Welcome to a new feature on my blog: “Interviews with ordinary people I find fascinating!”
Each interview will follow the same format.
Today’s post is by Randy Siever who tells us how he coped with worst possible thing…the loss of a child.
Q. What happened?
We were married in 1976, and waited until I completed college to try to have our first child. It didn’t take long. Justin Wesley Siever was born July 21, 1982, at El Camino Hospital in Mt. View, California. He weighed in at seven pounds, nine ounces, and measured 20 ½” in length. He was a good-looking little guy, except maybe for his cone-head (which adjusted itself to normal by the next day), and there was no evidence that anything was wrong until early the 22nd of July when his breathing quickened. Doctors were called in, x-rays taken, and then a trip to the Stanford Neo-Natal Center for tests. The final verdict: Justin’s little heart had only developed on one side. The developed side was designed to pump blood exclusively to the lungs, but was in Justin’s case pumping for the whole body. He lived because the hole between the two halves (which is normal in newborns but generally closes up in the first 24 hours after birth) allowed the developed side to pump for the undeveloped side as well. There was no surgical remedy in those days—he would live perhaps a day, perhaps a week, but he would ultimately die. By early the next morning (3:57 a.m. on the 23rd), Justin quietly slipped away in the arms of a wonderfully caring nurse—no pain, no discomfort. He lived a mere 40 hours.
It is difficult to describe the enormous sense of loss when a child dies. Nobody really understands it unless they have lost a child themselves. It is perhaps most difficult for the woman who gave birth, since she carried the child for nine months, and her body was literally transformed to care for and nurture that child once it arrived. That kind of hollowness, emptiness…that kind of enormous vacuum is beyond most human beings experience.
There was a wonderful memorial service for Justin that was completely organized by dear friends. Afterward, Sandy and I went home and sat in our living room alone, in silence. I looked at her and wept, and then with a large degree of numbness simply asked, “Now what?” I literally couldn’t think of what the next thing should be. Should we eat? Should we sleep? Should we clean the house? What are we supposed to do? Nothing seemed important or worthwhile.
Q. What was most helpful for you at the time?
Our Young Life community came around us, both before the memorial service and after it. It must have been shortly after the word got out about Justin’s death that they showed up and just stood in silence as we wept. I remember about ten guys in our kitchen, just standing in a circle, nobody saying a word (the women were in the living room with Sandy…and most likely were a bit more talkative). Seemed like it was an hour, but eventually one of the guys said, “You eat anything today?” I said I couldn’t remember, and he said, “If I went and got pizza and beer, would you eat it?” I must have nodded because he took off. And we ate pizza and drank beer and cried and stood in our kitchen…together. They listened to me when I felt like I needed to speak, and they didn’t offer any cliché answers or advice. They were just WITH me. I have never felt the presence of Christ in such a tangible, non-mystical way as that day.
People came with food. People came to clean our house. One couple kidnapped us for breakfast out. People just barged into our pain and carried it with us. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful that was, how loved and cared for we felt. Love does stuff, and we were the recipients of great love.
Q. “How is God recycling this difficult experience for good in your life?”
The strangest thing has happened as a result of losing our son. We have been drawn to others who have lost a child, and have been sought out by some as well. We are part of a fraternity of people that nobody ever wants to join: Those who have lost a child. Nobody can possibly come close to understanding how that feels unless they have lost a child themselves. There is great comfort in being with someone who just KNOWS. You can see it in them, feel it in them, and there are very few words that need to be said. So we sit with parents who lost a child. This has been a great blessing to us, and we encourage all who have lost a child to do the same.
Q. There are people out there, reading this right now, who are going through what you went through. What insight would you share with them?
I was full of advice in my younger days. In the weeks following Justin’s death, I wrote a letter with a few observations. It sounds a little preachy to me now, but it didn’t back then. Here are a couple of things I observed in the darkness, unedited:
· Someone shared with me at the memorial service that our divine purpose in life is to glorify God. We spend YEARS in feeble attempts to do just that, with occasional token successes. Justin, in just 40 hours, completed and fulfilled his divine purpose in ways that I never dreamed of. He has brought such glory to God in his life and death that the effects will be seen for months and years to come. People have been drawn to God, hearts have been softened, relationships between parents and children have been radically altered, and the Body of Christ has been drawn closer together—all because of Justin Wesley’s life. I only pray that when it’s my turn to join him in heaven, my life will have been half as meaningful as his was. At 40 hours old, he is hearing the words of the Father that we all long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
· The difficult part for me no is the “getting on with life” process. I don’t want to forget that Justin lived (as if I could!), and yet I don’t know how else to move forward. I find myself clinging to his memory as if it were actually HIM. But this memory seems to paralyze my life, playing havoc with reality, and making concentration and work nearly impossible. How to get on with life without forgetting him in the process—the task is ominous. I cannot go back to how life was before Justin because EVERYTHING has changed sine he lived and dies. His lifetime was short, but it was still HIS LIFETIME! He didn’t miss a day.
32 years later, I wouldn’t add much, except to say that the pain and tears will eventually become friends. I still choke up over the silliest things at the most inappropriate times. Stupid commercials, a song, and of course anytime someone talks about losing a child. But every tear is a reminder of my first born son, Justin. And I give thanks for the reminders, and sometimes even smile through the tears.
Q. Would you mind saying a prayer for anyone going through this today?
Father, only you know what it’s like for each one of us who has lost a child. May you bring hope and comfort and peace to those who weep over their child who has died. May you grant them healing and a very present community to walk with them. And may you turn their tears into friends who gently remind them of their beloved child for as long as they live. Thank you, Lord, for taking good care of Justin for us. I’m looking forward to holding him again one day, and introducing his brothers and sister to him in your presence. Amen.