Alfie was my grandson.
I say “was” because he died. He was a year and a half old when he died – his death was as peaceful as his life had been. There had been no trauma in his life, no crying fits, no screaming for attention, because Alfie had been born so profoundly disabled that he had never really responded to anything at all.
Of course, there was trauma for his parents. To find out you are expecting a child with deformities “inconsistent with life” is a hard road to travel. To give birth to a baby that will never develop normally, will not speak or walk or write you little love notes on Mothering Sunday or run to the door when Daddy comes home from work – that is crushing.
Alfie’s parents were offered an abortion; they were encouraged to terminate the pregnancy on more than one occasion in a manner that was, quite frankly, insistent. The medical staff recommended an abortion because they knew that the baby had profound deformities and could not survive: in their opinion there was no point in letting the child live.
Alfie defied predictions in that he lived for over a year, and the fact that he did this was remarkable. Alfie could not see; yet his eyes slowly followed light. He could not hear; yet his head turned towards sounds. He could not laugh; yet he smiled. We know he smiled; we watched him when he was scooped up into the air and swooped round by loving arms.
Towards the end he was tube fed. Several of us learnt how to do this, and we held his warm little body in our arms and marvelled that he was still alive.
Then, one day, his parents woke up and Alfie was gone. He lay in his crib cold and still, with lips starting to go blue. There was no rush to hospital, no emergency calls – just a peaceful, quiet grieving. After having been warned for months that Alfie could die at any time, when it actually happened his family were shocked into a state of agonising numbness.
If you give up over a year of your life to 24-hour care for a baby who needs turning regularly in the night and wakes you as he struggles to breathe, then it creates a state of chronic physical stress in the body. If you care for a child who has many physical needs, and who you also know is going to die sooner or later, then it creates chronic emotional stress too. Such a situation can also create a lot of questions. Considering Alfie’s profound physical disabilities and the strain his care put on his family during the short time that he lived, one of the questions that could be raised is not why God let him die, but:
Why did God let him live in the first place?
One of his parents said:
“I had always known to trust God in all life’s circumstances, but just knowing and being thoroughly tested are two different things. When we found out about Alfie’s condition, I knew this was God’s will, but throughout Alfie’s whole life, seeing my family struggle with the situation and being unable to do anything about it really put to the test whether I really trusted God and that He had a care for me and my family. It came as a question regularly: ‘Why have You done this?’
“This was a deceit that Satan tried to use to separate me from my simple faith in God, right in the middle of an uncertain situation where I had no control. But there is no doubt for me that God prepares all circumstances so that we can develop and come closer to Him, and this is for my best. Alfie was only a blessing to us his whole life, and for that I am so thankful. Alfie made it real for us that each of our children is given by God and the blessing it is that we get to care for them. It’s a great responsibility. The time Alfie was alive was the toughest time I have been through, both mentally and physically. I needed strengthening daily throughout his life and the verses that I often read were Isaiah 40:28-31, part of which goes;
‘His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.’”
- Because Alfie lived, his parents sensed God’s goodness, love and care like never before. There were many situations to be faced when they were severely tempted to anxiety – and they were only able to get through them because as they drew closer to God, He drew closer to them. And as this happened time and time again it got easier to trust Him.
- Because he lived, his parents developed a strong sense of how all else on this earth is worthless in comparison with getting eternal life.
- Because he lived, his parents were tested to the very edge, and were left with 100% faith that God has a close eye on every little detail of their lives.
- And because he lived, his parents and family had an opportunity to love him and experience a special kind of grace that accompanies a total acceptance in the perfect gift that Alfie was, and that they could so easily have missed if they had followed medical advice.
We can’t prove what God aimed to do when He sent little Alfie to us, but we don’t need to find complete answers to life’s biggest questions. What we are left with are experiences which leave a mark on our lives forever. Whether that is a positive or a negative effect rests entirely on how we react to it. Even tragedies can be used for the good when they are lived through in faith.
“Your stay was short, but we’re so glad you came.
We know for sure we’ll never be the same.
You touched our lives as only you could do.
You have brought heaven’s kingdom closer into view”
(from a song by Jean Hunter)
We have no knowledge of how Alfie experienced life. We don’t know how conscious he was of discomfort, or even if he was aware of the love that was showered over him. But the “point” of Alfie was that he brought people closer to God. And the point for him was just as profound. Because he lived, he had a soul and a spirit – he was known to God. Jesus promised to gather the little ones in His arms, and at the perfect time that’s what He did for Alfie. He may not have had “a life” here on earth but, as it was said to his parents at his funeral:
“You have given him an eternity …”