As on most days, Debbie, 31, could hardly wait to see herrambunctious, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy and hear his near-constant giggle.
It had been only about two months since she returned to work, so it was still hard being away from him.
Kevin was home with Cameron that Thursday in December 2001 because his company was doing inventory. That made it tougher for Debbie to leave.
She sat down beside Cameron on the love seat and told her little boy, “I love you” and “I’ll miss you.”
She tried to get him to say “Happy birthday” or “I love you” inreturn, but he didn’t. And it really didn’t matter. They gave each other a hug and Cameron smiled at her as she closed the door.
It was about 5 o’clock when the phone at Debbie’s desk unexpectedly rang.
Maybe Kevin was calling to finalize plans for her birthday dinner or to find out exactly when she would be coming home that day.
“It’s Kevin,” she recalled him saying in an emotionally distraught voice. She hardly recognized him.
“You need to get home right now,” he pleaded.
Before Debbie could get him to calm down or slow down and tell her what was happening, he gave her the news no parent is ever prepared to hear.
Cameron was dead.
Right then and there she remembers screaming. Her manager took her home, and all she remembers is how the drive from the Elkhart office to her Osceola home felt like it took an eternity.
“By the time we got to my cul-de-sac and I saw the paramedics and firetrucks, my legs felt like they would give out from under me,” she said.
She and Kevin embraced at the front door.
“I literally fell into his arms,” she said.
Debbie went inside and looked into the living room.
“My son was on the couch with a sheet over him,” she remembered. “I went in and held his cold little hand and rubbed his face.
“I just remember how cold he was already.”
Kevin had laid Cameron down for a nap after lunch, around 1. The boy was still sleeping mid-afternoon and moving about in his crib.
It was between 4 and 4:30 when Kevin, who thought Cameron was taking an awfully long nap, went back to the boy’s room. Kevin found him not breathing, called 911 and immediately started CPR.
“I begged for him to please come back to me, that l needed him,” said Debbie, who did not want to leave her son’s side. “I begged God to take me instead. Nothing worked. I had to live with this nightmare.”
She was in the kitchen when the paramedics carried Cameron’s body to the ambulance. She wanted to hold her little boy, but at the same time she did not want to watch people take him away.
She didn’t sleep for days.
Just nine days before Cameron’s death, Debbie had thrown him a Winnie the Pooh-themed first birthday party. He had excitedly dug his fingers into his cake and stubbornly did not want to take a bath afterward.
Those memories were now replaced by images of her son’s lifeless little body.
“I’ve never cried so much,” Debbie said through tears, even now, more than 10 years later. For a long time, there was no “happy” in birthday because it reminded her of Cameron’s unexpected death.
Cameron died of sudden infant death syndrome. SIDS is the sudden death of an infant, who is usually under one year of age, that remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation.
The child usually is put down to sleep and later found dead. Debbie and Kevin will not know for sure why Cameron died, until researchers can identify with certainty what causes SIDS.
“Every person wants an answer about why their child dies. The only thing I know is that I’m never getting him back,” she said.
She and Kevin had to wait a week, until after Christmas, to have Cameron’s funeral.
“I went through the holidays without my son. I was in a daze. All the Christmas presents I had bought him, we opened them and my dad took them all back. Opening them was something I felt I had to do. I felt like I wanted him to have them,” she said.
Debbie wrote a letter to Cameron and courageously read it herself at his funeral.
“It was the last gift I could give to my child,” she said. “Cam was so little, he didn’t have a lot of stories. But I asked people to get up and share the stories they had.”
They played a song Debbie sang to her son every night before he went to sleep.
“You are my sunshine,
my only sunshine.
You make me happy,
when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear,
how much I love you.
So please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Cameron was buried on Dec. 27, 2001, at St. Joseph Valley Memorial
Park in Granger.
Healing will come
When parents lose a child, their whole world stops, Debbie Bice said, and though it doesn’t come overnight, healing does come eventually.
She wants parents who have lost a child to know that everyone grieves differently; there is no specific amount of time it takes for someone to be OK.
“I remembered how guilty I felt the first time I laughed after he passed. There is a hole in my heart and I will live with it forever,” she said.
Four years after Cameron’s death, Debbie became chapter leader of The Compassionate Friends of St. Joseph County. The group is composed of parents, grandparents and siblings who have experienced the death of a loved one and offer understanding and support through monthly meetings.
“I was blessed to have Cameron for one year and nine days,” Debbie said. “It took time, but I finally realized I didn’t want his death to be in vain. I think God knew that I had a big mouth and I wasn’t going to keep quiet about SIDS.”
The Compassionate Friends holds annual remembrance ceremonies and other events at the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden at Pinhook Park, South Bend.
“We’re not strong; none of us feel like we’re strong,” she said. “We are survivors and we don’t want anyone to have to walk in our shoes.”
Debbie and Kevin Bice are now married and they are raising 8-year-old twin boys, Cayden and Brayden, and they are also parents to Cain, 19, and Shelby, 15.
“I feel like they were a gift from Cameron,” she said.
“He lives on. He’s with me more today than if he was with me on Earth. I try to look at it this way: It was the worst tragedy and I’d give anything to have him back in a heartbeat. But I feel like he’s with me more than if he was here. He’s an angel who is with me all the time.”
Staff writer Heidi Prescott:
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