One year ago this week, Virginie Cazir’s life became all about coping.
Last Sept. 12, her life was forever altered by an unfathomable tragedy: Her 19-month-old son, Gabriel Josh-Pierre Cazir, died. He had been left, abandoned and forgotten, in the back of a school bus that was supposed to deliver him to day care.
Cazir had learned that a child had been left in a school bus while she was watching the late-afternoon news, passing the time until it was time to meet Gabriel’s van. She discovered the missing child was hers when she went to meet him at the bus stop, and none arrived.
“Trying to save other children has been my way of coping with it,” Cazir said Friday. “I’m quite a busy woman.”
On Saturday morning, she will lead a march to celebrate the first anniversary of Gabriel’s death. It will start at the Boys and Girls Club on Talbot Avenue, make its way to Floyd Street — the site of the tragedy — and end at the Area B-3 police station at the corner of Morton Street and Blue Hill Avenue, where she will hold a reception for the people who have supported her in her year of grief.
As anyone would expect, it has been a year of struggle. Cazir’s older son, who is 9, has struggled to cope. Her marriage ended recently, largely because she and her former husband could not reconcile their very different approaches to grieving.
“It was just too much for him,” she said with a deep sigh. “In our religion, you’re supposed to wear black for a year when you’re mourning. But [Gabriel] was a little boy and he loved bright colors, so why can’t I wear bright colors? I did counseling. He didn’t want to do counseling.”
One project that has consumed her is a child safety law she hoped to get passed through the Legislature. It would mandate monitoring equipment in buses that would sound when a child is left, and that would also alert providers when someone in their care is unaccounted for. More than anything, she hopes to prevent another family from suffering the tragedy that has beset hers.
The bus company that was responsible for the accident settled with Cazir a couple of months ago, and a lawsuit is pending against the day care center that never noticed Gabriel was missing.
Until Gabriel’s death, Cazir had been working as a nurse’s assistant at a senior center in Dorchester. She said she plans to return to the job soon, but she is also planning to return to school. Clearly, she is not certain what her future holds. Sudden tragedy has a way of upending one’s plans.
Part of her coping has involved volunteering at the YMCA. She has also become involved in Mothers for Justice and Equality, an advocacy group of mothers who have lost children to violence. Her story is not typical for the group’s members, but grief has turned out to be a stronger bond than circumstance.
“This was an unfortunate and tragic event,” said her lawyer, Ernst Guerrier. “But the good thing is the people from across racial and ethnic lines who have come together. I’m sure she wouldn’t be able to carry on without the the support of other mothers — and fathers, too — who have suffered losses.”
But clearly, Cazir is determined to celebrate Gabriel’s life, rather than simply grieving its passing. She laughs often when she talks about the active child who got into everything, and she bravely hopes, like so many who have suffered her kind of loss, that his life can somehow serve some purpose for other families. That effort begins with keeping his memory alive.
“Gabriel is my little angel, and I want him to be other people’s angel,” she said. “That would be the most important thing. I’m hoping people will support us, as a reminder of what the community is about.”