In July of 2014, Lindsey Rogers-Seitz lived through every parent's nightmare — her toddler, Ben, died after spending eight hours in a hot car when her husband forgot to drop him off at day care. Her new memoir, The Gift of Ben, tells the story of her experience that day, and how, in the years that followed, she learned to live with the most painful loss any parent can imagine. Rogers-Seitz, a writer, mental health advocate, and mom to two teenagers, is a former practicing attorney who left big law in the wake of her loss. We spoke to her about parenting through grief, forgiveness in marriage, and what she wants from the next chapter of her life.
As you write in the book’s prologue, it can be taboo to discuss the loss of a child. What drove you to put this all down in a book and put it out into the world?
I’m a writer before I'm anything else. I always have been. There was a search for meaning and purpose after Ben passed away and I really struggled with who I am as a person, finding meaning in my life, going through grief.
I had a breakdown the year after Ben passed away. We lived in Colorado at the time, and I drove up to Aspen to just get away. I started a new medication that was hopefully going to help me get better. I just sat there out on a platform at the Nature Center in Aspen. It was the first time that I felt God everywhere around me. I had not felt any meaning since Ben passed away. I just started writing. It was a grief journey, and it was a journey of self-acceptance too.
I had grown up Southern Baptist in the Deep South. When I found out that afternoon what had happened with Ben, nothing was real. I didn't know if God existed. How could there be a God when something this horrible could happen? Would I ever see Ben again? After that, I bought so many books and did research about consciousness and quantum physics, spirituality and religion, trying to understand will I ever see Ben again? I never found an answer. I only have my experience.
Your husband was the one who left Ben in the car on the day he died. How do you possibly come to terms with that — if it's OK to ask?
I think I just had to make that decision early on was I willing to fight for the beautiful life that we had and try to reconcile the love and the hate and the anger all at the same time. My husband and I got married really young, when I was 21. We've been on such a journey with him supporting me and keeping me alive in my 20s when my bipolar was really bad. So I just knew that there was something worth fighting for.
It was — it is — really hard. There are still days where there’s that kernel of anger. Oh my gosh, I can't believe this happened. Or, you know, You did this. But there’s so much love that it covers up the negativity.
Do you have an open dialogue about it? It must be difficult with your daughters as well.
It’s gotten so much better now that it really doesn't come up much, but when that emotion does come up for me, I basically just tell them, This is why I'm reacting the way I am. I think I read a quote somewhere that says, when you’re able to talk about something without tears, that means you’re, you’re healed. And I don’t think you’re 100% healed ever from something like this, but I know I’ve healed so much that there’s really just more love for him that exists.
Is your husband supportive of you sharing your story?
Yeah, he has always been supportive of me as a writer. This book just was eventually going to come into existence, and he knew that it was a part of my journey of self-love and self-acceptance, in addition to grief.
He’s been there for me throughout but he hasn’t read the book yet and he probably won’t. He read one chapter and it just was too much for him. I think it’s just so real that it just brings up a lot of emotions for him.
How do your daughters navigate all of this?
They just like to see Mom happy, to be honest. I think this new new part of my life that I’m entering this year makes me happy for the first time ever. And they love seeing that because anytime we’re fulfilled as moms, we’re better moms and it helps our children be fulfilled, too, and to know what fulfillment is.
They’re 17 and 14 now, and they’re just typical teenagers. They were so young, and we protected them really well, so they don’t remember much and don’t have any lasting issues from it.
Because we’re in the midst of summer, and hot-car season, can you share thoughts on prevention? What do you wish you’d known?
Today’s June 1st, and I think we’ve already had six or seven deaths, last time I checked. We had three just last week. There are so many aspects of causality when it comes to something like this. Obviously, you have individual accountability — my husband wasn’t talking on the phone or texting [on the day Ben died]. Nothing like that. But, just staying in tune with the moment — which is really hard in this day and age — that’s something that everybody can work on, including me. Also, just simple safety measures are important. Day care calling you when your child is not dropped off is a big thing — and most do that now. A lot of cars now have devices that remind you to check the backseat, which is wonderful. Just always be aware — maybe put something in the backseat so that you always have to go back there and get it before you go to work. Text each other regularly about your children, just really stay in tune and in the moment. I think that is really helpful.
That makes sense. Life with kids can be hectic.
Yes. That’s what happened the morning that we lost Ben. My parents were in town and our house was so much more hectic. Everybody running around, noises, back-and-forth talking. It was a normal, beautiful day in July when we woke up. But, it was different in that it was even more hectic than typical. So that’s definitely a factor.
Anything else that you really would want people to know?
There is no one way to grieve. Every journey is different, but what I learned in the years after Ben passed is that it was so traumatic to me that I just numbed myself. I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to feel anything. Now, I think allowing yourself — through the help of others — to really experience all the emotions and feelings early on is really helpful so that you don’t get stuck. Because I got stuck and it’s taken me so long to get through it.
I was talking to somebody yesterday and she said, “If you can save one life, it's worth it.” And that's just the way I feel, you know. I know it’s a hard story to read, but it doesn’t matter how many readers find it. If I can just help one person, that really is what the goal is.
The Gift Of Ben: Loving Through Imperfection is available now.