A Little Background…
As we approached our first anniversary, life was a whirlwind of new things. Not only were we celebrating the first year of our marriage, we were also expecting our first baby! He was definitely planned, expected, and greatly anticipated. We were a bit surprised at how early he was coming into our family, but we grew more excited as the weeks and months went by to meet our first baby in late January of 1999.
Campus ministry was going OK. Marriage was not. How come no one told us it would be this hard? Perhaps they did, but we brushed them off as people who weren’t “really trying” or had just forgotten the love they once had for each other. Well, even with the anticipation that comes with your first child, things were still pretty rough in the early going of our life together. Trying to meld two individual lives into one took its toll on both of us, I think.
And this baby was taking its toll on Jen. Of all the pregnancies Jen has carried since, this one was by far the most draining on her. We didn’t know what to expect, since this was our first, but we learned that being pregnant makes you very tired, and a bit more emotional… and a very picky eater! Jen only wanted smashed potatoes with lots of butter and salt. 🙂 I learned very quickly to make meals for Jen to her exact specifications!
As we worked our way into the fall months, life was busy as always. I was working as a bus driver, in addition to the campus ministry, in addition to several other duties with our small church in Victor, NY. We were also attempting to raise support to work for the church who could not pay us at that time. Lots going on.
During this fall season of 1998, on one of our fall visits to Clarence, NY to spend time with family, we received some disturbing news. In fact, I think it may have been a visit to celebrate Jen’s birthday (October 28th). Jen has three (considerably) older brothers. The three of them are only three years apart in age, but they are all at least 11 years older than Jen. The middle of those three brothers is Jeff. Jeff is a different sort of fellow… kind heart, loves helping people… not able to do a lot of things that other folks his age could do. But that didn’t stop Jeff from being awesome. 🙂
That October 28th (1998), as we were wrapping up the night of fun, Jeff began telling us of his recent visits to the doctor. They were watching some strange marks on his legs. (I forget these many years later if it was both legs or just on one. The image in my mind is only on one leg.) He pulled up his pant leg to reveal some very dark, black marks – almost like bruises, but looking more like veins – creeping up his leg from his foot. It was certainly shocking, but … not an easily identifiable danger. He was scared as he showed us, and reported what the doctors were saying. But we reassured him that it would probably be OK, and that the doctors would help him figure out what was going on.
Jen & I probably chatted a bit on the ride home about what we had seen and heard from Jeff that night. It was a little scary, but we trusted that the doctors would figure something out, and that Mom & Dad would help Jeff get through whatever might be ailing his body this time. They were all pretty good at that by now, and we rested in knowing that.
A Turn For The Worse
Life continued as normal for the next week. We went about our regular business. Jen’s belly continued its slow growth. I’m sure there were good things and bad things that happened from October 28th, 1998 until the next Wednesday, November 4th, 1998, but most of them have long since faded from memory.
Not true for Wednesday, November 4th, 1998.
I remember the phone call. I can’t remember if it was from brother Jon, or Andy. (OK, the details are a bit foggy, but there are very vivid images in my memory from that day.) What I do remember are the words, “Jeff is dead.”
“WHAT? How can that BE???” Jeff was way too young for this to even be possible. I remembered the marks on his legs and the hint of fear in his voice, and everything just rushed back into my mind along with the overwhelming feelings of pure bewilderment. “How can this be?”
The tears flowed freely. We gathered at Mom & Dad’s house and just hugged, cried, sat in silence, and dealt with the details and the many visitors who came to share in the grief, or offer help where – or if – they could.
Though there was definitely a big hole in our lives left by Jeff’s sudden passing, we did manage to begin getting back to the “normal” routine over the next couple weeks. Campus ministry continued, bus driving continued, and the baby continued to grow inside Jen.
It was not too long after Jeff died that both Jen and I separately thought that we should name our baby after Jeff, if the baby was indeed a boy. Jen had an inkling that it was, and somehow, once Jeff died, we both knew “for sure” that it would be. We had the first name picked out already, but a different middle name, that we weren’t too sure of anyway. And there really was no question that if we did indeed have a boy – and it only seemed fitting that we would – we would certainly name him Ian Jeffrey.
It was already November, so the time was passing quickly. End of the semester events, holiday preparations. Life was certainly not back to normal for Jen’s mom & dad. We prayed daily for them, I think, and made sure to keep tabs on how they were doing. Jeff’s death was a horrendous experience for them. Maybe especially for Dad. He was the one that found Jeff. He was the one that felt the responsiblity – perhaps even burden? – to care for him for 36 years. They had their spats, to be sure. I was witness to a handful of them, and Jen can attest to so many more. But Jim & Carolyn loved their little boy (who was not so little!) and his sudden removal from their lives was just plain crushing.
Christmas was fast approaching, and we were just getting through all the stuff that needed to be gotten through leading up to a Christmas Eve service at our tiny little church building in Victor, NY. That would be the final event before a little Christmas break to be with family. It was the down time between semesters, Christmas and New Year’s… a great time for a break.
But we had to get through Christmas Eve first!
Christmas Eve, 1998
It was our first Christmas Eve service at the Church of Christ at Victor. I can’t recall right now if I was there in 1996 (my first year there on staff) but I do know we had not been there in 1997, as we spent that Christmas season with my parents in Ohio. So we weren’t quite sure what to expect. At least, I wasn’t. I and my ever-growing pregnant wife arrived at the little building about an hour before time to begin and the room where the service would be held was already packed!!! Ha! I couldn’t believe it! So, I scrambled around (in front of everyone) to get all of our musical equipment set up, and the night pretty much was just a blur from there on.
Christmas songs, smiles and hugs between friends, even a bit of home made egg nog if I remember correctly… it was a nice Christmas Eve service. After all had finished, and we’d done a bit of clean up, we packed up and headed out for the hour and fifteen minute drive to Jen’s parents’ house.
We arrived late, but talked till later. That’s a Walker family tradition I have learned. The best chats are usually after the day has been completely exhausted, and everyone retires to their various seats in the living room. It’s just a place no one wants to leave, no matter how tired they might be. (Or, how pregnant!) So we stayed up and chatted for a good while… probably hit the hay near midnight that night. Definitely heavier hearts than normal… mixed emotions as we headed into Christmas morning. The first one without Jeff.
Now we were completely unprepared for what was about to befall us. We were not expecting a baby until JANUARY 25TH. It was only December 25th. We had been reading some childbirth books, and certainly were eager to meet our new baby…. just… not yet.
About 2am (I think… maybe 4am?), I awake to find Jen is missing… and in the bathroom. I’ll spare you the graphic details, but she was spending a little more time in there than normal, so I was certainly curious. She finally came back to where we were sleeping and I asked, “So, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know… I think my water broke.” she said, a bit confused.
“You think?” I wasn’t sure what that meant. I hadn’t ever experienced such a thing, of course, but… wouldn’t you know??? “What do you mean, ‘I think’?” I queried.
She explained what had been going on for a while now, and it sure sounded like her water had broken to me! From what we had read in the books, I knew that was time to spring into action – even if we were a WHOLE MONTH ahead of schedule. But we talked about it, and Jen decided it was OK to wait till a more decent hour to call our midwife. She was back in Rochester, and could tell us what we should do. The contractions were not very severe, so we just decided to wait.
Everything progressed steadily through the night – Jen did not get much sleep, but then again, neither did I! – and at about 8:30 am we phoned our midwife. She was very excited for us, and said that the best thing to do would be to come to Rochester if we thought we could make it. Jen thought we could, so off we went.
A Different Sort of Christmas Morning
Now, this is one of the comical memories of the day. We all pile in my in-law’s car, Jen & I in the back, Mom in the passenger seat timing contractions, and Dad driving… fast. If you know Jim Walker, you probably know that he’s a very law-abiding citizen. He likes to do the right thing. Well in this case, his love for his daughter, or grand-baby, or perhaps his love for his car’s upholstery permitted his conscience to drive at about 90 mph on the NY State Thruway. 🙂 We’ve never made such good time to Rochester! 🙂
The contractions continued, and all seemed to be progressing just fine. Except that it was Christmas morning! Obviously plans had changed a bit for the day! Instead of waking up, sharing some food, opening presents – and missing Jeff – we were speeding down the highway, ready to have a new baby!!!
We arrived at Rochester General Hospital sometime in the 10 o’clock hour, and got checked in and did all of the preparatory stuff. Got settled in a room, and Jen got ready to have a baby! Not getting much sleep the night before, we could see she was a bit weak, so our midwife suggested lunch. And so, we ate lunch.
I actually don’t remember lunch one bit. I vaguely remember Jen trying to force down a few things, but not really wanting anything. I have no idea if I ate or not. I do remember we were all there… and looking forward to a new baby! I believe Jen’s oldest brother, Jon, and family had joined us by this point. They were going to come over to Clarence for the Christmas Day festivities, but that was preempted by this pending birth.
Oddly enough, though the labor had begun in the middle of the night (and hadn’t stopped), Jen’s body was not showing much progress. The doctors weren’t too concerned about that yet… but we were certainly getting tired. Poor Jen! She was falling asleep – sitting up – between contractions! Maria, our midwife, was calm and relaxing, carrying on a conversation with Jen & me, and anyone else in the room… offering advice at various points as to what might help Jen. She did a great job.
Well, the hours turned into even more hours, and the rest of the family decided to make the trip over from Buffalo to Rochester! Jen’s brother Andy, as well as the family who had adopted Jeff’s kids (whom we had adopted into our family) eventually joined us at Rochester General. What’s the point in spending Christmas day over there when the party was clearly here!!! From what we were told, there was quite the party in the waiting room by that Friday evening. 🙂
All this time, Jen went ahead with our desired drug-free course. Her body was growing very weary, though. This was WAY harder on her than I expected it would be. I mean, I watch the movies and stuff, but this went on a LOT longer than any TV birth I had ever seen. (I guess editing helps that a lot…) 🙂 They asked if she wanted any pain medication, but she held on and politely refused the offer.
By the evening time, more and more doctors began to visit the room. Jen was in the 35th week on the 6th day – or, one day before “full term” – so the docs were watching this particular birth a bit more than normal. Because this labor was taking so long after the water broke, some of the doctors were a bit concerned and wanted to do an internal monitor thingie. We didn’t really want that, but this was definitely not going exactly as we had planned, so… we agreed. The test revealed that all was still going just fine… just going very sloooooowly.
We were getting close though. Right around the 9pm hour, things started really crankin’. We had been having regular visitors to the room throughout the night. Jen’s mom & dad, our friend Leah wanted to be there for the actual birth, so she had been for a few hours. A niece here, a nephew there, a brother here, a sister-in-law there. But more than that, those doctors kept coming to take a peak at the not full-term lady. It was kinda crazy. But it GOT CRAZIER. As Jen went into full labor, the room FILLED with doctors. It was nuts! I just stayed up by the head of the bed on one side of Jen. Leah was on the other, and somewhere nearby was Jen’s mom and our midwife, Maria.
It was quite a party for Ian’s arrival! 🙂
God’s Gracious Gift
The final stage of labor actually went pretty quickly, which I was so glad for. And at 9:19pm on Friday, December 25th, 1998, we were given our first baby… a boy. I just cried. As soon as I saw him I cried. I don’t cry much. So, I was a bit surprised at that sudden rush of emotion. But it’s all I could do. It was the culmination of 8 months of waiting for a baby with great anticipation. It was the culmination of 2 months of sorrow and sadness and loss… replaced with great joy and a healthy new baby boy! It was the culmination of a long – very different – Christmas day spent with the extended Walker clan at a hospital in Rochester.
There were probably 20 people in that room with Jen & me, and our new baby. Maybe more. A few moments – who knows how long – after the baby was born, and we were holding him, Jen’s dad asked from the back of the long room, “What’s his name, Greg? What’s his name???” I looked at Jen and offered her the chance to give her parents the gift we had somehow almost known we’d be able to give. She was just too exhausted and motioned for me to go ahead.
“His name is Ian,” and I paused, then said clearly, but emotionally, “Jeffrey… Campbell.”
I don’t remember exactly what happened, but there was a definite understanding in the room that this new baby boy was named after the family member whose absence still hurt us all. God had given us a gift – on Christmas day no less – and his name was Ian Jeffrey, after his Uncle Jeff, whom he never knew. We later learned that the name Ian means “God’s Gracious Gift”. We had simply chosen it because it was the Scottish name we liked the most.
But I think God had other plans.
I don’t remember when the party died down that night, but eventually it did. My parents also came up that weekend to meet their first grandson. That was a joy as well. They brought us pizza and wings, and we watched the Bills game in the hospital that Sunday afternoon! 🙂 All were happy to meet this new little Christmas boy, Ian Jeffrey Campbell.
Ian couldn’t have been healthier. The nurses and doctors were all thrilled at how healthy he was. He was a bit on the scrawny side (the fat comes in the final month of gestation…) but overall the thing they were most concerned about was his “slight jaundice”. (I told the nurses that wasn’t jaundice… Jen is kind of yellow too!) So, they ran lots of tests on him, just to be sure, but all checked out normal. I tried to tell everyone that he was just fine… that God had a purpose for him, and so he was just fine.
Ian was indeed God’s Gracious Gift. He was given to us on a Christmas Day. Usually a time of family togetherness and celebration that, for the Walker clan in 1998, was marred by the sudden loss of our brother Jeff. When we imagined we’d be feeling the emptiness of death, we instead spent the entire day anticipating life, and we were given another Jeffrey.
One more interesting thing about Ian’s arrival here on the planet. Do you recall the strange marks on Jeff’s legs just before he died? Well God gave them to Ian. They aren’t as scary looking as Jeff’s, and sure, they’re slightly different. But, not long after he was born, we noticed some marks that go all the way down his left leg – which if my memory is correct, is the leg that Jeff showed us that night in October. They are not exactly the same, but it is just crazy that Ian even got those crazy marks that match his Uncle Jeff. Now, I do have a strange birthmark that extends over a good portion of my left arm, but these are just a bit different, and “coincidentally” just where the marks were on Jeff’s body before he died.
I don’t think any of our other children so far have fit into a bigger picture like Ian did on his birth day. Ian was born at just the right time for so many more people than just him. His story is bigger than just him. That doesn’t take anything away from any of our other children who we have seen added to our family. Each of those days is certainly memorable as well. But there’s no denying that we gave Ian Jeffrey the right name, even before we knew how any of the events would unfold.
Ian truly is God’s gracious gift.