Lessons from Death, Part 1

Not very long ago, a family I know lost their not-quite-two-year-old son Evan when he drowned. This little boy was always so bright-eyed and cheerful at church. A line in one of the most moving and powerful novels ever written – Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton – reminds me of Evan. The story is about a black African pastor whose son kills the son of a wealthy white landowner (who lives nearby). The story is one of suffering but also redemption. In the touching scene where the umfundisi (pastor) told the other man, “It was my son that killed your son” a subsequent conversation ensues. During that conversation, Mr. Jarvis, the wealthy landowner, reflected on the times in the past that he rode past the umfundisi’s church. He then asked if the umfundisi had ever seen – years ago – his young son ride by the church.

“Jarvis listened to the sounds in the house. Then he spoke very quietly. Perhaps, you saw the boy also, he said. He too used to ride past Ndotsheni. On a red horse with a white face. And he carried wooden guns, here in his belt, as small boys do…. I remember, umnumzana. There was a brightness in him. Yes, yes said Jarvis, there was a brightness in him.” I took this detour because that last line reminds me of Evan. There was a brightness in him. Every time I saw him walking down the hallway at church, I saw that brightness. That brightness has faded from this life but it is not forever lost. That brightness only glows with more intensity in the next life – waiting to illuminate his family when they are reunited once again.

Rob Gardner used a poem written by his grandmother in his musical production Joseph Smith, the Prophet. It is some of the thoughts of a mother who lost a child – the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma lost many children to death. While Rob Gardner did not edit it for the musical in order to preserve its integrity, I will take the liberty of editing it so that it fits more with Evan’s death and all children who are lost so young.

“The wind through the cypress made them sway
And rolled the clouds back that winter day
The sun shone through long enough to say
Your baby was here, but cannot stay.
For there are more important things to do
And [he] must add a gleam to heaven’s hue
To help brighten the pathway for one and all
For through the darkness, great men fall.
This little spirit so pleasant and fair
Returned to the ones who were waiting there.
And when I walk out in the night divine
I know one of the stars that shine is mine.
[He] came to the earth just for a while
[Just] long enough to see [him] smile
For this little [child] we loved so much
Was just too precious for a mother’s touch.”

As a parent of little children, I’ve been especially touched by this whole experience of Evan’s death. Even so, I can’t really understand the grief the family has gone and is going through. The loss I’ve experienced in my life has been far different than the loss of a child, so it pales in comparison. But all deaths of friends or family members can be very difficult experiences.

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