As a parent, I believe every child deserves to be well-loved. My son attended the funeral of a friend from town very recently, a young man whom we’ll call Stephen, who was 21 years old. Stephen didn’t look like the sort of boy to have plentiful, close friends and community involvement. You see, he was completely dependent on others for mobility, nutrition, and hygiene, and he did not speak nor use a device like my son’s. He was always in his wheelchair, his arms at angles, his feet in the stirrups, with a broad facial expression. His joy was visible and seemed continuous.
When I told my son of Stephen’s passing and upcoming funeral, my son was visibly stricken. I asked whether they saw each other, and my son replied” “a lot.” He showed that he wouldn’t be able to settle in for sleep, so we sat up together and discussed the details of Stephen’s life and death. He had a heart problem, followed by lung problems and had not been well since the last time we saw him.
That last time was at local special needs basketball group last fall. The recreation center hosts a weekly group of children and young adults to learn and play basketball. Stephen’s father was extraordinarily vigorous at practices, running Stephen around the court and staying in the action. I was watching from the sidelines mostly, but my son would have witnessed Stephen’s joy up close.
As we left the funeral, Stephen’s entirely “typical” best friend and next door neighbor, who I’ll call Stewart, greeted my son by name with a big hug. Stewart had volunteered at a summer day camp that Stephen and my son attended. The boys had been in the same group. The group camp photo is one of two that my son stands in front of almost daily, studying it and reminiscing, as he waits for his dinner to warm up. He loves that group picture. The basketball group’s photo is at the entrance to the kitchen in another prominent place. Stewart attended the basketball group as well.
We had learned in the funeral that Stewart and Stephen were next-door neighbors who saw each other every day, Stewart walked over to his friend’s house to tell him about his day at school. On the church steps, Stewart graciously explained to my son that Stephen’s first year of life had been painful, with heart surgery, as had his last, but that he is now peaceful.
Stephen’s funeral was well-attended, and the eulogies long and detailed about his many interests, activities, and preferences. He watched and enjoyed certain shows and sports. Stephen had been active in his family’s church and had completed religious education exercises via multiple choice administered orally. Religious belief has, for me, been at times difficult and at others comforting. I appreciate what belief gave Stephen’s family and Stephen himself, even as I am unable to partake in it.
My son has teared up, uncharacteristically, a few more times in the past week or so, and it was when he was thinking about Stephen. He is back in summer camp now, the first season without this friend. When a child has difficulty interacting and lacks functional communication, I worry whether the child has someone at home who truly knows him or her. Stephen was well-known, and well-loved in a beautiful, brief life. I cried, too, shocking my son, but in my case for Stephen’s parents. Their lives were defined by and encircled their son. If anyone needs and deserves prayers now, it is they.
The family asked that donations in lieu of flowers be made to our sons’ camp, a 401c3 charitable organization, http://www.campacorn.org/donate.php