I have been thinking a lot about David’s life and how he came to die at the young age of 20 with so many great things ahead of him. I have been trying to make sense in my mind of the wisdom or plan that would take such a vibrant and wonderful young man from us. I will say right up front that I believe in a plan, even the plan of happiness or the plan of salvation. That is, we know where we came from, why we are here on this earth and where we are going when it is over. However, it is one thing to know that and another to apply it to something as personal as the loss of your son. I don’t feel to question the plan of the Lord, however, I have wanted to at least understand and have it make more sense to me.
I think back to the night the lady from the Coroners office came to our home to tell us that David was killed. I remember Trish turning to me and saying, “Greg, we are so lucky to have had David for 20 years, what a blessing that was for us”. She said it in a way, as she understood immediately that our blessing was to have had him as long as we did. Of course, at the time I was only thinking about the loss of my sweet boy. The loss? My greatest grief doesn’t come because I don’t know where David is, I do. No, it comes because he is not here. I simply loved that boy with every part of my being, as I do all of my children.
As of late the words me, my and I, kept being repeated in my head over and over. I had only been thinking of my perspective, and me and my loss and what I wanted. I guess that is normal and I shouldn’t beat myself up to much, but it did start to become clear to me that I might be seeing this all a bit wrong.
I have read as much as I can get my hands on as it pertains to losing a son, or loved one early. I have also poured through countless books, talks, scriptures as it pertains to the Plan of Happiness. It was made clear to me that we are here only as long as we are supposed to be. In the scriptures D&C 122:9 it says”….Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.”
Wow, that hit me like a ton of bricks. We have learned as a family through a very special experience that David said “it was my time, ….and that there are not many real accidents in this life”. He said, “I am happy and everything is going to be all right”
I began pondering all of this and then one day I started to put things together. I thought about David’s life and several incidents in his life that occurred. I can best relate them by telling a few stories.
When David was born, it was very similar to the other of his 4 siblings. A fun fact is that David our youngest son and Ryan our oldest son were born in the same hospital and in the same room. That’s kind of a fun thing. When David was delivered he was delivered with the cord wrapped around his neck. I remember the nurses taking him immediately and rushing him to a little infant table in the room. Within a few seconds 4-5 nurses busted through the door and surrounded him, one said out loud “come on baby breathe, you are going to have to breathe”. My heart sank into my stomach. It had never entered my mind that something bad could happen or that he might die. Never, ever even crossed my mind. They worked on him for what seemed like forever. They took the cord from around his neck, I was trying to get a look at him, I saw him for a split second and he was very blue. These wonderful nurses worked some of their magic and within a few minutes he was breathing and short time after that he was in his mothers’ arms. For me as a young father it was nothing less than a miracle.
Fast-forward about 13 months we were living in Mesa Arizona having moved from Houston, Texas. I was at lunch with a franchisee in our favorite Italian restaurant reviewing some business. Trish was out doing her visiting teaching. At home our oldest daughter Mandy was watching the kids. Mandy had just made lunch for the kids. David had made a mess and was all messy himself. Mandy took him upstairs to give him a quick bath. She had pulled a chair next to the bathtub to sit in while he played. After a few minutes the phone rang. Of course none of the other kids were going to answer it, so she grabbed David wrapped him in a towel, sat him on the chair and ran to answer the phone. While she was gone David got out of his towel and climbed toward the tub and fell face first into the water. Our oldest Son Ryan probably about 6 or 7 at the time came in and saw David face down in the tub, reached in a pulled him out and on to the carpet. David had drowned but was not dead yet. Ryan began pushing on his stomach; we would later learn that Ryan saw Pocahontas do the same thing to Flit in the Disney movie Pocahontas. Mandy came in and then called 911.
Mean while I received a 911 page on my pager to call my home phone. I excused myself and went outside to the pay phone and called home. A strange voice answered the phone and asked me if I was Mr. Maples. I told him yes and he said his name and that he was with the Mesa Police Department. He said that my son had drowned and that the paramedics were working on him at that moment. The next question was easy, which son, I have three? He said it was the youngest son. He said they were taking him to the hospital in Mesa and that I should meet them there. He asked if I knew where my wife was. I told him that she was doing her visiting teaching and I didn’t know whom she taught but she could call the relief society president and she would know.
I immediately left for the hospital. The drive was horrible, a thousand thoughts were running through my head and the sick feeling in my stomach was just horrible. I arrived at the hospital parked right at the ER door and ran through the ER doors. As I came in the lady behind the desk and a security guard both stood up and at the same time asked, are you Mr. Maples? I thought to myself, that can’t be a good thing. I said yes and the security guard said come with me Mr. Maples. He took me through a door into a very large and long hallway. We walked and took a left. I could see down at the end of the hallway a room with a light on and about 8-9 people standing in the doorway. It was a very weird moment. The hall seemed to get longer and longer as we walked toward it. As I was walking all I could remember saying to myself is, “how I am going to tell my wife we are going have to bury our boy”. I just kept saying that to myself the entire walk down the hall. I wanted to prepare myself then for what I may have to say or do with my wife later. As I got to the room the people moved to let me in. When I walked in David was lying on the table and there were 2-3 doctors working on him. A women doctor kind of large and really kind of mean, at least that’s how it felt at the time, picked David up and handed him to me. She said you better get him to respond to you or this is not going to be good at all. She handed him to me. He was stiff as a board; his arms and legs were sticking straight out and were hard as a rock. His eyes were rolled back in his head and he was just moaning this awful sound over and over again. There was a rocking chair in the room so I sat down, looked up and saw about 10-12 people just staring at me. I started to sing to him a song that I had sung to all my boys when they were babies and needed to be comforted or put to sleep. The song was Ye Elders of Israel. I very beloved and popular LDS hymn. I sang through the first two verses, singing right into his ear. No reaction and no response, simply nothing. The doctor grabbed him from me, sat him on the table and said they were going to life flight him to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I went up to David on the table and leaned over him to give him a kiss and say what I thought would be a last goodbye. The Fire Captain leaned into me and said, I am LDS would you like to give your Son a blessing? Yes sir, thank you. He quickly anointed David, and then we both put our hands on his little head. I said, David Joseph Maples, by the authority of the Melchezedek Priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ I bless you that you will recover fully and be healthy and complete. The doctor was standing behind me just yelling, it was time to go, it’s time to go. We finished and they grabbed him and took him away. When I turned around I saw Trish standing there. The Fire Captain had found Trish and drove her to the hospital. We hugged and then headed to the car for the 30 min drive to the Children’s Hospital. As we drove we held hands. I don’t remember what we said; I know we called our parents told them what had happened and asked them all to pray for us.
When we arrived at the Children’s Hospital we ran to the children’s ICU, we were shown were they had taken David. As we walked in there was a doctor standing at the end of the bed, we couldn’t see David and the doctor was just shaking his head. I remember putting my arm out as to stop Trish from going in. I thought for sure he died and this moment was going to be one as a Dad and husband I needed to strong and have a clear mind. The doctor turned around and looked at us and said, “If I had known he looked like this I would never have approved him to come here”. What? It took a second to process what he was saying. First thought was how dare you have this attitude about our dead son and say it like that in front of my wife. Than it hit me, David wasn’t dead at all. I looked around the doctor to the bed and saw David lying there; he looked normal as if nothing had even happened. I was confused and looked at the doctor. He said, yea, there’s nothing wrong with him. I assured him that this was not the boy we left at the Mesa hospital. I told him all that had happened. It was certainly a miracle. We had seen our son literally saved, changed in the short helicopter ride. He went from deaths door to a completely healthy baby. They kept him overnight to make sure he was fine. He left the next morning with absolutely no side effects. What a miracle!
Fast-forward now another 4 years we were living in Franklin, TN. David and Zach shared a room. At night they would go to bed and read books. They each had a little lamp that clipped onto their headboard. They had bunk beds and David slept on the top bunk. One night we put the boys to bed with their books and their lamps on. We all went to bed, about 2-3 hours I woke straight up out of a deep sleep, it was David, he had come into our room, stood at the end of our bed and said “Dad, my bed’s on fire”. I leapt out of bed with Trish right behind me. We ran into the boy’s room and sure enough his bed was on fire. His lamp had slipped down and the heat from the lamp began to heat his blanket and it started a fire. I quickly grabbed the blanket and smothered the fire. I looked at him and had this feeling of complete relief run through my body. This could have turned out so much worse, so many possible things could have happened. Yet, fire was out, only a blanket was damaged and little David was just fine. It was another miracle and it involved David. We hugged that little guy and were so thankful.
These were three times that David could have easily been taken from us. I thought about how the Lord had literally reached out and saved David on at least these three occasions. Certainly if it wasn’t his time to go, he could have saved David from his accident on September 2nd, 2015.
I was there for David’s birth and I have thought a lot about why I was not allowed to be there for his death. He was dying in the street just a mile from our home and I was getting ready for bed like I do every night. He lay in a morgue in a hospital while I was reading and ending my day at home. He went to the coroner’s office and was there alone while I slept like nothing was wrong. Why? How could that have been? It occurs to me that maybe the Lord knew if I were there, I would do as I had done before. I would have put my hands on his head and blessed that boy to live. Yes if it wasn’t David’s time, I believe the Lord could have saved him.
However, I have come to know for myself that it was David’s time. It wasn’t in line with my timing that is for sure and didn’t happen how I would have wanted it to. I think having gone through this thought process I have come to understand a little more, a little more intimately how it works here in mortality. It has made it a little bit easier to understand. I am grateful for the thoughts that came to me, the line upon line help that I went through as part of this process. I am grateful for knowing there is a plan and that it is bigger then me and my thoughts and my ways. I still ache for my boy and some days it’s almost more than I can take. I try to not let anyone know or see but to soldier on. However, there are those days and moments where the ache and hurt are simply crushing.
In hindsight, Trish was right. We were so lucky to have David in our life for 20 years. Sometimes, I think the Lord allowed David to stay with us for as long as possible. He knew just how much he was loved here and knew the good he would do and the people that would love him and that he would touch. That brings me comfort.
I have come to know in a way I could not have known before the reality of the Plan of Happiness. I have been blessed to know things that I didn’t know before. I went to David’s grave the other day. I lay down on top of the grass right over where he lay. I looked up and thought about all I have learned. I hope that these kinds of tender mercies and insights and learning will continue for the rest of my life. In a way it helps with the loss and the hole that his death has left in my heart.
David was right: everything is gong to be all right.
**On a side note some how the media found out about Ryan saving David. They heard about Ryan remembering how Flit was saved by Pocahontas and Meeko pushing down on his tummy and making the water come out. We made the front page of the Arizona newspaper on the Sunday after the incident. It happened to be Fathers day. David and Ryan shared the front page with the announcement of Ella Fitzgerald passing away. We were interviewed in our home by the news program, Day and Date. Trish, Ryan and David made the front page of Woman’s World magazine. The international Woodman’s Association held a huge celebration and picnic at a park in honor of Ryan. He received a $100 savings bond. Ryan, David and Trish would be recognized in the grocery store and all over town. Some lady actually recognized Ryan at the check out stand and gave him $20. A short time later we received a hand drawn picture of Meeko with a life preserver around his stomach. The animator who created Meeko at Disney had signed it and sent it to us. Now that was pretty cool.