Orlando is a great vacation destination, but its location at the lower east corner of the United States makes it difficult for the majority of my family and friends who live in the northwest U.S. and Canada to pop over for a quick visit.  My nearest and dearest knew about the difficult life of my son, Ethan, and although they knew and loved him from afar, very few had stepped inside my home.  In the nearly 10 years that we have lived in Orlando, my family has come to visit, but very few of my close friends.  In early 2013, all of that changed.  In January, to my delight, Justine and her family came to Orlando for her daughter’s 12th birthday.  We spent some time together at the temple, went to church, and had dinner in our home while they were here.  They stood at Ethan’s bedside, murmured loving phrases to him, and held his hand.

Andrea and Justine

Then in May, Julie came to visit on her way to Cuba via Miami.  She had known him in Sacramento when we lived there, but marveled at how he’d grown since she saw him last.

Andrea and Julie

A few weeks later, the delightfully saucy Kel messaged me and asked if she could spend a few days with us while on her whirlwind trip through the U.S. from Australia.  She brought the little boys gifts of boomerangs and Tim Tams and a kangaroo pelt for Ethan because he loved soft, fluffy things to touch.  Later, she told me this about meeting Ethan:

“I remember walking into his room behind you, checking out the equipment, and as I turned I saw your face as you straightened. I had yet to see you mother, to see you with your kids, and your face in that moment was so soft and fiery and devoted it choked me up. It was a moment of truth, and I realised again that just being in your house, being in Ethan’s room, was a gift, a vulnerability, and I loved you for it and felt honoured.

‘Hey, Ethan,’ you said, “this is my friend Kellie, she wants to meet you.’

My god, did I.”

Andrea and Kel 3

Heather was also able to make it down from South Carolina during Kel’s stay, and showered us with gifts and lively conversation.  I realized after they left that three of my beloved Segullah friends had met my son for the first time.

Andrea and Heather B

Later that year, as Ethan’s health began to decline, Heather and Nate, Brittney and Andy, and Aaron and Stina all were in Orlando and all visited my home.  These were dear friends, some of whom I had known since college, who stood at Ethan’s bedside, stroked his soft hair, held his hand, and kissed his cheek as he neared his last days on earth.

Andrea and Heather

Brit and Andy

Aaron and Stina

Mosiah 18:8 – 9 counsels us to “…bear one another’s burdens that they may be light…mourn with those that mourn…comfort those that stand in need of comfort… and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places…”  It is not uncommon to feel helpless in the face of another person’s tragedy.  Death, divorce, disability – these things and more leave us groping for the right thing to say or do.  Our case was no exception.  Ethan’s disabilities were profound and his health was very fragile, and although my friends and ward members were willing, only a person with specialized training or a nursing degree could give me hands-on help with his day-to-day needs.  What meant more to me during that time in Ethan’s life were the people who came into my home, stood by his bedside, stroked his hair, held his hand, and bore witness to the life that he and our family lived.

Not all problems can be solved.  Not all hurts can be healed.  Not all losses can be restored.  Sometimes it is enough to stand as a witness.

Andrea R.

(Blog Team) is the proud mother of two living sons, aged 9 and 7, and Ethan, who passed away in early February 2014. She is currently working as a freelance science writer and blogger and will begin a PhD program in Science Education at the University of Central Florida in Fall 2014. When she's not juggling the laundry, her writing work, and the busy lives of her little boys, she likes to squeeze in a triathlon now and then. Also, her husband rocks.

10 Comments

  1. Kellie

    May 31, 2014

    The number of times and situations I’ve felt totally useless in the face of a loved one’s loss, grief and suffering are countless. I’m so grateful I’m getting better at just standing there, with them, and loving them.

    I’m going to remember this post – and Ethan – for a very, very long time Andrea. Thank you.

  2. Karen D. Austin

    May 31, 2014

    My work with older adults, particularly those with multiple chronic diseases that leave them bedridden, has led me to this: the importance of merely witnessing to people’s lives. Many people are out of the spotlight, Ethan included (and his wonderful family offering him love and support). And I find that just talking with frail adults who don’t get out much is something I can do: holding their hand, saying their name, asking them to tell me their life story, etc. But I am enriched, too. And I am sure your visitors could verify how your family, including Ethan, served them, instructed them, and communicated emotion and spirit. It’s a win-win situation when we connect with others spirit to spirit. How wonderful that so many took the time to be witnesses–of Ethan and of your family’s dynamic when you got to give him hands-on loving. All my best to you and your family. Thanks for expanding on this topic for me in more ways I hadn’t thought through.

  3. Teresa Bruce

    May 31, 2014

    Thank you for sharing the heart of your beautiful friends’ witnesses.

  4. Jessie

    May 31, 2014

    When my husband moved out and we filed for divorce, I was deeply embarrassed and didn’t want people to know. A friend from my ward somehow found out and (nicely) forced her way into my house to comfort me. She dropped by with the pretense of giving me something, and then invited herself in and said “I know what’s going on” and proceeded to give me a big hug. I had wanted to isolate myself and to not let anyone in to see what was going on, but I’m so glad she came and was there. I wish I could be as courageous in the face of other people’s difficulties–I’m working on it.

  5. Melonie

    May 31, 2014

    You stand as a witness of love, Andrea. Its an honor to know you.

  6. Kerri

    May 31, 2014

    This is true and beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

  7. Michelle

    June 1, 2014

    So tender and beautiful.

  8. Dovie

    June 1, 2014

    Fighting back tears, I loved this and I have loved your Ethan through your words written here over the years. Though I’ve never met you and I never met him in this life, I truely grieved at his passing. Much love to you, very real, translated to digital form to span the gap, but my hope is as you read my typed words it will turn back to very real again.

  9. Jennie L

    June 1, 2014

    I just love this. I love the idea of standing as a witness through loved ones and friends. Also, it is, you are, a great reminder of how sharing your story and life deepens connections and brings joy.

  10. Robin

    June 4, 2014

    This is a great post. I love the reminder that I don’t need to fix or solve or address every issue. I just need to love and support and give people space to be and acknowledge the heroism in just being.

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