Banner was our oldest child, born May 6, 2011 in Baltimore, right before our family relocated to Turkey. A precocious child with an expansive vocabulary, he was a born leader, and took his big brother responsibility seriously when his first sibling came along three years later, a younger brother. Those two were thick as thieves, sharing a bedroom and bunk beds and plenty of races with their toy cars. Banner would lie awake at bedtime, instructing his little brother below him on how to pronounce words, say the ABC’s, or sing lyrics to children’s songs.
He was also bilingual, attending a Turkish preschool and eventually kindergarten and first grade, all in his non-native language. He loved being social and interacting with all people— every new face was a potential friend. Once when college kids were unloading from a bus on the campus where his daddy worked, he called out, “friends, friends!”
A perfectly healthy kid, he played soccer and loved playgrounds and gym class. When he got sick as we headed on the road for a family trip one weekend, we didn’t think much of it. We were on our way with some friends to Cappadocia, a touristy area of Turkey known for its hot-air balloons, hiking, and amazing geological formations from an ancient volcanic eruption. It was about a 4-hour drive from the city where we lived. When we got there Friday afternoon, we didn’t get far on our first hike before he was tired out, so we headed back. The next morning we tried to do a longer hike, during which his dad carried him on his shoulders for much of it. When we got back, he ate a double portion of breakfast— first the eggs and “healthy stuff” from the buffet, and then a big bowl of chocolaty cereal that I would only let him have after eating some real food.
Throughout that day, as we visited shops and sights, he was lacking energy and not seeming like his normal self. I was carrying new baby sister, just three months old, in the carrier on my chest. When I lost track of one of her little slipper-socks, he still went on a walk around the park trying to find it. At lunchtime he rested his head on the table instead of eating his hot plate of chicken, so we knew he wasn’t doing well. Back at the hotel we let him nap most of the afternoon. That evening, around 7 p.m. he had a fever, so I gave him Tylenol. He was lying in bed and asked me to hand him the water bottle on the shelf behind his bed. I didn’t know those would be his last words to me.
At 10 p.m. we heard him moan in his sleep. Figuring it was a nightmare, my husband went to console him. He then called me to come check him out, since he was breathing strangely in his sleep and felt cold to the touch. When we picked him up to take him to the bathroom, we found he was like a rag doll, unable to stand up and walk.
I ran to the reception office next door to have them call an ambulance, but it took a long time to come… too long. When the ambulance finally came, they quickly whisked him into the back and didn’t move for a while. We both hopped in the passenger seat and screamed for it to GO, but didn’t realize that his heart had already stopped and they were trying in the back to resuscitate him first. Eventually they did start heading to the hospital, and I made out that the driver was saying “arrest” into his radio feed. Cardiac arrest.
When we got there, they sprinted him down a hall ahead of us and we waited an agonizing two hours while doctors came in and out from sliding doors manned by two guards. We weren’t allowed in. Most doctors and nurses avoided our eyes, except to ask us again and again whether he had any medical conditions, epilepsy, diabetes, extreme allergies, etc. Our answers were all no, no, no! Finally the head ER doctor called us into his office to tell us he wasn’t responding to anything. He had died.
The room spun and my whole world turned gray. His death was a mystery to the doctors, to the police investigating, and to us. It wasn’t until the samples were analyzed by the federal government’s forensics department that we learned the words “myocarditis” and “pericarditis” three weeks later.
That day— St. Patrick’s Day 2018— our world changed forever. The next afternoon we had a long drive back to our home city with one less kid in the back seat. We became bereaved parents. Somehow we had to continue parenting our other little ones while also diving deep into an ocean of grief over our firstborn. We’re so thankful for the many friends and family who supported us during that time. No one should have to pick out a gravesite for their 6-year-old. There’s been hole in our family portrait and at our family table ever since. We miss you so much, Banner Buddy.
A year and a half later, we had another son. When I became pregnant, my sister told me I was brave to start that journey again, after all our sorrow and pain. We named him Brave. I applaud all the brave parents out there who are on this journey they did not choose. By God’s grace, we are learning to savor the joy in life while still carrying sorrow each day.