Sunday, March 29, 2015

How Far Is Heaven?

"No one wants to suffer.  No one wants to be lonely.  No one wants to live in fear. No one wants to lose everything. No one wants their heart ripped to shreds. No one wants to be sick.  And, no one wants to die. But these things happen in life.  So the least we can do is to be there for others, as we would like others to be there for us."

As I raised my children, I did everything I could to secure their well-being. I wanted them to have every opportunity to experience as much of life as they were able to dream. I tried to encourage them to have passion, and to follow that passion as much as possible.  They made it through the teenage years and into young adulthood with no major hiccups.  Then, it was time for me to let them go.  It was time to watch them fly and make their way in the world on their terms.  I’m not alone. I believe that this is a path taken by almost every parent. We all go through it, as did our parents, and their parents. As we set them free, we feel a sense of accomplishment and look forward to watching them flourish.  For some, it is their time to soar; for others, their time is cut short.  I am honored to share with you a few stories of some very special young men and women who left this earth too soon…by our timetables.


Austen – This 19 year old promising rugby player greeted each day of his life with the anticipation and excitement of a child on Christmas morning.  He loved every minute of every day. He was blessed to have experienced so much in his young life.  He was a gifted athlete, a Boy Scout, and a loving son who lived his life doing all the right things with honor and grace.  As an only child, his parents made sure that he had every opportunity to explore and pursue his passions.  Besides the sport of rugby, Austen loved Formula 1 racing, history (WWII era) and doing just about anything with his friends.  His closest friends numbered around 13, both boys and girls, who had all grown up together.  

One of these friends wrote a tribute to Austen saying, "thank you for letting me share the last 11 years of my life with a best friend like you.  You've always had my back, been my brother, and I know you're still looking over me as you always will."  Austen's friends all remember the contagious smile he wore...sometimes a little goofy, but always a smile!

The St. Louis Rugby Community also acknowledged his contributions to the sport beginning with Parkway United Rugby Club in high school, to the Kohlfeld Scorpions of Cape Girardeau while in college at Southeast Missouri University.  He also made a few appearances with the St. Louis Bombers, the city's elite professional rugby organization that has competed throughout the United States and abroad for over half a century.  

Austen was very happy.  His life was not cut short from illness or poor choices. He was riding a motorcycle when he was hit by a car.  His demise came quickly and he did not suffer any pain. Austen gave the ultimate gift of organ donation and now lives on in in bodies of others. 


 Bobbi - was a bright, energetic and loving young woman.  Her story is more common that we know and I think it needs to be told...over and bring awareness to the reason for her death.  Bobbi, a college graduate and in her mid-20’s, was well on her way to a successful life in a career, relationships and healthy living.  Her free spirit and creativity brought so much happiness to all who knew her.  Being an only child, she took advantage of every opportunity to spend time with her friends.  She was enjoying an evening out with some of her friends at a local establishment when her drink was spiked with a “date-rape” drug. Soon after ingesting, she had an adverse reaction. She became incapacitated and was having difficulty breathing. She was rushed to the hospital.  The doctors were unable to do anything for her and she passed within a few hours.  These drugs do not affect every person the same way, and can be dropped into a soda just as easily as any alcoholic beverage.

Bobbi was dearly loved by many and to this day, she continues to be a warm and loving memory for her family. I have two daughters. This is something I think about...a lot.  It can happen anywhere to anyone. 


Ben - an only child, and a 19 year old promising hockey player, was enjoying his first year of college.  He loved everything hockey, and gave back at his young age by officiating for youth hockey organizations. Although his passion was to play goalie or officiate at the highest level, he also dreamed of announcing hockey games and was working on a broadcasting degree at Illinois State University, Bloomington. 

 Ben lit up every room and every arena he entered.  From hometown friends, to college friends, to hockey referees Ben always left them smiling with his humor and caring demeanor.  Many of his friends all spoke of how Ben would drop everything to help them.  His sense of humor and grace under fire touched everyone who knew him. He once stepped in to sing the National Anthem when the scheduled singer didn't show at a game. He nailed it...not an easy song for anyone to sing!  
Ben was hit by a car while walking on the sidewalk in his college town. He suffered severe head injuries and was transported to the nearest hospital. After doctors exhausted all means possible to save him, they began discussing with Ben’s parents how Ben could save others.  Upon learning of Ben's accident, the Detroit Redwings sent him an autographed jersey that hung on the wall of his hospital room prior to his passing.  Ben also lives on in the bodies of others who received needed organs; one of them is now able to see because of Ben's gift. 

The individuals shared above were "only" children.  When they went left our world, they left incomprehensible voids in the lives of their parents.  Every day is a struggle for the parents to find their way in this new family situation. It takes strength and faith to keep moving forward. I believe that the love they shared with their children while on earth will carry them through until the day they are reunited.  


Erica - knew how to make people feel good about themselves.  Her words touched souls in ways that changed lives.  She wanted to help others, whether it was through teaching in an educational setting, or by working with cancer patients who had lost their hair through chemo.  College educated and filled with a passion to make a difference, she struggled with what she was going to do with her life.  She wanted to know the whole picture and had difficulty accepting that she could not.  She seemed to always shine in the direction of others who needed it.  Little did anyone know, even those closest to her, that she was unable to shine for herself.  She always "smiled for the show" which many found so endearing.  

 Erica suffered from Depression, a disease that is more common than many want to admit because of the stigma associated with it.  It is a disease which symptoms appear in many different forms.  Anxiety, fear, and aggressive, obsessive and compulsive behaviors, can all be connected to Depression.  The signs are not always there, because "we don't want anyone to know" that we are weak, or that we are not "right."  Weak or “not right” can be described as a common character of almost everyone!  

 No one knew just how much pain Erica felt.  All of the intelligence and information available still could not save her from the emotional despair.  Even her strong faith in God was not enough to ease the pain. She just wanted it to go away and felt she had no place to take it.  Erica was found unresponsive by a sibling. I know this loving family, and if there had been any inkling that something was wrong, they would have intervened. 

Those who loved Erica found her independent, trusting, immensely creative, and willing to help anyone in need. On the flip side, she worried about the future and wanted to understand everything about everything.  That was important to her.  But life just isn’t like that.  She was unique in how she learned things, and somewhere along the line, she was given the impression that she was not "good enough" because she figured things out differently than others.

It starts early in life.  Our words have so much power.  We must use them wisely and with much love...not just with children, but also with our peers.

If you or someone close to you exhibits signs of Depression, please know that there is help at many different levels. It is a treatable disease. I started looking for help many years ago. I am grateful that I found it, when I needed it the most.     

I hope you have been touched by the stories of these beautiful children of God.  I became aware of the passing of Austen, Bobbi and Ben, all within a six-month period and felt moved to share them with others. As I began to write about them, I was reminded of Erica and wanted to share her story as a way to increase awareness of Depression.  Today is the four year anniversary of Erica's passing. 

Austen, Bobbi, Ben and Erica were all precious gifts and their loving memories will always have a special place in the hearts of those whom they loved. I wish to extend my thoughts and prayers to the families of each of them and my hope that they find healing as they celebrate the lives of each of these very special children.


Anonymous said...

This is beautiful! It brought tears to my eyes yet I thought how blessed we have been that we might have known (of) special people like these kids.

Anonymous said...

i think that the first thing i would like to do is say: Thank you for saying these kind words about these kids.

as a person of interest of one of the kids mentioned... i say thank you for telling their stories.

As a parent, we always hope we get it right. As an observer when tragedy hits, sometimes the sheer volume of people these kids touched... shows us in humility that "hey, we did okay!".

It is important that others share the message, to keep the memories of these kids vibrant and alive.