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A Random Pocket-Dial Connects 2 Grieving Mothers

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When you sit on your phone or bump it just so, you might end up calling someone randomly, and that's kind of embarrassing. Most of us tend to hang up and hope the person on the other end doesn't notice. But Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck tells us about a pocket dial that brought surprising comfort to two people who needed it the most.

NINA KECK, BYLINE: Kris Francoeur has thought a lot about the grief that comes with losing a child. Her 20-year-old son Sam died from an accidental overdose in 2013. And she says canceling his cell service a year later was particularly hard.

KRIS FRANCOEUR: Because it meant I was never going to get another phone call from him from that number.

KECK: But this is where the story takes a crazy turn. Kris and her husband live in Leicester, Vt. And just before New Year's, Kris dreamed about Sam.

FRANCOEUR: This was a dream about grief. This was about my missing Sam and going into another year and a decade without him. And so I asked him for a sign that he was still with me.

KECK: The next morning, as she walked her dog, she heard her phone. Even though they'd canceled Sam's phone service, his number was still on her favorites list, and it was ringing. She'd inadvertently pocket dialed her dead son.

FRANCOEUR: So I immediately hung up and stood on the back lawn and laughed and said, thank you for the sign, Sam. I needed that. That was pretty good. And I went on with the rest of my day.

KECK: But a few hours later...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIME)

KECK: ...She gets a text message. According to her phone, it was a message from Sam asking, who are you?

FRANCOEUR: As unrealistic as it now seems, there was a sudden hope. There was sadness. There was, what do I do now? My hands were shaking.

KECK: Francoeur worried. What if the person on the other end would ask her to delete Sam's number? But she didn't want to be rude, so she types in her name, apologizes for the pocket dial and explains that the number used to belong to her son Sam, who had passed away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWOOSH)

KECK: That message ended up going to Peggy Sumner.

(SOUNDBITE OF PING)

KECK: She'd been assigned Sam's old number by the phone company.

PEGGY SUMNER: First off, I thought maybe somebody was pulling a prank or something, you know? And then if it wasn't, I wanted to let them know that it was all right because I was in the same situation as she was on losing a child.

KECK: Sumner's 23-year-old daughter Samantha Forrest was killed in a car crash in 2016.

SUMNER: So I sent back a message of, I'm so sorry for your loss, and the holidays are so difficult.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWOOSH)

SUMNER: And then we just started texting back-and-forth.

FRANCOEUR: But it was...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIME)

FRANCOEUR: Oh, oh, wait; we've got a message. And we were, you know, running back-and-forth to the phone.

KECK: The two moms found out both their kids were named Sam F. They were nearly the same age and had grown up less than 30 miles from each other. Both Sams had a younger sibling they were especially close to. Both loved the same music and hiked the same trails. Even the way Sumner and Francoeur described their kids sounded similar.

SUMNER: It was weird (laughter), you know? I mean, it was such a coincidence.

KECK: Strangest of all, they realized Sam and Samantha had known each other.

SUMNER: I think the two kids found one another and decided that we needed to meet. Our moms have to talk (laughter), you know, to help us get through this, you know? I mean, you don't really get through it. But for me, it was a good thing when I was talking to her. It made me feel better, you know? And I told her that she could call this number anytime she felt like it (laughter), you know, or needed to.

KECK: Peggy Sumner says she's tried attending support groups for grieving parents, but they didn't help. Yet, a chance connection with another grieving mother who lost a child so much like her own - that, she says, felt good.

SUMNER: We pretend a lot that we're happy. But in actuality, you always got that loss, that empty feeling. And she knows, you know? And - yeah.

KECK: The two women haven't met face-to-face yet, but both say they're looking forward to it.

For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vt.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAURA VEIRS SONG, "TEN BRIDGES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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