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When a Child Dies #4

2012 February 10
by Mike

Four and a half years after our daughter, Megan, died, tragedy struck our family again. My seemingly healthy, joy-filled, 15-year-old nephew, Jantsen, died suddenly after lifting weights with his high school football team. Apparently he had a heart irregularity that had gone undetected.

with my little brother


In Megan’s Secrets, I devote a chapter to this story, including when Diane and I finally arrived at their house after receiving the tragic news:

When we finally got to their house, one of Pam’s relatives said, “He’s back in the bedroom waiting for you.” As I walked in, Randy gave a huge, first-recognition smile, then one second later collapsed into sobs.

We had shared a room as kids; we’d ridden ponies and bikes and played endless games of football and basketball; I’d performed his wedding ceremony.

And now we were two grieving fathers in each other’s arms.

He choked out the words, “I’m so sorry.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’m just so sorry about Megan. If I’d known how painful it is, I would have called more often.”

I assured him that no one can know. It’s a private club of grief. No member hopes for more members. We don’t recruit.

Some of the things Randy has written through this experience are among the best things on grief I’ve ever read. (More of their story is included in my sister-in-law Pam’s book, Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace.)

I asked Randy to write something for this series. Here is how he describes the persisting sense of loss (and the eventual return of a new life):

On June 16, 1999 a part of my body left this world. Actually, it was my 15-year-old son that left, but as I later described it to a friend it was much like losing a leg.

The early days were so intensely painful that thankfully something kicked in that put me in a fog – a place in the universe that I didn’t know existed. Time didn’t exist, I didn’t feel hungry or notice the sun come up. I heard few voices.

Actually some of the hardest parts of these first days and weeks were trying to get my mind to kick in. As soon as I tried to move back into “this world” a breaker would trip in my mind. This world didn’t make sense without my “leg.”

After an amount of time, perhaps 40 days, the open wound healed over, but the pain was just as intense as ever. I had to sit up in bed and think about how to live life without my leg. I had to get up, get in the shower, and somehow go back to work.

I realize now how awkward it was for my friends when they saw me in those early days. Do they say something about how good I looked when I obviously didn’t or should they just ignore it, not knowing what to say? Most chose the later.

I’m still not sure how I did it, but I managed to pull it together and make a meager effort to get through a workday, although by the time I got home I was exhausted. It took so much more energy to get through the day without my leg.

Jantsen Cope pushing his cousin Megan in her stroller


The hardest part of my new life was accepting that I would never have my leg back. I learned to get up, get out of bed, even learned to run without my leg, but it was never and will never be the same.

Actually, it would be easier if it were a leg. People would see my loss is still there. They would know my leg isn’t growing back, that there are days when I’m mad that my life is hard and wouldn’t question why I am emotionally drained and ready for bed at 9 p.m.

I like life again and some days even love life. But when it is over please enjoy thinking of me in heaven reunited with that which was lost.

38 Responses leave one →
  1. February 10, 2012

    This series will continue throughout next week.

  2. David P Himes permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Those of us who have not been forced to join this club are left speechless by reading this series.

  3. February 10, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Randy’s thoughts. I could not believe how exhausting grief was … every step felt difficult… Randy’s “fog”…yes I know about that too. I have been blessed by this series, as I usually am when someone opens up about the pain. One of our Compassionate Friends slogans is, “we need not walk alone”. This series reminds those who are hurting that they are not alone. Thanks.

  4. erin permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Randy’s metaphor of losing a leg speaks eloquently about the organic, persistent nature of this pain. Thank you for helping us understand.

  5. julie permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Mike, the picture of Jantsen pushing Megan brought sharp emotion to my heart….immediately. Your family and Randy’s family have been such a blessing to our family and seeing both family’s pain in movement in a photo…well, it was overwhelming. Love, love, love the Cope family.

  6. erin permalink
    February 10, 2012

    I agree, Julie. I’ve known about both deaths. But seeing those cousins together when they are young is tear-inducing.

  7. February 10, 2012

    A thin space! Thank you Mike and thank you Randy.

  8. Tim Hayes permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Mike – Randy’s initial reaction to you really resonates with me. In the year since losing my 25-year old son, I have found myself reaching out to friends from my past merely to express my sorrow for not understanding the depth of their pain after losing a child. There truly is no way to understand the journey without walking it. Even then, real comprehension is elusive, but I have learned that sometimes life after a child’s death can only be lived – one step, one breath at a time.

  9. kathy s permalink
    February 10, 2012

    sorrow and tears overflow…thinking of you again today with love, k

  10. Laure Tucker permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this on a day when a cousin of mine will attend a funeral of his 29 yr. old son.

  11. Coping permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Ah…….

  12. February 10, 2012

    It’s been a joy, in some ways, to share these thoughts. And I look forward to more next week (and probably the week after that).

    And yet . . . I can feel myself sinking into a familiar, dark hole. Others will understand. The joy of remembering comes with a cost.

  13. Lloyd Massie permalink
    February 10, 2012

    Thanks so much for you comments about what people say to you when your child dies.
    Our son died when he was 20.
    We heard all the same comments.
    I bit my tongue a lot, and didn’t say all the things I thought, which is always a good idea, maybe.
    It helped us to read your perspective.
    Good job.

    We are thankful for all your work, particular the impact your acu class had on our daughter Meredith, way back when. She graduated in 2003.

    God bless you all.

  14. February 10, 2012

    Mike it does come at a cost. Sat with a mama last night who just lost her daughter a month ago. So diffucult.
    Randy and Pam I can’t thank you enough for being there for us and sharing your insights with us. I am so glad we are friends and hate the circumstances that brought us together,
    Selah,Nan

  15. Kathy permalink
    February 11, 2012

    Bless you Mike and beautiful family for inviting us to walk with y’all just a moment on this sacred path of more than grief.
    I’ve watched my beloved brother walk this path since the death of his 13-year old son, for some 36 years now. He has been lifted up some out of that “black hole” by the birth of his grandsons, in particular this last one, a three years old sweetheart.
    Those of us that stand on the edge of that abyss watching our loved ones fall deeper and deeper into that hole can only thank you for expressing so beautifully what our loved ones, and by extension what we have experienced and are experiencing. I write this through a waterfall of tears, blessing you for opening up to us, sharing your grief with us. How I admire and love you, Mike Cope!!

  16. Andrew Nicholls permalink
    February 11, 2012

    Hi Mike, we lost our Daughter Amy 3 years ago, on the 9th of February 2009, it has really helped me reading these posts, thank you from the bottom of my heart, God bless you x

  17. February 15, 2012

    My son was 19. For two years after he died, I’m not sure if I breathed. It will be six years next month. I still can’t believe Riley died, he’s just so….here. It’s a kind of frustrating limbo where he’s not exactly here, yet not exactly gone. I used to tell him that he sure had nice friends. I didn’t know just how nice until he died. I’m so grateful for them. Mostly I am grateful to have gotten to know Jesus as I never had before. I know I will be with my son again. He still makes me smile.

    Thank you for sharing your story and giving us a chance to share ours. May God wrap His arms around you and hold you tight. 🙂

  18. Buzz Ball permalink
    February 22, 2012

    I vividly remember the time when Janzten died as I was working with Randy at the time. I do remember thinking what do I say and wanting to yank back the stupid words that I had uttered. But I truly believe that God put me in Neosho that year to help Randy and Pam not only with their loss, but to give them assurance that “other things” (work-related) was being taken care of. I look back and think of ways that I could have been a better friend and supporter. And I also look back and am so thankful I was there – just a presence.

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