Tommy was 27 months old when he died on May 26,1996; our oldest daughter's ninth birthday. How ironic; the day which provided us so much joy 9 years earlier would be the same day we would experience a broken heart. Tommyís life was plagued by a degenerative brain disorder which never could be identified by name.
About 3 weeks earlier on May 9, 1996, we woke to find him in his crib with a fever, in a semi-comatose state. We brought him home from the hospital 3 days later in the same condition, not having responded to the doctors treatments.
For his final 2 weeks, Tommy was with us at home under the care of a hospice nurse. He died just minutes after we sang happy birthday to Arlene. We had been telling him for days, that he could "let go" and live with Jesus, but he held on. Finally, Alice reassured him, that his sisters, and brother, and mommy and daddy would also come to heaven someday. He took his last breath as our three year old Danny looked up and waved good-bye...
We miss him more than words can say and feel a real need to connect with other parents who know the pain we feel. We want so much to pay tribute to Tommy, for all the spiritual lessons he taught everyone who knew him. No one who knew him wasnít moved; he changed our focus. He did all this having never spoken a word.....
For the two years prior to his death, not a day went by, when I didnít think of the moment I would attempt to provide some understanding or meaning to the life of our son. I truly believed that when he died, I would have some sort of lesson completely learned and it would all somehow make sense. Now the moment has come and gone, and I canít say I fully understand Tommy. What I do understand, however, is that I am not supposed to, nor do I possess the capacity to fully comprehend the ways of the Lord. Tommy was not something for us to solve or "figure out"; he was ours to feel.
Because of Tommy we recognize our faith as a gift. Trials in life are also a gift, to increase our faith. Faith is not something we create, rather, something that makes us who we are. Prior to this experience, our faith was more of a childlike trust. God always provided for us, and there was not much question about whether or not we would be happy. I now believe, real faith or greater faith, involves a hang-on-at-any-cost attitude, even when we are disappointed with God.
What we feel in our hearts now, we will not always feel. To much of this world, it is as if Tommy didnít even exist, but to me and Alice, his sisters and his brother, we have an emptiness that needs to be filled. All sorts of things will remind us of Tommy. When we park the car and see a handicapped sign, or go into his room, or hear certain songs..... We are hurting, but know it is only temporary.
Philip Yancey writes: "Our hurt and disappointment is itself a sign, an aching for something better. And faith is in the end, a kind of homesickness - for a home we have never visited, but have never once stopped longing for."
For us, Tommy has personalized this place we call heaven. It is no longer some place "out there" we canít imagine. Now we can visualize a little piece of heaven - our Tommy smiling and playing and someday, welcoming us home!
Some do not understand, but we recognize the triumph and victory for God in the life and death of our son. God answered our prayer. Tommy is now whole.
Throughout his life, our own children were constant reminders, providing beautiful and innocent insights:
Danny, at 2 years of age, described Tommyís eventual trip to heaven this way: "Jesus would be the driver and Tommy would sit in the front seat."
Marie, as a 6 year old said this: "Tommy may have a brain that works different from ours, but we are going to love him anyway."
Arlene, at 8, had this response to one of many conversations regarding Tommyís limitations (like never being able to sit up, walk, talk, play ball, run, enjoy the park, mow the lawn with me, etc.): "Mom and Dad, those arenít bad things. Those are all the things that make Tommy so special!"
The very qualities we were complaining about, the realities we feared most, were the same characteristics a child recognized as the things that made Tommy special. Imagine our world, if all of us had the belief and understanding of these children: If we could just let Jesus be the driver, remember that we are all different, but we should just love one another anyway, and our differences are what make us special .....
And finally, the youngest child of them all - Tommy - he was nothing more than exactly what the Father made him.... He knew only love..... and we loved him more than we can say...
In one of the many books we read during this difficult time, one author (Max Lucado) talks about our coming home to God in this way:
"Before you know it, your appointed arrival time will come; youíll descend the ramp and enter the City. Youíll see faces that are waiting for you. Youíll hear your name spoken by those you love. And, maybe, just maybe - in the back, behind the crowds - the One who would rather die than live without you will remove His pierced hands from His heavenly robe and.... applaud."
Tommy, today we applaud your life, with Jesus and all the angels of heaven. Thank you for changing our hearts and the hearts of all who have come to know you. We are so proud of you!
Tim and Alice Forney
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