Life is full of adversity. But the death of a child presents one of life's most agonizing trials. The grief can be unbearable.
But this is not going to be a depressing blog post. One of the best parts of my job is meeting people who use adversity to benefit others. That's what this post is about.
So let me introduce you to Icy Frantz. Isn't that a cool name? Icy lives in Connecticut, where her husband Scott Frantz is a State Senator.
Scott and Icy Frantz
Back in 2000, Icy and Scott had their fourth child. They named him William Sargeant Frantz. But they called him Sargeant, which was inspired by a mountain in Maine. Their other sons – a four-year-old and a set of three-year-old twins – were healthy and energetic. But Sargeant was not. He was born with a rare, undiagnosed disease that affected his brain and made it hard for him to breath.
"I prayed for a miracle that he'd get better," Icy said.
But that didn't happen. Instead, Icy and Scott traveled in ambulances to the world of pediatric hospitals and ICUs. While coming to grips with the fact that Sargeant wasn't going to make it, they discovered that they were surrounded by some of the most caring neighbors a family could hope for. People calling themselves The Anonymous Angels quietly began doing all kinds of things to help and support the family.
Despite all the prayers, Sargeant died in April 2002, just before his second birthday. One way of looking at this situation would be to say that God didn't hear the prayers. But Icy and Scott, who attend a Congregational Church, see it differently. "We were blessed to have witnessed a lot of miracles that happened around Sargeant," Icy said, "although not the one that I was looking for. But he changed people."
Perhaps the person that Sargeant changed the most was Icy. It started while Sargeant was still alive. "My job every day was to take care of Sargeant," Icy told me. "So it was very easy to figure out my priorities. There was something very settling in waking up every day and knowing what I needed to do. There was no fluff. It is often hard to find that place, not that I wish it on anyone. He gave me the gift of perspective."
It was a gift that kept on giving. The moment Sargeant died, Icy had to comfort her three other young children that were grieving. By that time the eldest boy was six and the twins were five. That's old enough to wonder things like:
What happens to us when we die?
Where is Sargeant?
Can I talk to Sargeant?
Can he hear me?
Does he miss us too?
So while dealing with the anger and the grief that came with losing her baby, Icy decided to do something she had never done before – write a children's book called Sargeant's Heaven.
To learn more about the book, visit www.sargeantsheaven.com
She asked her friend Nina Weld to illustrate the book. Nina is a gifted artist. She's gifted because she has had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since she was a child. Her hands don't look capable of creating great art. "Considering the extent of my disease," Nina said of her hands, "they look good."
Nina jumped at the chance to work on Icy's book. "It was just an amazing thing to be able to take all this grief and everything this family went through and transform it into something that would help others," she said.
One of my favorite pages in the book is where Sargeant says goodnight to God at the end of the day. The illustration on that page shows a little boy standing at a gate, facing a smiling sun. I asked Nina the story behind that illustration. "I wanted God to be friendly and welcoming," she said. "Maybe that's how I see God."
I like that. And I loved the book. After reading it to my daughters, ages five and eight, I had a great discussion with them about heaven. As much as I like Curious George and The Berenstain Bears, I must say that Sargeant's Heaven triggered a much deeper conversation with my girls.
The book was self-published in 2007 and was dedicated to the many children who are battling life-threatening diseases. More than 3,000 copies were sold and the proceeds went to two organizations that help families in crisis.
The Frantz family lived through a crisis and they are closer as a result. "We feel Sargeant came here for a reason and he did what he came here to do," Icy told me. "My next child – a daughter – is the only child that looks like him. I feel he was a part of choosing her. I can picture him saying, 'You are going to go down there and you are going to be hysterical and you are going to bring some humor into the family.'"
The Frantz children
The family believes there have been many messages from heaven, too. They are the kind of messages that say to Icy: "Everything is okay, mom. I'm okay."
One message came in the form of a bird that started building a nest on a Christmas wreath hanging from the family's front door. The family left the wreath hanging long after Christmas, along with a sign telling people to use another entrance. Eventually, the bird laid four eggs in the nest. Three survived. One died.
Another sign came when the family took their first family vacation after Sargeant's death. By then, the other boys were old enough to go horseback riding. Icy and Scott took them to a ranch in Wyoming. Seeing the age of the children, a ranch hand brought out the gentlest horse in the stable. "This is Sargent," the ranch hand said. "Any of you can ride Sargeant."
Icy and Scott didn't know whether to smile or cry.
"You can look at things the way you want," said Icy. "We choose to see him in a better place. What amazes me as I look at the way people handle adversity is the amount of good that can come out of it. Look at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an incredible movement born out of people's adversity. When a parent loses a child, you want that child to have significance."