The call came on Saturday morning. Lois and I had just arrived home from an early trip to pick up groceries when Joy called and asked us to come to the Ottumwa Hospital “right now.” Joy and Tony’s dear friends, Chris and Melissa, had taken their 3 yr old daughter, Evyn, to the Doctor on Friday and she was admitted to the hospital. She had the flu and they wanted to give her some antibiotics and fluids to help her body fight it off. Saturday morning Evyn’s vitals were not improving and they decided to transport her to Iowa City – the best medical facility south of Mayo Clinic. They never made it out of Evyn’s hospital room. Her heart just stopped.
Lois and I walked into the pediatric area just as the medical staff “pronounced” Evyn. We arrived to support our daughter and son-in-love but quickly realized the family’s pastor wasn’t there yet. Fortunately Dave is a friend and I wasn’t too worried about offending him. (I called him as soon as possible and told him what had transpired.) For the next two hours I had the opportunity of offering spiritual direction in a time of crises.
The medical staff recognized me as a pastor and told me that Evyn had died. I walked into the room where everyone but the parents were waiting and told them Evyn was gone. What a shock! I prayed with the family and friends who were gathered and then went into the room where Chris and Melissa were sitting on the edge of the bed holding their first-born and weeping over her still body. It’s an image I’ll cherish the rest of my life. I wept, too. The pediatrician was still in the room and we all prayed through our tears.
After a little while we brought Evyn’s almost 2 yr old brother, Isaac into the room to be with his family. And, two-by-two, other family members and dear friends joined the grief around that hospital bed.
I found the medical staff huddled together trying to process everything. I knew their faces – they are people that have delivered all our grandchildren and cared for them. To a person they were soaked with perspiration and emotionally drained. I asked if I could pray for and with them and they readily agreed. We moved out of the hallway into a room and I looked into their eyes and thanked them for “giving their all to try to save Evyn.” I prayed for them and then together we prayed for Evyn’s family. I walked out of that room grateful for the privilege of prayer.
It took about 90 minutes for everyone to get to the place where they were ready to leave Evyn’s room. In the meantime, the family’s pediatrician had to have the difficult talk with the parents about an autopsy – they needed answers. We found out Tuesday that it was Influenza B. The flu isn’t supposed to kill children that have had the flu vaccine.
It’s wonderful to be able to stand alongside the pastors who are extending love and grace and comfort to this family. Providing spiritual direction in situations like this is both tough and necessary. These are the truths we are holding up:
? God did not DO this. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God does not make plans to bring us harm.
? Evyn is NOT an angel. Angels were created to be “God’s Secret Agents,” to quote Billy Graham. Humans were created in God’s image and are more precious, more valuable than any angel could hope to be. Some angels actually get sent out of God’s presence while we, His children, once in heaven, will never leave His presence. If God needs another angel He just thinks the thought and its done.
? Bad things happen to good people because we live in a broken, fallen world.
? It’s true that sometimes God intervenes with a miracle and we don’t understand why He chose not to do that in Evyn’s life. But then we are reminded that God’s ways are inscrutable – to us they are mysterious and beyond understanding. What seems wise to us is foolish in God’s sight.
? No matter what, God is completely trustworthy. He will not abandon you.
There have been multiple meetings with the parents and family. We’ve prayed together again and again. Pressing the reminder of God’s constant presence into the hearts and minds of God’s people is a continual process but especially in times of crises. Wednesday, several pastors will take turns being with the family as they receive visitors. Pray for me on Thursday as I have the responsibility and privilege of leading the committal service.
Together in Christ,