I was sitting at the doctor with Vladik yesterday when I got the text.
Our sweet Dima had left this earth, gone to be with Jesus. He was twenty-seven years old and he was my love.
Dima had been ill and away in a special hospital for the past several months. We missed him desperately and couldn’t wait for him to get well and return to us. He did return last month, but to our dismay he looked terrible. He was so much worse, not at all healthy. He was thin and yellow and just so sick. After only a few days he was taken back to the hospital, several hours away. He died there a couple of days ago and was buried yesterday at the cemetery in the town of Romaniv. We went to see where his body was laid, surrounded by the graves of other boys gone before him.
We are shocked and just heartbroken. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. He was supposed to be with us. We were so excited for the day when Dima would come live with us at the homestead. We pictured him in our family forever. He was my special boy and I just knew that someday I would get to mother him the way my heart longed to mother him. I so desperately wanted to watch him blossom and grow and come to know the love of a family here on earth. But, God had another plan.
Can I tell you about my Dima? I want as many people as possible to know him and to see him for the precious, beautiful treasure that he was. He was amazing.
When we first started going to Romaniv we hardly noticed Dima. He was always tied to his bed because he wasn’t able to walk and was a fall risk. He usually looked drugged and out of it, and just wasn’t able to connect with other humans on pretty much any level. He was like a dead person. I’ve seen an old video of him from years ago and know that he wasn’t always like that, but somewhere along the way he was lost.
In the summer of 2014 we started taking a few boys at a time to the Sensory Room to get them into a quiet environment where we could try to connect with them one on one. I remember our team debating if we should even try to take Dima there. He couldn’t walk, but was long, awkward and heavy. One of the guys would have to carry him. Whenever we did take him there he would just sleep or zone out and it felt almost like a waste of time. There were so few hands available, shouldn’t we be focusing in on the boys who seem to enjoy our company, or at least seemed to benefit from it?
No, no, no. Dima had been passed over for his entire life. Drugged and left to sit in his own excrement for hours on end, his whole life he had been cast aside. Would we be the next in a long line of people who had passed over him and thought of him as unworthy? NO.
So, we kept taking him to the Sensory Room. And one day that summer, a miracle happened. Nina, one of our team members, was sitting on a bean bag with Dima in the Sensory Room. She was just sitting near him, being with him, when she picked up a little toy xylophone. She tapped tapped it next to his ear and he sat up! He looked at Nina with wide eyes, made some sounds and gave her the hugest smile. Our Dima was awake! Nina was crying and laughing. In amazement we all jumped up and ran over to see. I will never ever forget that beautiful moment.
How is it possible that after a lifetime of suffering, when Dima finally awoke, his first response was a smile? JOY. I can’t even comprehend it.
Over the next two years we had the awesome privilege of watching Dima come more and more alive. He still had many days when his mind was somewhere else, not wanting to, or not able to engage with us, but he also had many days when he was funny and smiley and would babble your ear off. We all absolutely adored him. He learned to say “banana” and “Lala” (the Ukrainian word for a doll). Roma, one of our team members had a special love for Dima and was working to teach him to feed himself independently. Every time he was at Romaniv, Roma would make sure to pick up Dima and get him out of his bed. He would cuddle him on the couch and just enjoy being near him. Our baby.
I know that our grieving and mourning is more about us than about Dima. He is finally free. He’s definitely not grieving and he knows no pain. He is made whole. He can run! He can speak! He is healed and right now he knows the great love of the Father better than we can even begin to comprehend.
Still, we grieve. We miss our friend and we always will. My heart aches for the suffering he had to endure in this life. I wonder if he was alone when he died? Did he suffer? Was he in pain? Did anyone at that hospital far away truly care for him? Was he treated well? Did anyone see him for the treasure he was? My heart longed to show him every day that he was loved, even adored. I dreamed of how much he would blossom in the love of a family. I so wanted him to experience that joy and peace here on earth. Why was so much of his life spent waiting for life to begin? It’s hard to trust God’s ways in times like this.
But then I remember his joy that day, years ago in the Sensory Room. For many years humans had not been a positive thing in Dima’s life. Humans had hurt him and neglected him and cast him aside. But when awakened and faced with humans- he smiled. The only way that was possible was if God was near to him in a way that we couldn’t see. God promises in His Word to be a Father to the Fatherless, and we have to trust that He keeps his Word. We have to trust that God showed his love to Dima in the deepest places of his mind and soul. We have to trust that even if he seemed to live this life so alone and abandoned, his Father in heaven never left his side, even for one second.
It was the joy of the Lord that brought the smile to Dima’s face.
It was the peace of God that followed him when he traveled to the hospital far away.
And it was the goodness of God that allowed his suffering to end.
We will never forget our precious Dima. We will miss him forever. But may we never ever forget his joy in unimaginable circumstances. Please, learn from his life. Choose joy today.
Precious Dima, you were loved. You were treasured. You were longed for and wanted. We saw your beauty and we will never be the same because of you.
Run free, my love.