“He’s gone.” Parents could never forget those words after they have been spoken about their son. Even now, nearly six years removed from the awful day we heard them, I still picture the doctor’s grim face as he shared the news. I can smell the sanitized odor of that ICU hospital room, hear the soft sobs of the gathered family members, and feel my chest heaving under the pressure of shock and disbelief giving way to the reality of my son’s unexpected death. A few minutes earlier the doctor had removed breathing tubes keeping Micah’s body artificially alive, and within a few short minutes, his nine-month-old chest stopped, and he was gone.
For most of my life, I have believed what the Bible says about God, that he is both sovereign and loving. Admittedly, until tragedy struck, intellectual objections to the goodness and sovereignty of God seemed esoteric. Significant suffering was something that happened to other people. My life seemed to be going along quite well, and, as a result, it was easy for me to espouse the traditional Christian views about God and his purposes in suffering. From the day we heard those terrible words, though, an easy espousal of doctrine would not suffice. A wrestling match with God had begun.
On Thursday afternoon, July 23, 2009, Micah had fallen out of his high chair reaching for his toes. While he sustained a black eye from his fall, no one felt his condition was serious, much less life-threatening. On each of the next two days, various pediatric doctors saw Micah because he developed a low-grade fever and an unusual cough. Doctors diagnosed Micah with pneumonia, probably as a result of inhaling something down his lung when he fell. However, the doctors were not concerned, believing the foreign object would probably dissolve in a matter of days; he would soon be back to normal.
On Sunday morning, July 26, Micah suddenly stopped breathing. Within two minutes of our emergency call, EMTs arrived followed by the ambulance. But no one could revive Micah. I held my wife, Heather, on our kitchen floor as we screamed and cried together, praying as earnestly as we could that God would cause our little son to take a breath and come back to us. But God didn’t answer our prayer. We never heard him cry again.
Micah was eventually taken to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where doctors revived his breathing. But after nearly one hour without oxygen, there was no hope for any brain activity. Over the next 24 hours, we prayed that our sovereign and good God would miraculously heal our little boy. But by 10:00 the next morning, we were told Micah had so little brain activity there was no hope for recovery. Heather, deciding she could not be in the room when Micah’s ventilator was removed, said her final goodbye, encouraging him to “run to Jesus, sweetie, run to Jesus.” A few minutes later, I held my son as the doctors removed the ventilator that was giving him breath. In the single deepest moment of anguish I ever have or ever will experience, my son’s little heart stopped beating.
Following Micah’s death, doctors determined Micah had aspirated a pea when he had fallen from his highchair. On Sunday, Micah had tried to cough up the pea, but it became lodged in his windpipe. The pea stuck in such a manner as to block all airflow. According to pediatricians, chances of this occurring are infinitely small.
Sovereign Over a Pea
Six years later, we still wrestle over questions of God’s sovereign power over that little pea, about the place of human responsibility, including that of the pediatricians, and what purposes God is accomplishing in this tragedy. Why did we have to endure this struggle? Why did we have to learn these lessons through Micah’s death and not through a means that would have spared our son? While we do not possess answers to these questions, we know who does hold the answers, and who will ultimately make all things new. The apostle Paul writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Cor. 1:3–5)
Soon after Micah’s death, Heather and I were blessed by some grief “mentors” who have shepherded us through this life-altering event. These mentors, who also had experienced the death of a child, helped us with the spiritual, emotional, and marital issues associated with this tragedy. No doubt there are at least a thousand reasons why God ordained that little pea to lodge in my son’s throat. But God’s sovereign plan certainly included drawing us into relationship with other grieving parents so we might be able to use our experience to encourage others.
Hope for the Mourning
In late 2009, we created a nonprofit organization aimed to assist fellow grieving parents. Through Hope for the Mourning, our goal is to provide biblical resources and encouragement to families grieving the death of a young child or infant. Mainly through our website, the organization receives requests for assistance from grieving parents across the United States and from other parts of the world. For the time being, we are able to send out care packages to these bereaved parents. Care packages include biblically based grief support books and restaurant gift cards.
We are seeking specific individuals who will partner with Hope for the Mourning as we seek to minister to grieving parents. These “Hope Partners” would espouse a sovereign view of God and his divine purposes in suffering, and also have a heart for ministry to grieving parents.
When grieving parents who live near a Hope Partner contact us, we call on that Hope Partner to follow up, in person, with that family. While we cannot follow up with a home-cooked meal and sit across the kitchen table from the grieving parents, we are seeking partners who can. For more information about being a Hope Partner, please email us at hopeforthemourning [at] gmail.com and provide your name, phone number, e-mail address, and city and state of residence.