On Sunday, November 3rd, our team of runners will test their endurance running in the New York City Marathon. Each one of them has their own reason for running and we’d like to introduce you to them because they are truly inspirational.
It has been 10 years since William Thomas Ellerbrock, age nine-and-a-half weeks, was dropped off for his second day of daycare and put down for a nap. It has been 10 years since baby William never woke up.
It has been 10 years, but not a day goes by that his parents – Matthew and Chrystal Ellerbrock – don’t think about William or work to educate others about how to put babies safely to sleep on their backs and make sure no other family has to go through what they’ve been through. It was to First Candle that Matthew and his wife turned when their son died, and they’ve been committed to raising money and SIDS awareness for the organization ever since.
Today, please meet Matthew and learn, in his own words, about how running keeps him closer to the son he lost.
Last week on Tuesday was my first ‘official’ training for the New York City Marathon. It also was to be the same week that ten years ago we lost William. Every year, as many people who live in New York do on September 11th, I cannot help but go back down the day and relive the moments of that day in my mind.
Honestly, for me it’s helpful. I go through the day and I ask myself, how do I feel about these memories at this time…. As the years have gone by I noticed something. The memories the first few years were more confusion, anger, loss…. Today as I write them I feel…. well, I just feel sad. I miss my son. I miss what he may have become. I miss seeing him grow and do all the things my other children have been able to do.
However, I no longer feel any anger, there is no confusion. Just the loss of the love I had for a little boy who came into my world and completely made me a liar. I told everyone who asked…. “I don’t care if its a boy or girl, I just want a healthy baby.” Now of course we all want healthy babies, but when William was born and I realized I had a son to raise, to teach, to play nerf guns with, to watch Star Wars with, to (possibly) play rugby with….
The toughest memory of July 14, 2009 that still lingers with me today was leaving the hospital after there was nothing left for us to do. My dad drove us home so I could sit in back and hold onto Crystal. For us to fit in the car with Bella, we had to put William’s car seat in the back storage area of the vehicle. It hit me square in the head that at that moment, we left the hospital as a family, and we were not taking him home with us.
God Bless my father for driving. I don’t think he said a word, but in that terribly vivid moment of how huge the loss was, we were given the ability to support each other in that moment. But I also feel something new the past couple years. It was impossible to see what the other side of all the pain was at that time.
On the other side of that pain was the father that William was able to teach. He was able to teach me, that life is short, and before you know it those were the ‘good ol days’. He taught me perspective, that ultimately our family is the unit that matters most. It pays dividends of happiness that cannot compare with any other investment. It doesn’t come cheap. In order to really win big at it you have to throw your heart in it 100% without regard for what happens when the music stops.
After losing William, I know what that feeling is, and I know I can handle it. And the music is gonna stop for all of us. I no longer fear saying goodbye to those I love, but I do fear not loving them fully while I am here. So to finish this thought, a few years later we were blessed with a son, Thomas in 2013. And because of my experience, short as it was, being Williams father, I feel I am a better father to Thomas.
Now the joke may be on me actually because if there is one thing people say about Thomas and that he is all boy. Last week I caught him leaving my work shed with a pair of tree trimmers in his hands. Most days he doesn’t know where he left his shoes, and sometimes he only comes home wearing one shoe (I am not kidding). He hasn’t found a mud puddle that he couldn’t fall into, even though he does ‘stick the landing’ as he tells me. He does have the best giggle to counter his short temper for a six year old boy. He face is most of the time covered with some sort of dirt or food. He asks amazing questions that makes me know he thinks deeply. He is eager to mimic what I do and wants to be so grown up so quickly. I have to keep reminding him to just be a boy.
He asks questions about God and what happens to me when I ‘pass on’, and he tells me that we have two lives, and the second one we don’t ever die in. That’s the one where we get to see Great pa pa in. So on the other side of that pain of the loss of having to remove a huge piece of our heart so suddenly on a Tuesday afternoon was a better dad.
When I run, I feel I am closer to William, at least in my thoughts. When I am a few miles out from almost anyone on a small country road, its really just about me and what I carry in my heart on that particular run. Its simple and honest. Some of the times its painful to push a pace that I am not really ready for, but then I realize I wasn’t ready for the pain back then. The pain can burn your world to the ground. But if you can find a little hope, and a little reason to keep going, you can push through to the other side of the grief.
Yes I am still a grieving father. I am also a father that is confident that no matter what life throws at me, it is not going to be any worse than what that Tuesday had in store in 2009. The picture above is that little boy, Thomas, running with me on that first training run last week at the Bluffton University track.
So bring on the miles, they are most certainly going to hurt at some point.