Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
July 26, 2001-July 8, 2006
This eulogy was given at Joshua's wake by me, his mother. I've posted it here together with some family photos as a memorial to him, and because so many people have asked for it.
Every parent's worst nightmare is to lose a child. When you become a parent, when your child is born, you sit there with this tiny, vulnerable infant in your hand and the fragility of life overwhelms you. From that moment on, every waking moment, you are vulnerable because you care so deeply, so very much about this little life intrinsically connected to your own. Every danger or hurt you encounter yourself is magnified because you see it on some conscious level as a threat to that little being who smiles up at you.
What happened to Joshua was, literally, my worst nightmare. The one trial that I prayed that God would spare me from was hitting someone's child with my car. God, in His strange and mysterious mercy, has not chosen to spare me that trial. Pray for me.
But I write tonight to grieve for Joshua, but also to testify to his life. Joshua was only four years old, about to turn five at the end of this month, and most of you never had the chance to know him. So let me tell you about Joshua, so that those of you who never knew him well will have the chance to help us remember him.
There are so many holes that have suddenly appeared in our lives - the hole in our family between Marygrace and Thomas John. The hole in his Atrium class. The hole in his Guild of the Holy Spirit class. The hole in our parents' lineup of grandchildren. The hole in his future First Communion class. In his future high school graduation class. As Andrew and I look ahead, our hearts ache at the holes that will be there. And so we want to honor him now.
|Joshua, age 2|
The midwife, under the prompting of a funny sensation, had actually turned around and was driving back. As she pulled in the driveway, she heard me yell and sprinted up the sidewalk. As soon as Joshua's head came out, I heard the screen door slam. Joshua Michael Schmiedicke was born.
I was so happy to have a little boy. That's what I told him over and over again as I looked at his big round head and red cheeks and kissed him over and over. After Caleb, I had had two girls, Rose and Marygrace, and I was ready to have another boy.
We gave my friend the shock of her life when she came in about fifteen minutes later to drop off the kids and found out the baby had been born.
Joshua gave us all a scare then (all except Dad) by refusing to cry or nurse and insisting on going to sleep. We were all worried he wasn't breathing right, and finally, after several late-night-calls to midwives, we reached Caleb's midwife. "Have you tried giving him a warm bath?" she said. We tried it, and Joshua screamed mightily with his healthy lungs. He was okay. We were so glad. Dad said, "I told you he was okay. He just likes to sleep, that's all."
|Joshua with new baby brother Thomas|
The kids loved him. We named him Joshua to pair with his six-year older brother Caleb, the two faithful spies of the Old Testament. Joshua and Caleb were the two men sent by the Israelites into the Promised Land who were not daunted by fear, not daunted by obstacles, who declared, "With the LORD at our side, this land will be ours."
My son Caleb, you can always count on Joshua to be with you when you go forward into life. He will not be daunted by fear or by obstacles. He will remind you always that God is with you.
As Joshua grew, his strong and forceful personality became apparent, though he always had a shy exterior. His temperament reminded me of the characteristic temperament of my in-laws. He actually resembled pictures of Mike, Andrew's younger brother, as a baby. His middle name was Michael after Mike, and after his godfather, Uncle Mike, and after my own grandfather Michael, and after St. Michael the archangel. Funnily enough, he also resembled my brother David, whose middle name is Michael. The name Michael means, "Who is like God?"
Joshua is, of course, the Hebrew name for Jesus. Some wayward sects have left Christianity by claiming that Jesus was not the Son of God, but actually an incarnate form of St. Michael the archangel. Joshua's name testifies to the fact that Christ and the leader of His heavenly host are two separate entities. Both names are the names of warriors.
And Joshua was a warrior. When Thomas was born, I used to sing a little song to him, "You're my Thomas John, you're my baby boy." One time Joshua chimed in with a growl, "And your Joshua, your Sword Warrior!"
Sword Warrior. That was what he called himself. Those who know him know that his favorite toy was his gray rubber sword from IKEA. He charged into battle constantly in his imagination, and as he grew older, he fought to understand as hard as he could the realities of sin and evil.
He definitely had a melancholic temperament and a quirky sense of humor. He had a smile with his green eyes, the smile I first saw as a baby, a rare smile that crinkled his eyes and glinted with mischief. I used to think that when he was a teenager, the girls were going to swoon over that smile.
Joshua loved swords, trains, and tools. He was all-boy. Every day for most of his life he was preoccupied with one of those three things: fighting something, building something, or constructing a railroad. He was fascinated by the railroads that ran behind our old house and next to our new one. He would come running when he heard the train whistle and watch the train go by.
He adopted Caleb's toy tool belt as his own, though it never fit him properly. "Put it on the fat," he would say to me if I tried to belt it around his hips. He still retained his baby fat on his tummy, unlike most of my kids. He would take tools to fill it with from dad's toolbox or from the toybox. One of his pastimes was building forts out of scrap lumber from our construction projects with his sister Rose or with his other siblings. He would make train tracks with the oversized Thomas train and tracks friends gave us. He was fascinated by anyone working with tools, including the plumbers and carpenters who came to work on our new home, like "Mr. Kevin," as Joshua called him.
When we were having the new roof put on our house, Thomas and Joshua were enthralled. On the second day out, when the roofers arrived, they marched outside to meet them carrying their own toolbox and wearing their tool belt. The Hispanic roofers were tickled by this, and laughed to each other in Spanish.
Tools and building things were his passion, and I used to fantasize that he would be the family carpenter when he got older, and build his mom all sorts of stuff.
In so many of these things, his younger brother Thomas John was his partner. When Thomas was born, my dad said to him, "The best thing in the world just happened to you and you don't even know it yet." But he quickly learned. He loved Thomas best in all the world.
When he was two years old and Thomas was an infant, Joshua would wake up from his bed and run to the big bed where infant Thomas slept with us. Thomas would sit up and look at him. And Joshua would laugh at him. And Thomas would laugh back. Andrew and I would sit and marvel at their understanding, the magic between them.
The saddest thing in the world is to realize that Thomas will have to grow up without that older, stronger, tougher presence right by his side. But Thomas, though you are too young to understand now, Joshua will always be with you. He never forgot about his younger brother in this life, and he's not going to now. He will always be with you, encouraging you, pushing you, loving you.
Joshua loved. He loved his younger brother, he loved his older sister Marygrace. He loved his older brother Caleb and his big sister Rose who made him things. He would play with Marygrace, who, although older than him, was so petite that for most of Joshua's life, she could wear his clothes. When Marygrace was in school, which did not let out till 3 PM, he waited for her to come home and almost always wanted to come with me to pick her up. Then he would join in whatever imaginary game she had in mind, even if it involved dressing up. Joshua never minded being the handsome prince or the king or the husband or the little brother in all her make-believes. He wore the prince crown and warrior cape on many occasions for her, or to suit himself. Like the men in my husband's family, he was tough, but he was a romantic.
|Joshua as Prince Warrior|
He loved Angelica Hatke. From the time she was a baby, he took special care of her. It amazed us all, because he had been rough on Thomas John. But with Angelica, he treated her like gold. She loved him too, and one of his constant requests was to go to the Hatkes to see Angelica. And, it must be admitted, to play with her Thomas trains. Watching the two of them together, Anna and I used to conspire, in the words of Jane Austen's Lady Catherine DeBerg: "From her cradle we planned their union."
This past Valentine's Day, Joshua insisted on making Angelica a valentine. He scribbled with black on an orange piece of paper and I cut it into a heart shape. He glued a piece of heart candy in the center. For days he talked about taking it to Angelica (as the fourth child in the family, he had learned early to be persistent and to ask something again and again until he got it: "I want a glass of milk. I want a glass of milk. Iwantaglassofmilk, Iwantaglassofmilk, Iwantaglassofmilk...."). After four days of, "I want to go the Hatkes to take Angelica her valentine," I arranged a special trip to go and see Angelica. Joshua ran down the hill to the Hatke's door clutching his valentine while I got the other kids out of the car.
When I got to the Hatkes, the moment had passed. But Anna told me what had happened: Joshua had knocked on the door, and Angelica, who had not been expecting us, opened it. As she told her mother in raptures, "I opened the door, and there was Joshua. And he had a heart in his hand. And it was candy!"
Angelica, forgive the wistfulness of a sad old mother. I know Joshua will always be looking out for you like a big brother looking out for his older sister. I know he will always be praying for you and watching over you. Who knows what God had intended? But I know that if He wants you to marry, He will provide a husband, an even better one than Joshua would have been.
And Marygrace, Joshua will always be with you too. You were such a good big sister to him, and that made him so happy. He loved to watch you dance, and to dance with you. Yes, he was manly enough to dance, and to get Thomas to dance. He will always be with you too.
I cannot imagine our lives as a family after this day. But I will go on, and we will go on.
Rose, my daughter, he will be with you too. You will never forget him. Never forget that smile that made us laugh just to see it. You and Joshua were my quiet children, as opposed to Caleb and Marygrace, my talkative children. He will understand you when others don't understand you.
It is hard to imagine how, now that Joshua is in heaven, how much more he will know than us. He was our younger brother, but now he is, effectively, our older brother. In heaven, he is strong and wise and brave, and the fears that used to preoccupy him as a child here are all washed away. Andrew said to me, "I can just picture him now with a golden sword, a huge sword!"
When we had to tell our kids that Joshua had gone to heaven, we reminded them that heaven is the great adventure. Heaven is a place that is more wonderful that Narnia or Middle Earth, a place more majestic than mountains, more beautiful than sunsets, more exciting than the ocean. It is a real place, more real than anything you will find on earth, more spectacular and magical than the best adventure story you can read or movie you will see. My brother Martin told his kids, "In heaven you can swim underwater without having to breathe, and you can talk to the fish!" You can talk to the animals who are there. You can talk to your old pets, like our cats Sharkey and Gandalf who have passed on.
When Gandalf died this past winter, Joshua searched out some scrap lumber and with his dad's help he built a cross to mark the graveside. I am always going to keep it. It is on our children's play castle today, a symbol of that mansion in heaven being built for us.
Let me tell you more about Joshua, about the things he used to say. He had a funny accent, which we attributed to growing up in western Virginia. He always said, "keelt" for "killed." He also adopted a sort of growly-whiny tone when he was talking that all of us would imitate. I used to call him my baby bear, and he never minded being told that. He also never minded my hugs. It must be hard to be a quiet fourth child of a busy mother.
I am grateful now for every hug that I gave him, and every kiss. It was so fun to hug him, and to get his big strong hugs back, strong hugs for a little boy.
|Joshua and Thomas, sword warriors, 2006|
Joshua would sing, but mostly warrior songs like "The Vikings, what do you know, the terrors of the sea..." and the theme from The Lord of the Rings. He also loved "Joyful Joyful we Adore Thee," the big bounding jumps of that song.
He created train tracks with his blocks that had never been seen before. In the mornings, he would come downstairs like clockwork for his oatmeal, then go back upstairs to get dressed (he started dressing himself early) and start to build train tracks with his wooden trains and Thomas the Tank Engine engines. I always intended to get him a red James engine for Christmas, but never snagged one on eBay at the right time. He was obsessed with trains, and taught Thomas to be the same way. I sometimes suspect one reason he liked Thomas was because Thomas had the same name as his favorite engine. "Mom, come and look at my train track!" he would yell down the stairs. And I made a personal commitment to myself that no matter how busy I was, I would always go and look. I have to say, he built truly impressive train tracks that stretched from several layers of boxes all the way down. On those days when I would clean my room, he would always move his tracks into my room, to be near me, which sort of defeated the purpose of cleaning the room. But never mind.
I am honored by how much he wanted to be near me, by how I was his favorite person.
Joshua's theological musings were legendary in our household. "How do you keel the devil?" was one query. I had to explain how the devil has no body and therefore can't be killed, but that Jesus is so much bigger and stronger than the devil, that He can beat the devil up and throw him in prison so easily. These are hard concepts to explain to a four-year-old!
Like some of my other kids, he worried about becoming evil. I told him to always keep the love of God strong in his heart, and that if you love God more than anything else in the world, more than trains, swords, and tools, you won't want to be evil. Evil is being selfish, and if you try to love others hard and put aside your own desires, you won't become evil.
On the day before he died, as Andrew was outside in front of the prayer area in our yard, by our statues of the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph and Jesus, Joshua ran after him and sat with him. Then he said to Andrew, "Can you run away from God?" Andrew laughed and said, "You can try! But God can always find you, no matter where you go."
And I know God has found Joshua. He is no lost sheep and never will be. It is a wonderful thing that he has never fallen away from God, that he never practiced evil, that he tried with his four-year-old heart to love God. And now he is. He triumphed. Our parenting of Joshua is done: he is in heaven, and now, instead of helping him, we have to be humbled to ask him for help. Our family has a sword warrior in heaven.
He's with our little child, also now a warrior, who died in the womb before Joan was conceived. He's also with the big brother or sister of his cousins Patrick and Moira, who were visiting us on the day he died. Moira said, "Just think! He knows if the baby was a big brother or a big sister, and the rest of us will have to wait for the rest of our lives to find out!"
I'm so glad Patrick and Moira had so much extra time to spend with Joshua. I would watch Joshua and Patrick play together, and see so much similarity in them between their physiques and their all-out boyishness. It has been a precious time, though none of us knew it.
One of the last things Joshua did was jump in the Jumping Castle with Patrick, Caleb, Rose, Moira, and Thomas at the Front Royal pet show. Joshua had cried when rain at the parish picnic ruined his chance to jump in the Jumping Castle. So now I let him jump to his heart's content. I will never forget that.
Did I mention how much Joshua loved his baby sister Joan? She was special to him, just as baby Angelica had been. In the mornings after she was born, he would almost always climb up on the bed to see her and wake her up. He called her "Agloo baby" for some reason of his own, and spent days devising ways to play with her. He would beg for me to put her outside on the grass, and then he would build roofless forts around her. He would come inside and load up with picnic food - apples, cheese, a glass of juice - and go outside to have a picnic with her. I had to check on them constantly to make sure his make-believes weren't putting her in danger, but he was so good with her that looking back, I never really had to worry.
He was careful, clearing the ground of things that might go in her mouth that would hurt her, and picking her up if she fell over. Two weeks ago he ran a chain across a corner of the living room, put his prince crown on her head, carried her to the corner (yes, he always carried her which always made me nervous!) and said, "Baby Joan is in prison! Escape, baby Joan!" She would crawl out and he said, "You escaped!" and then he would put her back in again. It was clear she was one of his favorite people. And he was clearly one of hers. She would beam with excitement and anticipation when he walked into the room. I would say to her, "See your big brother Joshua? He loves you so much." And Joshua would grin and growl at her.
Baby Joan, you will probably never remember your big brother Joshua, but I want to tell you how much he loved you and wanted to protect you. And how much he still loves you. And does protect you.
|Joshua with his Easter present|
I mentioned how Joshua used to dress himself. He loved getting dressed up. He was truly a clothes horse. For his fourth birthday, I took him to the Salvation Army to buy him a present and ended up buying him a sweater vest. He was thrilled with his birthday vest, and wore it as many times as I'd let him. Ben Hatke used to say he looked like Winston Churchill in his best Sunday clothes, which he would wear as often as I would let him. A few weeks ago he overheard we were going to church, and thinking it was Sunday, buttoned himself into his green Sunday oxford from Grandma, put on his green Sunday pants, and brought me a tie.
"Put thees on me," he intoned.
"Do I look cute?"
I said, "You look very handsome."
"But do I look cute?"
In his opinion, that was the main adjective that mattered.
"Yes, you look very cute."
When he found out it wasn't Sunday, he took the clothes off, tossed them on the floor, put on his shorts and tie-dyed t-shirt, and sandals, and went downstairs, even though I told him he could keep them on.
Joshua's favorite movie was, of all things, The Passion of the Christ. He would read our coffee table book of it over and over. I always tried to stop him reading it, because I worried it was too bloody. But perhaps it was as it should be. Joshua had his own passion at the end, and I was able to be like our Mother Mary, and be next to him as he died.
I remember him asking me about Jesus' death:
"Why did He have to die on the cross?
Why did they take His clothes off?
Why did He have blood on Him?
Did it hurt?
Why did the soldiers do that to Him?"
And I would give him the answers over and over again:
He did it because He loves us.
He did it because He is always with us.
He did us to help us because He knew we would suffer.
So that we would know that our God also knows how to suffer.
He is always so close to us.
Especially when we suffer.
I know Joshua is so close to Him now. And so are all of us, who are suffering without him.
As we went through the pictures of Joshua, I was struck at how many times we caught him in action in his cloak and sword. When he was alive, he was troubled with worries. He was afraid sometimes. He was scared sometimes. But now he will never be worried again. He will never be scared again. He has gone to the country where there is no longer any fear. He is as God meant him to always be.
Just thinking about Joshua makes me smile. I am so glad to have known him, so glad and proud to have been his mom. I will always miss him, and I will never forget him.
|Joshua walking East|
Father Benedict Groeschel's words at Joshua's wake
Marygrace's Dream about Joshua
20 Things You Can Do For Those Who Are Grieving (also available as a printable handout)
My talk "No Matter What Happens, Blessed Be His Name" (2010)
The story I told my children when Joshua died
Memorial donations for Joshua