By Henry Piarrot
“If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call to make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?” – Stephen Levine, poet and author
On October 28, 1963, in New Orleans, Louisiana, 22-year-old Barbara Boteler embraced her second and youngest son, Toby, for the first time. As she raised him from her breast, he heard “I love you” for the first of many times.
But way too soon, shortly after June 2, 1986, she held her then 22-year-old son for the final time. She laid her head upon his lifeless breast and cried like no mother should ever have to.
Barbara had moved to Nashville during Thanksgiving weekend in 1985. Her oldest son and his wife had relocated to Tennessee a few months before and carried her then only grandchild with them. After the trials of raising two sons on her own, she was not about to miss the early years of her grandson‘s life, as he was only 4 at the time.
Toby remained in New Orleans and exercised his new found independence by getting his own apartment after a series of robberies took place in the complex where he and his mother had lived together. However, he would never live in his new town house, for he fell about 30 minutes short of a safe getaway.
The angry young man who had been arrested for burglarizing the apartment complex a week before had been released from jail earlier in the day by way of an overcrowding court order and found Toby’s car momentarily unattended. He was going through the items in the back seat when Toby returned with his arms filled with more belongings.
A fight quickly ensued and although the bad guy was much bigger than his victim, Toby fought him off and watched him run away. Unfortunately, Barbara’s boy mistakenly thought the incident was over when he opened his door a few minutes later. His attacker had returned and this time he had a knife.
Before he could react, Toby had been stabbed twice in the chest as he stood at the threshold of his own front door. He found a neighbor to call for help, but within minutes he was dead. Twenty-two years of a mother’s pride, joy and pain lay lifeless among a growing gathering of people he never knew. Toby’s assailant had just graduated from stealing stereos to stealing futures.
There is no grief like losing a child, especially by senseless homicide. Unless you have personally experienced the pain, there are no words to describe the heartache. No one can know the sorrow surviving parents feel unless they have also gone through the horror of losing a part of themselves by the hands of another human being.
This past October, Toby would have turned 48. Barbara and her oldest son continue to celebrate his birth and remain grateful for the time he shared their lives. A day does not go by that they do not think of their lost son and brother. They wonder who he would be today, whether he would have a wife, children and a great job he loved to do. The unlived memories are far more painful than remembering the events that either will not soon forget.
Tragically, murders occur every day across America and almost as many Americans are silenced annually by their own countrymen than have been killed by the terrorists in the Middle East since the current Gulf War began.
The mothers of military personnel grieve no less than Barbara. However, some solace can be reached in knowing that their son or daughter gave their life for a greater good to possibly exist in the world. Barbara and her family continue to emotionally wrestle with the shear senselessness of homicide.
Nevertheless, a Happy Belated Birthday Toby. Your mom and your big brother love you very much and we miss you terribly. As long as we live, you will forever be in our hearts and on our minds.
Henry Piarrot is a Sevier County resident and hotel manager on assignment in Nashville. Please send all story recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org