The Call

It is the call in the middle of the night that every parent dreads. Like other parents, I had carried a constant prayer in my heart for 30 years to keep my children safe. At 3:15 a.m. one Sunday morning, the gentle harp tone of my cell phone startled me out of a deep sleep. I answered before I had fully awakened.


“Sherry, hey. This is Brian. Uh, Timmy had an accident. It’s pretty bad.”

Blinking fog from my brain, I said, “What happened? Where are you?”

Seeing me bolt upright in the bed, Matt rose from the other side of the bed, already pulling on his clothes.

“We were coming back from the party. I was on my bike, and Timmy had his skateboard. I was ahead of him on this hill, and then his skateboard came flying by me. He was down. He hit his head, and it’s pretty bad. The paramedics are here.”

“How bad?” The fog was now clearing, extracting essential information.

Husband Leaps to Action

I hung up and steeled myself against the wave of pure panic. NO! everything in me was screaming. But it is amazing what a locked jaw and singular focus can withstand—or, at least, forestall. I stuffed my books and laptop into my bag as I called to Matt, clear and calm, struggling for control of my voice.

“Timmy fell and hit his head—hard. He has blood coming from his nose and ear. They are taking him to Valley Med. We can meet him there.”

Once we began the 40-minute drive, winding through the mountains from Santa Cruz to San Jose, the immediate action ceased, and the panic returned. I repeated Timmy’s name in a mantra: “Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, Timmy,” holding insanity at bay while I tried to believe there was some hope that Timmy could be alright. Unable to convince myself, I turned to Matt and said matter-of-factly, “Our lives have just irrevocably changed.” He silently acknowledged that truth with his eyes and looked back to the road, the intensity of the drive thankfully occupying his full attention.

The Marriage Changes

We arrived at Valley Medical’s Emergency entrance at 4:00 a.m. in the ragged daze of alarmed parents. The nurse told us that Timmy had also just arrived, which sounded somehow reassuringly normal. He would be seen by the trauma doctor, and she would let us know as soon as we could see him. More time to wait, to breathe, and to pray. Our older son, Tyler, and Matt’s sister, Pam, arrived and joined the vigil. We were sitting together in near silence when the trauma doctor came in.

After brief introductions, he gave us a grave look that you never want to see a doctor give.

“It is very serious. He may not make it.”

As he explained the nature of the severe head trauma and brain stem injury, I listened intently, searching for hints of hope, but there were none.

“In the best case, if he survives, he will have very limited recovery.”

Husband and Wife, Hovering Together

And then I didn’t know what to pray for. He told us they had given Timmy drugs to try to reduce the swelling of his brain and that, now, we needed to wait.

“Wait for what?” I asked.

“To see if the drugs are having any effect,” the doctor responded, then added, “To see if he will declare himself.”

I nodded numbly, not knowing what that meant but accepting that I would understand soon enough. We waited. It was almost 7:00 a.m. by the time the nurse said we could see Timmy. He had not responded to the drug. There was no change.

Matt and I spent the day hovering at Timmy’s bedside, with our son connected to various machines helping to keep him alive. He appeared to be sleeping peacefully, but we had no idea what was happening inside his body or mind.

The End Draws Near

At 1:30 that afternoon, Timmy declared himself.

Matt was standing over one side of the bed as I perched on the other side, holding Timmy’s hand and occasionally gently stroking the stubbly close-cut hair on his precious head. Otherwise motionless, Timmy’s breath rose and fell rhythmically with the help of the ventilator.

Suddenly, the sound was broken by three short panting exhales and then silence. Matt and I exchanged looks of alarm and concern—parental looks. The monitor alarms began to beep and buzz, inciting a rush of nurses into a flurry of activity—pressing buttons and consulting machines. After almost an hour, his vitals were stabilized, and the life support equipment was restored to its rhythmic hum.

But Timmy was gone.

Excerpted from Marriage Unveiled: The Promise, Passion, and Pitfalls of Imperfectly Ever After by Sherry Cassedy. Learn more at

Sherry Cassedy

Sherry Cassedy has practiced law and mediation for 29 years and currently has a mediation and private judging practice in Palo Alto, CA ( Ms. Cassedy has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Sofia University (formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology), and in the Religious Studies Department at Santa Clara University. Ms. Cassedy, MA, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and Certificate in Spiritual Guidance, offers spiritual guidance, yoga instruction and seasonal retreats on spiritual topics. Sherry is a passionate student of yoga philosophy and other spiritual teachings, which she incorporates into her yin and restorative yoga classes. She is also a licensed minister and works with couples in preparing and officiating marriage ceremonies. Sherry has been married to Matthew Sullivan, PhD for almost 35 years and they have three children, Tyler Sullivan, Cassedy Sullivan and Timothy Sullivan (Deceased 2010). Sherry lives in Santa Cruz, CA where she teaches and writes.

More Articles Written by Sherry