We celebrated Jay’s birthday on February 10, 1992, his twenty-fourth, not knowing that we’d never celebrate another. He and his girlfriend, Dana, had just broken up, but she had planned a surprise party for him and wanted to carry it out. I told her that I would help. She didn’t know that Jay had found out about the surprise and would show up and act just as surprised as she wanted him to be. That’s the kind of man he was. He never disliked a girl after breaking up and wouldn’t have thought of hurting Dana by spoiling her party. Of course, Frank and I were there.
The reason that this was his last birthday is that he died suddenly on July 2, 1992. I’m not writing tonight about his death or the senseless activities that led to it. No, tonight I want to take another approach. I want you to know that God prepared me for losing my boy, not that I realized the preparation at the time. One of the best things that the Lord does for us is not to let us know what’s ahead. Can you imagine knowing ahead of time that Jay would die on the day that he did? Even parents whose children suffer through health problems don’t know the exact day when they’ll lose their precious offspring. What a blessing!
I’ll begin with Christmas 1991. Usually on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Jay would spend a part of each day with us, but in 1991, he was with us until late in the evening on Christmas Eve, even going with us to our service at church. We all went to Wendy and Steve’s house afterwards and had such a good time with just our little family. He was right with us all day on Christmas, and I have beautiful photos of the day. Some people might not call this preparation, but after the fact, I viewed it that way. It was God’s way of giving us more time with our boy, more very special time that we needed, though we didn’t know it at the time.
Just after the holidays, we went to see Velvet Melon, Jay’s band, perform in Mobile at Trinity’s. At this particular bar, the stage was elevated over the bar. No bad seats in the house! I was standing next to the bar and glanced up at Jay. I heard a voice say, “Enjoy him. You won’t have him long.” I don’t share this with everyone because some people would think that I was just imagining hearing this. I know that I heard it, and I know that the Lord spoke the words. I remembered them in July.
Sometime probably in March, when my students were working on their Anthologies, an assignment in which they had to choose their own literature and react to it, one of my favorite students came to me with a poem. She wanted to know if she could use it in her assignment. I read it, and we both cried. How could a parent live after losing a child? Neither of us could understand. Here’s the poem:
Lent for a While…
“Ill lend you for a little time, a child of Mine”, He said,
“For you to love the while he lives, and mourn for when he’s dead,
It may be six of seven years, or thirty-two or three,
But will you till I call him back, take care of him for me?”
“He’ll bring his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,
You’ll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught there I wish this child to learn.”
“I’ve looked the wide world over in my search for teachers true,
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes, I have selected you.
You will give him lots of love and not think the labor vain,
Nor will you lose your faith in me when I take him back again.”
I fancied that I heard them say; “Dear Lord, Thy will be done,
For all the joy Thy child shall bring, the risk of grief we’ll run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness, we’ll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay.”
“And should the Angels call for him much sooner than we’ve planned,
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes, and try to understand.”
In July, I thought back to this poem and knew that God gave that poem to Jennifer and that she shared it with me for a purpose. God did, indeed, lend Jay to us for a while.
Something else that I read and that I’ve always believed God gave to me was an article in Reader’s Digest. I have no recollection of the title, but it was about parents whose little girl had died. The only way the family could deal with this tragedy was to get rid of all of the child’s belongings and to move to another house. After a period of time, because the parents couldn’t stop blaming each other for their daughter’s death, the couple divorced. Their solution to their grief horrified me. I couldn’t believe that people would really do something like this, but at that time, I didn’t know personally about the death of a child, and I thought that maybe most families reacted in this manner.
God gave us Jay at Easter that year, too. Just another instance of His caring for us and proving to us later that He knew all along that Jay would be with Him soon. He was just sharing our boy more and more with us because in the not too distant future, he’d be where he always knew he’d go someday. I remember mentioning to Jay at some point during these preparatory months that he needed to get more rest. His reply to his worry wart mother: I can rest when I get to Heaven. Maybe he knew something, too. No, I don’t really think that.
Sometimes when a child dies, the parents feel bereft of God. Not so with me. When Jay died, I immediately felt the strong arms of Jesus around me. I heard that same voice that spoke to me at Trinity’s say this time, “I’ll get you through this. Just let me take care of you.” And He did. And He still does.