Last night, I spent some time on the phone with a dear and sweet friend, a woman I first met in grad school. It wasn't a conversation I ever expected to have with her (or really, with anybody), and with her permission, and an aching heart of my own, I'm sharing some of her story.
You see, the reason we were on the phone is that she knows I can type insanely fast, and she needed someone who could do that so that she could tell me the prayers and the homily (sermon) she's going to deliver at a memorial service for her 13-year-old nephew on Sunday evening. That's sad enough - that a 13-year-old boy should die. But this boy - his name is Jonathan - died because of a game. A GAME.
It's called the "choking game." And there are all kinds of videos available that talk about the consequences of playing this game. Jonathan's parents discovered some time ago that he'd learned about this game, and as you might expect, they read him the riot act and explained why it was not a game at all. If you're not familiar with it, another name for it is 'suffocation roulette.'
His parents removed anything they could from their home that might entice him to try this game again, but that wasn't enough. Jonathan played the choking game last week. His mother found him, too late, and this week, his parents are burying their beautiful boy.
She spoke, full of pain and courage, and I typed. And in part, her homily says, "It is not so bad when death comes naturally and at the end of a long and full life, but when it comes at the age of 13, when a little boy’s story is scarcely halfway through, and brings what could have been a good and bright light to a sudden blowing-out, when it takes away a mother and father’s promises and hopes for their beloved son, bringing all their dreams to an abrupt, painful, and tragic end, when brothers and sisters realize that tomorrow holds no play, no laughter, no joy, the day a person dies, we begin to tell that person’s story.... It’s been laid out before us, with its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its successes and its failures. It’s like a book, not yet closed, and yet it’s finished. Suddenly, it’s been thrown open now for all to read, a story that his mother and father have chosen to share with all of you, a story of many parents who tell our children, ‘Stay away from this. Don’t go here. Don’t do that.” Not because they’re being restrictive, but because they’re being careful for you, for all of you. Words of caution are sometimes heard by our children as words of prohibition. We just hunger for you to be safe. You may not listen to us hundreds of times, and you’ll be just fine, but it’s that one time, that tragic time, that brings us here today."
We might think, we whose children have grown up, that we're beyond such worries now. But we're not. Not because our grown-up children might think to try such a game, but because we all know someone who falls into the age group that seems to find the siren call of the choking game so very irresistible. Oh, we might not know that person well... but we know him. Or her. The day after Jonathan died, a 14-year-old girl from the same area tried the same thing - she's in hospital now, and I have no idea of her condition. But as a parent, I can imagine her parents' condition... they are probably wondering what they could have done to prevent this. And they probably had absolutely no idea that their daughter was even trying this game.
Please, please, talk about this. Please know, and tell people that you know, that there is a very dangerous game out there, that our children ARE playing that game, and that we need to find the words to talk to them about it before it's too late. It's important for our children to understand that even if they don't play this game themselves, if they know someone who DOES, they HAVE TO TELL SOMEONE. We have to make it safe for them to tell someone.
And please take a few minutes when you've read this to say a prayer for Jonathan and for his family. Jonathan's friends will be at his memorial service, and at his funeral, together with their own parents. They will mourn, together with Jonathan's family, a life that ended much too soon. The death of one more child from this game, even ONE SINGLE CHILD, is a death too many. We must make ourselves aware of the things that frighten us, and find the words to talk about them.Tonight, my words are inchoate prayers, because honestly, I really don't have words that make any sense of this for me, and I cannot even begin to imagine how his parents feel. I know how my friend feels - I hear the pain in her voice but can do nothing for her except to tell you about this.Please pray for Jonathan. Pray for his parents and siblings, his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even his own nieces and nephews, who will never know this uncle of theirs who loved science and drumming.