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'Our Moms Have To Talk': Pocket Dial Connects Grieving Moms

Two images side by side of young people in photographs.
Elodie Reed
Samantha Forrest, left, and Sam Francoeur, right, both died as young adults. A pocket dial phone call recently connected their two grieving mothers.

Two women, living a couple dozen miles away from each other in Vermont, both lost a child in the last decade.  Both children, oddly enough, were named Sam F. And both have mothers now connected through an inadvertent phone call.

Sam Francoeur was 20 when he died from an accidental overdose in 2013. His parents, Kris and Paul, still live in the Leicester home Sam grew up in. One of the hardest changes they had to make, Kris said, was shutting Sam's cell phone off. They did it about a year after he died.

"It meant I was never going to get another phone call from him, from that number," Kris said.

Two people hold hands at a dining table.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Kris and Paul Francoeur sit for a portrait in their Leicester home. They raised their son, Sam, in the same house, which Paul built. Before Sam died of an accidental overdose in 2013, the couple said their son was big on traditions, including coming home every Sunday to eat dinner at this table and watch a movie with his parents.

Another difficult change: Going through the holidays without Sam. The Francoeurs have a family tradition of taking down the Christmas tree the last day of the year, and Kris knew Dec. 31, 2019 was going to be a tough day.

"You're taking down all those ornaments, all those baby pictures of Sam," she said. "You're reliving all those trips you took together where you got different ornaments."

The night before, Kris dreamed about Sam.

"This was a dream about grief," she said. "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."

A rainbow-painted tree on a mantle.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Since their son, Sam, passed away, Kris and Paul Francoeur said they often ask, and receive, signs showing he's still there. One of those signs is rainbows. Kris said before she lost a child, she wouldn't have believed in that kind of thing, but that's changed. "We've come to the conclusion that with an energy force as strong as Sam, the energy has to survive somehow," Kris said.

The next morning as she walked her dog, Kris heard her phone ringing. Even though the family had canceled Sam's phone service, his number was still on her favorites list.

When she saw it on her screen, she realized with shock that she'd pocket dialed her dead son.

"And it was ringing, and it was very early in the morning," Kris said. "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."

Over breakfast, Kris told her husband Paul about the call - they laughed about it.

A person lying on a bench on a grassy field.
Credit Courtesy Kris Francoeur
Courtesy Kris Francoeur
According to his parents, Sam Francoeur had this uncanny ability to connect with people. At his celebration of life service, there were some people in three-piece suits and others in corrections bracelets, his mom Kris said.

Meanwhile in Castleton, a call from an unknown number nagged at Peggy Sumner. She'd been assigned Sam's old number, and she said she normally didn't answer numbers she didn't know, because she doesn't like telemarketers.

"And then all of a sudden, a text message came in on my phone," Kris said. "And it was the image that has been on my phone for years, for Sam. And it said it was a text message from Sam."

The message asked a question:

"Who's this."

A person looks at a sheep.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
When they are having a hard day and grieving their son, Kris and Paul Francoeur often spend time in the backyard, where Sam liked to be. When he was in high school, Kris said Sam "felt the sheep was bored" one day, loaded it into the car, buckled the seatbelt and drove to a nearby mountain to take it for a hike.

"And I cannot express how much of an emotional shock that was," Kris said. "As unrealistic as it now seems, there was a sudden hope, there was sadness, there was, 'What do I do now?'"

Her hands were shaking so badly, she had to hand her phone to her husband Paul.

"I actually felt nauseous," Kris said. "What if the person on the other end of the line told me to delete Sam's number and never call back?"

But Kris didn't want to be rude, so she typed back:

"My name is Kris ... your number used to belong to my son, Sam, who passed away in 2013, and I pocket dialed the number this morning. Sorry for bothering you."

Kris also asked:  "Who are you?"

An iPhone call log on a phone screen.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
After a pocket dial, Kris Francoeur had a call listed in her phone log out to her son, Sam, for the second time since he died in 2013. She said she had pocket dialed him once before.

That's when Peggy's phone pinged with the response to her message. She had to read it a couple of times.

"First off, I thought maybe someone was pulling a prank or something," she said. "And then if it wasn't, I wanted to let 'em know it was alright, 'cause I was in the same situation as she was, on losing a child."

Peggy's 23-year old daughter Samantha Forrest had been killed in a car crash in Castleton in 2016.

Kris Francoeur immediately responded:

"I'm so sorry for your loss."
A person holds a dachshund.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
VPR File
Peggy Sumner holds onto Lena, who belonged to Peggy's daughter, Samantha, before she died in a car crash in 2016. Peggy said she often holds and pets Lena when she's grieving her daughter.

"And then we just started texting back and forth," Peggy said.

Peggy wrote:

"Same to you not something you get over"

Kris responded:

"So true. Hating going into a new year without them."

And Peggy said:

"True it's hard everyday my daughter turned 27 the 14th [of] December."

With each text, Kris, Paul and Peggy's disbelief grew.

A person stands in front of a small dog standing on its hind legs.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Peggy Sumner keeps up the routine of giving Lena the dog her daily taste of coffee - with cream and sugar - which her daughter, Samantha, started before she died in 2016.

Both kids were called Sam, and both had the same last initial: "F." Kris and Peggy found out they lived less than 30 miles from each other, and that their kids were nearly the same age.

Samantha had graduated from Fair Haven Union High School in 2010, while Sam had graduated a year later from Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon.

"It was weird," Peggy said. "I mean, it was such a coincidence."

Both kids had a younger sibling they were extremely close to. Both loved to hike up nearby Mount Zion, and both had favorite photos at the exact same scenic overlook.

A collage of photos of a young woman hugging a dog, on a horse and with friends.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Samantha Forrest's friends put together two large photo collages for her funeral. They also wore her old clothes, including her signature: A bandana tied around her wrist.

The two even loved the same music: Specifically a jam band called Twiddle, formed by Castleton College students both kids knew well.

In fact, Sam and Samantha actually knew one another, their parents said.

"We found out, through the course of the going back and forth, our kids had met, and they all used to hang out together in Castleton," Kris said.

When you ask Peggy and Kris to describe their Sams, they use similar words: Free spirit, nature-loving, nonjudgmental and fiercely loving.

"I think the two kids found one another and decided that we needed to meet - 'Our moms have to talk,'" Peggy said. "You know, to help us get through this. I mean, you don't really get through it. But for me, it was a good thing when I was talking to [Kris]. It made me feel better. And I told her that she could call this number any time she felt like it, or needed to."

A person in a pink sweater stands in a brown field with mountains in the background.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Peggy Sumner stands for a portrait in the field outside her Castleton home. She said she has come to believe in mediums and spirits since her daughter Sam died.

Peggy said people have suggested she go to support groups for grieving parents. She tried, but it didn't help, she said.

But a chance connection with another grieving mother, one who lost a child so much like her own, Peggy said that felt good.

"We pretend a lot that we're happy," she said. "But in actuality, you've always got that loss, that empty feeling. And she knows, you know?"

A brown home with trees in the background.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Shortly after Samantha Forrest died, her family moved from the Castleton property she grew up on and bought some property nearby. They built a new home modeled after a drawing they found by Sam, who had sketched out her "dream house."

Back in Leicester, Kris said the randomness of the connection still amazes her. She was so worried when she got the first text message, she said, thinking she and her entire family would have to finally delete Sam's number from their phones, closing yet another door to his life.

"It could have been a truly painful experience," Kris said. "Instead, it is just one that makes me smile to think about it. It was a gift to all of us."

While Kris and Peggy have become Facebook friends and have chatted online, they haven't met yet, face-to-face. Both of them said they're looking forward to it.

A green painted wall covered in photograph frames and a metal cutout of the quote "together we have it all."
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Photographs of Samantha Forrest, from when she was a baby in her mother's arms to when she was arm and arm with her boyfriend, Caleb, just weeks before they both died in a car crash, line the staircase in Peggy Sumner's home.

And in the meantime, Kris and her family aren't planning to change their phone contact lists by adding Peggy's name to Sam's old number.

Kris said she knows it's Peggy on the other end. But:

"I could not look at my favorites list and not see Sam's name there."

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