Nothing is worse for a parent than the death of your child.
Very sadly, that happened to two of our dearest friends, Mary Ellen and Paul Spencer, when their 23-year-old son, Christopher died unexpectedly on March 2, 2017. Christopher and our daughters were very close growing up. He was like one of our own children. So we understand our friends’ heartbreak.
Our friends asked me to say a few words about Christopher at his memorial service. I share those words here with their permission, to honor him and them.
We knew Chris since he was three years old.
I’ve thought a lot about Chris since I got Mary Ellen’s message saying that he’d passed away.
I remembered first meeting him and his parents at Abundant Life Lutheran Church. We had gone to the third-ever service at this new mission church meeting in a middle school. A few weekends later, the Spencers came to their first service.
We were all so new then – they were new to the community and we were new to the Lutheran church. We became fast and lifelong friends, almost on the spot.
And, like many young parents, our adult relationship grew around and through our kids. We watched our children become friends, go to school, play together, go to birthday parties, become young adults — all the things kids do. Chris very much became a part of our life. One of our kids by extension. So, I am humbled and honored to say a few words about him.
The word that I think most captures Christopher, is “Precocious.”
According to Webster’s, “precocious” means “bright, gifted, talented, articulate, inquisitive, curious, clever.” Chris was all of those.
And beautiful! He was one beautiful child – and later, a very handsome young man!
But most of all, Chris was smart! Now listen – I know a lot of intelligent people, both kids and adults. But Chris was smart. Not just book smart — he certainly was that — but sharp, and witty and intuitive and charming and sly and funny.
The best thing – although it sometimes made me nuts – was that he knew he was smart, and not-so-secretly got a kick out of knowing that YOU knew that he was smart!
During elementary and middle school, our kids had the same music teacher for a few years, and Paul and I would switch up taking them to lessons every Saturday. Chris played both piano and trombone, and later in high school played tuba in the marching band, too.
I remember talking to Christopher and being astounded – not mildly amused, not impressed, but amazed – at his vocabulary and thoughts coming out of his mouth. It was almost a little off-putting at times because his cognitive age seemed so far out of alignment with his chronological age.
Now I know this is supposed to be about Chris, but to be clear: I do not believe for a hot second that this kind of brilliance just happens. God may have created the spark, but it took someone – or in this case, two someones – to care for and fan those flames.
Paul and Mary Ellen Spencer chose this child, raised him, supported him and nurtured him. They gave him the gifts of intellect and learning and culture.
They loved him.
With everything they had, under every imaginable circumstance.
And that tremendous love informed and guided and shaped Chris, proving yet again that you don’t have to be in a child’s blood to be in his DNA. In their minds and hearts and spirits you will find the seeds of every good thing in Christopher.
In many ways, Christopher Todd Miller Spencer was a shining star.
Sadly, one of the universe’s most vexing and heartbreaking ironies is that that the brightest stars often cast the biggest shadows.
The star known as Christopher Todd Miller Spencer burned brightly. But a darkness that is hard for us who knew Chris to understand, sometimes dimmed his light.
To ignore or gloss over this part of Chris’s life would be disingenuous, if only because his parents, family and friends struggled so hard — for him, with him, and sometimes even against him — to help relieve that burden.
And so here we are in this beautiful church, on this beautiful March morning, confused and angry that a child – our child – has gone on before his parents. Our brains and our hearts tell us that should never happen. It is nonsensical. An injustice against nature. And we are tempted in our frail, cynical, arrogant humanity, to ask God, “Why?”
There are ten thousand answers.
And no answer.
God does not promise us an easy life here on earth. He just gives us the tools to deal with whatever life brings.
Those tools include the faith to believe that there is Good in all things, and the strength to bear our pain while we seek that Goodness.
We cannot ignore the hurt and loss that we are feeling today, nor should we.
But we can put it aside for a little while today, surrounded and sustained by the friends and family who loved Chris, and instead remember and raise up and celebrate the joy of our beautiful, bright star.
March 11, 2017