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.