Love and loss
Conner was born several weeks early with respiratory complications that quickly placed him on life support. The lack of oxygen from distressed breathing resulted in irreversible brain damage. Connor had only hours to live. His parents faced the unimaginably devastating news: how to say goodbye to their little miracle and let him die.
On my hospital pager, I received a request to meet with Connor’s dad.
“Thank you for coming,” Russell said. “I really need to talk to someone.”
The subject turned to his feelings about this painful moment and his faith in God. He told me he believed in God but, as many people do at times like this, he wanted to ask that one persistent question: “Why would God allow this to happen to my little boy?” I didn’t offer an answer. As a chaplain, I try not to give answers as much as “come alongside” people so they can work through their emotions with hope and prayer and arrive at some solace themselves.
After a few moments of silence, he jumped up.
“I’m going to read a book to him. I’m going to read to my son!”
The nursing staff found some books and Russell started reading to his newborn. After that, he told Connor the story about his honeymoon. He told him about his time in the military. He retraced the places he experienced while a soldier. Connor was suddenly traveling across the country and the Middle East.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
What does Paul mean here in Romans 12 by holding fast our love? Russell was giving Connor as much love as he could before his son would be gone.
Connor was baptized in those precious moments. Four hours later, the life support was removed. It wasn’t but a few minutes before Connor’s heart stopped beating. As I watched these parents hold and mourn the death of their son, I was struck by the fact that Connor never opened his eyes, never got to look into his dad’s face or see the pictures in the books. He never felt that moment of bonding when a baby is placed in his mother’s arms. He’d never know what loving parents he had. My faith told me he would forever feel that love and take it with him as he slid into the loving arms of Christ.
Paul’s word for hospitality literally means love for the stranger. Connor was something of a stranger. He wasn’t here very long. He got to know his dad very little, his mom even less. But Paul believed that to love genuinely — friend and stranger alike — is to love as Jesus loved.
Connor indeed arrived as an unexpected stranger. What I haven’t mentioned is that Russell and his wife Lee didn’t know Connor existed until the day he was born. Lee struggled with severe obesity and carried Conner to full-term not knowing she was pregnant.
I’ll never forget Russell’s last words to me before we said goodbye.
“In the last three days, I found out I was going to be a Dad, spent time with my son, loved him as best I could, and then had to let him go. But, I’m a happy man.” In a span of three days, this man lived, loved, and lost … and was changed forever.