40 years ago: my son’s death changed me

In a moment.

In a moment, I went from on top of the world with joy, to buried in fear.

In a moment, my heart was filled with happiness, to my stomach churning with nervousness.

In a moment, what had been the second-best day of my life, after my marriage, became the worst day of my first twenty-three years.

It was the moment I approached the window of the maternity ward, to take a quick peek at my ten-hour-old son before heading home for the afternoon, and saw that he was breathing hard.

Surely, my eyes were deceiving me. Only minutes earlier, Johnathan had been in my wife’s room, as my mom and I visited with Kim and our newborn son. Everything was fine. His delivery had been unremarkable. Kim’s labor went smoothly. Her entire pregnancy went well.

A nurse rolled Johnathan’s bassinet back to his spot among the rest of the newborns. Mom and I wrapped up our visit with Kim. I would take Mom home, give Kim a chance to get in a nap, and return that evening.

It was three in the afternoon. When, just after five that morning, Johnathan appeared in the world, we counted his ten fingers and ten toes, rejoiced in his cry, and announced that he was perfect.

And, for ten hours, he was. Until that moment. That moment I peered at him through the window to see him breathing hard.

I turned to my mother: “Mom, he’s breathing hard.” Calmly, Mom said, “Go get a nurse.”

Soon, Johnathan was being taken by ambulance from Muskegon to Grand Rapids. That evening, I was told he had a strep infection which, during delivery, he picked up in the birth canal. The next morning, he was dead.

For the full story, click here: https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/11481/

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Johnathan was born January 14, 1981—forty years ago.

He died on the fifteenth.

This changed me.

Not every moment is a few seconds long. Some moments encompass an event—the celebrating after your team’s championship, a natural disaster—and for me this moment stretched through the days of laying him to rest and mourning the loss.

If I had kept a diary, I suspect a scan of the pages from late January would show the first signs of how this affected me. I imagine I’d read something such as this:

I’ve gone from “I can’t believe this happened” to grasping its reality. Best of all, though I long to have my son, I trust the Lord’s promises. That Johnathan is with Him. That Johnathan will one day be resurrected from the dead and will receive a perfected body—a body that never again will be able to be harmed by disease. And I’ll see him. And know him. And we will live forever with the Lord. And all of this terrible stuff will be a thing of the past.

It was the moment of my life that caused me to grow up quickly—emotionally and spiritually. A few years later, I saw it as foundational to having prepared me to desire to enter the ministry.

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Before contemplating what I would write to mark this anniversary, I had been making notes about the moments in my life that changed me. Having just finished the first draft of my third book, I am doing the prep work for number four.

Its working title is The Moments that Change Us. I intend to use the several dozen times in my life that taught me something about myself, got my attention, informed me in the better path to walk, and in the telling of them help readers to see the moments in their own lives so that they might put to good use their firsthand experiences in the forming of their personalities and work ethics, recognizing their abilities, learning how they treat others, and the like.

My son’s death was not the first moment that taught me something important, though it was at that time the biggest one. When I was ten and eleven, two things happened that taught me vital lessons. The first demonstrated a change I needed to make, while the other informed me what was important to me.

As with my son’s death, those came in a moment. And the moments kept on coming. And I kept noticing them, kept learning from them, kept striving to use them to become a better person.

And that I recall so many, and see what they did to me, reinforces how important they were.

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By this weekend, my memories will move on from reliving the events of my son’s short life. But, for these two days, I’m stuck on his precious face. He would have turned forty years old—my son, middle age, over the hill! Who would he have become? Married? Kids? Career? Goofy, like his dad (and his two younger brothers)?

Missing those things stings, but it’s okay. I know where he is: where I long to be, with our Lord Jesus.

I trust my Lord Jesus that, in the resurrection of all people, we will revel in the reunion of reunions.

And all this sadness will be done.

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