Today I feel called to share with you the eulogy I gave at Eren's memorial service. I understand that many readers might prefer not to focus on the death of an infant, but there is a light in this dark story that I think deserves to be recognized. In some small way, I pray that you would also be blessed by my son's story, which is really not his story at all.
Eulogy for Eren Jacob Highley
Penned by his father and delivered 22 February 2014.
[Prologue] It’s normal to be afraid of grief. I can tell you honestly that holding my son’s tiny, fragile body on Wednesday– which he no longer needed – brought home a new dimension of fear to me, and I’m sure Renee as well; however, for reasons I can’t explain, I am here to tell you: do not let your hearts be troubled, and neither afraid. Amazingly, my son’s story has now been viewed by tens of thousands of people. I think it is because God wants Eren’s story told, for many reasons that I will explain. And the love that we knew should be given to you, to share as you go from this place.
Dearest friends, family, my brothers in arms… I want to thank you for being with us today. I normally speak very much “off the cuff,” but today – as I talk to you about my son, Eren – I thought his story deserved greater meditation. I penned these words between my grief over several days, praying that God would send the Holy Spirit to speak through me, just as he has spoken through Eren. Although I suppose this could also be the first time the Holy Spirit spoke through a MacBook Air.
Probably not. [Pause]
It’s ok to cry. [Pause]
I will, so please bear with me.
One early morning last July, Renee woke me up with a text message from her parent’s home in Pilot Knob, Missouri, where she was visiting. Her text was a picture of a positive pregnancy test, with the message, “You’re going to be a daddy.” That’s just how Renee and I roll, as if the laptop wasn’t a dead giveaway. We text each other messages of solemn, impending responsibility, and we propose marriage in the driveway as we’re running late for church. For us, it has always been about the strategic end state [a nod to my CGSC friends]. [Pause]
It’s okay to laugh [weak smile].
For us the end state was a whole new world: parenthood. Renee and I cherished Eren in our hearts, telling anyone and everyone who would listen how excited we were to have our little boy in our arms. We posted frequent Facebook updates to distant friends and relatives, letting them know when he was growing hair, fingernails, when he could hear our voices. I remember him waving at us at his anatomy ultrasound, when we finally knew the gender God had given him at conception.
Of course, Eren connected with many of your lives just as deeply. He high-fived my brothers and sister from inside his mommy (although he thought you were supposed to do it with your foot, silly baby). He heard his grandfather’s flute playing on an early Christmas morning. He heard his cousins shout and cry and play around him, and could listen to his aunts and uncles. He heard his pastor’s sermons, and he tasted Holy Communion through his mother’s body. He even brought smiles to random strangers faces with the promise of his life, through his mommy’s “bump.” He drank deeply of music. He would kick whenever he heard it. I want to thank everyone who offered up their musical gifts this morning; Eren would have cherished every verse and stanza.
Just this last Tuesday, a day we thought would be a normal weekly check-up, the doctor ran three ultrasounds and told us Eren no longer had a heartbeat. The week before his heartbeat was just fine, although his movement had begun to slow down. The pain we felt at such a shocking and unexpected loss was magnified by guilt – wondering if we could have noticed his decline sooner and somehow prevented it – and uncertainty – not understanding how it happened or how we were going to face the new road before us.
Concerning bravery: Eren was born to us on Wednesday, weighing 4 pounds 11.5 ounces. Renee and I actually heard several stories this year of couples who went through the exact thing we just experienced - stillbirth; I shared many of them, and it’s actually more common than people think. What you don’t know is that I prayed every day of Renee’s pregnancy that God would spare us from exactly this scenario. EXACTLY this. Imagine our hearts then when we got the bad news. We were sure we couldn’t face it. We were also sure that we had to, and that somehow ...God would use it to his glory.
Many of you know my wife, Renee. She is very much my Katerina Von Bora; a beautiful singer, a virtuous Christian woman, and a wonderful homemaker. She is often quiet and reserved, although she is equally as compassionate. I have seen her as my Amazon warrior. I pray that none of you ever have to experience what we experienced in that delivery room: a place of light and joy that become exactly the opposite; a cry of anguish so heart-felt and piercing that it gave pause even to doctors and nurses.
The Bible says more times than anything else: be not afraid. We just weren’t sure how to do that. An old Irish proverb states: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” YOU have been our shelter in this difficult time, magnifying God’s love for us and lifting us up in the Spirit. Where we felt pain and despair, there can now be the beginnings of peace.
[Long silence] Regarding silence: consider that – according to every online metric I can muster – my son’s story has now been seen and heard by thousands of people. In an era where people decry the pervasive influence of social media, an unborn child speaks to the hearts of any who will listen. Of course, it’s his father’s voice, but isn’t that the perfect illustration of our life with the Holy Spirit? Sadder, much sadder than Eren’s story, are the stories of the unborn who have no voice to speak up for them. [Pause]
I have a confession, which I’m sure will shock all of you: I was not a perfect father to Eren. I was, of course, immensely proud to be his father, and was often heard to remark that I was going to teach my son everything I knew about the finest things in life: “whiskey and grilling.” Do you notice anything missing? I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not women, although I will agree that I married the finest of them. It’s just that I can’t imagine what could have been more important than teaching my child everything I know… about God. How to talk to Him. How to honor Him. How to fear, love, and trust in Him. Eren came with us regularly to church, heard his parents pray almost every day, heard his father read him his favorite Bible translations, and heard his mother praise God with her beautiful, amazing voice. Before he entered heaven he was baptized with the Holy Spirit, and although he never got to touch his earthly father’s face, he can now touch the face of our creator and redeemer.
As innocent as Eren was, I want you to know that he needed Christ’s salvation as much as you or me. You came here to “celebrate Eren’s life,” but if you do only that you’re missing the most important part of his story. It is in the promise of death that our own short lives take on such great meaning. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the Lady Galadriel, witnessing the decline of middle-Earth, remarks that “together through the ages of this world we have fought the long defeat.”
What a perfect phrase. That is exactly how this feels sometimes: the long defeat. And lest any of us are confused, we will all face that defeat someday. Whether it is on a battlefield, the bridge of a ship, a hospital ward, or in a lonely hospice, we will depart from this world: dead to our sin... but alive in Christ. It has been said that I walked my son to heaven, but in truth I am humbled to admit that he walked before me. In Eren’s short time among us, he displayed the perfect submission to Christ and to God’s will. We who are gathered here understand that our defeat here is not really a defeat, that we will be raised up in the promise of a new life through Jesus Christ.
Thus, Eren’s story is not Eren’s but God’s. Everything good my son has accomplished is from God. Christ has risen from the dead, by death he conquered death, and to those in the grave he granted life! This is death in its proper context.
The Apostle John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. HE was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
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