Park Hill-native reflects on losing her 9-year-old son in new memoir
By Erin Vanderberg, Editor
In July 2009, Zuton Lucero-Mills lost her first-born child, 9-year-old Zumante Lucero, to a massive asthma attack which rendered him unconscious and unable to live without a ventilator. The case was held up as a failure of the health care system because of a paperwork glitch that kept Zuton from getting Zumante’s asthma prescriptions filled under his Medicaid benefit. Zumante was in his mother’s arms at their Montbello home when he lost consciousness. Four days later, she made the difficult decision to pull his life support.
A mother of six childen, and a stepmother to another six children – though Zuton prefers not to call them her stepchildren, “I don’t believe in stepping on my children,” she says – the grief in her home was manifested in all different ways: regression, clinginess, fearfulness, crying, introspection, anger.
“Every emotion that could possibly be experienced, I had in my house all the time,” she said.
In the meantime, their story attracted local and national media attention and spurred a lawsuit. Colorado’s benefits system was placed under scrutiny, and so was Lucero-Mills.
“As far as the public backlash, I have mostly avoided direct contact. When I have encountered it, I try to keep things in proper perspective. First of all, I know my story in its entirety. I know what happened, and I do not entertain for one second the notion that I should have done something more or something different.”
When Zuton was a girl, she was given a charm bracelet by the minister of music at her church. On the bracelet, there was a mustard seed charm which bore a reference to a scripture, verse, Matthew 17:20. Zuton asked her grandmother to talk to her about the verse, and her grandmother explained that a person need only a small amount of faith – as small as a mustard seed – to move mountains in the world. That verse resonated with Zuton. When she lost Zumante, she returned to it.
“As hard as it was, if I could latch on to that mustard seed, I could do this. I could put one foot in front of the other, continue being a mom, go to work.”
Within a few months after Zumante’s death, Zuton created a memorial website in his honor; a place to keep pictures and memories. But she needed something more. She created a closed page on the website where she could write down her thoughts and it became a journal of her grief. She might write several times a day sometimes, in other periods two or three weeks would elapse. After a while, she realized that she had started a memoir and so, at her family’s urging, she started to work it into a book.
“It took me a year to do,” she said. “I would write some and then I would stop and change my mind about writing it.”
She self-published Mommy’s Reflections: Losing Zumante and Finding the Mustard Seed in November 2012. This March, she hosted her first reading at the Sam Gary Branch Library
Zuton is a paraprofessional at Stedman Elementary School. One day, in the fall of 2009, she received a call from Smith Renaissance School. The school’s family liaison was filling her in on a new garden the school was starting.
“I kinda wondered why she was calling, and then she told me that they wanted to dedicate it to my son,” said Zuton.
Tending Zumante’s Garden at Smith has become a family event. Every spring, Zuton, her husband and their children help to clear and plant the garden. On weekends and during the summer, they water and weed it. Vegetables from the garden are sold by the students at Smith’s Farmers Markets which take place Thursday afternoons in the fall on the school’s blacktop.
“It was a remarkable experience,” said Zuton, “to be in a space that was nothing special before but that became something sacred.”
Mommy’s Reflections: Losing
Zumante and Finding the Mustard Seed is available on Amazon. For more information, visit mommysreflections.com.