Friends and family: Thank you for sharing this day with us.
I stand before you today as a father who grieves the loss of my son - my Samuel. I’m able to stand and to speak because you’ve have been with us, sharing in our suffering. We are humbled, overwhelmed, and grateful for your love. I cannot offer sufficient thanks to you for the thousands of prayers offered on our behalf, the time spent crying with us and for us, the boundless supply of food and other practical resources you’ve provided, the gifts of love you’ve made in memory of Sam, and, most importantly, your presence with us. For all of these we are more than thankful.
Today, I want to say just a few words as a way of honoring Samuel and as an offering to God of our continued trust in His loving-kindness and faithfulness.
For months, I have tried to imagine this day - the inevitable day that we would be remembering our son. Having been diagnosed with a condition many call “incompatible with life,” I wasn’t sure what I could say, or what I would get to say, about Sam’s life.
In early November, when we did not know whether we would get to see him or to hold him alive, I wrote the following:
“How does one remember a life which ends before it begins? How can one offer a good word about a life whose every moment was coded for death? Is it all a waste? And when I consider Samuel - his life - is it a waste for him? As I think through these questions, I reflect on Sam’s experience. Our precious, vulnerable son is experiencing the fierce and undying love of a mother who cares for, nurtures, carries, and cries over him. He is hearing Micah’s joyful sounds of laughter as he refers to his brother affectionately as “Bonkey-Pants.” And Samuel is hearing me say “I love you” as I try to find a way to protect him. Would Samuel have been better off having not experienced his mom’s love? Is his brother’s love and laughter wasted? Are my words insignificant to his little life?”
Now, standing on this side of Sam’s four hour and fifty-eight minute life - and having held my son for almost that entire time - I think I’m in a better position to answer these questions.
For the short time Sam was alive and in our arms, he breathed, he studied our faces, he listened to our voices, and he responded with soft and sweet sounds. He was determined. He was courageous. He was beautiful.
In the midst of everything, I was surprised by the peacefulness and normalcy of the entire experience. I sat, cradling him in my arms, and talked with Fr. Rusty; we were two friends together sharing the grace and gift of this new life.
When Fr. Rusty stepped out for a moment, I took the opportunity to tell Sam about his amazing mom and brother. I told him about how his mother carried him selflessly without a thought to anything she would expect to receive from her love. I told him about how Micah helped us to give him his name and how much he loved being the big brother. I told him that I loved him and that I was blessed to be his dad. He heard me sing softly - a song I sang to Micah just moments after Micah had been born.
During these hours, Sam got to see Alisha’s face and hear her sweet voice as she held him in her arms. He was blessed and baptized by Fr. Rusty. Hope Mardre, his godmother, held him and spoke sweet words about our precious and beautiful boy. He got to meet our friends Lindsey and Braxton and Golson who welcomed him lovingly. Some of his extended family were able to hear his sweet voice on the phone. He was cared for by nurses and doctors who held him tenderly and who cried with us as he took his final breath. And there were many like Jeanne Dean, who had come to stay with Micah when we left for the hospital, awake and praying us through those sacred hours. Our little corner of that neonatal intensive care unit was a holy space; our time was peaceful, calm, significant, beautiful, perfect.
In short, our son, our sweet Samuel, experienced the embrace of a whole community who welcomed him lovingly into a broken and vulnerable world. Samuel’s life, however short, was a life born in love, surrounded in love, and completed in love. His life was marked by something greater than his defects, his disabilities, his injuries; his life was marked by love.
Not one moment of Sam’s life was a moment devoid of love. He was loved. He was loved fiercely. He was loved well.
Sam’s life was not a life that ended before it began. His life ended as it began: in the love of family and friends and in the love of a God who is faithful and abounding in mercy.
And Sam’s life was not a wasted life. He was a gift, a precious and beautiful gift, given to us to care for as best we could. The months that Alisha carried him and the hours we held him were some of the most profound and most significant of our lives.
Loving Samuel was our calling and I’m so glad that we got to be his parents. I’m so thankful we got to love him.