“Happy birthday son. You were an amazing and beautiful gift to this world.” – Braden’s Family
“For my birthday gift, release your guilt. Smile and laugh about a memory we had. Shed tears, but make them joyful ones for once. For my birthday celebration, simply blow out a candle and make these three wishes come true. Beyond words, I’m so sorry for leaving so early. I am hugging you all forever. I hope you feel them.” – All my love, Braden
“You were my very first Mother’s Day gift on my first Mother’s Day. I can’t express how I feel and how much I miss you. I’ll try to make your three wishes come true today”. Love, Mom
In December 2018 we began a very bizarre journey.
This was not a topic I ever dreamed would be on my tongue. However, the alternative would be acting like it hadn’t happened. That would make me an accessory to the problem and very likely I would fall to pieces realizing our son died for absolutely nothing.
Talking with a friend recently about what has transpired over the past two years since that October, I heard myself say, “To save my life, I can’t imagine how these things have happened.” My friend responded thoughtfully, “Well, maybe it’s been exactly that. These things may have happened to save your life”.
I’ll never shake the visual image of our son the night before he left. In fact, I recall every second of his life, too often in slow motion. It’s like what I call a “treadmill dream”. One where you’re working and working and working, incessantly to achieve a goal. If you can just work harder, you perceive it possible. But it’s futile.
That goal for us has been to at least help prevent others from our experience. To help that one teen on a cliff from taking the step. I may never truly understand why, but we decided to aim our sights on that goal. Knowing all along it will never be fully achieved. Still, I believe it be a worthy goal and one Braden would be proud to be part of.
Helping build something better from nothing.
Braden absolutely loved to build. Like every inventor, some attempts turned into dismal failures, but more often he created something beautiful and astounding.
Minecraft is a computer simulation game where a virtual world is built by the imagination of the user. It’s a whiteboard where the imagineer has full reign to create anything from nothing. When he was very young, this was a place Braden could make into his own world. While some kids chased “creepers”, for Braden it was a place where he could build.
For weeks, I’d watch him lie on the couch with his laptop, seemingly wasting time. “Son, why don’t you get up and do something?” “Dad, I’m building something. You’ll see”.
Later, I came to learn he’d built fantastic resorts with waterparks and landscaping. Once he built an entire cruise ship in virtual reality to include staterooms, each fully furnished. We gazed at it in complete amazement. He’d created virtual dining, dancing, and theaters, all just from his memories of our family travels.
Around age five or so, Braden became a lover of Legos. He was addicted to putting the pieces together and watching something come from nothing. To create. It made him feel like he’d made the world better in some small way. He’d sit and actually hum in his playroom putting the pieces together.
By age 12, he was building sets designed for adults. Among just a few, he built a functioning carousel, an elaborate Star Wars battleship and a community building (of course before social distancing). Braden had a keen eye for a world well beyond what most of us can perceive and I’m so blessed and glad I was there for him. I sometimes feel guilt for not having appreciated his gifts.
I realized there would be a day we would face the task of saying goodbye to some of his prized possessions. Although we’ll keep most of his things, there simply is not room to keep all of it. Particularly difficult would be letting go of some of his Legos pieces, which we still had although he had long since outgrown them. We will forever keep the large projects still intact, although after moving too many times, several of his projects were now just jumbled pieces.
Last week we met a young father, who was a homeschooler and engineer. He loved legos as a kid and enjoys using them to teach principles of homeschooling to his 12 year old son. It was something they enjoy doing together. We sent them home with several boxes of legos in pieces, and were ecstatic to get home and begin putting those pieces together.
Over the past two years, we’ve tried to put together the pieces of our family. It’s certainly a work in progress. With every memory we find that we’d packed away like a child’s toy or stuffed animals. His car. His high school diploma. Of all those little pieces to which we’ve had to say goodbye, we will never let go of the bigger ones.
His huge heart. His gorgeous smile. His contagious laughter. His love for his family and his deep friendships. With each small “thing” we let go, we receive an equal share of peace knowing that things are only temporary, but we will have eternity together.
Cathy and I sat down after the father left. We’d released some of what we’d held onto for so long. Realizing another sweet little boy would soon be building and creating alongside his dad with the very pieces Braden loved so much. It brought us at least some measure of peace.
Happy 20th Birthday, Braden. We have some peace and hope in what is being built out of the jumbled pieces you left behind.
Prayer for families who‘ve lost a loved one or who face darkness
“Lord, only You could know our hearts. You experienced pain and heartbreak like we will never even fathom. You sent Your only son to this dark and lost world with the specific intent for Him to die. For us.
Thank You for the free gift we don’t deserve and thank You for assurance that we are held in your everlasting arms. All we need do is trust in You. Grant us peace as we face another tomorrow.