WEST FORSYTH — It’s the little things that can bring such joy or tragedy.
Little things like 4-year-old Reece Elseroad’s love for chocolate milk. He prayed for it every night. Thank God for chocolate milk, he would say. Or like his refusal to let the pastor call his little brother by his name, Luke. His name is Chubby, he would say. Or Chubs.
Then there’s the little things like a pull cord for a window blind.
Twelve days shy of his fifth birthday, that’s how Reece Elseroad died.
“It wrapped around his neck, and I found him,” said Heidi Elseroad, Reece’s mother. “It was absolutely the worst day of my life.”
That day has happened to an estimated 563 children since 1986, though 49 percent of “window covering strangulations go unreported to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission,” according to parentsforwindowblindsafety.org.
Most fatalities have been in children age 3 years or younger, but Elseroad said she knows it happens to kids as old as 6.
Luke “Chubby” — he loved the nickname his older donned — was 3 when the accident occurred on the President’s Day holiday in 2014. Elseroad and her husband, Dan’s, only daughter, Lindyn, was 1. Their oldest child, Jackson, was 7.
“It was hard on him. He saw everything,” Elseroad said.
She said her neighbors and the West Forsyth High community — she teaches English and special education — supported the family from the moment they found out.
“We were dumbfounded,” said Dana Mendoza, a neighbor. “We don’t know exactly what happened or how, but somehow he got caught.”
Mendoza is planning a memorial ceremony for Reece at 6:30 p.m. March 1 at the “big park” in the Evans Farms subdivision.
“[Mendoza] said we want to honor Reece and his memory, and can we do it on his birthday? I just started crying,” Elseroad said. “They’ve done so much already. To continue to remember my boy, it just blew us away.”
Cards from classmates — both in Reece’s grade at Sawnee Elementary and West — continued to fill the mailbox.
“You find out in times like this, do you live in a neighborhood or do you live in a community?” Elseroad said.
She and Dan, who designs prosthetic limbs at Hanger Clinic, found out about other families in her community who had lost young children.
“Everyone’s story is different … But to see other neighbors walk our walk to a certain extent … to know other people are still functioning and going on and moving forward, that I can go talk to them.”
She said her community’s support extends beyond actions when they recount stories and memories of Reece. Remembering how he never stopped moving. How he was the “happiest child I’ve ever laid my eyes on.” How a neighbor used to call him “Little Mayor.”
“More than anything, people have also been willing to tell us, we’re praying for you,” Elseroad said. “Knowing that they’re doing that has made all the difference.
“We know where Reece is, and we know with whom he rests. And it is just an earthly weight. It’s not a good weight, but that was the path given to us. And luckily, we can walk it with friends who have supported us.”
Through their neighbors’ acts and words, the Elseroad family still sees Reece. They see him in the royal blue and red ribbons that were tied on every mailbox in the subdivision. Reece loved Spiderman. They see him in the dedicated jersey number and letterman jacket West’s soccer team made.
And although they won’t see him turn 6 on March 1, they’ll watch 30 lighted paper lanterns float toward the sky. Toward Reece.