Nashville filmmaker’s SIDS loss: ‘Everything in life shattered in that one moment’ – The Tennessean

David K. Wilson III and his wife were ecstatic about passing his beloved grandfather’s name to their first child.

The filmmaker hoped his son would carry on his family’s legacy of service.

The parents planned for it all — childbirth classes and animal pictures in the nursery, focused on happily ever after.

Now, the name David K. Wilson IV brings only memories, and most are painful.

“It never occurred to me anything would ever go wrong,” Wilson said, his voice trailing off.

The baby died of sudden infant death syndrome in his bassinet three months after he was born.

Rage. Fear. Pain.

“And it wraps around you in this intense agony,” Wilson said.


Granddaddy Ray and Granddaddy Pat

Wilson is from Nashville’s elite; both of his grandfathers helped shape this city.

First, there was Granddaddy Ray Danner, co-founder of Shoney’s, a fun guy who could be explosive.

“He was really passionate about everything.”

Then there was Granddaddy David K. “Pat” Wilson, a business and community leader, a longtime Vanderbilt board and Nashville airport authority kind of guy.

Unlike Granddaddy Ray, Granddaddy Pat was even tempered, formal, a by-the-book man who insisted his grandchildren give firm handshakes with good eye contact.

“When you enter the room, you gave him seven — five fingers and two eyes,” Wilson said, nodding slightly. “He said that to me every time I saw him.”

Granddaddy Pat, who hosted family meals nearly every Wednesday, was the fixture in Wilson’s life as the boy grew up in Green Hills and Belle Meade, eventually going to school at Montgomery Bell Academy.

Unlike his hard-charging businessmen grandfathers, Wilson loved acting and telling stories. He studied screenwriting and English at the University of Miami before moving to Los Angeles to start a career in films.

He didn’t know his art later would bear his grief.

Wilson met his wife, Kaylee, on Feb. 8, 2008, in the parking lot of a Los Angeles apartment building where each went to visit friends.

“She’s totally gorgeous. She has this amazing sense of humor and this confidence,” he said. “You get it all in one second, and you’re immediately drawn to her.”

They both came from big families. They talked about starting their own big family before the two ever got engaged.

Kaylee got pregnant two years after they married, and Wilson was thrilled the baby was going to be a boy. He daydreamed about taking his son to World Cup soccer matches and to his first “Star Wars” movie.

And Wilson knew immediately that they’d give the boy his great-grandfather’s name.

The baby was born Aug. 27, 2015.

“He looked up right into my eyes,” Wilson said. “They were blue eyes, just like mine.”

The baby went everywhere — to restaurants, to the beach, even to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for his aunt’s wedding.

Little David stayed happy, quiet and serene throughout.


‘Screaming my head off’

Wilson usually got up at 3 a.m. and stayed with him until dawn, often walking around with the baby and singing to him.

“We called it our guy time every night,” he said.

Three months after the baby was born, Kaylee went to pick him up from his bassinet as her husband sat on the bed nearby.

“And she gave me this look,” Wilson said.

He paused, eyes watering.

“I saw his little face. And it was just …

“Everything in life shattered in that one moment. And you have no idea what to do. I was on the phone with 911. ‘Have you tried CPR?’

“I remember running outside screaming my head off.”

Inside, Kaylee kept shouting, over and over, “My baby!”

Wilson eventually grabbed his wife and held on to her for most of the rest of the day, even as a dozen police officers walked through their house, even as Kaylee’s mother got there, even as officers asked them to describe what happened again and again and again.

“You’re feeling everything, but you’re feeling nothing.”

The funeral, in Nashville, was brutal.

“I’ve always grown up being so proud of my grandfather and the name we share, and so proud to pass it on. And I felt like such a huge failure, that I let everyone in my whole family down,” he said.

The cemetery was even worse.

“I look down: David K. Wilson Sr., David K. Wilson Jr., David K. Wilson IV — and you’re the only one above ground. I hope no one ever understands what that feels like.”

Even therapy didn’t stop the constant obsessing, grieving, questioning their parenting decisions, blaming themselves for their baby’s death even though there was a preliminary determination of SIDS.

“You feel horrible about everything in every way, all the time, every day, all day. It’s totally miserable.”

Wilson couldn’t sleep for months, and bouts of anxiety made him want to hide under tables.


Conflicting emotions under layers of pain

Wilson finished his new movie, “Girl Flu,” in the midst of the tragedy. It debuts April 26 at the Nashville Film Festival.

“Girl Flu” bears the footprints of his firstborn.

In the closing credits, a Winnie the Pooh quote appears along with the words, “In Memory of DKW IV”:

“Sometimes,” the quote says, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

Their hearts remain open to having a large family.

“We felt like it would be a big disservice to David if we let (his death) prevent us from having the family we dreamed of.”

Kaylee was pregnant again within months.

“Of course we were happy about it. But there were so many layers of conflicting emotions under these layers of pain,” he said. “It was the first thing that made us feel anything close to good.”

The Wilsons moved to Nashville during the pregnancy, to be near family — and away from L.A., which was a painful reminder they’d lost their firstborn.

When their baby Ryer was born Nov. 19 last year, “it was just like the lights had been turned back on,” Wilson said. “He saved us.”

Still, both parents haven’t been able to relax with the baby.

“Those first couple of weeks, that poor baby got woken up so many times,” Wilson said.

“I’ve sat by the crib holding my breath until I see something move. Until I’m dizzy. Then he’ll move his hand and you breathe,” he said. “And five minutes later, I’m doing the same thing.”

Reach Brad Schmitt at brad@tennessean.com or 615-259-8384 and on Twitter @bradschmitt.


Wilson’s movie ‘Girl Flu’ opens here April 26

What: “Girl Flu,” a comedy about a 12-year-old girl getting her period, produced by Nashville filmmaker David K. Wilson III, makes its Nashville debut at the Nashville Film Festival.

When: 7 p.m. April 26 and 2 p.m. April 27

Where: Regal Hollywood 27, 719 Thompson Lane

Who: Wilson and director Dorie Barton will attend the screenings.

Tickets: $12 at NashvilleFilmFestival.org

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