lost children. Understanding each other’s pain like few others can, they are quite happy together. It is touching to see Letieri smile again. A kind and gentle soul, he is deserving of some joy after enduring so much sadness.

* Note: The names of the author and those involved in the story have been changed at the author’s request.

Tags: Death, Grief

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Piper Hayden

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