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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monday, April 05, 2010


Zoe Arianny Villon
October 12, 2009 - April 2, 2010

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
April 11, 2010
as "Solemness of Good Friday Hits Home"

These are the most difficult words I have ever written.

On Good Friday, I received a call from our oldest daughter; the call no grandparent ever wants to get. Our five-month-old granddaughter, Zoe, had passed away.

She was born in October, 10 days premature, a tiny 4 pounds 9 ounces. The first two weeks were spent in the Neo Natal ICU, as she struggled to get a foothold on life. She had some physical problems, but none that seemed insurmountable. But after further testing, it was determined that she had a genetic defect. She was missing part of her fifth chromosome. The clinical term was “Cri du Chat,” meaning “Cry of a cat.” This is in reference to the thin mewling cry, sounding very much like a small kitten that is the hallmark of this syndrome. The outlook was bleak. There was a long list of possible outcomes, none of them hopeful. Among them were heart problems, cognitive difficulties, developmental issues, susceptibilities to a hundred different illnesses.
The Coroner called the cause of death "complications from Cri du Chat Syndrome.  But we may never know the actual trigger.  For reasons that still escape medical science, some infants just die.

She had been restless the night before, not going to sleep until after 1 am, long after her two autistic brothers had retired. Exhausted, Nikki and her husband Danny went to sleep. Nikki awoke later than usual, instantly aware that she hadn’t heard Zoe’s good morning cry. Going to her crib, she found her precious baby, already gone.

When she called me, she was frantic, crying and wailing. I yelled back, urging her to do CPR. But over the phone, Danny’s voice in the background, full of anguish, cried back that she was ice cold and stiff.
When the paramedics arrived, they determined that Zoe was beyond help. The Coroner, arriving later guessed that she had been dead for several hours prior to Nikki’s discovery. There were no signs that she had been in distress, or even that she had thrashed about. In fact, she was laying in the same position Nikki had put her in hours before.

Cheryl and I left for California on the next available flight. Our children, responding to my email appeal, rushed to gather from across the country. Upon our arrival, Nikki fell into our arms weeping in the heart-rending way only a devastated mother could. Later in the day, as I talked with her, she made this statement:

“Jesus came in the middle of the night and took Zoe home with him.”

It was a courageous thing to say. No disciple has ever expressed their faith more deeply.

In this moment, the question “why” is always asked. It is a question that is almost never answered satisfactorily. What kind of God takes the life of a little girl from her parents? Perhaps a God who sees the road ahead more clearly than we. If that seems peremptory, I apologize. It’s all I have.

In my life as a minister, I have done many things, but never a funeral. This will be my first, this one for my precious granddaughter. Tomorrow evening, Tuesday April 6th, I will do my best to bring closure to a brief life, and some measure of solace to a family torn by grief. I have prayed for the strength to get through the service, and I have faith that the necessary strength will find me at that moment.

Normally in my columns, I strive to be uplifting, bringing words that are meaningful to those who read them. Today, however, I find myself searching for that kind of meaning. I can only hope my search yields a measure of peace, not only for myself and my family, but for anyone who has had to endure this tragedy. I can offer no words except these:

Today, make the time to love one another. Cherish those moments; hold them close to your heart.

Tomorrow may be too late.
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