I imagine it’s a universally difficult task to choose when to say goodbye to the body of a loved one. It darkens the room like a storm-filled cloud. The thunder of the imminent moment constantly rumbles in the distance. One of the first things Nathan said after Keller was born was, “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye.”
For Keller, there came a time when he began to lose his newborn appearance. Bodies are meant to be living. Bodies are created to have blood and life coursing through every square inch. When life has left a body the physical appearance of your loved one relatively rapidly disappears. It’s interesting. Bodies are meant to be living. Death is not from God.
We set a rather arbitrary time to say goodbye. We decided that between 6 and 7 a.m., we would kiss our son for the last time.
Around 6 a.m. everyone left the room and gave Nathan, myself, and Keller time alone as a family. Another wave crashed overhead and hurled us to our knees. We held our son and mournfully wept with the bitter assurance that we would never hold him, or see him again in this life. There are no words available that can capture this moment. You are met face to face with the stark contrast of the living and the dead, of the physical earth and life to come. It is too large a truth to process or articulate. We were just still, and in the presence of God. We prayed as a family.
Keller never opened his eyes. There was no life in his perfect body to tell his eyelids to lift. In the few final moments we had with Keller, we opened up his eyes and we were met with the most stunning crystal blue eyes ever known. They weren’t just blue, they were almost an icy blue, and they were all Keller’s. Our blue eyed boy. Just like his daddy.
After the wave of saying goodbye crashed and eased into shore, we FaceTimed Nathan’s parents. They were getting on a plane shortly, but they wouldn’t make it in time to hold their first grandson. I’m so thankful for the gift of technology. Across the country, they were able to meet Keller Norman Bartlett. We all cried and virtually held each other. We all remarked on his handsome perfection. We all worked to pour every ounce of love we had over him.
The Lord, in His almighty, perfect, and wondrous goodness placed another blanket of peace around Nathan and I’s shoulders. It was time. The Lord would strengthen and sustain us. 48 hours earlier we were eagerly awaiting his arrival. 24 hours later we were reeling from the shock of his death. Now we were saying goodbye. We welcomed my parents and Wendy to come back in and say their goodbyes as well. Perfect, selfless love filled the room.
I took off his hat and, tears streaming down my cheeks, handed him to the nurse. She tenderly wrapped him in blankets. She made certain his tiny body was nice and cozy. She wheeled his hospital cradle near my bed so that Nathan and I could touch him one last time. She quietly wheeled him out of the room, my dad stopping to kiss him one last time.
And he was gone. That was the last time we were with Keller. His first birthday is approaching, but I truly just ache to my core to hold a newborn baby and for a moment feel the weight of Keller in my arms. I always take notice of one year old boys waddling and babbling about. It’s a short glimpse of my son and the life we never knew. In many ways though, Keller is forever a newborn baby. Every time I see a newborn fresh with life, I see Keller, because that is the only way I have ever known him. He will always be 8 lbs 5 oz, 21.5 inches and perfect. Nathan captured our sentiments perfectly,
“With Mary, and other kids, they’re always growing and changing. I put a picture of a newborn Mary on my desk, and a year later she looked completely different. Keller never aged. When we said goodbye to him, the way he looks in his pictures, that’s the only way he ever looked. The Bible gives us brief glimpses of Heaven, but we still can’t fully fathom what eternal life with God will be like. I don’t know what Keller will look like when I meet him someday, but I’m very excited to find out.”
Bodies are created for life. I know so little about eternity. I rest knowing God is creator. He is real. He is love. He promised life forever with Him. No more goodbyes. No more moments of devastating finality – just presence. I’m ready for that eternal moment Keller Feller. I’m excited to see you, with the life and love of the Lord coursing through every square inch of your forever body.