By Sherida Mock
April 25, 2014 started like most days. Jessica Pieratt put her toddler son Moss down for his morning nap. He’d been running a slight fever—99 degrees—that she chalked up to teething. But when she checked on him later, he was unresponsive. He died the next day at Dell Children’s Medical Center, the result of what doctors labeled SUDC, or Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood. He simply stopped breathing.
Now less than 2 years after his death, the Pieratts, their extended family and friends are throwing MossFest, a musical celebration of his life. She talked with us recently about her loss and how she found the strength to help others.
af: Tell us about your family.
My husband and I met in high school at Austin High. We’ve been married almost7 years. Moss was born in 2013. Madeline is 16 months old, and we have a newborn baby girl.
Yes, I’m a little busy right now, but I love it. I feel like I should be spending all my time and energy taking care of three kids, because Moss is supposed to be here. But working on the concert makes me feel like I’m taking care of him.
af: What is MossFest all about?
It’s a free music concert, all day at Zilker Hillside Theater. Moss loved music. I started taking him to music classes when he was 6 months old. We’ll have other activities, as well, like face painting, balloon art and kite building.
Knowing that we wanted to raise money for SUDC, we thought, “What kind of event could we do that would be long-lasting and child-friendly and that we would have wanted to take Moss to?” We had this idea of a children’s concert.
Awareness of SUDC is a huge driver for us. Before Moss, I had never heard of a toddler passing away for no known reasons. I thought that once my children turned 1, the risk of SIDS went away. After connecting with the SUDC Foundation, we have learned so much. I’ve learned that SUDC statistics are probably inaccurate, because there are many families out there that don’t know it exists.
af: A concert is a big project. How do you go from the idea to making it a reality?
It’s been a learning process. [Austin musician] Sara Hickman guided us. She has so much experience in the music industry. The good thing is that the Kite Festival happens on the same day. Our family owns ABC Home and Commercial Services, and they now host it. So we have a team that works on the Kite Festival, and they’ve been a great resource.
I thought it would be hard to line up artists, but Sara shared our story, and I was amazed that so many people wanted to be a part of it. We’ve found that there’s not an event like this in Austin—an all-day music festival for kids.
af: How did you learn about the SUDC Foundation?
After Moss’s death, a friend passed along information about the organization. SUDC is essentially SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) for children over age 1. The SUDC Foundation has staff members who are bereaved parents of SUDC. They do grief counseling, support groups, and they’ve just started doing research.
They’re working with New York University, Columbia University, Duke University and the Mayo Clinic. There’s a good medical team involved in the research, comparing all the kids to see if there’s a link.
af: How has the SUDC Foundation helped you?
They have been so supportive. They put together information for our pediatrician on how to talk to a parent who has lost a child and is now raising another. I hate to say it, but we live in fear with our daughters, because we don’t know what happened with Moss.
There have been so many phases in the grief process that I didn’t anticipate. As Madeline reached the age that Moss was, we felt a peak in anxiety. We don’t know what life is like beyond 15 months old. Is the same thing going to happen to her? And we have a lot of emotions involved in the fact that she’s now going to be older than her older brother.
We’ve met some really wonderful families. I’ve made friends in Arkansas and New Orleans. I’ve talked to people in Australia and the UK. It sounds cliché, but they’ve become like family. I’m grateful, and that inspires me to want to support the SUDC Foundation along with knowing that research is not just a vague term, but they are truly doing research on our son. I want to participate in that.
af: What has helped you in dealing with this loss?
I wouldn’t have known what to say to someone until now. I just want to talk about my child and to hear other people say his name. I was pregnant with Madeline when Moss passed away, and there was a period of time when I was pregnant but Moss was gone. I had no one to take care of.
I felt kind of kicked out of the parent club. So when friends would let me talk about those little normal things like naps and meals, that helped. It helped to not act weird when I was talking about Moss.
I love dedicating time each day to Moss. It’s been healing. This concert has been a great project for my husband and I to do together. Men and women grieve so differently, but we work like a team.
MossFest: A Family Concert
March 6, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Zilker Hillside Theater
Line Up: Mr. Will, Joe McDermott, Sara Hickman, Terri Hendrix & Lloyd Maines, Skyline, White Ghost Shivers, Charlie Belle, Residual Kid and Brave Combo