We recently honored the 20th anniversary of our little buddy’s transition to heaven. My godson, Tommy, was born with a rare disease of the immune system and died before he reached his 8th birthday.
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For seven years, there were four of us. And we were “the grandkids.”
Lucky me, I got to be the babysitter for Tommy and his sisters, Kristin and Maren. We’d play house, doctor, school, hide-and-seek, build forts, read books, walk to the local store, watch movies, and just hang out and laugh.
Tommy was a goofball. I remember one time playing school and Tommy was one of the students. As soon as his classroom role was assigned to him, he sat down at his make-believe desk, raised his hand and said, “Okay, my name is gonna be ‘Egg Whites.’” Huh?!
I also had the privilege of being the community summer playground leader for the three kids. Our days were spent face-painting, playing hopscotch, making ice cream, creating art projects, and playing capture the flag. After Tommy’s mom dropped him off in the morning, he’d run over to me in full summer gear—shorts, tank top, and flip flops—and hand me his lunch to be put away. Then he’d catch a glimpse of his other little buddies and he’d be the first one to shout out: “Come on guys, let’s go!” And they’d be off for the rest of the day playing cops and robbers on top of the hill.
Tommy would play so hard under the summer sun that he’d often forget to eat his lunch until I reminded him. He was an expert at following his joy, ‘cause that’s what kids do.
There are countless fun and good and wonderful memories. And then there are also quite a few visions that are pretty difficult. I’ll never forget seeing my great-grandpa Elmer leaning over Tommy’s bedside at the hospital after he had endured brain surgery. It just didn’t seem “right” for an 80-something guy who had lived a full life, to have to see his great-grandson on a journey toward death. Seeing a kid at the mercy of disease is gut-wrenching.
But then shortly after that poignant scene and after waking up from surgery in his hospital bed, Tommy ran his hand along the big scar on the side of his head. His mom, wanting to make sure he wasn’t alarmed, explained: “That’s from your brain surgery, Tommy.” And Tommy’s response (which made us all smile) was: “Duh!”
His boyish spirit remained alive ‘til the end.
Tommy was certainly a bright light for our family and for the world. He once told his mom, “You’re perfect because I love you.” And I’ve never forgotten that wisdom from our deep and insightful little guy. Yes, we are all perfect—each one of us—because we are loved.
For 20 years now, “the grandkids” has been a team of three. And between the three of us, there’s been college, growing into adulthood, marriage, moving away, finding jobs we love, creating homes of our own, traveling, having kids, and continuing on with the legacies we each want to leave.
And Tommy is always with us. He’s in the cardinal that flies in front of his mother’s path. He’s in the thunder whose rolling echo mirrors the thunder from the night he died. He was in my heart last week when I shot out of bed, wide awake, at 1:30 a.m. wondering what was going on. And then I realized that was the exact moment, 20 years ago, that Tommy died in his mother’s arms.
I just found a copy of the talk I gave at Tommy’s memorial service as a junior in college. Here’s an excerpt telling about one of my babysitting experiences with him:
“At night, I’d lay with Tommy in his bed and read to him. I’d stay with him until he fell asleep. Then, as I’d tip-toe out of the room, I’d watch him; marveling at his sweet face as he clung to his stuffed animals. Those peaceful moments alone with Tommy were priceless.”
So for all of us, let this be a reminder that life is precious. Each moment is brand new, perfect in its essence…and will never come again.
What will you do today to embrace what is precious in your life?