Reece’s 14th Birthday

Reece on Election Day, 2008 (20 months old)

It has been another year. Another trip around the sun, as they say. For so many years, I have not done a birthday post for Reece. Last year was the first year in quite some time. Some years, it hasn’t made sense. Lately, however, I think it makes a great deal of sense. March 24 is such a good day around our house, that at this point, writing a bit about him makes perfect sense. I just re-read that sentence and, if I was a person other than me, my last statement would seem counterintuitive and not remotely convincing. If I hadn’t walked in my own shoes, knowing what I know, I would think I was trying to convince myself it was a good day.

I’m currently slogging my way through a paper on Romans 8 and that text, in combination with a year of immense suffering for people, worldwide, brings to mind hope. We truly need hope–not the shallow, wish-filled kind, but the real anticipation of what is truly to come. We set our minds on things beyond our immediate circumstances and “suffer well” as we allow the Spirit to work through our lives, living eternally-focused, yet still in the present. This is evidenced by our hope. One of the greatest gifts given to me was witnessing Reece who, in the midst of a terminal illness, suffered well. One evening, not long before he passed away and riddled with so many side effects he could barely walk, eat, or keep his body warm, he was lying on our couch, cocooned in blankets, watching us get ready to eat dinner. He was too tired, frail, and lacking in appetite to make it to the table with us. We decided to pray over the meal and asked Reece if he’d like to join in. Without skipping a beat or waiting for us to pray along, Reece, from across the room, practically yodeled the “Johnny Appleseed” prayer song. He turned his head up to the sky like a dog howling at the moon and started in, “Ooooohhhhh–the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord…” and we all just sat at the table and cried, trying to keep up with him and not deter his singing by our tears. In reality, we knew he was not well and the energy it took for him to sing as emphatically as he did could only find its source in hope beyond his immediate circumstances. He was praying and worshipping in a way that had nothing to do with what was immediately in front of him and everything to do with what he hoped for–and there was no mistaking it. He was praising God. When I am tempted to throw in the towel on the day or give up in discouragement, I have this gem of a memory, along with many others from Reece’s life, stored in the treasure box of my heart. And I thank God for this pure witness of faith and hope through Reece’s suffering, gifted to me in the midst of a desperate situation.

Truly, March 24 is one of my absolute favorite days of the year, because we slow down and we celebrate Reece. In ways that are nearly inexplicable, Reece’s day is truly March 24…we don’t punt a birthday party to the weekend or invite a bunch of kids over to help tear open gifts. We don’t do gifts and parties. We do cake and memories. And since I am the only person in my immediate household who remembers him, it basically is me relaying those memories. The kids love talking about him…and we all love cake. Reece loves birthday cake. He and I used to talk about how our favorite dessert is birthday cake. We love Reece. And while it isn’t always an easy day, March 24 is always a good day.

Happy Birthday, Reece. I love you.

Reading Isaiah and Reece’s Faith

So I read through the book of Isaiah today for my seminary class and recalled that Reece came to accept Jesus when we were studying the book of Isaiah in BSF (he was three at the time). It prompted me to head out to the Like Olive Shoots blog to make sure I recalled the details correctly. Sure enough, there it was—the memory is just as lovely as the day it happened. I read through the blog post, which includes the parent tribute that Terry and I read at Reece’s memorial service. And as I read through it I was so struck by my kiddo and what an incredible life and testimony he has. I say with absolute joy that being his mother is one of the rare treasures in my life and the awesome reality that he is in Heaven can only be understood through the depth of grief that accompanies it. I’m reposting the parent tribute in case you’d like to read it.


Parent Tribute: Reece’s Faithstory

Reece has always had a heart for Jesus.  He has a wonderful faithstory that speaks to his relationship with and love for God and God’s love and protection for him.  Much like we, as his parents, have been covered by God’s grace, so has Reece.  We look back at Reece’s life on earth and see God’s work.  And, we have had the unique opportunity and privilege to see Reece’s life in its entirety.  While we certainly would have not chosen the course that Reece was led down, we trust that God’s plan for him is perfect.  We know that based on our personal reflections of his life and what we were able to witness, Reece has found much favor with the Lord, especially considering his last few months on earth.  And while we never felt we should take the liberty to publicly share the part of his faithstory that we were able to observe, we believe it is important to tell others about Reece’s love for Jesus now that he is in Heaven with Him.

Reece spent time in many different churches between our home church here at Westwood, two different church preschools, and three different church bible study programs.  All churches that housed these programs helped to nurture Reece’s love for the Lord.  He knew at a young age that God and His church weren’t associated with any particular building.  At just over a year of age, he would point at various churches—many that we had never been into or had any association with and happily say, “God’s house!”   We began doing nightly devotionals with him and openly discussed God and Jesus.  We also attended church with him.

When Reece turned two years old I began attending Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) with him.  His faith and enthusiasm for God continued to grow through the BSF children’s program.  I distinctly remember one particular week when lesson was on the Holy Spirit.  Knowing that they had discussed this with him that day, we came home after study and I asked him if they had talked about the Holy Spirit.  Reece said that they had and so I asked him what he thought the Holy Spirit is.  Reece replied with a wide smile on his face, “It’s Jesus in my belly!”

Two days prior to his fourth birthday, we were driving to BSF.  Somehow Reece began asking about “bad guys”—bad guys seemed to be an interesting topic for him at this stage of life.  He eventually asked if bad guys go to Heaven.  I told him that anyone who has Jesus in their heart goes to Heaven and that even Jesus loves the bad guys.  He then asked how one goes about getting Jesus in their heart.  I told him that you have to ask Jesus to come into your heart.  I also told him that if he ever felt like he wanted to ask Jesus to come into his heart, he could tell me and we would pray the prayer together.  As we pulled into the church parking lot, he said that he wanted to pray the prayer that very day!  I was so excited for him, but I told him that we would wait to do it later in the day when Daddy got home—so we could do this as a family.  As it happens, the lesson at BSF that day was from Isaiah 53, which is believed to be a reference to the ministry of Jesus.  This must have been on his mind all day, because he made sure that afternoon that we didn’t forget about doing so.  Later that evening, Reece prayed a prayer to ask Jesus to come into his heart.  He prayed with such intensity and spirit aloud as he recited the words.  His words were genuine; he was excited to have the Lord in his heart!

Reece loved singing songs about Jesus and often led us in prayer before meals.  He loved singing the Johnny Appleseed meal blessing.   Singing was his most apparent way he showed his love for the Lord.  It was, however, difficult to get him to talk about any sort of lesson or learning.  When asked about his day, he often times would sit quietly and suck his thumb.  Despite his lack of desire to share many thoughts with us, God was working on his heart, and his love for Jesus was evident.

So while Reece wasn’t one to give much detail about his thoughts and activities, it was around the time that he asked Jesus to come into his heart that Reece would tell us that he was going to go to Heaven before us.  He was quite matter-of-fact about it.  The statements were not given in a way that suggested fear or worry.  Often, these statements would come up while doing normal activities like playing with toys or driving in the car.  At times he would ask what he would do if he got to Heaven before us.  We would tell him that he would be with Jesus and that Jesus loves him even more than we do.  He not only talked to us about this, but other family members as well.  He only brought the topic up on an individual basis with each of us, so our experiences in witnessing him discuss his leaving us and going to Heaven was unique to each person, but shared the common theme that he would, in fact, go before us.  Most of these discussions happened prior to Reece’s diagnosis.  A few times, however, after Reece’s diagnosis, he definitively stated that he would be leaving us soon.  We tried not to read too much into this, to maintain a hopeful outlook, and to assume that Reece would survive his transplant.

During Reece’s stay in the hospital, he was quite ill and did not talk and chatter in the same way that he did when he was healthy.   However, we know based on what Reece said to us that God was working on his heart and preparing him for what was in store for him.  For the months during his hospital stay, he was delighted to see people wearing their red “Team Reece” bracelets and he told us that anyone who wore one would get to go to Heaven with him.  He never complained in the hospital; people who cared for him often remarked about how tolerant he was.  How sweet and cute he was.  We can tell you from what we witnessed that we would have never been able to handle what Reece did in such a tolerant and accepting fashion.

The week before Reece was readmitted for his final hospital stay, he, out of the blue, asked us about the believer’s prayer we prayed when he asked Jesus into his heart.  He said he wanted to pray it again.  We told him that he only had to pray it one time—that once Jesus is in your heart, He remains there.  Reece seemed satisfied with that answer.  Looking back, we believe that he was aware his time on earth would be ending soon.

We know that we have had only a glimpse into what Reece’s relationship is with God.  But we are certain that Reece loved and continues to love God and Jesus and that he was at peace with going to Heaven.  This is a peace and a faith that can only be gifted by God.  Reece is a child who knows God’s love for him.  What we were able to witness has provided us much comfort that the Lord was helping Reece to see His plan for his life, even through his toughest days.  We are fortunate to have known and been present with Reece throughout his entire life and we cherish the unique opportunity we had with him to discuss Heaven.  We are blessed to call Reece “son” and eagerly await hearing him fill in the details of his story, in his own words, when we see him again in Heaven.

We love you, Reece.

A Labor of Love

July 5 has become sort of like Reece’s Memorial Day for me.  Truthfully, after getting beyond the difficulty of knowing his final day on earth, I recognize it really is not the worst day that we experienced with him.  I don’t dread this day; it’s more reflective than anything.  I also don’t visit the cemetery on this day–he was never there during his lifetime, so going there feels a little strange sometimes.  It’s a day that is typically pretty low key, quiet, and mostly, I am solo in my own thoughts about him.

All of my grandparents knew Reece here and passed away after he did.  My last surviving grandparent died the first week in March, only a few months ago.  After Reece died in 2012, she kept a framed picture of him in her apartment.  She wasn’t a person who kept a lot of photos up, but this one she took with her to the various places she lived in her remaining years.  My mom brought it to our house yesterday and, incidentally, it is the same photo I planned to post of him today.  It was taken on July 4, 2010, when he was three years old.  He’s so precious and cute–it is a good picture of him.

I have many things to say, but really, today probably is not the day to do it.  I just didn’t want the day to pass without posting about him.  He gets his space, too (spoken from a mom with a pile of kids…)  I get two formal dates with him–his beginning here and his beginning in Heaven.  The juxtaposition of the privilege and difficulty of that reality is a challenge to articulate.  I’ll say that holding his entire earthly life within my own has been and continues to be a labor of love.  I get to do it.  It is not easy, but he’s mine, and worth every bit of it.

So, I’ve inherited the framed picture of Reece that my grandma used to look at and she gets to hang out with Reece in person.  I’m certain they are having an incredible day.



A New Thing and Reece’s Birthday

Early last week, I was getting myself ready for the day, Covid-19 quarantine just beginning, makeshift homeschooling plans, new information unfolding on restrictions, just coming off from a week of vacation in Florida, pregnant, and giving a modest effort to try to feel sorry for myself, when it struck me how oddly familiar a lot of this felt; I had this raw moment where I realized I had done much of this before.  The circumstances were different–it was just our family with a terminally ill child–but for us, it looked similar to what we are doing now…only it was harder.  We had this perfectly formed child who had inadvertently mutated his blood and we were waist-deep in uncharted waters, trying to keep him–and our family–afloat.  We were quarantined in a hospital much of the time, while life marched on around us.  Every Friday, much of the staff would do a final round before proceeding out the door to go back to their regular weekend plans of social gatherings, catching up on cleaning, sleeping in, date nights, ball games…all the luxuries of life.  We would still be there, doing the same routine, watching the same numbers on Reece’s monitors, praying the same prayers, wishing things could go back to normal.  We were “socially distanced” for six full months.  Only a handful of visitors were allowed during that time.  I remember feeling completely trapped.

The winter of 2012 was unusually warm–people were outside in shorts in March (and not just the few crazy people who decide every winter to wear shorts once the temp pops up past freezing).  People were shedding their coats, runners were loving the early running season, even Mother Nature was confused when the flowers bloomed in early April.  Yet we were stuck in a hand-sanitizing, don’t-you-dare-cough-in-this-room medical stupor, with no end in sight.  It might as well have been Antarctica for all it mattered to us.  The full size windows across one entire wall of Reece’s room brought in glorious sunshine and also ushered in the sights and sounds of regular people doing regular things, experiencing a beautiful spring that felt like a dirty joke, as the days wore on.

I couldn’t even say it was easier, during that time, from a pregnancy perspective…I was pregnant throughout Reece’s transplant with Scarlett, my third child, and delivered her three whole days after Reece’s initial discharge from the hospital.

When Reece was discharged to our home for a month and a half, everything was a threat to his health.  If we wanted to go on a walk, we avoided freshly mowed lawns, leaf piles, construction areas…things that were nearly inevitable in the springtime in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  We took him to the clinic nearly every day, navigating the normal routines of healthy people, which seemed nearly impossible with his level of needed care.  We tried to maintain distance in waiting rooms, with Reece wearing a thick, uncomfortable mask.  People stared at his appearance, not understanding why he looked so strange.  I tried to have grace for others, but spent a lot of my day exhausted, trying to brush off ignorant stares and whispers, completely frustrated that we were discharged and not in the safety of the hospital bubble we so desperately felt imprisoned to for so many months.

Managing Reece was a 24 hour job–he took around 90 doses of medication a day that were administered orally.  Medications that you likely have never heard of and that have thankfully faded from my memory over time.  We administered fluids and a few medications intravenously.  We changed his Hickman line dressing (which I later learned from my OB was a full class in med school, as it requires a sterile environment to be done).  Yet we did this in our home.  We rubbed thick steroid creams all over his body multiple times a day to try to manage his GVHD.  We had an oxygen machine for him to use when he slept, his lungs still struggling from his pulmonary hemorrhage.  He was constantly cold, so we had dozens of thin, cotton hospital blankets we would warm in our dryer continually throughout the day to keep him comfortable and warm.  His muscles were atrophied, so we had to do PT exercises–he was so tired and dreaded doing them.  Even going to the bathroom was a process.  We prayed that his blood transfusion from a Friday would sustain him until a Monday.  Our home felt like a prison.  Plus we had a newborn.  Britta–then two–was living with my parents during this time.

My dear friend Suzy (who has her PhD in education and spent years homeschooling her kids) and I had spent a month leading up to Reece’s hospitalization preparing 8-10 weeks of homeschooling modules.  Each was carefully designed for Reece’s hospital limitations and catered to his age level.  I was so prepared.  I was going to homeschool my son and when he got better, he was going to look back and be so glad we had that time together.  I was going to win.  He completed the first week in the hospital and never took a second glance at the lessons thereafter, having felt too ill to have any interest.  In June, Reece coded in the hospital after several days of treatments to try to wipe out his T cells and “trick” his immune system in an effort to rid his body of GVHD.  That first night, after placing him on life support, I came back to our house to rest.  In pure frustration, I dismantled the entire plan.  I unpacked all the supplies and threw out the papers.  I made a pile of things to send back to Suzy.  Though Reece died about two weeks later, somehow, that evening, I knew all of our planning no longer mattered.  I knew this was it.  I was done.  I threw all of his meds that lined an entire kitchen cabinet–top to bottom–into the garbage.  If he ever made it back to our house alive, it would be months down the road.  We would need different meds.  I was done.  I had lost.

During this Covid-19 outbreak, homeschooling and playing with my four, healthy, surviving kids and managing them while pregnant, is easier than that.  One non-functioning immune system is harder to manage than six robust immune systems.  Four kids that are healthy enough to argue with each other and chase each other around the house and complain of boredom from time to time are easier than my Reece when he was a terminally ill, immunosuppressed child.  I’m not saying these days are easy or without challenges, but these days are a flavor of what those days were like and I’ll take the healthy version of social distancing any day of the week.  And I’ll distance myself for those who do have immuno-compromised loved ones.  I will distance for the sake of those who need us to distance.  In that moment last week, I was quieted and relieved of the temptation to feel sorry for myself.  Really, it has been enjoyable for us to be home together.  I needed that wake-up call.  It could be–and is for many people during this strange pandemic–so much worse.

Reece would be 13 today.  It feels so good to say his name.  To type his name.  I miss him so much.  But missing him has changed over time.  I love him with the same intensity, but I think of him differently and I miss him differently.  So much of my life has changed and Reece is no exception.  Our kids miss him, not even knowing what they miss but knowing he is gone and feeling the loss.  We talk about him nearly every day, we pray for God to hug him for us, we include him in our discussions about our family; sometimes we cry, but not nearly as often as we laugh and share stories about him.  Most of the time, we imagine what it would be like if he was here, which naturally turns into a discussion about seeing him in Heaven.  My family spends a lot of time talking about death, but not in a morbid way.  Death has been a big part of our life.

I’ve had to accept some hard realities about Reece.  It was a lengthy process to come to terms with the fact of the concept of natural selection.  Even if Reece had been a “long term” survivor, I believe he likely would have passed away by this point.  He wasn’t going to be here a long time.  Other people, today, have their 13-year-old kids; I do not.  That took several years to come to terms with.  It took several years to say that he “died” versus “passed away” or “went to Heaven”.  I wholeheartedly know he is in Heaven, but his body died.  That was hard.  It was hard to part with the home I lived in with him and many of the friendships that have drifted away after loss–those that knew Reece that I no longer am in contact with.  That hurt a lot.  It was hard to come to terms with being around kids his age.  Sometimes it still is hard, but not in the same piercing way.  It’s still hard to remind people that I have a son who is my oldest.  No, it is not Britta.  It is Reece.  He still holds that place.  People give me funny looks when I correct them.  They say, “Yes, but now, Britta is your oldest…” in whatever context they are referring.  Ah.  No.  Nope.  She is not.  Just like your college-age child or grown child or deployed child is still your child, so Reece is still mine.  And any day now, I’m going to see him.  It’ll be a flash.  So please, stop brushing past him and writing him out of my life.   Grace, grace, and more grace.  God, please give me grace.

But as I reflect on what my life looks like now–my marriage and kids and the way it is all woven together, it is impossible to imagine things to be any different.  I’d have to eliminate people that I love on either side.  So I press forward with a hope of a day when we are all together and that day does not exist this side of Heaven.  One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I do not spend a day worrying about him or how he is doing.  I do not question where is at or if he remembers us or if he is doing OK or if he is safe.  I know where he is in the same way I know where my other kids are at, I just don’t get to see him…today.

I know I’m learning a lot already through this extended time of social distancing.  One thing I know for certain is that we will all change from it in some way and that is not a bad thing.  There is no going back to exactly what life was like before.  It may not be drastic change for every person in the long run, but there will be change.  And that’s OK.

Happy Birthday, Reece!  We will see you one day and hug you ourselves.  Until then, we know where you are and we are okay here and that’s enough for this day.  xoxo Mom

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”

~Isaiah 43:18-19


talking with small children about death

When we sat down to plan Reece’s funeral, our funeral director looked at us and said, “It’s not very often we are planning a funeral for a child.” And it’s true. We went on to discuss how due to modern medicine (mostly), our society isn’t as familiar with childhood death as we were some time ago. We also aren’t as accustomed to the death of a spouse.  In the not-so-distant past, people got sick and died from things that we don’t routinely discuss anymore…things like pneumonia, polio, yellow fever, cholera.  It even was common to have a deceased person viewed in one’s home, versus a funeral home.  Death wasn’t a taboo topic, it was a fairly normal and expected topic.  More people worked in laborious jobs where accidents occurred more frequently. Many more babies passed away in utero or shortly after childbirth. Fewer treatments existed to rid bodies of diseases. In my own family two of my four great-grandfathers passed away, each with a wife and four young children left behind.  Death happened. It was hard, but it was part of what happened more regularly.  It still happens, but I believe we’ve become a bit tongue-tied around the subject.  Death still happens, it just takes a few more years (on average) to get there.

With my children, talking about death is of great importance. In our situation, I have only one child that will have any memory of either Terry or Reece. As hard as it must be to lose a sibling, I suspect for my children, it will be much harder to grapple with the loss of their dad.  After all, they have no memory of Reece being here.  And they’ll have very little memory of Terry.  However, they will always be faced with explaining that their dad isn’t here–Father’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, Dad-and Daughter/Son events.  You get it.  It’s important for me to try to get this right; to try to be cognizant of my kids’ need to discuss death with them, because it will come up whether I like it or not.  It will naturally come up in the safety net of our home and it will probably less naturally come up with my kids in social environments such as school, activities, and church.  People don’t want to discuss death, but they also have a curiosity about what-happened-to-so-and-so.  My hope is that I will have prepared them certain ways to be able to handle themselves when this occurs.

I watched this short clip the other day.  It is under two minutes long (so I recommend taking the time to watch it!) and captures kids talking about the loss of a parent.  It was touching to hear it in the kids’ own words…so simple, so real, so relatable.

After watching this video, I looked into the New York Life Foundation and their efforts to support bereaved children.  Their web page is found at:  Great resources abound on this site for family members, educators, and anyone who is supporting a bereaved child.  It’s worth checking into, should you find yourself trying to support children through loss.

I find myself on the cusp of deeper discussions with Britta.  In truth, my kids will remember very little from the time when their dad was here.  Their reality will be what lies ahead of us right now.  Still, these discussions will come up, looking quite different from what they likely would if my kids were older.  They will still have grief, questions, and natural curiosities about Terry and Reece.  I’m no expert, but my plan is to remain as honest and open as I can, while considering the maturity levels of my kids.

I respect that different people choose to handle things differently than our family in an effort to cope with loss and wade through the deep waters.  It’s truly a matter of surviving uncharted territory in life and it’s unique to each situation.  However, here are some things I have found helpful in our home:

1.) I don’t lie to my kids about death.  I avoid having to undo damage from making up stories that seem a little more tidy.  Death is real, it happens, it’s a fact.  It isn’t appropriate to discuss the details of either Terry’s or Reece’s situations at this point, but my kids (basically Britta for now) do know that Reece was ill and that both Terry and Reece had “owies”.  They know that sometimes, we can’t fix things here.  We also discuss that at some point, everyone will have something happen that can not be fixed here, but it happens for everyone at their own special time.  They know that sometimes, it takes Heaven to be fixed.

2.) We openly talk about Terry and Reece.  They are members of our family.  We laugh and joke about them and remember fun things that happened with them.  We incorporate their names into play and discuss the things they liked and disliked.

3.) We talk about Heaven…a lot.  I’ve really strayed from discussing Heaven in common contexts that are inconsistent with the biblical descriptions of it.  I completely respect that other people handle this differently; people I greatly care about.  However, we never call Reece and Terry angels.  People turning into angels after they pass away seems comforting, but in actuality, it never mentions this in the Bible.  Additionally, I don’t plan on reading books like “Heaven is for Real–for Kids” to them, until they are much older.  I don’t want them to assume that because that child had that experience, that is what they should expect Heaven to be.  My goal is to talk about what it might be like for Reece and Terry in Heaven with a biblical basis behind it.  At some point, they will be old enough to own their feelings and form their own opinions about Eternity.

4.) I am trying to get better at asking Britta about how she feels about her dad.  I can tell when she’s “off” and when it is likely because of his passing, but I also realize that it shouldn’t be up to her alone to bring up how she’s feeling.  I’m not going to somehow make her feel worse by bringing Terry into our conversation.  I know this reality for myself…I’m trying to translate my own feelings about discussing things into my approach on discussions with her.

5.) I try to let Britta guide the conversation.  She often interjects something about Terry or Reece in what seems like an “out of the blue” fashion.  I have found it helpful that when she asks questions about them to remember her age.  I immediately go to a very heavy place.  She, however, is four and thinks like a four-year-old.  I try to keep things as basic as possible and often the conversation leaves as randomly as it started.  One second she is asking about Terry’s passing and the next she wants to know if dinosaurs ate turtles.  Additionally, I resist the urge to drill down into her questions.  Once she has left the topic, I rarely try to get her back there.  I know she is processing, but it seems the more I ask, the less she says.

6.)  Many times I tell Britta, “I’m not sure.”  This response is often the best I can do and is perfectly acceptable.

I recognize that my conversations are catered to the needs of very small children.  This would be entirely different if my kids were even a few years older.  I still get a bit twisted up when I am discussing someone else’s loss with that person.  It’s a hard thing to do with other people, including kids, and it’s hard to know what to say, because there is no right thing to say.  Yet the hardest thing to have happen when you are going through grief, is to have no one say anything at all.