Nathan Skjaveland: Sept 28, 1985 ~ June 20, 2003

Nathan Skjaveland: September 28, 1985 to June 20, 2003 by Colleen Skjaveland

GIFT of GOD     The early months of 1985 were exciting!  I was feeling some belly discomfort and tried to ignore it, but eventually went to see my doctor.  Karl and I had been married for six months, had just purchased our first little home, and weren’t planning our family to start just yet. You can imagine my surprise when the doctor told me I was pregnant. You can also imagine Karl’s surprise when I suggested he take his “family” out for dinner!!! Because we were not young, Karl 28 and I 27, we welcomed this news enthusiastically. Ready or not, this was a blessing to be welcomed and celebrated!  As any couple expecting for the first time, we made great plans, and our expectations for our child ran high.  He or she would be the brightest and the best at everything!  We had fun imagining what he or she might become, and took very seriously the selection of names.

3:30 am on September 27 arrived and my water broke,  but not with the whoosh that other women speak of, just a steady trickle. Contractions were sporadic and light.  The doctor said to wait it out at home until something more exciting happened.  Well, things did not progress quickly, and so I was scheduled for induction on the morning of the 28th.  I was determined to see this through without an epidural, and nearly lost my resolve in the final hours when the baby went into distress, and I was put on oxygen. Finally, our beautiful first born son was born at 20:41 after a very grueling day.  We welcomed Nathan Lars into the world, but did not notice the serious looks on faces around us.  We learned later that Nathan had an Apgar score of only 2/10, but it rose to 7/10 at five minutes, after some fast work by our medical team.  (The Apgar score is a simple test on newborns developed by Dr. Apgar evaluating Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration, each worth two points.)  Our son had a very difficult entrance into the world.  We had chosen the name of Nathan because it meant “gift of God,” and we treasured this little bundle as a truly special gift.

The days passed quickly and he grew well.  In fact, his weight was above average, but he was missing “milestones.”  Our family doctor suggested that he might just be a late bloomer.  He didn’t walk until 17 months, and words other than Mommy and Daddy didn’t come until 18-20 months.  When Nathan reached 20 months, Ryan was born and our family life became very busy!  Shortly after that, we moved closer to Karl’s parents, and his mother started noticing things about Nathan that I had accepted as normal, because of my inexperience with babies.  I was the youngest in my family, and as my siblings became parents, I lived too far away from them to learn from their babies.  My information on babies was coming from books I was reading.  My own mother had me when she was 48, and at this point in her life, she was in early stage Alzheimer’s.  She couldn’t remember things about babies and through no fault of her own, wasn’t able to provide any guidance.  So when my mother-in-law commented on his slowness to speak, for example, I wasn’t worried because the doctor had said “he was just a late bloomer.”

I did take Nathan for check ups, hearing tests and a behavioral assessment, but nothing specific was identified other than his developmental delay.  The behavioral assessment was administered at 3 years 4 months and showed his development ranged from 1 year, 10 months to 2 years, 4 months in various areas, well below his age group.  Our hopes and dreams for our first born were dwindling, and now, instead of the brightest and the best, we just hoped for at least average.  We prayed for wisdom in dealing with him so very often. After my other babies turned into toddlers, it was easier for me to see with my own eyes that things were not “average” in Nathan’s development.  He did withdraw often, did not enjoy cuddling with me, sought refuge under furniture, avoided eye contact, had many temper tantrums, had some strange fascinations such as spinning wheels on toys with his thumb, and of course, he continued to miss milestones.  On top of that, one set of grandparents thought we didn’t discipline enough, and the other set thought that we were too strict.  We were trying so hard to do what was right with him!

Thanksgiving 1989 found us moving again.  Karl found a good job that would better provide for his growing family.  But it necessitated moving away from our loved ones.  We came to the beautiful Ottawa Valley near Ottawa, Canada, and were thankful for the employment the Lord provided Karl in the buzzing high technology industry here.  In 1990, Ian was born and then we found out what “busy” really was!  At that point, we had three little boys aged four and under.  Nathan turned five that September and entered Sr. Kindergarten.  We had not put him in Jr. Kindergarten because of all the changes happening in our lives with moving and another baby.  So he enjoyed that year at home with Ryan.

During his first year of school, his well experienced teacher expressed some major concerns regarding his progress.  At the end of the year, we agreed that he was not ready for Grade 1, and so we had him repeat Sr. Kindergarten the next year.  I remember borrowing a book from the town library on autism.  It was fairly old, and I recall wondering if he was an autistic child even though he didn’t quite fit the description in that book.

As I look back now, I see God’s hand even in my record keeping, the notes I made on Nathan during those years became very helpful later.  I never felt the same need to be as detailed with Ryan and Ian’s record keeping.  I see now how our gentle Father works through a mother’s intuition, a loving grandmother’s concerns and teachers who care!  Later the psychiatrist told me she had not seen such a helpful set of notes on the childhood of any of her patients.  I now strongly urge new moms to trust their God-given intuition, and check on anything that doesn’t seem right.  They needn’t worry about being a bother to the doctor.

We are privileged to live near a wonderful children’s hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, affectionately known as CHEO.  What wonderful doctors and staff are there, and so we were referred for more special testing to see if something could be identified during his sixth year.  The psychologist administering one of the tests was very impressed by Nathan’s growing vocabulary, and he made her laugh many times through the visit.  All kinds of tests were done including some genetic testing.  At the end of it all, many things were eliminated, but we weren’t much further ahead.  Yes, he had problems, but he did not fit any specific diagnosis.  A pediatrician we visited suspected ADD, but he wasn’t really convinced of that either.  He wondered if trying one of the ADD meds might help.  We chose not to based on our research.   Another doctor suggested Candida and food allergies. Maybe life would have been easier if there had been something very specific identified with certainty, and we could have studied up on how to help him.  As it was, all we could do was muddle along, and try our best by experimenting with diet changes, and working with the school on his special learning plan.

At home, we treated him just like the other boys.  We encouraged them to be and do their best, whatever that may be.  He made acceptable academic progress within the altered expectations of his Individual Education Plan (IEP), and passed from grade to grade, but it was not easy.  As he grew and passed out of temper tantrums, he became a more contented and less frustrated little boy.  He particularly loved his sand box in the summer, where he exhibited his amazing imagination, and created many an intricate road pattern, making engine noises all the while.  We wondered why he didn’t go hoarse!  He did have difficulty in coping with changes in routine, and still avoided eye contact.  In everything Nathan took longer to achieve goals than our other boys did, from riding his bike to swimming to learning to play a simple one-handed song on the piano.  But he kept trying!

MORE CHANGES IN NATHAN     The summer of 1995 Nathan had major surgery.  He had been born with an inverted breastbone and we were advised that it was severe enough to possibly press on his heart and lungs as he got older.  Another concern was the affect on his self esteem as he grew into manhood since the dent in his chest was big enough to fit his fist. Having to make the decision on this elective surgery weighed heavily on us.  It would need to be done before the growth of the teen years. We prayed about it, and felt we should give permission.  The surgery involved cutting his ribs away from the breastbone, notching the breastbone in order to bend it upwards, and putting a steel supporting rod in his chest to hold it up while the ribs reattached themselves.  The poor child came through the pain and agony like a trooper.  As his scar healed, he liked the cool new “frog face” on his chest.  What a sense of humor!

During his Grade 5 year, a special immunization for measles was introduced by the School Board.  We hesitated in agreeing to it, but in the end, allowed it.  Nathan’s hand writing deteriorated that year, and we will always wonder if it had something to do with that shot. Even as an infant, we had purposefully started his needles after he turned one, not at the suggested two months.  Having the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom, I had delighted in nursing him until well after he turned one, at which time I was pregnant again.  Karl and I both thought this provided enough immunity at his age and with our life style of staying at home with mom.  Our research into standard immunization raised more questions than answers!  This is still an area of huge debate, and parents must be comfortable with their own decision, and not judge others who have a different outlook.

As Nathan got older, school became more difficult, and the acceptance level of his peers diminished.  He had a few childhood friends who remained loyal, but even they found it increasingly difficult to hang around with him.  By the time he was in Grade 8, most days he came home wondering why others wouldn’t just leave him alone.  He was the subject of much teasing at this point, being a “special ed” student.  Still, he wanted to please his teachers, and always tried his best for them.  We often considered home schooling him, but we never felt fully equipped to handle his special needs in academics.  As I reflect back now, I think home schooling may have been the better option for a special learner, and would encourage parents to consider it, but we didn’t take that step.   And so we plowed on.  His principal did suggest that Nathan might benefit from some counseling to help him deal with his peers.  After our initial responses of anger, and “why couldn’t the principal and teachers deal with the bullies better,” we thought there might be some merit to the suggestion.  We took him to a children’s counseling center and were assigned to a counselor who specialized in art therapy.  Nathan loved to draw, and they had many good chats while he was creating his artwork.  God had the right person in the right place at the right time.  Nathan enjoyed those sessions.  She helped him develop coping skills that lasted a while.

During his Grade 9 year, we were able to get a consultation with a psychiatrist at the children’s counseling center where Karl and I were welcome to sit in on the appointment.  He determined Nathan was just depressed and prescribed an antidepressant.  With time Nathan’s symptoms worsened, and one day as I was driving towards home, it seemed like the Lord impressed on me strongly that I should go to the pharmacy and read up on the anti depressant that Nathan was taking.  I have not had a strong impression like that very often in my life.  I listened to His voice and turned the car around.  The pharmacist gladly let me read his CPS book on the drug, and I was flabbergasted to see that if a patient had schizophrenia, this drug should not be used, as it would make the symptoms worse.  Could this be what was wrong?  We stopped that med that day, but things did not improve.

The summer before he turned 16 and entered Grade 10, I noticed more changes in Nathan. Just thinking about school starting again was creating great stress in him. We now know that such stress can be the trigger for a psychotic break. He began mumbling to himself and behaving oddly from time to time. He seemed to settle into school fairly well, but then things changed. His body language seemed different.  He hunched his shoulders somewhat protectively around himself, and looked up suspiciously at others.  The murmuring got worse. He started to talk about seeing things and hearing things that the rest of us could not see nor hear.  It became scary. We wondered if he could finish that semester at school or not, and we held on.  He finished it, but at the end, his principal and I agreed that it would be better if he switched to home schooling while we sought treatment, whether we felt equipped or not!

I made a few appointments with our family doctor, but I could not physically get Nathan to come with me; he would not budge.  He would not admit there was anything wrong with him. This is typical of people with mental illness.  I kept those appointments and told our doctor what we were seeing, and on the third one, he said it sounded like schizophrenia.  I broke down and cried right there.  That was not what I wanted to hear.

Our home schooling efforts did not go well.  I tried to work with him and encourage him with the few subjects we were tackling, but he was resentful and often preoccupied with his thought life.  He began to think of me as a spy.  We were still trying to see a different psychiatrist, but the waiting lists were months long, and we needed help immediately.  He was being “chased by bears and wolves” and “people were constantly spying on him” and it was terrifying for him, and for us.  We pleaded with God for healing.  During those difficult days, Nathan often took our black lab Ebony on long walks down to the river where he collected “treasures” and puttered by the side of the water.  He enjoyed those times with the dog immensely.

Finally, one day I called the psychiatric hospital and found the sympathetic ear of a wonderful nurse.  She promised to talk to a doctor on our behalf and see if they could fit us in.  We are so grateful that she was on duty that day, and the doctor agreed to see us on the following Monday.  Now, how would we get him there?  The Lord would have to help us.

Monday came, and I felt like I was deceiving him, but in the morning I suggested we go for lunch at his favorite restaurant.  With his tummy full of Chinese food, I told him that we were then going to just talk to someone, so that he could express how he was feeling, similar to his former art therapy counselor.  I had mentally prepared myself to call the hospital security to help me get him in the door, and had phoned ahead in that regard.  To my surprise, he was totally agreeable and went willingly to “talk”.  The Lord intervened on our behalf.  The psychiatrist was so gentle and spoke with such a soft understanding voice that very soon, Nathan had opened up and was telling her what he was seeing and hearing, and how he was feeling.  She let me sit in on the appointment and I just listened.  She asked many perceptive questions, and received answers that gave her insights into his condition.  After about an hour, she picked up the phone to speak to someone else, and I heard her say “Paranoid Schizophrenia and Asperger’s Syndrome” and that was the very first time I had ever heard “Asperger’s”.  As it turned out, she was a doctor specializing in Schizophrenia with adults, and had called someone in the youth ward.  If there had been room, they would have admitted Nathan that day, but there was no room for him.  That is a sad commentary on the state of mental health issues in today’s children: huge needs, long waiting lists, and few beds.

We went home and I started doing research on Asperger’s Syndrome.  It was a label put on high functioning autistic people.  All those years before when I had researched Autism, I was on the right track and didn’t know it.  Dr. Asperger of Germany was the first to differentiate between this and Autism, and it took a while for his work to appear in the English medical journals.  I understand this particular diagnosis label appeared in English psych books during the early 1980s.  Then, it still takes time to trickle through to the doctors, and our doctor through his childhood (Nathan’s) hadn’t heard about it.  As we read the literature we were given, he seemed like a text book case.  Would we have done anything differently with him during his childhood if we had known?  Maybe, but we did the best that we knew how to do, and had to leave the rest with the Lord.  We know that we made many mistakes over the years, but had to rely on God’s forgiveness, and trust Him with the future.  Asperger’s is a term you hear very often now in special education circles.

We still had the Schizophrenia to deal with, however, and read up on it too.  An opening came at the psychiatric hospital and Nathan was admitted for a six week period where they could administer anti psychotics and monitor him closely.  The six weeks were extended.  Anti psychotics and teenagers are not a good mix.  There are studies on going now researching the advisability of even using them with teens.  It was the most painful experience to drive away from the hospital and leave him there.  We were only allowed to visit once through the week. We could phone each evening, and as time went by, he was given weekend passes to come home.  But the side effects of the meds kept him asleep most of the days as well as nights. Other youth in the same ward had various issues, including those of a behavioral nature and anger management, and one evening, another patient tried to set Nathan’s hair on fire!  How difficult it was to leave him there and plead for the Lord’s protection over our very vulnerable son.

We tried our best to keep home life normal for the other boys, but it was not easy on them. With Ryan only a year behind Nathan in school, he had taken a lot of abuse and teasing for just being Nathan’s brother.  They couldn’t understand all the ramifications of the illness, and we were having a hard enough time dealing with it ourselves.  We begged God for healing, and had our Pastor and some of our trusted Christian friends lay hands on him and ask for healing and the casting out of demons if there were any.  That was another road that was hard to go down.  Nathan had asked Jesus to be his Saviour when he was little, and had always had a sensitive heart to spiritual things.  His Sunday School teachers had commented on his faith from time to time, and we were blessed to share Bible stories and prayer together for years. But the illness affected that too.  Could it be that he was possessed?  We studied the Scriptures and sought counsel on demon possession and received conflicting advice.  Another concern was heaped on to the pile!  We came to a conclusion on what we thought the Scriptures taught.  Our godly friends prayed over him and laid hands on him.  When there was no response from Nathan during the prayer time, we felt assured that this was an illness in his brain, not demon possession.  A demon would not have been able to keep silent during that special time of prayer.   Mental illness is difficult for any family to deal with, and Christians have the extra burden of worrying about whether it’s demon possession.  It is real in our time; there is no doubt about that.  But so are illnesses that affect various body parts such as cancer or diabetes, and the malfunction of the synapses of the brain can be simply that, an illness.  We have since heard news reports of other families that ended up losing their children to death, virtually by torture, during a so-called exorcism.

Our Pastor was so gracious and understanding.  He had worked previously in an institution where people with severe disabilities lived, including some with mental illness.  So when Nathan called him “the anti Christ” one day, he took it in stride and gently talked with him. We had been asked to take him out of Sunday School at that point because his comments and answers were upsetting other students.  With sadness, we understood and complied.  And so the Pastor started Sunday School lessons, one on one with him, and tried his best with Nathan.  We will be forever grateful to him for that and so much more.  But we also had to remind ourselves that other Christians are just human and don’t intend to be hurtful at times like that.  I’ll be honest and say that I struggled with thoughts of isolation and lack of support from our church family at that point.  I understand now that they just didn’t know what to do, or how to handle Nathan, and for many, their coping technique was to avoid him and us altogether.  Sometimes it still hurts when I see how a family with a child going through chemo is supported in so many ways.  Public prayer for him was limited, and people seemed to feel awkward mentioning it.  Families dealing with special needs kids and/or mental illness need tremendous support through the hard times; support and love, not isolation.  From time to time, as word spread about his diagnosis, someone would pull me aside and tell me in hushed tones about their relative with mental illness.  Even among believers there is a stigma that must be addressed.

Psychiatrists find the determination of the proper dose of anti psychotics very difficult.  And so the psychiatrist would order a specific dose, and then watch for a week or two to see how he reacted, alter it, and then the process would start all over.  One drug led to another in an effort to find something that worked well for Nathan.  Sometimes combinations of drugs were tried.  At times, he seemed to be doing very well, and then would start a downward spiral, and a change of drug would be ordered and the process would start again.  It was so painful to watch, and left us feeling so helpless.  We continued to cry out to God on his behalf.

Just before he turned 17, we were intrigued to hear that one of the psychiatrists was responsible for a small unit in a high school in Ottawa that was solely for students with mental illness issues.  So, we asked if Nathan could be admitted to this treatment program. How delighted we were that he was given a spot in this unit that was separate from the rest of the school students.  He turned 17 in September, and had a wonderful number of months in Grade 11.  It had a limited number of students, and the ratio of teacher/youth worker to student was 1 to 3.  Nathan felt like he finally fit in somewhere, and settled in very well to his new surroundings.  He was now able to live at home and the school board provided a taxi to get him there and back each day.  This was such a blessing that the Lord provided, because the cost of the taxi to and from the city to our small village would have been a huge concern. Things were looking up.  He seemed to be managing.  He even started a chess club at break times, and was well thought of by both students and staff.  He eagerly anticipated each day at school, knowing that he could share his journey with the others, and hear about their experiences and feel like he wasn’t a freak.  His peculiar sense of humor returned, and that was so good to see.  The meds were helping.  (I understand that unit is gone now – too costly to run.)

I remember the day in April of 2003 that the doctor told me that he also thought Nathan was doing well; so well in fact, that he would be released from this treatment program at the end of June.  He was recommending that Nathan go back to regular high school.  We were delighted with the good news.  However, Nathan didn’t see it as good news.  He slowly slipped into a downward spiral, and his symptoms worsened again.  His doctor readmitted him to the psych hospital so they could change his meds once again.  This time it would be to the last resort, the final choice of anti psychotic which was very powerful and would require weekly blood work at the lab for life, and also carried a risk of a perforated bowel.  He was able to continue going to his school daily, but was returned to the hospital each afternoon.

The doctor was slowly weaning him off his meds before introducing this new one, and we did not realize the full implications of that.  With little medication in his system, the voices had returned, but he did not verbalize that to us.  He came home on Friday afternoon June 20 for the weekend.  We were not warned of how vulnerable he really was with reduced medication. That evening, Ryan, Ian and I went out for a short time to the church for a wedding shower for our youth pastor and wife to be, and Karl was home with Nathan.  He was sitting quietly watching TV, and around 8:00, Karl thought he would come in to the church for a short time to say congratulations to the young couple.  Nathan did not want to accompany him, and after Karl left, decided to go for a walk.  It wasn’t unusual for him to head towards the river for his stroll, but this time he didn’t take Ebony, which was unusual.  Neighbors later told us he seemed agitated as he walked.  By 9:00 we were all back, but Nathan wasn’t there.  Our concern grew, and Karl and I went for a walk to look for him.  We returned home around 9:30 to see if Nathan had come back, and then included Ryan and Ian in the search after praying together as a family for protection over Nathan wherever he was.  There was no trace. Unknown to us, it was already too late.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE     Our family searched and searched and grew increasingly alarmed and phoned the police around midnight.  The officer that came to our home told us that not enough time had passed yet to call in a search team for a missing person.  The police were busy with “bush parties” getting out of control at that time of year, especially on a Friday night, but that they would check back with us through the night.  We sent Ryan and Ian to bed after midnight, and Karl and I continued to search. Searching in the dark was terrifying and the biting insects were out in full force.  Had Nathan found shelter somewhere?  The police did check back with us and decided to call in the canine unit at first light.  By 5:00 am, Karl and I collapsed on chairs, exhausted, terrified and feeling helpless.  We continually committed Nathan to the Lord for protection.  The officer with the search dog arrived around 6:00 am, and we were hopeful.  We called our Pastor and he came to be with us as soon as he could.  News spread on the prayer chain and church friends started arriving soon after, and one quickly created a poster that was copied and circulated door to door, far and wide.  I realized that my feelings of abandonment and isolation earlier were unfair. People just hadn’t known how to help.  But when there was something tangible to do, they responded in a most beautiful way.  We felt very loved and cared for.

The dog’s search turned up nothing.  Very soon, more officers arrived to help search and news continued to travel through our church family and neighborhood.  People were arriving to help look for Nathan, but the police did not want the area trampled while they searched for clues.  Many folks just waited and prayed with us.  The police wanted us to stay by the phone, just in case he called.  The missing persons report hit the media, and sightings of him were reported up and down the Ottawa Valley. Reporters arrived to take pictures and interview us. The phone rang many times, but the voice on the other end was never the one we wanted to hear.  Eventually, the police allowed our Pastor to organize a search team, and volunteers came from far and wide to help look for our son.  They covered a huge area, encountering brambles, thistles and poison ivy as they went.  And still they looked.  We were amazed at the support we received from so many folks, some of whom we didn’t even know.  Food and drinks were donated from all over for the search teams.  Family started arriving, driving great distances to be with us while we waited.  Nathan’s shoes were found on the bank of the river. Dare we hope?

The police set up a control center in our neighbor’s large garage, and the police vehicles were continually coming and going. Detectives interviewed Karl and I separately, and asked so many questions.  We understood they had to eliminate each of us as suspects in foul play, but it was a trying ordeal.  They searched through Nathan’s things.  Friends with planes were patrolling the river.  The police boat and divers and helicopter were brought in.  The hours dragged by.

Finally Monday afternoon, the liaison officer between the control center and us started walking toward me, since Karl was out with a search team.  I could tell he had something important to say.  He gently told me they had found someone in the river.  I collapsed against him, and held on for a few minutes as I wept.  Another officer had informed Karl around the same time, and he came back home.  We went inside with family and friends, and grieved together.  Slowly, the crowd outside dissipated, and returned to their homes, so saddened and grieving too at the outcome.  Someone had to identify him, and the police suggested it not be us. My sister’s dear husband and our faithful Pastor offered to go on our behalf.  How difficult that job must have been.  They protected us from carrying the sight of his bloated and battered body around in our memories.  That was a precious gift of love.

We will never know what happened that evening.  Did he slip into the flowing water?  Did he dread going back to regular high school so much that he couldn’t face it?  Was his confused mind influenced by the Jehovah’s Witness tract on the afterlife found in his pants pocket afterward?  Where had it come from?  Only our heavenly Father knows, but we do know that Nathan was not alone that evening, our God had not abandoned him.

The medical examiner determined the time of death to be the Friday evening around 9:00. Two witnesses confirmed they had seen him on the bridge around 8:30, but no one saw him after that.  Nathan’s body had been caught in a whirlpool and didn’t surface until the Monday.  An autopsy was required, and then because he had been in the water so long, his body was sealed into a special casket.  The funeral was set for Friday.  We moved through each day with all of the decisions to be made in a daze.  Family members flew or drove in from across the country.  The visitation at the funeral home on that Thursday was very touching.  The line ups were long, out the door and down the street.  We were carried through it all by God’s grace and full provision in our time of need.  The Lord ministered to our hearts all through the funeral service on Friday, and we were touched once again by the care shown to us during the day and numbers of people who overflowed the church.  It was a very special service, and we asked our Pastor to preach a gospel message with the hope that Nathan’s death would be the catalyst for someone’s entrance in the Kingdom. We did not have the joy of hearing of a soul saved that day.  Maybe eternity will tell a different story.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to walk away from my son’s grave and leave him there. The emotion in a mother’s heart at a time like that is difficult to express.  In my head, I knew he wasn’t there, but illogical or not, I couldn’t help thinking about how alone and cold he would be.  I forced myself to focus on the words of Paul “… to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8).  In the next few weeks, my mind started to toy with me.  I hadn’t seen his lifeless body with my own eyes and so maybe there had been a mistake.  Then doubts started to creep in.  Was he really in heaven?  Would I ever see him again? I’m not one to put much stock in dreams, but I believe the Lord gave me a special dream a few weeks after the funeral to meet my personal need.  I saw Nathan sitting on the knees of our Saviour, being cradled in His arms, and when I woke in the morning, that image was impressed on my mind.  I believe the Lord was gracious to me, and gave me that little blessing, so that this mother’s shattered heart could start to heal.

HEAVEN FEELS JUST A LITTLE CLOSER     We were in shock for a long time, and shock eventually turned into a most painful ache in the heart.  I remember feeling like a fish in a fish bowl when I went to town on errands that summer.  I thought townspeople were looking at me but didn’t know what to say, and consequently said nothing.  I felt the loneliness and isolation of the newly bereaved.  I now know that even if you don’t know what to say, a silent warm hug goes a long long way!

That first year was so hard, but God was so gracious and brought comfort to our souls, just as He promises in His Word.  The second year was worse, since now the feeling of it being just a bad nightmare was gone, and the reality was really setting in.  But God was so gracious.  At some point during that first year, I joined a support group for bereaved parents only, called The Compassionate Friends, a world wide organization.  Karl did not feel the need to come with me, and we learned that  people grieve in different ways, and to let each other grieve as was necessary.  Although it was not a Christian group, it confirmed for me that my emotional roller coaster was quite normal, and the feelings I was experiencing were similar to those around me in the group. However, there was a difference!  What I discovered at that group is not exactly what was intended.  As I listened while other parents shared their stories, I found out that many had to go on medication or obtain extensive counseling to deal with their child’s death.  I found out many couldn’t sleep, or couldn’t continue working, or started drinking heavily, etc.  I found out that spouses blame each other for the death of the child, and the divorce rate is very high after a child’s death.  And so I came away after just a few meetings with the knowledge that our God was faithful in the comfort He was providing us, and I didn’t need to go back to any more meetings.  Karl and I both were able to sleep with no meds.  We rested in the sovereignty of our God in the whole situation and were blessed by the words of David in Psalm 139:16 (NIV) “… All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  Nathan’s days were numbered just according to God’s plan.  We never blamed one another.  No, we couldn’t fully understand nor explain how mental illness fit in to the whole plan, but we knew that God had not abandoned us.  Our prayers and pleas for healing for our son had been answered, just not the way we expected. Nathan was not suffering any more. God had released him from that.

Some folks ask God “why?”  But our response had been one of “why not?”  Life affects us all, and Christians are not excluded from experiencing all of life, even car crashes, diseases, or mental illness.  We live in a fallen world.  But the difference is – how does a believer respond? We are so grateful for our God and His sustaining power through Nathan’s challenges as a child, his illness, death, and the  years since.  Is it hard?  Absolutely!  We miss him so much. But do we blame God?  No!  We thank Him for the time that He gave us with our little, precious, brown eyed, red headed boy, and we trust Him that we will see Nathan again in glory.  I often wonder what he is doing there while waiting for us.  Maybe he has met my parents.  My doctrine on heaven is not set in stone.  I’m not sure how to interpret all the verses that relate to the afterlife.  But heaven feels just a little closer knowing my son is waiting for me there, maybe just behind Jesus.

I am confident in this, my God is sovereign, and does ALL things well.  My trust is solidly in Him.

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  1. Debbie Rogers says:

    Thank you for writing this Colleen. It has sure opened my eyes to the suffering of both you Carl and also the boys, when Nathan passed away. What a message of hope and of courage, and promise. You are so strong and an inspiration to all that you touch in your life. Thank you and GOD blesses you.

  2. Darlene Monette says:

    Colleen & Karl, What a beautifully & bravely written piece.
    I can recall clearly all the people searching for Nathan & then feeling your heartbreak when we all heard the news. I often wish I knew better how to respond to illness like his and I am so sorry for your loss once again.
    It is so wonderful to know we have such a great God to lean on & depend on at all times.
    May God continue to walk with you and comfort you.

  3. Glenys Dunn says:

    He is Our Sustainer!!!! Thank You for sharing your precious memories……..

    God’s Blessings to You and Your Family

  4. Joyce Newson says:

    Bless you my dear friend. Thank you for sharing, this must have been very hard to put this all into words. There will be many people blessed by this. It is time that we speak out for mental illness, even in the church, we need people like you to help to educated people. Praise the LORD He says He will never leave us, He has shown Himself faithful. Love you and pray for you and your boys.
    Love you, your friend always, Joyce

  5. Gerald says:

    Dear Colleen,
    Thank you for writing this story with such clarity, power and sensitivity.
    I must acknowledge how little I understood about the challenges that you & Karl were going through during Nathan’s brief life. I wish I could have provided much more knowledgeable support to you when you needed it. Without doubt, this story will be a huge help to others and their extended families, who are called to walk a similar path. Thank you again.

  6. cathy says:

    Thus is beautiful Colleen! You encapsulated Nathan’s time on earth in a most thought provoking way. You and your family have had some difficult walks along the way. Aren’t we lucky when we have our dear Lord to help us through?!! Hugs to you all as you continue the journey!

  7. cathy says:

    ‘this’…sorry didn’t proof read!

  8. Irene (Kimbley) Fry says:

    Dear Colleen and Karl. I read through your whole writing on your beloved son, Nathan’s illness and it really touched my heart by all that your family went through. One wonders how you managed through such difficult and very trying days. How wonderful that you were followers of Jesus who helped you through so many frustrating times, what with difficulty for help from Doctors, the mental health situation etc. May the God of all comfort be with you each day even though this took place in 2003. I think my Catherine must have sent this to me. I am so glad she did. She & Dan have their hand full too. Love Irene Fry

  9. Penny says:


    Here I am sitting in a cafe in Guanajuato having just read your moving story of Nathan’s life. It has moved me to tears and that really doesn’t happen often.

    How brave of you to share this with others. Nathan was a very lucky young man to have such loving and caring parents.


  10. Cathie Babcock says:

    Thanks for sharing with us Colleen. Thanks for letting us into your heart and your struggles. As one who visited you occasionally over the years I can say that I had no idea of seriousness of what you were going through. You would have thought that I would pick up on it, that you were going through such tough times, but you have always had such a caring heart for others and a love and concern for those around you. You are my friend and I wish I had been a better friend to you. I remember Nathan as a dear boy and a wonderful friend to Ian (my Ian) all through the years. We both remember him with great fondness. And even though he’s been gone so long, reading this and remembering our visits, it’s as if he is right here and the memory of his charming, sweet personality is as clear as day! I hope I will be more thoughtful, and compassionate towards others who are struggling in similar circumstances as a result of reading your story. With love, Cathie

  11. Lisa Devillers says:

    Dear sister and brother in Christ. I love the image of Jesus carrying us. Sometimes We think we are walking the difficult path alone but in fact,He was carrying us through it.
    I send a long distance hug.

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