REVERE — Asmaa Aboufouda could barely get the words out.
“I have kids,” she said, her face illuminated by the candles of fellow mourners, tears rolling down her cheeks.
The unthinkable had befallen somebody else’s children. But it had come close enough to her own that she felt compelled to take her place among the stone-faced mourners in Revere on Thursday night.
Last Sunday, an SUV driven by a woman who should never have been behind the wheel careened off Route 145 and plowed into a family standing on a median, waiting to cross the road. Five-year-old Adrianna Mejia-Rivera died at the scene. Her 2-month-old sister, Natasha Nicole, died Wednesday night.
Less than 24 hours after they let their baby go, the girls’ parents, Edgar Mejia and Rosibel Rivera, heaved themselves through a public vigil outside a City Hall lit gaily for a Christmas their daughters won’t see.
Somehow, they found the grace to thank people for their prayers and donations. Through an interpreter, Mejia said he felt a pain he could not describe and asked for justice for his children. He looked pale, exhausted, stunned. You hoped the presence of so many people was comforting, but really, what could comfort anyone in that much pain?
Aboufouda was there to try. Her son Mohamed, 5, goes to Garfield Elementary, where Adrianna attended school. The mother of five often passes through that intersection, by the Target at Suffolk Downs, with her kids. They’d been to visit it again since Sunday, her son placing his own teddy bear at the memorial that had grown for his schoolmate.
Aboufouda, like others in the crowd, imagined herself in Rosibel Rivera’s place. The cavernous grief of parents whose children die is catching. It’s one of the few things that can still unite this polarized country (Or most of it, anyway. Some remain immune, for example, when the children lost are crossing the border with their desperate parents or when their deaths make it harder to argue for the unbridled right to bear arms).
For the people gathered on Thursday night, that sense of shared grief was even more acute. The accident that killed Rivera and Mejia’s children hadn’t happened in some faraway place: It was close enough to home that it felt to many there like they themselves had made a narrow escape.
“We live near there,” said Renee Burns, whose granddaughter went to school with Adrianna. “Every time I look at that intersection, I think, ‘How did this happen?’ They were on the median, just walking.”
How did this happen? So many events had to line up in just the wrong way to put the driver, Autumn Harris, in that intersection at the exact moment the family were standing on the median.
It would all have been different if Harris, who has a history of impaired driving, hadn’t gotten so many breaks; if the 42-year-old, who had failed sobriety tests and refused to take a breath test in a 2011 crash, had gotten her life together so that she wouldn’t be a danger on the road; if a judge had not given back her driver’s license in 2015 over the objections of prosecutors in another drunken driving case. It would have been different if we were less tolerant of drunken driving, period.
Or if the Mejia-Riveras had made their diaper run a few minutes earlier, or later.
That sheer randomness is part of what makes it all so excruciating. It is no consolation that the odds of such tragedy are vanishingly low. There are no lessons to learn so that other parents can protect their children against mortal dangers.
And so we all feel vulnerable. We show up to vigils and light candles. We cry for those in pain, donate to funeral expenses, and seek comfort in God, if we can believe in one that allows such things to happen.
We hold our own children’s hands more tightly, and hope with all our hearts that our fragile luck holds.Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham