'Our Moms Have To Talk': Pocket Dial Connects Grieving Moms
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.
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."
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.
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:
"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?"
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."
"And then we just started texting back and forth," Peggy said.
"Same to you not something you get over"
"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.
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.
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."
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?"
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.
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."