Just about all of us have been conditioned to see balloons as an indicator of festivity, but, on this occasion, I held my balloon in silent reverence while quietly watching the couple in front of me. Our two families had met under some extremely challenging circumstances. Our bond was forged in a NICU waiting room. Lhorraine and I were introduced to Yodawna and Thurston through a mutual friend, and it didn’t take us but five minutes to recognize how much our homes had in common. Both of our sons were micro-preemies. Both of our sons were at the same hospital. Both of our sons had beautiful brown skin. Both of our sons had been covered with prayer, and both of our sons were born on March 8, 2018. All four of us had connected, cried, and contemplated together. We were invested in both boys’ successful recovery. And that’s why I was standing ‘at attention’ holding my balloon as tight as I could. I wasn’t gripping the ribbon to celebrate; I was holding my balloon to mourn the loss of another young man nicknamed “tiny but mighty.” Yodawna and Thurston’s son, Bryson, had passed.
Bryson was one of Jesher’s NICU classmates, and, if you saw the two, you would have thought they were brothers. Actually, they were. Jesher and Bryson were war comrades. Like men, they fought together because they wanted to live. Bryson was the little brother (he was two weeks younger than Jesher), but he didn’t act like one. Bryson was active and alert. That little guy wouldn’t let odds or doubts discourage his efforts. He was determined to climb the mountain before him. He was undaunted by his prognosis. He wanted to win, and for six days, Bryson valiantly battled against extreme injuries. Then, like his God, he rested on the seventh day.
Up to this point, my interactions with Bryson’s parents were never awkward because I knew I understood them. I knew they understood me. We were traveling the same road, and we wanted the journey to end with both of our families leaving the hospital—babies in tow. However, this was different. I could no longer lean on empathy to guide my words and gestures. For the first time in our newborn relationship, I could not look either Thurston or Yodawna in the eyes and say, “I understand.” This was tragically new, and I didn’t want to cause any harm. After all, I had only met this family a week prior to this gathering, and it seemed presumptuous to interject myself into such an intimate experience. My son was still alive, and I didn’t know what it was like to lose one. And yet, I was there, standing motionless as my balloon whipped and swirled two feet above my head.
As a soulful psalmist sang “Can’t Give Up Now,” our crowd of 80 plus huddled around the couple as Thurston wrapped his arm around his sobbing mate. Each of us had written a love note to Bryson and tied our cards to a helium-filled balloon as if we were sending him a gift. The preacher had already given his comforting eulogy, and we all circled the weeping couple to shield them from the slight chill in the Spring air. The heartache within our group was unspoken yet discernible; the questions within our minds were inaudible yet gut-wrenching. Why did this happen? Why must babies be soldiers? Why do mothers lose children? Why wasn’t Bryson still laying in an isolette like Jesher? I didn’t know what to do with my internal turmoil, so I decided to swallow it with large gulps and focus my attention on my friends as they swayed to the beat of flapping balloons and hummed in unison with the now sobbing soloist.
PRAY FOR BRYSON’S FAMILY–This week would have been Bryson’s original birth week. I don’t know what this week must have been like for Yodawna and Thurston. I can only imagine how excruciating it had to be for them. So I want to ask all of you to petition Yahweh on their behalf. Usually I would be requesting prayers on behalf of Jesher’s needs, but I want to use this post to recruit prayers for Bryson’s parents. Ask the Lord to comfort them according to the promise given in Matthew 5:4. Ask God to strengthen them according to the promise given in Psalms 55:22. Ask Our Father in Heaven to be faithful to Yodawna and Thurston according to the promise given in 2 Corinthians 1:3. Please intercede on behalf of the great trial they continue to face.
With a brief prayer, the officiating preacher rendered the benediction and instructed us to release our balloons. Watching balloons float into the unknown is a mesmerizing pastime. In fact, I was so enamored by the clusters of ascending oblongs that I did not notice Yodawna making her way towards my position. The feeling of someone coming closer to me caused my eyes to lower, and what met my fixed gaze was Yodawna’s steady stride. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that my heart hurt and my tongue was heavy. Thankfully she spoke first.
“How is Jesher doing?” she inquired. The question definitely caught me off guard. I never would have expected that greeting. I assumed conversation about Jesher would have hurt too bad, so I almost tried to avoid the question, but I could tell that Yodawna wasn’t being courteous. Her soul needed to hear some good news.
“He is still fighting to live,” I sheepishly responded. “He’s determined like your boy.”
I forced a half-smile on my face in an attempt to be encouraging, and Yodawna began crying again.
She allowed me to hug her as she prophesied over my son, “One of our sons has to make it; Jesher just has to make it!” She emphatically emphasized the last four words in a way that rocked the core of my being. She continue to speak as I squeezed her tighter. “You tell him I said that okay? He has to make it.”
Well, I told him Yodawna, and he is doing better, but my family wanted you to know that we haven’t forgotten Jesher’s fallen classmate. We haven’t forgotten Bryson. And like you, our family will never forget him.
[Yodawna did give me verbal permission to share Bryson’s story. I pray I have generated a worthy ode for their precious son. You can follow Yodawna’s transparent and compelling journey here.]
“I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief; my eyes are worn out…. [But] The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD will answer my prayer.” Psalms 6:6-7, 9