It probably isn’t all that uncommon, but I was somewhat surprised to find little packets of Kleenex placed in the pews of Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa last Friday. They might have been just for those of us seated in the family section but before the service was over everyone in that overcrowded sanctuary would be searching for something to dry their eyes and blow their noses.
It was at the annual Trudeau family Christmas get-together five years ago in Alcester when we all got our first glimpse of Dillon a 7 year old dynamo of a kid who was staying with Linda’s sister, Maria Hooyer and her husband, Paul on their Northwest Iowa farm. Dillon was pretty small for his age and a little nervous around so many strangers; understandable considering the traumatic, dysfunctional short life he’d had before finding sanctuary with Maria and Paul. Counseling and a variety of medications helped some.. but to have a real shot at normalcy, Dillon needed a solid loving family with plenty of patience.
“We’re thinking of adopting him,” Maria said after we finished our pot luck Christmas dinner. I remember my first thought was why would you ever consider taking on that kind of responsibility at your age..after all, you already have a granddaughter and a son about to enter high school. In a few years you’d have the freedom to do all the things you’ve dreamed about.
I didn’t say anything, of course. None of us did because we’re all too familiar with Maria who is the most unselfish, caring and loving person anyone would ever want to meet and you’d be hard pressed to find a more gentle, hard working better provider than Paul who would be an ideal father figure for this troubled kid. So they began the long, tedious and frustratingly slow process of paperwork and court appearances until finally in August of 2008, Dillon officially became a permanent part of the Hooyer family. It has been fascinating to watch him grow by leaps and bounds not only in stature but in his personality which has changed slowly but surely from fearful, apprehensive and rebellious to joyful and accepting. Oh, there were setbacks and frustrations but Maria and Paul managed to weather each storm with a balance of discipline and affection. For the first time in his young life, Dillon could trust people and dare to get comfortable in his surroundings at home, school and church. He grew to be passionate about music, sports, and especially helping with farm chores and fishing with his dad.
Last Tuesday, a missionary family had stopped by the farm for a visit. Their 5 year old son asked if he could have a ride on the ATV four-wheeler. Dillon was an expert on the machine and only too happy to accommodate. But he wasn’t expecting the little boy to get scared and grab hold of the handlebar where the throttle is located. Suddenly, the ATV raced toward a utility pole in the yard. Knowing there was going to be a collision; Dillon threw the boy off just before impact. It was a heroic gesture and also his last.
Linda and I were sitting in a little New York City restaurant having a fine time enjoying dinner when Maria’s daughter, Heather, called. “What….What?” Linda said in disbelief at what she was hearing. “It’s Dillon,” she said after hanging up. “He’s dead.”
“How in the hell can God let this happen?” I thought. After all that Maria and Paul have gone through to provide a real home for Dillon who was finally happy and full of dreams. It’s not only unfair..it’s cruel. Loving god, indeed.
The service was going to be much too large for the small Catholic Church in Sioux Center so, in a demonstration of ecumenical unity, Bethel Christian Reformed generously offered use of its much larger church for the funeral mass. I’m afraid my frustration with the almighty was only enhanced upon entering the narthex where a sea of flowers surrounded the open casket and several tables held so many photos and mementos of a life snatched away too young.
Oh, to have the faith of Maria and Paul who, while understandably devastated, greeted all who came..actually giving comfort to many of THEM with what can only be described as a divine dignity.
At the family service we learned that one day before the accident, Paul had given in and bought Dillon the cowboy boots he’d been asking for. He begged Maria to let him wear them to school on Monday and was thrilled when she said okay.
At the close of the funeral service Karri Faber performed a song that wasn’t on the bulletin. It was one of Dillon’s favorites by The Band Perry; “If I die young.” The irony of the slightly modified lyrics turned all present into mush:
If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song
Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother
She’ll know I’m safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh and
Life ain’t always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain’t even grey, but she buries her baby
The sharp knife of a short life oh Well,
I’ve had just enough timeSo put on your best boys and I’ll wear my boots
what I never did is done Send me away with the words of a love song.
Rest in Peace young Dillon.