Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Farewell to My Son

September 19, 2006

Thank you all for being here. And thank you for sharing our son. Everyone who knew him loved him, and so he belonged to everyone, both near and far.

At the same time, one of the greatest sadnesses and deepest regrets of this week is that more of you couldn’t have known my son. His life had many limitations that prevented him from spending lots of time with many people. Moreover, his parents had limitations that kept us to ourselves. Between hospitalizations, medical appointments, in-home care, therapies, feedings, meetings, and naps, it was hard for many of you to get to know him, or to even meet him. For better and worse, Stacy and I knew him better than anyone. For this, I am both deeply regretful and oddly impenitent. So today, I wanted to tell you about William Addison Stavlund. It is my great honor to do so.

First, you need to know that he was stinky. Between his heavy workload, his high metabolism, his constant sweating, his persistent eye infection, his regular reflux, his many meds (especially those wretched liquid vitamins with iron!), and his distaste for baths, he was usually pretty gamey. But I loved that stinky boy. No matter how short or noisy the night, I’d always take him out of his bed in the morning, feel his clammy clothes, and nuzzle my face to his shoulder. Even when I’d gag a little at the stench, I’d still say, “mmmm… oh, I love my stinky boy!”

And he was stubborn. If he was unhappy, he’d let you know about it. His cardiologist told us to never feed him or stress him for more than 20 to 30 minutes, but she forgot to tell him. He’d scream and cry for twice that long if he felt like it. If you held him up to try to get him to stand, his legs would go completely floppy. But if you tried to change or feed him, he might kick you the whole time. To give him a bottle was to try to hit a moving target, as he twisted and turned his head in frequent non-cooperation. And if you did get the nipple into his mouth, he could clamp down on it so hard that you couldn’t pull it out.

And he was beautiful. His little sister might have been bigger, but he was graced with some gorgeous features. His eyelashes were long and luscious, and his downy hair would shine red, brown, or blonde, depending on the light. Oh, and those eyes. The deepest blue, they would draw you in and make you forget absolutely everything. They were such a spectacle that otherwise assiduous nurses and techs would be sorely tempted to wake him up, or at least to stick their face in front of his to steal that gaze. So persistent was this problem that one of the CICU nurses finally threw a sheet over his crib to make a tent, and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. Which everyone promptly ignored.

He was determined. With Will, everything was an effort, yet he would tirelessly chip away at the mountain in front of him. If he ran into something that was overwhelming, he would pause to catch his breath for a minute and then just keep pushing ahead. I’ve run the Boston Marathon twice, but I’ve never seen anyone work so hard. At times, it was honestly hard to watch. Day and night, hour by hour, minute by minute. Against impossible impediments: half of a heart, inefficient blood flow that left him blue, a partially paralyzed diaphragm, a shrinking aorta, a cleft lip and palate, low birth weight, digestive problems, and oral aversions, he pushed and pushed and pushed. He was the very strongest person I’ve ever known.

He was full of hope. In a very tangible way, he gave us the great light we named Eleanor Elisabeth, as he hung on to life through a threatened pregnancy. His life stood as a beacon of hope, and an example of what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. When our hope flagged, he defied our expectations. When tests and x-rays and reports were ominous, he cruised ahead. When we worried, he paid no attention. He fooled us all. He was strong when he was supposed to be weak, and – in the end—he was weak when we thought he would be strong.

And he was wise. I know I shouldn’t say this about a baby, but I can’t help it. To look into his eyes was to be drawn into a bottomless pool, and be left equally breathless. It seemed that you could see into his soul. Or perhaps he saw into your soul. Either way, the journey was revealing and a little unnerving. I would constantly wonder if there wasn’t much, much more that he knew, and we eagerly awaited the day when he could share that with us. He was a tiny baby, yes, but he was also a real person: flesh, soul, and spirit.

Now he’s gone, and we’re angry and empty and lost. I’ve screamed ‘what?’ into the night sky. I’ve asked ‘why?’ until I’m dry. I’ve soaked the pillow with tears, and shook the bed with sobs.
And yet I wonder–
Maybe this searing pain is what it feels like to be touched by love.
Maybe this searing pain is what it feels like to be touched by God.

Maybe we’ve seen and watched and touched something that will change us.

Many years ago, a friend prayed and prophesied that my wife would have a daughter and a son, and that the boy would bring God’s Kingdom. That he would, in some small way, usher in this realm where—as Jesus described—God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven. Six years later, we held Ella and Will, and we began to see the truth of this. He was full of life, and love. He drew goodness and grace out of us, and others. We hoped that he would continue to do so as a marathoner, who completes a very long and arduous course. Today, we are greatly grieved to realize that he was instead a relay runner, who has passed the baton to us who gather here today. We who knew him from near and far touched, tasted, and felt the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of and lived in. It is left to us to carry that baton; to live full of love, and without reserve, and to remain steadfast until the end, as God gives us strength.

Goodbye, William Addison Stavlund. We love you, and we will remember you.
We thank you, and we thank God for you. Amen, and amen.

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15 Responses to “Farewell to My Son”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Will.

    Shonda

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you stavlunds for sharing your son with us.

    Thank you for sharing your joy with us.

    Thank you for sharing your pain with us.

    Thank you for sharing the kingdom with us.

    And a special thank you to will – you had the power to share with us in a way that maybe NO other can – and I mean that sincerly will, not just as some pithy compliment. Maybe it’s because you were so small… and frail… and stinky… and beautiful…. Maybe it’s just something about those eyes that I saw staring back at me through my computer screen on so many late nights and early mornings…. I’m not quite sure, but you reached across the nation and touched this heart in a way that has left an imprint the size of a small hand in the shape of the Kingdom of God. At this moment, I think that you will be one of the saints that usher me through what ever pearly gates lie beyond the realm that I know. Thank you.

  3. John E. says:

    Mike, thanks for writing. My prayer for you and your family today was for rest — deep “rest unto your souls” like you haven’t had in months, maybe years.

    (You probably don’t remember me from that Emergent dinner thing at Guapo’s back in April — but I’ve been following the story on your blog ever since, and my wife and I were greatly saddened by the past week’s news. Little Will has indeed had a wide-ranging influence.)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Mike and Stacy, for sharing your hearts, your lives, and your children with the rest of us. Thank you for the great privilege of getting to know Will through your blog when we couldn’t be there in person. Thank you for allowing us to laugh and cry with you.

  5. Goosebumps and misty eyes here at work today…

    May Will’s courage and the courage of your family be a beacon of light to others.

  6. Anonymous says:

    What more can be ssid of a wonderful little boy who truly showed us all the love our Father has for us. Thank you Will, to God be the glory. Peace and Love to Mike, Stacy and sweet Ella.

    The architects Mom

  7. Anonymous says:

    thank you for sharing. you are in our prayers and thoughts. thank you to will, precious boy. may the lord breathe peace on you today. much love to you all.

  8. That was so beautiful. Thank you for posting this and for posting the video. It allowed us to feel (at least in a very, very small way) that we were able to make it there.

    We love you guys.

  9. John Musick says:

    whew.

    here I am in a hip minneapolis coffee shop known for its goth clientle weeping in front my mac.

    thank you mike and thank you stacy for sharing will with us all.

  10. Erin says:

    Mike, this is a beautiful story.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for being so honest and open about your feelings as you shared Will with all of us! He was a wonderful little man! May you find peace and comfort in the days to come. Much love and prayers to you all.

  12. DStavlund says:

    Mike & Stacy:

    I was honored you asked me to help carry your “little man” to the hearse after the services. What eloquent words you and GOD arranged to share with all who were there to say “Good-bye” to Will.

    Love always,

    Grandpa Dave

  13. Amy says:

    Dear Mike & Stacy,
    I do not know you but I know Erin your friend. She had mentioned of your loss and left a link to read this. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your loss and sharing about your son. His legacy will live on with me and your loving him helps me see The Father’s love for me. Thanks for trying to put into words what can hardly be described. Thank you for being real and transparent. And for loving still.

  14. Anonymous says:

    how did he bring God’s kingdom? By building up in each one of us who reads your story… and his…

    i don’t know you… i found your blog quite by accident… but God used his story and yours words to touch me and remind me that Jesus has given me today to love others… no promise of tomorrow…

    so thanks

  15. Thank you for sharing this with us. It was moving and so beautiful.

    I lost my 4 yr old son two years ago.

    My heart goes to you.

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