The day was somber. Heavy clouds scudded across an oyster-gray sky, and a chill north wind blew as my neighbors, Todd and Kim, bid goodbye to their fifteen-year-old son. The service was held in one of those big box Baptist churches, since their little east side church was too small to accommodate the eleven hundred mourners who came to grieve this young boy.
After a brave, year-plus struggle with leukemia, Jarod was scheduled for his last hospital visit, his last treatment, before a triumphant trip to Disney World. Instead, a fungal infection, one so rare that the CDC hadn’t seen the likes of it in thirty years, ravaged his body, leaving him dead in three days. The irony was not lost on any of us who had followed his and his family’s journey of desperation and hope over these last many months.
Their Baptist preacher came to the hospital and Jarod, unable to talk, entrusted himself to his savior. By this act, his family and friends were assured that his last painful breath on earth would be the prelude to his first happy breath in heaven.
I sat amid my fellow mourners and listened to the minister spend almost no time talking about Jarod or his family’s travails. Rather than ask each of us to mourn the loss of this sweet boy, he instructed us to take Jesus as our savior and open our hearts to everlasting life.
I don’t come from this tradition. I don’t believe in streets paved with gold or perfect bodies, whole and frolicking with their pet dogs after death. I sat and thought about the swollen, flat face of this once active and happy boy. I cried each time I saw Todd catch Kim’s arm to keep her from swooning. I imagined the chasm of emptiness both their son and his illness will leave behind. Still, I was glad that the service lightened their grief and eased their agony.
Death has freed Jarod from pain, and that comforts me. His death is as inexplicable to me as his birth; both are part of the cycle that unites us all, makes us human, and should . . . lead us to be better people in the time in between.
I’m sad that Jarod lost his struggle. I’m sad for all loss of life that seems so random, premature, and cruel. Jarod’s death reminded me of just how sad these deaths from illness are but also those preventable deaths from gun violence, terrorism, war, and addiction.