“This world is an enormous place yet it could be as small as the human heart”. – Braden
“We need more acceptance and less ‘exceptance'”. – Braden’s Dad
Firsts typically bring excitement and anticipation. Joy. Laughter. First born. First birthday. First steps and first words.
We’ve now had a full year of firsts, lacking the joy and laughter for which firsts are known. This October 30th’s final first is just one more, and we’ll deal with it once more. Still, it will be good to have it behind us. Now, we look ahead to the seconds, thirds, and so on.
I expected October to bring a flood of emotions yet my eyes have been strangely dry. Guess I’ll never understand emotions. You can’t predict them any more than a weather reporter can predict a storm. Still, like the drought that broke this month in north Texas, I expect the dry spell won’t last long and God will again bring the healing rain of tears. Surely I’ll cry again. I sure hope so.
Crying or not, we never will stop missing our baby boy.
This month, two local news affiliates asked to interview our family on the topic of mental health and the positive developments that have come about as a result of our loss.
In December 2018, we had been asked to speak with ABC on the topics of teen depression and suicide. Reporter, Jobin Paniker was courageous and did a great job on a short piece shot in our living room. The setting was in front of the fireplace and among Christmas holiday decorations.
Recently, two other news reporters came into the same living room, now ten months later. Each report had their own slightly different spin on the same basic theme:
DATELINE: “Folks, this middle American suburban family with seemingly all going for it experiences the loss of a teenager by his own hand. Viewers, what is going on and what can we do to ensure it doesn’t happen to YOUR family?….. details later in this broadcast…”
Although we did several of these short vignettes, it never became comfortable. The reporter and photographer exchange greetings and pleasantries while the camera person scoped out the best place for a good background.
They set up the seating arrangements and placed extremely bright lights in our faces. Sound checks and the interviewer sat facing us off camera like we were rare bugs on display in a jar. Though we were fortunate to have an opportunity to share some hopeful messages, it felt weird.
Interviewer: “Ok,try not to be nervous. Just think of this as a normal relaxed conversation with a close friend”. Yeah, right. More like 50,000 strangers!
Following these uncomfortable “normal relaxed conversations”, the videographers shoot stills for overlays to later be edited into the narrative.
For stills, every photographer gravitated to our sofa table, covered with family photos, some of which have remained for five years untouched other than dusting. These are photos of our family’s brighter days and more joyful moments. Smiles were sunny and hearts were hopeful.
One of my favorite vacation photos is one with us in the street at Walt Disney World. We were beaming as we began a day of adventures in a fairy tale world, where memories would be made to last a lifetime (as Disney advertises). Little did we know how those memories we made would sustain us later.
One unforgettable memory was one when we had watched the early fireworks display on Main Street USA and decided to stay in the park, wandering around checking out the rides while a majority of families were still awaiting for the more popular later fireworks show.
We had the run of the park. NO LINES! We could choose Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, and Space Mountain. We could pick any ride with no waiting yet among all those choices, Braden wanted to just ride “It’s A Small World”. What? This was not even on my list!
Small World is an enclosed gondola ride where the entire amusement is traveling through different countries and cultures with robotic characters, time pieces, clockwork animatronics, and music playing the song, “It’s a Small World After All”.
Disney animators outdid themselves with attention to intricate details they infused into the experience. The song’s lyrics play continuously (and incessantly) yet alter to match the various languages as the boat navigates through the different countries.
After ten minutes of this ride, the typical parent (especially this one) will refuse to return. After all, yes it’s a small world but there are no thrills, no spills. No screams or breathtaking moments.
Just simplicity and extraordinary detail.
The simplicity and amazing amount of detail intrigued Braden. But too, he was mesmerized in that each individual country and character related across cultural and geographical differences. Everyone was kind to one another.
He connected so much with the theme of this ride, we repeated it over 17 times in a row. No exaggeration. Each time we exited the final country, he would ask if he could go again. Each time we thought, really? But instead we’d reply, “Sure, why not”.
Each ride, we’d find some new thing not previously seen. Cathy and I were blown away by our son’s connection with the experience. Finally, after 17 re-rides, I called it quits. He understood.
I’ll never forget what happened next. As we made our way toward the monorail to return to our hotel, Braden ran ahead, turned around and held out his arms. “STOP! Right now I want to tell you guys something and I don’t ever want you to forget this. Bend down”. We complied, both kneeling to look him directly in the eyes.
“I want you both to just know this has been the very best day of my entire life”.
You can’t buy those memories and we’re so glad for no regrets on that marathon ride.
What strikes me to this day is how perceptive Braden was at the tender age of six. He saw the world as few ever will. From a universal view. When we flew, he spent much of the time gazing out the window at how small everything was at such a height.
Braden saw people through a non-judgmental lens and couldn’t understand why others didn’t see the world in a similar way. It grieved him deeply. His “small world” view was so unique that he felt alone in it.
I’m just glad our son knew his creator personally and now eternally resides in a world where this one is just a tiny grain of sand by comparison.
To Braden, this now is truly a small world after all.
Recently, I heard a speaker say something profound, yet simple. “You never know who around you is hurting, so that just means we need to be kind to everyone we meet”. I thought this was so simple. Why is it so difficult?
I charge us all to be mindful in our own personal interactions with each other of this simple truth. Moreover, I challenge parents to consciously teach and model this behavior in our homes. Teach our children that we live in a small world where we’re all the very same and we have so much room for acceptance and none for “exceptance”.
Heavenly Father, thank you for this small world and for the beauty in it to include the hearts of those you created. Let us see one another the way you see us and help us remember to love, accept, and encourage each other as you would have us do. Thank you for your Son who died so we could have life and an eternity in heaven. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…