Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children

Editor’s note: This column was originally published Feb. 23, 2006.

Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children. But we do.

This week my husband and I are preparing for the memorial service for our 30-year-old son Rex, who was fatally shot in Virginia Beach on Feb. 17.

If you have to die young, it might as well be somewhere you loved. Rex died on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, near the restaurant where he was a cook.

We first took Rex to Virginia Beach and walked in ocean while holding him when he was only 3 weeks old. As a 21-year-old he moved to San Francisco to live a few blocks from the Pacific when he was a cook for Outback Restaurant. Six months ago he moved to Virginia Beach with his girlfriend, Leah, and enjoyed being near the ocean there.

When he was a little boy, Rex was afraid of the roar of the waves and the way the water came in to meet him. Six-month-old sister Meredith, on the other hand, crawled toward the ocean. Youngest sister Haley didn’t want to have anything to do with it, but she and the other two would sit in the sand and dig, or make drip castles with me.

When there were just the two of them, Rex fed sand to 6-month-old Meredith. We didn’t know it at first, until at dinner when the proof came up, all over the tablecloth.

Rex also tried to take care of Meredith the way we did, with Desitin ointment and baby powder. Early one morning he climbed into the crib with her and slathered her all over, hair included, with the sticky diaper ointment and powder until she was white.

He was protective of his sisters when they were little. That ended when he reached middle school and the big-brother bullying hormones kicked in. When they were all toddlers, though, he made sure his sisters were with him when he took off on adventures.

The morning after Thanksgiving when Rex was about 4-1/2, Bill and I were sleeping in – it was all of 8 a.m., which as you know, for parents of little ones is a rare luxury. We were awakened by a phone call from our neighbor, Floyd Whitehead.

“Did you know your kids are on top of that motor home?” he asked. Rex had gotten Meredith and Haley out of bed, they had packed provisions – a bag of pecans, their blankets and books – and had climbed up the ladder of the 22-foot Shasta we were borrowing.

So we could sleep without one eye open, we had Rex’s door cut into a Dutch door and put a screen door latch on the outside to keep him from wandering.

As parents of small children, we try so hard to keep them safe but know they aren’t really ours: God loans them to us. I always knew that but hoped we wouldn’t have to give any of our children back in our lifetimes. Rex is with God now, and we don’t have to worry over him any more.