January 6, 2018

Editorial: A short life to learn from

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Life wasn’t fair to Jayden Morley.

Horribly injured by his mother’s live-in boyfriend when he was 2 years old, he made it to age 7.

The toll of brain damage, operations and illnesses in the five years and four months since he was thrown to the floor in his Fitchburg home — because he wouldn’t stop crying, the mother’s 21-year-old boyfriend later admitted — was too much.

Jayden died Dec. 21 at UMass Memorial Medical Center, after emergency surgery.

There’s joy mixed with sadness in Jayden Morley’s story.

This fragile child had steel inside. He hung on after the devastating injuries dealt by the man who served as his father destroyed his abilities to see, speak and walk.

Jayden overcame fears that at first could send him into seizures at the sound of a male voice. As described in a Dec. 31 article, he fought for, and little by little won, a sense of normalcy and a life of love.

A Southbridge family — Todd and Deidra Carlson and their three sons — welcomed him as a foster child. In that atmosphere of acceptance, peace, attention and fun, Jayden thrived as much as his irreversibly damaged brain could allow. Last February, the Carlsons adopted him.

The community also stepped up. The organization Sofia’s Angels provided a special van to the family last year, paid for in part by an anonymous $38,000 donation from Westwood. It was a timely gift, allowing numerous excursions in what was to be the boy’s last summer.

This child died having known a proper home.

That should have been his all along, of course, along with the eyesight, vigor, and trust in adults he was born with. But ultimately, the “system” — the one we all take part in — didn’t fail him. Medical care, foster care, the community, human decency and the kindness of strangers all contributed to undoing as much as possible a moment’s brutal mistreatment of a 2-year-old.

When adults abuse kids, it’s heartbreaking and infuriating beyond words. This headline-making 911 call in 2012 came around the same time as failures connected to the state Department of Children and Families were causing mounting frustration and alarm. Unwieldy caseloads and deficiencies in organizational structure and management were cited as causes. The administration of Gov. Charlie Baker began to address such issues in 2015.

Meanwhile, none of us can ever let down our guard when it comes to the physical and emotional wellbeing of children. Everyone, not just government and not just parents and teachers, look after them and try to create a world in which ordinary stressors such as cited by Steven G. Stuart to police, or any reason, won’t cause one to throw a toddler so furiously to the floor that the child will never be the same, his body shattered and his future cut short.

Stuart pleaded guilty in Worcester Superior Court to assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, and is serving a sentence of six to eight years in state prison. Now that Jayden has died, the office of Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. is considering bringing additional charges.

We trust the legal system to do its best for fairness and justice. But the case is closed for the little boy who suffered at Stuart’s hands. Jayden seemingly lost almost everything in that blow to the floor. But ahead for him, out of the goodness of many, were the healing warmths of laughter and love. The Carlsons gladly changed their own family’s course to break the unfairness Jayden had experienced.

Jayden has left us his story, jagged and painful but hopeful and happy, too. Taking lessons from it is all any of the rest of us can do.

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