Two Families Lose a Firstborn Child

In the last two months we have learned of two people who left this world somewhat prematurely (I say “somewhat” in reference to today’s average lifespans. No one has a “lease on life.”). Two deaths could not be more dissimilar.

Meloni was 52. She was the firstborn child of faithful Christian parents. Her father serves as an elder in the Lord’s church. Her obituary read: “Meloni had many passions, but none were greater than her Lord Jesus Christ and His church. She knew what it meant to be saved by Jesus and, as a result, had a passion to share that love with all she knew … She lived in such a way as to reflect the light of Jesus. Generations of children have sat at her feet and learned the Gospel of Jesus in ways that only Meloni could express it. Friends and strangers alike have come to know about God’s love by simply knowing Mel.”

Meloni was a wife, mother, grandmother and Bible class teacher. She had a sharp mind (she was her high school class valedictorian) and applied it not only to her secular studies and work but to her pursuit of God’s truth. Meloni was gregarious, quick-witted and always smiling.

Her death was very sudden. She passed away in the night with no warning or known health complications.

Robert was 58. He was also the firstborn child of faithful Christian parents. I first knew Robert in his mid-20s. He had already developed a drug/alcohol problem which was a source of never-ending grief to his parents. One afternoon his mother called; Robert had been in a car wreck while drunk or high or both. She asked if I and another preacher close to the family could come to the house and talk to him. Robert was bleary-eyed. He seemed contrite, but not much else seemed to register in his mental state. When the conversation ran its course and we started for the door, Robert’s mother pleaded that we not leave yet. “This is not resolved,” she said, desperate for more words that might reach her floundering son.

I preached several years ago at the congregation Robert’s family used to attend. On the first day of the meeting, Robert – the last person I expected to see – was there. He had the tired and weathered look of a lifetime addict. He said he was determined to turn his life around. He came to the meeting several other nights that week.

Apparently, Robert’s addiction was never overcome. Two weeks ago, Robert was found dead in an abandoned bank building surrounded by several containers of alcohol.

I could not help but think of the grief of these two sets of parents in losing their firstborn children. When Meloni died, her parents lost one of their two children. It was so sudden; no one saw it coming. She got up in the middle of the night to sleep on the couch (not uncommon, so I heard). Her husband found her dead when he got up for work. Everyone was shocked by Meloni’s passing but took comfort in her strong, active faith. Eternal hope soothed the natural pangs of death. Still, a child was gone; nieces and nephews lost an aunt; her sister lost her lifetime best friend.

The grief of Robert’s parents is very different. Surely Robert’s parents knew this dreaded day would eventually come. They spent 40 years worrying and helpless, praying and pleading, time and again having false hopes dashed … all to no avail. His sister wrote: “Mom is in a bit of a daze right now, but she has told me that she is relieved that … he cannot hurt anyone else, and that he cannot hurt himself anymore.” There is a profound sadness in Robert’s passing that cannot be assuaged by spiritual comfort. Robert left no legacy of faith, no godly character that lifted the spirits of others. I do not presume to make God’s judgments for Him. He will do what is right, and if He is gracious to Robert on some unseen basis, I will rejoice. I am speaking only of the visible fruit of his life.

Meloni was a loving, willing servant of her Lord. Robert was a slave to drugs and alcohol, maybe willing at first, but over time chained to habits and substances deeply etched in his mind and body.

Two thoughts:

1. When children grow up and discover free will, they should consider the consequences of that will upon others, especially the ones who loved them unconditionally and sacrificed to care for them in their helpless years. Parents spend lots of money, time and energy to nurture children to adulthood, but more than that they risk their own emotional well-being. It seems the height of selfish ingratitude to live in such a way that destroys parental joy. If one is willing to do that, they will likely live without due consideration of their spiritual Father. Love for God begins with love for our parents who also love God and who tried to teach us to do the same.

2. No matter how many times some hear the warning that life is uncertain, that it hangs by the slenderest of threads, that we can be called in a moment to “meet our Maker,” they insist that the odds of living are in their favor. “After all, how many times have I heard that warning and nothing happened?” This is how life is taken for granted one day at a time and making necessary changes is postponed. Time will eventually run out. What are we doing with the opportunities God has graciously allotted to us? Are we making the most of them, like Meloni, or are we writing a legacy of grief like Robert?