Nico Everett Swenson was our grandson. He was born on July 7th, 2007 (7.7.07) and died on June 3rd, 2008 from complications after his third open heart surgery. Following is the eulogy his father (and my son) Adam wrote.
Nico Everett Swenson
7.7.07 - 6.3.08
I am a father without a son.
This is a desperately wrong state of affairs. We, all of us, live in a world that is suddenly without Nico Everett Swenson. This world is immeasurably worse than the one that existed on Monday, June 2nd. I’m sorry for that, I apologize from the depths of my heart, but we did everything we could, everyone did. The greatest medical care in the world notwithstanding, some of them just don’t make it.
I hear that Nico is in a better place now, a perfect place free of tubes and monitors and wires. I hear myself saying that Nico is with Jesus now, and I believe this in the abstract, though it is so very hard to understand.
Right now I’m too wrecked to understand much of anything. Right now a simple photograph will bring me to my knees. Right now the glimpse of his crib through an open door just destroys me. Right now I wish to control so many things that I can’t. My son has completed his earthly journey—ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I don’t understand a world without Nico.
All of this saddens me more than I can tell you.
But let’s get one thing straight. I’m sad for you, I’m sad for me, I’m sad for Maureen, for Katja. Nico’s spirit has departed. Nico is happy now. He is healthy. This is what I believe and seek to understand.
Many of you never got to meet Nico. We had to quarantine him, to protect him from illness. He was a preemie after all, a preemie with a heart condition. Many of you never got to see his twinkling eyes or his two tooth smile. Many of you never got to hear his hearty laugh, or witness his repertoire of party tricks, which relied heavily on giggling and toe-chomping. I’m sorry for that too. He really was a great kid. He was beautiful, compassionate, and perceptive. He was a fighter.
I wanted so much to see what he’d be like as a four year old, as an eight year old, as an eighteen year old. If Katja is any indication, I think he’d have been amazing. I wanted to read the books he’d write, and listen to him play the guitar out on the back deck. I wanted to talk with him, man to man, in the fishing boat. I wanted to be a slow, old first baseman while he darted around left field robbing home runs and throwing out baserunners. I know you all wanted that too. I’m sorry it won’t happen. We tried, really we did.
I can’t tell you why he died. I wish I could. Well, I can tell you one reason: a massive blood clot blocked up his mechanical valve. His medical team was vigilant, they did compressions until all hope was lost. We tried to thank them the best we could, given the circumstances. We tried to let them off the hook.
I know that reason. The one I don’t understand, and probably never will is the larger question, the metaphysical quandary. Why does a father outlive his son? Whose idea was that? Why does a world so in need of grace and truth and beauty lose someone who clearly loved so much? And what are the rest of us supposed to do now?
I know I’m asking questions way beyond my pay grade, but I can’t help it.
Socrates said that anyone seeking pleasure would find pain comingled with it: CS Lewis said that pain is “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Well, he certainly has my attention. We’re talking now: it’s an alternatingly weepy and angry conversation (and probably not too coherent on my end), but we’re talking. I still trust him. I still trust that he is good. I still trust that, somehow, he has our best in all of this. I trust that he loves me as a father loves a son, that his heart breaks as mine does.
I understand that Nico was a gift to us, one that we were able to cherish for four days shy of eleven months. I understand now that there are no guarantees, and that we had better love with abandon for what’s around the corner is not ours to know.
I understand that when we make babies, we don’t really have a say in what we get. If we’d been able to check off an order form for Nico, to go down line by line and fill it out, I’m pretty sure we’d have passed on the bum ticker. But the genetic combination that resulted in our beautiful, inquisitive, sweet-tempered, blue eyed boy also featured a partial Atrial Ventricular Septal Defect in a heart whose upper-left chamber was two standard deviations too small. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.
Anyone in the same room with Nico for one minute understood that he was a perfect baby. People told us all the time that he was strikingly handsome, that his smile was so darling, that his eyes were so blue, that his hair was so thick. He was all the things a baby was supposed to be. He was our sweet boy, bum ticker and all.
I don’t understand why Nico had to come with the heart he did. I don’t understand why he was taken from us now, when we still had so much love to give. But I do understand that, unbearable as the pain is now, the pleasure, the love, and the joy he brought into my life was infinitely more. I understand that as acute as the suffering is, and as bleak as the world is now, it was worth it to know him for 10 months and 27 days.
We miss you sweet boy. Can’t wait to see you again.
All my love,