Sat., May. 13, 20
Hebrews 11:1 – Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.
Today, would have been Nate Vielhuber’s 39th birthday. Nate was my husband Rick’s eldest son. When just 21, Nate was killed in a snowmobiling accident. Our lives were forever changed.
Rick and I were dating when Nate was killed. It was very early in our relationship. I was also the pastor for the church were Rick and his family were members. This means I presided over Nate’s funeral; the second funeral I ever conducted. I barely knew how to officiate a funeral. I certainly didn’t know how to officiate my boyfriend’s eldest son’s funeral. I will never officiate at a more difficult funeral.
Losing a child is heart wrenching. The littlest details are deeply etched in my memory. The sound of Rick’s voice on the middle of the night phone call. The shock displayed on Rick’s parent’s faces as we told them. The outside temperature the night of the chilly January visitation. The specific tie Rick wore to the funeral. The pain deep in my gut while driving back to seminary the day after the funeral as I crossed the bridge between Wisconsin and Iowa entering Dubuque. My inability to tuck the emotion away that same day.
Yet, my pain was a shallow puddle compared to the overwhelming and long-standing pain Rick experienced. I attended seminary several days a week the first months after Nate’s death. On my way home, I often stopped to see Rick. It was impossible to predict his state of mind before arriving. Would it be a good day? An awful day? Somewhere in-between?
Because we had not been dating very long, my personal relationship with Nate was not well developed. I am very much aware that for some, this should mean my grief isn’t significant. Honestly, my grief is often tied up in the grief I have witnessed Rick experience. Yet, I grieve the lost opportunities, the unfulfilled dreams, the sadness of how this loss dramatically affected every Vielhuber family member.
When I meet someone new, a question I am often asked is how many children we have. I’m still unsure how to answer this question. First, I explain Rick has children and I do not. Do I say Rick has two or three children? If I say two, I’m not including Nate. If I say three, further explanation is needed. Rick struggles with the appropriate answer just as much as I do.
Several months ago, Rick showed me a picture he ran across while going through things at the house that was his Mom and Dad’s. It is the photo with this post. Nate was probably 13 or 14. He was with Rick’s Dad fishing in Canada. This picture rides in my car now. One day, our youngest three grandkids were in the car. They saw the photo. Grandson Waylan asked Rick if the people in the picture were his Dad and Rick. Grandpa gently shared that no, this was his Uncle Nate and his Grandpa-Great.
When gathered for family get-togethers, it’s rare Nate’s name is not mentioned. Our grandchildren know they have another uncle. I enjoy Rick repeating the same stories of times he had with Nate: failing to make pie crust for home economics class; shooting potatoes; taking confirmation class together and a whole host of others. After the death of a child, it is easy for parents to loose perspective on God, faith and life. I am amazed how Rick has allowed this significant loss in his life to deepen his view of God. Rather than being bitter about the shortness of Nate’s life, he praises God for the exciting 21 years he had with Nate.
Nathanial means “gift from God.” There is no question, Nate was a gift from the beginning. Today, I say thank you, God, for the gift of Nate, the day of Nate’s birthday.
Our hearts are sometimes sad when we remember a loved one no longer with us, Lord God. Other times, our hearts swell with laughter and tears. Be with any this day who are missing a loved one. Amen.
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