Seven years ago my Bethany and I were on our way to Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee to meet our son. He showed up the next day. I now have two other sons, but Ben was my first, and he is my heart…
I’ve come to realize that what happens to the human body when it quits is not simply a single sound (kaput!). And there is not just nothingness to the point of dead. On the contrary, there are lots of sounds and a whole hell of a lot of somethings: beeps, whistles, inhale, exhale, buzzes, bangs, laughter, tears, sobs, tantrums, fevers… The complex molecules — which make up your body tissue — decay into smaller, simpler molecules like ammonia, carbon dioxide and water.
I’ve seen it in all its glory, up close and personal. I have been eye to eye with it. I’ve held its hand and rubbed its swollen head. I’ve reminisced with it while it just lain there, unable to move or respond or listen. I’ve cried on top of it and I’ve beaten it with my fists.
I’ve been beaten by it.
Joshua died. He was my little brother. He got hit by a car on Jenkins Road in Fayette County, Georgia. I was at work when I got the call: “Your brother was hit by a car. We don’t think he’s gonna wake up.”
He got an intra cranial hematoma. Those things cause swelling of the brain, and because the brain is enclosed in the skull, it does not have room to swell, and that causes pressure within the skull to increase (this is called “intra cranial pressure”), and this stops blood flow to the brain, and that kills brain cells, and that causes herniating of the brain – which pushes the brain outside of its allotted space, and when brain cells die they do not grow back, and that causes big-time damage, and that is permanent and irreversible, and that’s when people die.
But because of the ventilator and medications helping to keep blood pressure normal, people can go on “living”. They can also go into cardiac arrest and start to convulse and sweat and shake and bleed and ooze and blister. Their insides can begin to boil, literally, because of fever.
The human body is an amazing thing. It never just quits, and there is never simply nothingness to the point of dead. A part of it – even a big part, like the brain for Christ’s sakes – can all but disintegrate, and the body just keeps on fighting.
He was a neat kid. He had been known to play up to 6-hour long games of Tetris on his ‘Gameboy.’ He thought about and talked about and read about and ate about and slept about and breathed about sex and boobies and French kisses. He studied the Victoria’s Secret catalog like it was a science book. He liked strange music and Japanese cartoons. He loved America, and hoped to defend Her one day.
He was the sweetest, most sincere, truthful, kind-hearted and annoying teenager I’ve ever known. He was a seventeen-year-old little boy. And he died.
Twenty-seven hours after we put Joshua in the ground, my wife gave me a son. His name is Ben. And tomorrow is his birthday. Happy birthday, buddy.
Sorrow. Joy… with chocolate icing. And balloons.