On August 17, 1989, a beautiful 8 lb 3 oz baby boy came into this world. He was 2 weeks past his due date, so God decided his birth could come in record time to make up for our waiting (not always patiently) -- 1st contraction to birth was an hour and a half! August 17th became a date we would celebrate forever.
On November 25, 2020, God called Dustin home and it happened like his birth…very quickly. Only this time, the One who was joyfully awaiting his arrival was not Dean & I, his parents, but Jesus – who took him by the hand, gave him a big hug, and welcomed him in Heaven. November 25th became a date we will come to each year with a feeling of loss, but that loss will always be diminished by God’s peace, and we will celebrate because we know Dustin is in his eternal home.
Those two events happen to every person…birth and death. As parents, we can’t wait for the first to occur. The birth of a child is an amazing experience we look forward to for nine months, and when it happens, it’s unforgettable! (I can tell the tales of both Derek’s and Dustin’s birth with detail and humor!) We welcome the baby and begin the process of living as a family.
We don’t expect the second event to ever happen to our children during our lifetime. We live with the assumption that we’ll go first. So, we teach our children to love God and pray they will believe in Jesus. Our unspoken but heartfelt desire is that we will already be in heaven and our children will be old when the second event occurs to them. Then we will be there to witness them getting their welcome home hug from Jesus as we catch the photo of that hug! But sadly, it doesn’t always happen that way. Many parents reading this are keenly aware of that. Since Dustin has gone before us, we can only imagine what that moment of entering Heaven and meeting Jesus was like for him. Dean & I imagine it every day, and when we do, we smile. It brings us peace, calmness and is a reminder of what we have to look forward to for ourselves.
It is also a reminder that we have a lot of living to do now – not for us, but for our families, friends, and people we don’t even know yet. We don’t want to waste any of the time we have left on this earth, so we do our best to consciously live every moment, just as we would if our child was still with us.
This past Tuesday was Dustin’s birthday…the first since he died. We are in Hawaii, where we lived when the boys were teens, so we are celebrating Dustin’s birthday all week. We have driven around the island to see our former home, visit some of his favorite beaches, restaurants, and hangouts, “talk story” about him with local friends (it’s a Hawaii thing), and take time to remember and cherish those memories. I fully expected his birthday to be hard, but it wasn’t. We shared time with Derek & Kate and Olivia by video chat, honored him with some friends, talked about him a lot, and had a great day!
But the next morning, I encountered an unexpected trigger that brought on the tears I thought would happen on his birthday. It was a brief text chat with one of Dustin’s best friends, and it brought to my mind something that would have been possible if Dustin were still alive – his getting a job that would move him back to San Angelo where he could be close to Olivia all the time. I thought to myself “If only he were here, he would…” and the tears came. As Dean and I talked through it, he shared these thoughts:
There will always be “What if’s” and “If only’s”:
“If only Dustin had gone to see a doctor, they could have found the blood clot, and he may still be alive.”
“If only he had taken the medicine he had, the blood clot wouldn’t have formed.”
“If only we had gone to see him a week earlier, he may still be alive.”
“If only Dustin had told someone he wasn’t feeling well, he may still be alive.”
“If only Dustin hadn’t died, he could be back in San Angelo.”
“If only…..”, and on and on they go.
These are not healthy thoughts; they keep us locked into wishful thinking that will never be. But what if we change our perspective? What if we ask it this way:
“What if there could be assurance that Dustin is now completely healed?” There is…Only Jesus gives us that.
“What if someone could ease the heaviness of grief in my heart?” Only He can, with His grace.
“What if someone else could die for Dustin?” He only did exactly that…on the cross.
“What if we could see Dustin again?” We know we will, and only He can give us that promise because of His resurrection.
These are what if’s that give us hope.
There is one “If only” over which we each have control…If only we choose to believe in Jesus, then He only will give us the gift of His salvation and the ability to look forward to Heaven, where we will be met with a hug from Jesus and join our loved ones who got there before us.