Finding out your child has died is every parent’s worst nightmare. That’s exactly what Jessica Brandes went through Now, the Oregon mom is sharing a heartbreaking plea to all parents.
Losing a child is something most parents will never fully get over. However, what one does with that immense grief can make all the difference. Jessica Brandes went through this unimaginable experience when her 8-year-old son, Wiley, passed away suddenly in his sleep.
Jessica found her own strength in sharing what had happened. In a heartbreaking post on social media, the Oregon-based naturopathic doctor explains the events that occurred when her whole world was shattered to pieces. “The only clue we have for explaining [Wiley’s] death began 9 months ago,” she wrote. “We were traveling and he was sleeping in a strange bed in an Airbnb.”
“My mother-in-law and I heard a significant thud and rushed into the room to see what had happened,” Jessica declared. “Wiley had fallen out of the bed and was actively having a tonic-clonic seizure.” After visiting several neurologists, the diagnosis wasn’t life-threatening. In fact, Wiley’s seizure disorder could be managed without medication.
“These highly trained physicians told us he’d suffer no cognitive deficits, that he would outgrow his condition and that his prognosis was incredibly good,” Jessica said. “His seizures were related to his sleep cycle and we vowed to keep his quantity of sleep as regular as possible so as not to trigger seizure activity.”
Jessica and her husband became hyper-vigilant about their son’s condition. “We educated him on his condition, we told his babysitters and other parents when he had a sleepover,” she states. “We had a seizure action plan filed at his school. We had never witnessed another seizure again.” Fast forward nine months later, when Wiley seemed to be sleeping quite late. “I looked in on him and saw a peacefully sleeping child cozy in his bed after a long day of summer fun,” Jessica said.
“He was not sick. There was no indication he was even slightly unwell. He went to bed tired and happy, well-fed,” she shared. That’s when Jessica became suspicious. Wiley’s twin, Oliver, was sitting next to him in bed playing on an iPad. “I found it strange that Wiley had not woken up and started playing as well,” she remembers. “He was under a blanket and his feet appeared mottled. That was the moment. The moment I knew what was coming next.”
“My eyes tracked up his legs as I pulled the blanket back and I traced the deep purple color of lividity,” Jessica said. “This extreme color change indicated to me my son had been dead for at least 8 hours. I felt for a pulse and somehow felt surprised by the cold skin I touched.” Despite the gravity of the situation, Jessica went into auto-pilot.
“There was no emergency, no opportunity for intervention where I could have changed the outcome,” she explained. “He was gone and I knew events would move very quickly. I started to call 911, but hung up because there was a more important call I needed to make.” That call was to her husband. The couple had an agreement that a phone call meant a grave situation. Texting was for everything else.
“I simply told him, ‘Wiley’s dead.’ I couldn’t sugarcoat this and I didn’t have time to explain,” she said. “I needed him to come home, and I told him I still needed to call 911.” Jessica goes on to detail the surreal moments after the first responders arrived. After they left with her son’s body, she realized, “[we were] standing in our driveway in a completely different world than the one we had woken up to.”
Jessica believes Wiley died of a phenomenon called SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death of Epilepsy). “If you think of brains as being the computers of the body, Wiley’s just turned off. No known trigger, no warning,” she said. “If we’ve learned anything at all, it’s that life is fragile, and time really can be so cruelly short. We wish a lot of things were different, but mostly, we wish we’d had more time.”
Jessica Brandes is now spreading a word of warning to all parents. “If you are a parent and have any capacity to spend more time with your kids, do,” she recommends. “When it ends, there are just photos and leftover things and time is no longer available to you. It is priceless and should not be squandered.”
“Take your vacation days and go be with them,” she adds. “You will not regret the emails you forgot to send. From now on, if you email or text me and my reply takes longer than expected, know that I am with the people I love sharing my time, creating my new identity, and I encourage you to do the same,” she declares. “We are grieving intensely, but one of the best things we can do is share our story with you. If you can handle it, please ask us about our son’s life and his death. We all heal in small bits while talking about it.”