A loving mother has written a heartbreaking essay telling how her 18-year-old son was killed on his first day at school after an “unstable structure” collapsed on top of him.
Elizabeth Kopple, from Santa Monica, California, had personally taken her teenage son, Henry, to his secret college.
It was a rite of passage for both of them as she prepared to send him off to the next chapter of his life. Sadly, that chapter was cut short after tragedy struck when Henry was fatally injured.
One year after his death, she describes how she comes to terms with the family’s devastating loss.
“After one last hug – he always hugged you twice when he said goodbye – I left for the airport,” Elizabeth notes.
He died days later.
Grieving mother, Elizabeth Koppel, has written an emotional essay about the tragic loss of her 18-year-old son, Henry, who was murdered on his first day of school.
Elizabeth talks about her son’s childhood and how she watched him mature
“He overcame so many challenges to get there: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and difficulty connecting with other kids,” Kopple began in the moving essay for HuffPost. ‘As he matured, he gained confidence by taking part in cross-country running, drama and debate.’
Henry had gone to college, which Elizabeth does not identify by name, and was close with classmates, taking walks with his new friends.
A week later, Elizabeth met her son on campus to spend a few days with him during his orientation.
“Henry arrived early to walk with other new freshmen. When I met him at his campus orientation the following week, he introduced me to his new classmates. “I joined them for dinner in the dining room, attended a presentation for parents and helped him set up,” she explains.
Elizabeth notes that she could see that her son was happy and seemed to be adjusting to college life quickly.
Within a few days it was time for her to fly back home. It would be the last time they would be together.
Elizabeth writes about how she took her son, Henry, pictured, to college to make sure he felt at home, and even joined him for a few days of his orientation week before they parted ways.
“I put my hands around Henry’s waist, pressed my right cheek against his chest, closed my eyes and squeezed. In that moment, I embraced every version of my son: fat baby, curious toddler, crazy seventh grader with braces, hungry teen, everything else I knew and had known,” Elizabeth wrote.
But disaster struck just days after they broke up, on Henry’s first day of class.
He was killed under an unstable structure that had collapsed on top of him. Two other students were also injured.
She writes bluntly: ‘Just like that he’s gone.’
“The center of my chest starts to hurt, just like it does when something terrible could happen. But that is already the case. I will never again feel my arms around my son’s broad shoulders. There is so much. It is too much. In my mind I’m still planning parents’ weekend, Thanksgiving, sending his winter clothes, and so on.
“In an instant, every expectation for our family and our future was swept away,” she writes movingly.
Henry was killed on the first day of class when an “unstable structure” collapsed on him. He is depicted in his dorm room after moving in with the help of his mother
Describing him as “quirky and clumsy, brilliant and handsome, honest and kind,” her writings reveal how difficult it is for her to understand the concept of life without him.
It’s been almost a year since Henry died under such tragic circumstances.
The entire family tries to deal with the enormous void Henry has left in their entire lives, including his younger brother who is also about to go to college.
“I’m still alive, but at a lower volume,” Elizabeth explains. “Our family has spent these months as a bonded unit, seeking therapy, attending loss groups and spending time with loved ones.
Elizabeth talks about how the nature of sadness is that it is “all-pervading” and always present, even after a good day where she might be dressing up, wearing makeup, or “looking good.”
“Acquaintances reveal tragedies from their past, and I am more attuned to the grief of strangers. I’ve connected with more than a dozen grieving parents in my support groups, each with a heartbreaking story. We understand and accept each other’s losses in a way no one else can.”
While Elizabeth’s other teenage son is still dealing with such a tremendous loss, she is about to move and move across the country to go to school in Washington DC.
Knowing she would be thousands of miles away from her only other living child, she and husband Chuck decided to also move to the nation’s capital to stay close to him. The family has chosen to rent the house of a local professor.
It’s a kind of coping mechanism.
‘We gave him the opportunity to say no. He’s not happy with the idea, but he agreed as long as we keep our distance. He may realize how important this is for our spiritual well-being,” Elizabeth explains.
“It’s not a perfect situation, but it’s a way for our family to move forward. Maybe there are other ways – dealing with grief is different for everyone – but this is what feels good, at least for now.
“All I can do is wish good days and never take anything for granted. This might be the happiest I’ll ever be.’