My Son, a Gentle Giant, Dies

My Son, a Gentle Giant, Dies

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

My Son, a Gentle Giant, Dies

Bear with me this week, if you will, for a personal column.

It’s about my son Christopher. He turned seventeen last November. He died on Thursday. He was a healthy, robust boy on Tuesday. He got sick on Wednesday. And he died on Thursday.

You would have liked him. Everyone did.

He was a gentle giant, everyone’s best friend and the world’s leading expert. On everything. He was always cheerful. He was, says the foreman at the farm where he worked this summer, simply “magical.”

He was adopted. I say this with relish and love because adoption usually is mentioned only in stories about bad kids. In newspaper stories, serial murderers are adopted. Nobel Prize winners aren’t. It’s sort of a newspaper’s code for saying, “Don’t blame the parents. It’s not their fault he killed the neighbors.” But in this case, it’s not my fault he was such a great kid.

So we looked not alike at all, and he thought that was funny. I’m 5'8" and weigh about 160. He was close to 6'4", I imagine, and weighed around 300. He looked like a cement block with a grin. Once, a year or so ago, he introduced me to a friend. “This is my dad,” he said proudly. The friend looked at me, looked at Chris and then looked confused. “You should see my mother,” Chris said with a straight face.

I mentioned him in a column here last November 29— that was his seventeenth birthday. I wrote about the death of Finnegan, our old floppy-eared hound, and I told how when Christopher was six he and I had taken a trip. I asked him about our two dogs, Finnegan and a clipped-ear Bouvier named Mandy. “Who do you like the best,” I asked, “Finnegan or Mandy?”

“Finnegan,” he quickly replied, “because his ears are so big you can wipe your tears on them.”

He read the column that evening. “Did you get paid for writing that?” he asked. Yes, I did, I said. How much? he asked. I told him. “You know,” he said, “that column wouldn’t have been anything without that quote from me. I think I should get half.”

That’s the kind of kid he was. He always had an angle.

He was loving.

He loved everyone, especially his grandparents, but even his mom and dad. “I love you, Dad,” he’d say with meaning and without embarrassment. He knew that was unusual. The summer before last, he and my wife and I played golf one Saturday—he could hit a golf ball a mile, though you never knew whether it would be a mile east or a mile west—and he asked what we were doing for dinner later. “Mom and I are going out,” I said. “Do you want to go with us?”

“Nah,” he said, “I think I’ll do something with Joey.” I pushed him to join us. Finally, he said, “Look, Dad, you don’t understand. At my age you’re not even supposed to like your parents.”

He was funny.

“Dad,” he said a couple of months ago, “I know what I’d like for my next birthday—a handicapped-parking sticker. You know, there are a lot more places than there are people who use them.” I explained that it was unlikely that they’d give a robust kid a handicapped-parking sticker. So Christopher, who didn’t much care for studying, changed his tack: “You know, if I had one I could leave for everywhere I go ten minutes later—and I could use that time for studying.”

As a parent, you live in fear your child will die in a car wreck, and in his year and a half of driving Christopher did manage to wreck all four of our family cars. He hit a tree the day he got his license. (“It wasn’t my fault, Dad.” “Well, Christopher,” I said, “it was yours or the tree’s.” He knew that, he said, and then argued, almost persuasively, how the tree was to blame.) And last spring he backed one of my cars into another of my cars, which must be a record of sorts. He announced his other accident to me over the phone by beginning, “Dad, you know those air bags stink when they go off.”

But it was a sudden, initial attack of juvenile diabetes that killed him, despite medical heroics and fervid prayers. It is awful and horrible and sad, and no words can comfort his four grandparents, his brother and sister, his friends or his parents.

Yet his friend Tim Russert of NBC called Friday, devastated as we all are, and said the only thing that has helped.

“If God had come to you seventeen years ago and said, ‘I’ll make you a bargain. I’ll give you a beautiful, wonderful, happy and healthy kid for seventeen years, and then I’ll take him away,’” Tim said, “you would have made that deal in a second.”

And that was the deal.

We just didn’t know the terms.

Michael Gartner

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