A Fever Is Not Just A Fever When You Lose A Child

Caring for sick kids is par for the course when you’re a parent. Until you’ve lost a child. Where calm and logic once prevailed, crazy creeps in.

I’m never sure people understand when I say I am different. Reactions, thoughts, perceptions all shift. Like how we handle sick kids. A fever is not just a fever. It’s the beginning of the end. We see the crazy there, but to a bereaved mother it is warranted…the correct reaction.

In reading Kathy’s poetry, she so powerfully captured these thoughts and emotions. I am so honored to be sharing one of her pieces here.

When I began sharing our story of child loss, I had a dream. A vision that one day I would help other grieving parents share their stories. That I would help provide a platform, and this blog would become more than just my voice.

Please help me welcome Kathy from Less Than 1 Percent.

A Fever

I peel off my toenails mindlessly, one by one
as I stare at his listless body,
limp with fever, and
scribble down notes in my brain.

His temperature was 102.3 at 6:03pm,
and after an emergency run to CVS (what good is a spare bottle
when the medication expires so damn quickly?!)
I gave him Tylenol and a few sips of water at 6:27pm.

“Just rest, sweet boy,” I whisper softly,
patting his forehead with a cool washcloth
(‘but don’t close your eyes, they might not open again!’
I whimper to myself).

I sit on the floor in his room, hovering close enough
to hear his breath go in and out, and I wait.
I will check his temperature again at 6:57pm,
but if it’s not gone down I am taking him to the ER
(winter weather advisory be damned).

I look up at the canvas print of him on the wall,
wrapped up in ducky bath towel
that proudly tells the world he is JAMES.
When he dies, what will I do with that picture, I wonder.
Should I keep all his pictures up or will that be too upsetting for his brother?

6:33 pm.

What did James do today,
What do I need to remember?
I go to the kitchen and dig through the trash
to retrieve a piece of yellow construction paper
covered in green, directionless lines
and two random half closed circles.
I will treasure this, it could be the last thing
he ever colored.


How could I lose another one of my babies?
I shake my head in disbelief,
this cannot really be happening.
I self-soothe with one simple thought:
Tinsley and he will take care of each other in Heaven.


It is time to check him, and I know.
His temp will read 106, he’s contracted some rare horrible virus
that only kills .05% of children, and
he won’t even make it to the hospital.

Defeated, I press the button: 101.1.

I startle and I startle him. It’s dropped a whole degree?!
“Mommy, can I have some water?” he perks up.
My mouth gapes open and a tiny piece of hope
exerts itself.
We rest together, and I feel his body growing cooler.


We wander into the living room to watch Curious George
and nibble on some crackers.


His temperature has dropped to 99.5,
almost back to completely normal.
I press his body into mine,
inhaling the giggles and snuggles —
thank God I get at least one more day of this.

I breathe a sigh of measured relief.
“I do not think he is going to die tonight,”
I tell my husband.

He whirls around in his chair, alarmed.

“No, Kathy, I don’t think so either,” he says gingerly,
concern for me dripping off his face.

I nod,
kiss the top of James’ head
and stop planning out his funeral.


Kathy Gardner lives with her husband Charlie and their two little boys in Newtown, CT. Their 3rd child, Tinsley, is already waiting for them in Heaven. Tinsley died suddenly in December 2017 at 32 weeks because of a True Knot in her umbilical cord.  Kathy shares about her journey as a loss mom on Less Than One Percent. Kathy works in public relations, adores Bob Dylan, and is a proud Dartmouth alumn. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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7 Comments on “A Fever Is Not Just A Fever When You Lose A Child”

  1. Kathy-
    This touched me in ways I know you understand. My daughter has three daughters; two are living and baby Blake died in August 2016 from a disease called SMA type1. A “rare” disease. It breaks my heart when her children fall ill for even the smallest thing, because I know that your words are what she experiences every… single …time. And there is nothing to be said to calm her fears, because of what she knows- what you know. I’m glad your son is feeling better; may he always stay healthy and happy, and you, too, as much as you are able. I don’t think anyone ( including myself; I lost a grandchild, but I know it’s not even close to your loss) can truly understand the impact of losing your child. Love to you…. and my daughter. Always.

    1. Oh Cynthia, Thank you for sharing about your daughter’s experience and I’m so sorry to hear about your grandson baby Blake. There are no words for this grief. Love to you and your daughter, may we all stay healthy (and sane when we are not) and thank you again for reading my poem. Kathy

  2. SO TRUE! My oldest daughter was born with Hydronephrosis and underwent procedures and surgeries from birth til about 3 years old and my Baby son Owen died at 8 weeks old unexpectedly and this is my thought everytime! I even worry about her getting sick and when she goes out I think “will this make her sick? is it too cold outside?” or when she gets an occasional cough with sniffles i become a stressed out guard dog. I hate this feeling, it makes me so exhausted and sick to my stomach and I wish it would go away, but it won’t and those who don’t go thru it dont’ understand. My best friend had a tubal pregnancy and her first daughter was born with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and is slowly working her way up to foods that bother her system and she’s the same way as me with my anxiety about her baby getting sick all the time and such. She’s exhausted, worn out and tired of it too!! im very blessed to have a long time best friend live so close to me whose (sadly) lives are the same in the sense that our first born girls were born Ill and our second ones passed. She still states “i don’t know why i’m taking it so harsh, it was only 6 wks old — you actually gave birth and lost an 8 day old” i ALWAYS reassure that a baby is a baby no matter how old and when you get that big fat positive on a test and go to the dr, the dreams, realities and excitements for this new baby and your new life become real and that’s what makes it hard.

    I will be sharing this and your blog with her! Thanks Emily!

    1. I can’t believe both you and a friend have such similar stories. It’s great to have a built in support system like that…though I wish both of your stories were different. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you. My seven year old daughter (my only child at that time) died very suddenly of endocarditis. The Illness presented itself with fever, fatigue, cough, and bloody nose…..during the peak of flu season. In spite of taking her to the doctor 5 times in 6 days, I couldn’t get the doctors to listen to me that something more serious was wrong. (You KNOW your own child!) Her pediatrician admitted her to the hospital basically to placate me and gave her IV fluids overnight. She died the next morning during the nurse’s shift change. It was a series of unfortunate events. Fifteen years have passsed. I function. I stayed married (believe it or not). I own a thriving business. I fix my hair and put on makeup. I even laugh and socialize (at times). Seven years ago something drastic happened that completely changed the way I’m viewed by others. I had a baby. A girl. At first the change in them was subtle, and I didn’t pick up on it. About 2 years ago, my siblings said things that completely took my breath away—and not in a good way. I mentioned in passing a situation that had been very emotional for me because it was related to my eldest daughter. My brother, a minister no less, told me to “stop playing the “my kid died trump card” to get my way.” I was standing in Walmart talking to him on the phone and felt as if someone had plunged a knife into my chest and twisted it. I actually felt as if I was having a heart attack. My younger daughter was riding in the grocery cart. She was wiping my tears that were pouring down my face. I am not really a crier and certainly not in public. I think if I hadn’t been with my 5 year old, I might have curled into the fetal position in the aisle at Walmart—I was so devestated. Over the next few days, both of my siblings (who were communicating with each other) texted and said things that I don’t think I can ever recover from hearing. I stopped participating in the conversation. I wasn’t really angry with them, but I was so hurt I had to just remove myself from them. Looking back at the messages and reviewing things they said and snippets my parents shared with me, I came to a realization. They were over it. They were completely over the death of my child and they were annoyed with me because I wasn’t. They tolerated my grief before my youngest daughter was born even though they were never my support system. I never asked anything of them in any way, but my sadness was putting a damper on their lifestyle. After the birth of my youngest daughter, it was if I should have been made whole again. It was as if my daughter was a car that got totaled, and the “new” daughter was the replacement. Their annoyance turned to resentment when my grief didn’t evaporate in the delivery room. Then it was like a PTSD experience because all communication with them stopped. I was uninvited to my niece’s wedding (she and my eldest had always shared birthday parties bc their birthdays were just days apart). Their callous behavior ripped apart the small threads of recovery that had gently been strung over the chasm of my grief. Recovery was as fragile as spider webs that hung over this gaping black hole, and I was alternating between blinding pain and absolute shock that any parent wouldn’t understand that children aren’t objects to be replaced. My husband helped me through, he helped me gain my footing and I dug into the sides of the cliff and started the ascent. I have no idea how my siblings are faring. My parents avoid saying their names in front of me. Going on two years of recovery, I would be lying to tell you that I don’t sometimes have to pull off the side of the road while driving home from work and scream/cry at the absurdity of it all. Yet, I survive. I remind myself when I decide to invite myself to my own pity party, that this is definitely not the worst thing I have ever been through—anyone who has lost a child knows the worst, and losing relationships (even family) due to mean, hateful, and hurtful behavior isn’t a drop in the bucket compared to that loss.

    1. You are right… we KNOW our child. That’s how I felt with my son. Like the hospital didn’t believe me when I said something was really wrong. As for the family stuff, I get it. The people you think will be there during your lowest moments end up being the first to disappear or tell us to move on. It seems sometimes the best support we get is from other bereaved parents online, which just surprised me. Hugs to you! Sending lots of love.

  4. “I have full faith in people & the miracles we bestow upon another through God & God through us towards the blessings of life to exist & prevail… we Are All Connected !! .. found this in my son’s writings after he was killed .. I have no idea where he got this , where he is now or why he would write this when he was fully aware of what was happening to him and how his life was measured in dollars that make on sense ?? ” words echo in my mind as ” they (SSI) know that by stalling I will be dead before any money is spent on me ” .. he was right and yet not bitter when he said this delays before they killed him with depraved indifference .. and now years later ?? What is the mark of civilization upon time but a feeble attempt to exist forever..

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