Loving What Death Can Touch by Michael Ransom
Inscribed on a man’s tombstone in a New England cemetery are the words, “It is a fearful thing to love that which death can touch.” Beside his grave are the graves of his five children, their dates of death showing that each one died before the father. On March 21, 1985, my wife, Jeanine, and I experienced that “fearful thing,” when our nineteen-month-old son, Tyler, died suddenly. We all hope for the natural progression of life, where the older generations live long and fruitful lives and die peacefully in their old age and the next generation moves up to take their place. But life does not always work this way, and sometimes the natural order is disrupted.
Elie Wiesel, the Jewish author and Nobel Peace Prize winner who survived the Holocaust but lost many in his family to it, said that it took thirteen years after the horrors of the event before he could put his thoughts and memories down on paper. Although losing my son was nowhere near the magnitude of what Wiesel suffered, it has taken years before I felt capable of writing about what happened. Wiesel writes, he says, “Because the words need to get out, for if they don’t they will strangle me or I will strangle them.” So, too, it is my time to write of Tyler’s death, before the words strangle me. I do this not only for me but also for parents who have loved or lost a child. Tyler’s story didn’t end in 1985 when he died. No, it continues even today, because a child’s death is something a parent never gets over.
Loving What Death Can Touch is a little book with a powerful message that should be read by all who have loved or lost a child. Heartfelt and inspiring, the book provides encouragement to those attempting to endure a loss.
From Tyler’s life and death, I have learned that those we love can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye, so we must never take a day for granted. I have learned to have compassion for people, especially those with disabilities. I have learned that I cannot control everything in my life. I have learned to trust in God, and because of this I have become less fearful of my own death.
In his book Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury wrote: Everyone must leave something behind when he or she dies. It could be a child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you when you take your hands away.
Tyler had so little time with us and so few abilities. He couldn’t paint or build or plant. What could his one good hand touch such that his soul had somewhere to go? He touched me; I’ll forever feel his tiny hand squeezing my fingers. He touched Jeanine. He touched Ben. In his brief life, he changed all three of us. For the better, I’m sure.