Sunday, a friend of mine said something that absolutely broke my heart. She said she'd gotten a call from her cousin that week saying their 4 year old child had died during the night.
You just never forget those kinds of calls.
When I was fourteen, yes--a millennium ago--my mom got a call like that. It was my oldest brother, who said their second son, 17 month old Mitchel, had died in his sleep. Watching my mom start to cry as she slid down to the floor was something that I'll never forget.
It was so much like the call we got when my dad died I knew what had happened before she told me.
I was seven when my dad died, but that's the kind of thing that brands your memory in a searing, permanent way. My mom sobbing on the phone. My brother holding me while I cried. And it had started out as such a wonderful, fun day.
When Mitchel died, no one was expecting it. His death affected me in so many ways. I'd never met him on this earth. The year before he was born, we'd tried to drive up for a visit and rolled our car after hitting black ice. In my youth, that experience made me incredibly nervous to attempt that trip again, so when my mom went up there when Mitchel was a baby, I was too scared to go. Stupid 13 yr old thing to do. But there you are. I couldn't go to his funeral either, since it was near the end of May and the school told my mom we couldn't miss our final exams. Stupid school. BTW, no school will ever dictate to me what family events my kids experience or miss. Just sayin'.
I'm not trying to lessen the pain felt by Mitchel's parents, or the lasting effects his death had on his current and future siblings. It's a devastating thing to lose a child, no matter how much of the gospel you understand or accept. It's hard to take comfort in the knowledge that they are in a better, safer place and that they are now spared the evils of the world when you are ripped apart inside. When you see their favorite shirt, or toy, or their room, and can't help but think you can't hug or hold them anymore. For now, at least.
I would sneak into my kids' rooms and watch them sleep, and make sure they were breathing, well past their second birthdays. I couldn't help myself. The idea of waking up in the morning to a dead child haunted me for the longest time. In some ways, it still does. We are not in charge of when God calls his children home. That's why, after Jeffrey had his life-saving surgery, I started counting the months and years I had him with me. He could have died before he turned a year old. Having him in my life now means a little more because of that. I don't take any of those moments for granted.
Or at least I try not to.