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Giving birth to grief

"Giving birth to grief" Continued...

Issue: "Four horsemen of the apocalypse," Oct. 4, 2008

My wife continued, "I cannot describe to you the peace I had at that moment. It is like none I have ever experienced on earth and I know it will be the peace of heaven for all eternity." Right after that the neurosurgeon came in, checked Jeff's pupils, and informed us that he was brain-dead. My wife said, "Oh yes, I know, he's gone."

For Jeff, the 33-hour battle was over. He was home. For us the battle had just begun.

Several hours later we were approached about donating Jeff's vital organs, tissues, eyes, etc. We were taken aback. Who thinks of such things at a time like this? However, as we did think about it, my wife and I asked ourselves what Jeff would do. It didn't take long to decide. He went to law school believing that God wanted him to defend the cause of the widow and the orphan.

Later we received letters from several of the organ recipients, all grateful for a second chance at life. Of course, we were glad for them, but it only served to heighten our awareness of the magnitude of the cost. It took a life to give life. As Christians, we are quite familiar with that theme. But now it was much more than a theme: We were living it. Jesus had to give His life for us so that He could give it to us. There's no other way to get it-no way around it, as Jesus conceded in the Garden of Gethsemane.

On Sunday, May 21, 2000, the very day Jeff would have graduated from law school, our family was attending an organ donor banquet. While we understood the desire of such groups to pay tribute to families who donate organs of their loved ones, for us it was just too painful. If only there was some other way and this had never happened. If only we were at his law school graduation. If only he had left the house five minutes earlier or later. If only he had never gone for a bike ride that day. If only he had never gotten that stupid bike.

Our second-born, Joshua, was staggered by his brother's death. Jeff was not only his "big brother," he was his best friend. We were involved in a violent auto accident when Josh was only 6 days old on our way to the first pediatric visit after his birth. Josh acquired hydrocephalus as a result and for the next 19 years of his life endured upwards of 20 major surgeries. So much of this, along with physical challenges, seemed to take him out of the social mainstream. Socializing was awkward for Josh, and friends didn't come easy.

Josh talked very little about Jeff for two years after his death. Our other two children pretty much followed the same pattern. It was just too hard for them. All of them seemed to go on with life carrying a huge weight that no one talked about.

But after two years Josh exploded. He had graduated from a Bible college and gone on to obtain a B.A. in religion and philosophy. All that didn't matter now. His position was, "If this is what I get for trying to follow the Lord, I'm done." Josh's anger manifested itself in a variety of ways over the next couple of years. He just could not be reasoned with. Why had God not protected his brother?

Sometimes we are desperate to maintain some tangible contact with Jeff. For some time after his death, my wife kept his pillow with pillowcase intact. Every now and then she would bury her face in that pillow and try to pick up his scent. We had lots of photos of him but no video, and wished we had. One day I went to his old high school where he played football and asked the athletic director if he would let me borrow some old video of Jeff playing football. He graciously retrieved seven tapes for me which I devoured, painfully, in one sitting.

Jared's birthday has always been difficult for all of us since Jeff's accident. We have done our best to celebrate, but everyone in the room knows something else happened on that day. This past year, on his 30th birthday, Jared suddenly got up from the table and disappeared into another room where he silently wept.

One of the memories I don't think I'll ever forget: The day after Jeff died Jared drove down to school to check his mailbox. When he returned home, it was obvious he had been crying as he handed a card to us. It was a birthday card from Jeff, a humorous card in keeping with the fun they loved to have with one another. Jeff had handwritten a note at the bottom of the card: "I hope the memories of our childhood bring back such fond memories for you as they do for me. Love, Jeff."

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