The tragedy and blessing of a Christmas day

I brought a baby home with me on Christmas Eve 2011.

He was born just before Halloween and we met him on December 1st when my wife and I adopted him. But instead of counting down to his first Christmas, we crossed out days until he was released from a neonatal intensive care unit in San Antonio, where he trembled in our arms as he recovered from a tough entry into the world. He learned before most that life can be merciless.

Suzanna Feliciano, a magical nurse, predicted daily that he would recover enough to get his discharge papers in time for the holidays. She would be right (and doctors wrong) about his resilience. You and The Kid stay in touch and ultimately sound like two Texans talking about horses.

The world stands still when you spend a month in a neonatal intensive care unit. On our way back home on December 24th there was a swirling blur of the monochrome hospital and technicolor of Oz. When we got to Stamford we didn’t tell anyone we were back except for a few friends who came up with gifts and popular ready-made meals came by.

I could tell you so many details of those hours of wonder. But a decade later, my mind kept wandering to the unimaginable tragedy that happened just a few kilometers away.

On Christmas Day 2011, Madonna Badger’s three young daughters and their parents were killed in a night fire in their home in the Shippan neighborhood of Stamford.

It sent me back to work as the managing editor of the Stamford Advocate. When I spoke to Kate King, the reporter who was at the scene, I immediately saw where it was happening. Four months earlier I had gone to the top of Shippan in search of people who could not resist watching the wrath of Hurricane Irene across Long Island Sound from across the retaining wall.

My baseball cap was ripped off when I opened my car door. I took pictures of a man using a chainsaw to cut a tree that had fallen on his house while the storm danced around him. Then I ran up a neighboring driveway to get my hat. It was the badger lot that led to the house that was being renovated that summer.

On Christmas morning the house was surrounded by firefighters and the horror that 9-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace and their grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson could not be saved.

City officials made the appalling decision to demolish the remains of the 116-year-old Victorian building the next day. The city of Stamford eventually paid millions of lawsuits accusing it of covering up inadequate inspections. Worse still, the Stamford leaders refused to let the state take power. I prefer to believe that the officers who made the call were shocked themselves. In any case, all hope of a proper investigation was lost in the ashes.

That didn’t stop journalists or Madonna from looking for answers. She appreciated the coverage that resulted in a summit meeting in her office with me and three colleagues the following November: Kate, Angela Carella and Jon Lucas. Bands performing at the Veterans Day Parade downstairs in New York served as the soundtrack when Badger presented a slideshow of their own investigation.

She also agreed to share her recovery story over the past 11 months. Kate wrote an elegant short story so well crafted that my wife later used it to teach long-form journalism to college students.

When we published the stories on Christmas Day 2012, it became known that Madonna had sought refuge in Thailand from the Christmas memories in December. But even those 8,500 miles were not enough to prevent news of the children killed in the December 14th tragedy of Sandy Hook from reaching them. I LOVE YOU.’ And that was all I had to hear. I love you all and pray for you all. “

It doesn’t take an anniversary to bring back memories of that miserable Christmas. A friend, Tom Brown, was among the tortured firefighters. When I mention it was 10 years ago, he tells me that every day he thinks of seeing the bodies of the grandfather and the girls. I awkwardly apologize for bringing his thoughts back there. Tom finds the right words to calm me down: “John, I’m also thinking of my younger days as first base for my college baseball team.”

Yes, torment and bliss can coexist. I will never forget the fire on Christmas Day 2011, but also always the reminder that our son comes home for the first time during these hours.

Madonna told Kate “that bond that exists between a mother and each of her children – that bond was basically severed on Christmas morning.”

But by the end of our meeting in her office, I saw evidence of her ability to heal. As we waited for the elevator to arrive, she noticed that Jon was battling a stubborn cold and had to take care of himself. Jon revealed he got it from his 2-year-old daughter when a virus flooded her daycare.

Then, remarkably, Madonna Badger beamed and commented on the miracles of the two-year-old.

She was a mother at that moment, always and forever a mother.

John Breunig is the editorial editor of the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time. [email protected];

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