When a Child Dies #4
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.
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.
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.