Mourning Nathaniel


All around the Ronald McDonald House, you could see people walk through the halls, eyes reddened and glazed, shoulders slumped. It became quickly apparent how much Jennifer and Jason had touched the lives of many of us. We recalled how they were often the ones to initiate a prayer before mealtime or to organize a sunrise meditation. Their faith was inspirational… and beautiful.

Even in the days immediately following the loss of their precious Nathaniel, they were perhaps the most stoic among us. Jennifer held her head high as they loaded their belongings into the car and Jason’s arm was securely around her shoulders. They formed a strong unit… maybe too strong, because the rest of us didn’t know how to break through and offer sympathy. We were still so lost and confused ourselves. I think if either parent had broken down, I would have known how to embrace them, how to offer comfort and solace. But I didn’t know what to say in the face of such composure.

In the end, a crowd of us who cared deeply stood by silently as this couple who should have left as a family, left as a pair.

A day later, a notice was posted in the House detailing the time and location of Nathaniel’s memorial. It was three hours away (understandably- this is why Jennifer and Jason had needed the Ronald McDonald House like we did) and the rest of our babies remained in critical condition. I’m not sure if anyone made the trip. I know we did not…

Ultimately, one of the young fathers we had come to know and who had been close to Jennifer and Jason organized a memorial supper there at the House in honor of Nathaniel. It gave the rest of us an opportunity to pray together, to offer each other comfort, and to seek peace and healing for the strong, faithful couple who had suffered such tragedy. We mourned as we lived… as the lost, scared, confused, and displaced who found each other only because of dire circumstances.

In retrospect, I feel bad that I didn’t offer more to Jennifer and Jason. I find myself replaying their departure in my mind and wondering what I could have done, what I should have said. It seems like there would have been a “tidier” and more emotionally fulfilling way for that tale to play out.

But that’s not how it was. And, upon further reflection, perhaps it happened just as it was supposed to. Perhaps it was important for our friends to leave on a wave of strength, their dignity and composure quite simply astounding. Perhaps, for them, the mourning, the crying, the breaking down needed to happen in a more private setting.

But I’ve never forgotten them. Or their deep love for their son.

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Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a guest-post written by Matt. Be sure to come back and read his reflections, as the father of a little girl who was in the NICU, on what he would have wanted from others had things not gone as smoothly as they did…

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