Dear Niko

Sonya Heal Winchell is the proud mother of two boys who happen to exist on both sides of the veil. She was a graphic designer for over 20 years. After the sudden and still unexplained death of her eldest son, she has focused her life skills on supporting special education students in public schools.

Dear Niko,

On October 29, 1996, you completely changed my world, introducing me to the joys of motherhood. You brought me a level of love I had no idea was possible. Four years later, along came your brother, and my world was completed. As a family, we embraced the challenges and opportunities life offered, yet never fully comprehending the fragility of our journey together.

Niko and two friends at school. Niko is on the left wearing a black suit and red tie. His female friend is in the middle wearing a yellow top and black pants. His male friend is on the right wearing a white shirt and black pants.

In the early morning hours, sometime between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., October 21, 2012, you died while sleeping in the warmth and safety of your bed. My healthy, talented, vibrant, six foot tall son was gone, a mere eight days before your 16th birthday. Even your then 12 year old brother thought you were joking, as we tearfully gazed at you laying there dead in your bed. Your music, your voice, your humor … gone … and we have lived with the shocking mystery of Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood ( ever since.

Niko wearing a black, red and yellow beanie playing electric guitar wearing a black t-shirt and black pants

As the community came together in loving support for our family, I was at my loneliest and the most devastating juncture in my life. I have dealt with many losses, but losing you completely transformed into depths of my soul. Just as bringing you into my world rocked it, so had your sudden departure. No goodbyes .. no, ‘I love you’ … gone … where did you go?

Close up of Niko wearing sunglasses

I searched for you everywhere, despondent that we never had a chance to say goodbye or make plans for you to show me that you hadn’t truly died. Thankfully you found many ways to connect with Alex and me. For example, you teased us with unusual triple knocks or sent that same bird every morning at the same hour to tap on our windows. There were many other signs, but they became less frequent as I am sure you had to move on in your next life. However, the most spectacular sign was your handwritten vocabulary card from your final English class that suddenly appeared on my nightstand one morning. It was a little over 14 months after your sudden death. The foggy shroud of shock had lifted, leaving me with the stark reality that you were indeed gone. I was at my lowest point. The word on the card was “Persevere”. It was the nudge that I desperately needed.

The word persevere in Niko's handwriting

You are a brilliant son, and I thank you. You notified me that you were present and that I had to pull myself out of the depths of depression that your death had on my heart and soul. Your brother needed his mother to love and support him with positivity and joy. It was at this point that I chose to move forward and learn to live with my grief and not be overshadowed by it. I chose to live life so that Alex could continue to embrace his life as well.

Niko, thank you for being such a wonderful son, but most importantly, an amazing brother! You will always be present in our lives every day.

We love you, Niko ..



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