Stephen's Final Days
by Greg Wright, Father of Stephen Wright
Nightmare or Warning.
It was the most horrible, gut-wrenching dream I ever had. In the darkness of the night I looked down the hall towards Stephen's bedroom. His door was open. Stephen never slept with his door open. As I looked inside his bed was made. It was made because he wasn't there; he wasn't in it; he was dead!
I awakened with a start. Then I sat on the edge of my bed for a minute to catch my breath. Quickly I walked down the hall to Stephen's room. To my relief I found the door closed and locked. This surely meant that Stephen was inside asleep, and his faithful dog, Blaze, was beside him on the floor.
There was no way I could go back to sleep. As I sat on the couch I prayed for Stephen's safety. I prayed that God would surround him with his angels and keep him from harm. But then a question went through my mind, "What if it really is time for Stephen to leave this world." Although I cringed at the thought of it, I prayed for Stephen's soul. I prayed that same prayer that I had prayed since Stephen was conceived: I prayed that he would love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that when the time really did come for him to die, that he would be ready.
After I prayed I calmed down and either went back to bed or went to my computer and started working. Either way, within just a few hours I completely forgot about the dream.
Indeed I did not remember that dream again until several days after Stephen was buried, when I looked down that same hallway, saw that same unturned bed, and felt the rush of grief and sadness as I looked into that empty room. But it was different this time. This time there was grace to bear the sadness.
Change of Heart.
Although I forgot about the dream, I do think that it changed my attitude towards Stephen over the next few days. I had a much greater desire to hug him and to spend time with him.
Also I was more motivated to have family devotions and family worship. Stephen was never one to sing very much, except for simple and silly songs. However, for our last session of family worship, when we sang "We Believe in One True God," he did great. His voice was clear, loud, and on pitch. It was the best I ever heard him sing. In the following days this song by Tobias Clausnitzer would play through my head over and over again as our faith was tested:
We believe in one true God
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Ever-present help in need,
Praised by all the heav'nly host,
By whose mighty pow'r alone
All is made and wrought and done.
Click here to see and hear the whole song.
Although family devotions were kind of hit-and-miss at our house, Stephen's mother and I carefully monitored his spiritual development. In recent days we had been very concerned that his hobbies had become more important to him than anything else, even more important than God. On various occasions Nan and I discussed this with him, but he didn't see any problem. On the last Monday before he died, I got one more chance to raise this issue.
The Last Monday.
Monday February 5th was a wonderful day. I worked from home, and my wife Nan had business in Nashville. This gave Stephen and I time for a long father-son conversation. He sprawled out over the love seat, and I sat in the arm chair. The conversation was light and fun, and we talked about all kinds of things.
At some point Stephen said, "Dad, I really enjoyed talking to you; this was great. I just wish we could talk like this when we ride in the car. It seems like when we are in the car, all you want to talk about is theology."
In response I asked, "Stephen, what is theology?"
"The study of God," he replied.
"Stephen, what is the most important thing in your life?"
"God," he replied quietly.
Then my eyes met his. "Stephen, God is not the most important part of your life. Right now your biking and your fun are more important to you than anything else. Son, you need to seriously consider what I just told you."
He was quiet. But what he couldn't say with words he said with his eyes. The point had registered; finally he understood.
Final Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, while I worked in Nashville, Nan was able to take Stephen to the park after he finished his school work. On Tuesday he rode his bicycle over the dirt mound many times while Nan walked around the loop. On Wednesday he only got to ride his bike a few minutes because one of his tires split.
That evening we went to prayer meeting. At our church the grownups pray and the kids go to various classes. Stephen's teacher invited the class to Game Night at his house for the following evening. As far as we knew, Stephen was free that night, and he was excited to be able to go. Often he had to miss Game Nights for hockey.
However, when we got home that evening there was a message for Stephen on the answering machine that said hockey teams had been chosen, and he was to have practice with his new coach on Thursday evening.
We told Stephen that it was okay to skip practice this time, since he was given such short notice. But Stephen was not the kind of guy to miss practice, especially his first practice, so he wanted to go to play hockey. We left the decision up to him. Little did I know that he would miss both.