Bartlett Family Update
Update from Dave: June 19, 2016
One year ago, June 19, was the funeral for Ben, Charlie and Bailey. Those days are a blur.
Our family and the Whitehill's were numb with grief and simply trying to survive one hour at a time. Sometimes it felt difficult for me to simply keep breathing. Everything was out of focus. We were deeply in shock. The pain was excruciating. Kaia had casts on both arm and spent some time in a wheelchair. Erin was struggling with medical issues along with trying to walk through one of the worst nightmares a family can experience.
We so much wanted the funeral service to be a celebration of Ben, Charlie and Bailey's lives and a reflection of their faith in Jesus Christ. We wanted to be sure that each life was celebrated and remembered. We had decided to focus the funeral service first upon Bailey, then Charlie and finally we would focus upon Ben.
On the Thursday of the visitation and the Friday of the funeral we were surrounded by supportive friends, family and people from our communities and workplaces. The public visitation on Thursday afternoon and evening was overwhelming. We were greeted continuously and supported for more than 5 hours by so many people who cared deeply. This followed a private visitation for extended family that lasted a couple of hours. Many people traveled from across the country to be with us.
As our family followed three caskets into the funeral service, we were overwhelmed with emotions:
Grief, sadness, and deep loss at burying three dear family members.
Fear that we would not even survive this event. Would we even have the emotional and spiritual strength to do this thing?
Gratefulness to our friends and church family who were making this happen and to over 800 people came to be with us.
Surprise at the upbeat energy of the first song as we entered the funeral service.
Joy that we knew Ben, Charlie and Bailey were in heaven and they were engaged in perfect worship of God.
Numbness as we still could not believe this was our reality.
We are so grateful to God that our church, our families and our friends were there for us! I will never forget the picture of Kaia wanting to help with the caskets. More than 28,000 have viewed the funeral online.
Today, (one year later) our family is traveling to a beach house in North Carolina beginning a week of vacation time together. Erin and Kaia helped us decide to stick with "our plan" that we had made as a family the last time we were together before the accident. We planned this week on the beach for 20 family members and we will be experience it together with only 17. This will be a two-rail week with great joys and gifts and much sadness. We will laugh and cry. We will remember the past and we will build new memories.
I've been thinking a lot about Psalm 46:1
God is our refuge and strength,
An ever present help in trouble.
This is the beginning of the Psalm that includes verse 10 which we’ve used in memorials for Bailey, Charlie and Ben—“ Be still and know that I am God.”
In the past, I might have thought God would rescue us from nightmares. But now I know, He is our strength and our help right in the midst of the nightmares we experience in this broken world. God is with us and nothing will separate us from His love. We will be looking for God’s presence and His gifts while we spend this week together.
We are very, very grateful to all of you who stand with us!
Update from Dave: June 10, 2016
One year ago today, Ben, Charlie and Bailey Bartlett were killed in a traffic accident in Florida. This has been a challenging and painful first-year for the Bartlett and Whitehill families.
As I’ve been thinking about what to write on this first anniversary, I believe one result of this great loss is that the world looks different to me! There is joy and hope in Christ and in being with our family and friends. Heaven has become more real in our thoughts. We look forward to joining Ben, Charlie and Bailey one day as we all worship God together in heaven. But, we experience these positives through a new lens which includes an awareness of the brokenness of this world and deep pain and loss caused by that brokenness.
We have learned that the two rails are an actuality in the lives of many, many people. So many friends, family and community members are walking through their own loss and pain. We are simply more aware of the pain and sadness in this world. That awareness marks even our most joyful days. We miss Ben, Charlie and Bailey every day. They have left a huge hole in our lives and our hearts.
Erin, Kaia and our families are using this week as a time to remember the good, the bad and the tragic. Erin has been helping us remember their vacation days prior to the accident and we plan to tell some stories of Ben, Charlie and Bailey.
At the end of next week, our entire family leaves on a vacation that was planned before the accident. Our Bartlett family is traveling to the outer banks of North Carolina and spending a week in a house on the beach. We know this will be a two-rail experience for us; great joy and memories along with sadness and loss of what could have been. We are so grateful that Erin and Kaia and our entire family has prioritized this time together.
We want to affirm three things:
1. God is faithful and prayers really matter. So many times, we could feel the prayers of our friends and church family (even this past week). God faithfully sustained us through what many would call a family’s worst nightmare. God was the rock we could stand on for support even when we couldn’t feel his presence.
2. God has faithfully blessed us and brought joy even in the pain. God has primarily used people as his conduit of blessing and joy. Our families have stood together; our church family has been close and people in the community and schools have cared deeply. Our already strong families have chosen to cling to each other even more tightly.
3. We all grieve loss differently and we must make space for those differences. The pain continues to be intense. As today approached, none of us knew how we wanted to use the day. We had no idea how to plan and prepare for this painful anniversary. We are grateful that our family, our friends and our church family who have had no expectations and simply allowed us to walk through this year in our own messy, sad, unplanned ways.
We choose to love and trust God in the midst of our pain and loss. Ben, Charlie and Bailey would want it that way!
Update from Dave: March 22, 2016
First Easter without Ben, Charlie and Bailey
Our family gathered this past weekend. We celebrated together by climbing the walls (at UNI’s WRC) and swimming in the pool which were given as Christmas gifts. We celebrated Easter by hunting Easter eggs, making resurrection rolls, and watching the Iowa teams in the NCAA tournament.
It was a joy to be together. It was fun to watch our family succeed in climbing the walls at the WRC and watching our grandkids hunt for eggs and just enjoy time together. It was a very sobering and incredibly sad that Ben, Charlie and Bailey were not present with us. The picture of our grandkids after the Easter egg hunt includes two empty baskets for Charlie and Bailey. We miss them every single day. Sometimes, I still weep when I look at their pictures or visit their grave sites.
As with so much of our lives, this will be a different kind of Easter. We will be very aware of the two rails–one rail of joy and the other rail of brokenness, pain and disappointment. We celebrate with even more passion and hope the resurrection of Jesus and the reality of eternal life in heaven.
I will be teaching at the Cedar Falls campus of Orchard Hill Church on Saturday evening (7:00 p.m.) and on Easter Sunday morning (9:15 and 10:45). I will present Lessons from an Empty Tomb which describes lessons learned outside the tomb of Jesus and lessons I have learned standing at the gravesites of Ben, Charlie and Bailey. You are invited to attend any of our services or watch the service later online.
Update from Dave: January 18, 2016
Christmas and New Year’s were as good as possible under the circumstances! The Whitehill and Bartlett families gathered to celebrate. Erin and Kaia had their own time together to bake, celebrate and give each other gifts.
We move into 2016 depending upon God who has promised to be our rock and our strength. We move forward together working to find things to celebrate every single day. God has given us the gift of each other, the gift of caring family, friends and church.
We continue to feel great loss and pain and miss Ben, Charlie and Bailey greatly.
Yesterday Emily and I taught in Orchard’s Community Center in our January teaching series called “Families without Fear”. Emily did a courageous job of sharing some of the story of her fear at the loss of her brother, Ben, and Charlie and Bailey. Here’s a link this video:
Update from Dave: December 9, 2015
6 Months Since Accident
Tomorrow is 6 months since the accident that killed Ben, Charlie and Bailey in Florida.
Here is what I believe to be true about myself and our family today. As best I can tell, the pain is still just as intense and just as deep as the day we got the news. We hurt and we think of Ben, Charlie and Bailey every single day. The continued intensity of the pain surprises me. What is different for us is that the intense shock has worn off and instead a deep sadness has taken its place.
At six months, we are better at living our regular daily lives in the midst of the pain. Walking in the pain of remembering and missing Ben, Carlie and Bailey is our new reality. We can focus upon other things and we can celebrate many good things that continue to be true in our lives. We have each other. We have a God who knows pain and who has kept his promises to never leave us and to be the solid rock under our lives.
Erin, Kaia, Barry and Cindy (Erin's parents) and Linda (Ben's Mom) along with myself and other family members, have walked this journey together. We have supported each other and at the same time walked alone, each grieving in our own unique way. It requires much intentional grace as we allow each other the freedom to grieve in our own ways. We each grieve very differently.
With Thanksgiving past and the celebration of Christmas coming, we know that we will continue to experience the two rails that Jesus described when he said, "in this world you will have trouble but rejoice for I have overcome the world." On the one rail we still cry and deeply hurt that evil has taken Ben, Charlie and Bailey from us. On the other rail Erin and Kaia celebrate that they have each other and so many who love and support them.
We are actively preparing for our Christmas celebrations. Erin and Kaia have now moved home, cut down and decorated their tree together, hung outside lights, done some baking and started buying presents. Where their traditions and pictures had included five there are now just two.
We understand that God has worked much good from the evil of these deaths. We are glad that this has tragedy has been a wake up call for many to love more deeply and build their families upon the rock of Christ before the storms come. We would trade all of that good for the return of Bailey, Charlie and Ben in a heartbeat.
I will teach at our Christmas Eve services (Cedar Falls campus) on the theme Turning Off the Darkness. I believe the manger and the cross bring a bright light which turns off the darkness that we experience in this broken world. -- even the darkness of death and loss.
We are grateful for family and friends (and even strangers) who have prayed and supported us. We wish for all of you a blessed and joy-filled Christmas.
Update from Dave: October 2, 2015
We continue to share....
I've been meeting with people who are walking through their own personal storms of grief, pain and loss. Our family continues to receive cards, notes and emails from people who are in pain. One clear theme we hear, is that our openness to sharing our pain and journey is helping them. So, we will continue to share our journey as best we can. Even in our pain, we continue to receive good gifts from God.
God's good gifts....
For many years, Ben taught music to all of the students at Cedar Heights Elementary School. On his birthday last Friday, the staff asked students to remember and celebrate Ben by wearing orange and attending an assembly. Many of our family attended the assembly. We were touched as hundreds of students made a memory chain, watched a video including memories of Mr. Bartlett and then sang Happy Birthday to Ben. School staff said that the students and staff needed this time together to celebrate and remember.
Later in the evening, some of our family celebrated his birthday with Ben's favorite foods and his favorite birthday cake (jello poke cake), lighting candles and singing happy birthday to Ben. We also shared favorite memories. We are working hard to remember what good gifts Ben, Charlie and Bailey's lives were. We talk about them almost every day. We have placed their pictures on our fireplace mantel.
Erin's employer, Veridian Credit Union, placed a memorial bench for Ben, Charlie and Bailey overlooking Prairie Lakes.
We still have some very bad moments and days...
People often ask me if it is ok if they still have really bad days as they walk through grief months after the event. My answer is "YES, it's ok and it doesn't mean that you have weak faith in Christ. It simply means you loved deeply."
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny fall day. I drove Ben's orange truck to the cemetery after work. I took my iPad. As I stood at the grave sites, I sang Charlie's favorite song, Holy, Holy, Holy. I sang along with the online hymn from their funeral. Bradley Rees led the funeral congregation and me at the grave site. Before I could finish I was weeping in deep pain. Not so much sadness; just deep, deep, deep pain. I stayed at the cemetery for a long time-- singing, crying, remembering, walking. The loss of Ben, Charlie and Bailey has changed me. I used to cry about once per decade; for awhile after the accident, I was crying every day.
God has given our family each other and many good friends to help us. He has given us many good gifts along the way. We will praise him even even when it hurts.
Update from Dave: September 17, 2015
Striving for a new normal...
It's been 14 weeks since the accident in Florida which killed Ben, Charlie and Bailey. So much has happened in that time. Erin's back to work and Kaia's in school. Emily and Jason have moved to town. Kaia's wrist is almost completely healed. Kaia has started piano lessons and gymnastics with her cousin Ayla. A new weekly routine is getting established.
0n August 30, many of us attended The Gathering at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center at UNI which was Orchard Hill's worship service on that morning. Almost 3700 people attended which includes so many people who find themselves in storms of grief and loss. Many have communicated that his event touched their hearts and helped them. Over 6000 people across the country have viewed this event online. The video is available on Orchard Hill's website and on YouTube-- The Gathering 2015. This was an emotional event for our entire family.
On September 13, our neighborhood sponsored a potluck picnic in memory of Ben, Charlie and Bailey. There was great food, lots of neighbors and good music.
Today many of our family members attended a really powerful assembly at Orchard Hill School that constructed memory chains in honor of Charlie and Bailey. It was an emotional time of remembering them. The school personnel did an amazing job with the assembly.
As you may remember, since the accident, we have celebrated Bailey, Charlie and Kaia's birthdays. Each one has been an emotional day. Now, in the next 8 days, we will celebrate Erin's and Ben's birthdays (and Joel's and Emily's). These also will be emotional days. We plan to do some things together to support each other.
We have a long way to go to find a new normal for our family. We simply walk through our lives one day at a time trusting God for the strength we need. There are sad times and joy-filled times. It's like the metaphor of the two rails which run through all of life. We are committed to being there for each other through the good and tough times.
We are choosing to see Ben, Charlie and Bailey's lives as gifts to us. Each one was so very special. Their deaths are a great loss which hurts deeply. We still cry. We still groan. We miss them. There will be a continual hole in our hearts.
Each of us grieves in our own way and in our own times. I (Dave) am choosing not to put the grief away or close it down. Instead, I am asking God to be very close to me right in the midst of the pain. I go to the cemetery and talk with them. I sit on their beds in their rooms and reflect upon them. I journal about them. I look at pictures of them. I tell stories about them. I look forward to our family reunion in heaven one day.
God continues to be our rock and our comfort.
Update from Dave: August 24, 2015
The first day of school has been an emotional morning for our family. Great joy and great sadness.
With joy on a beautiful morning, 5 of us adults walked four cousins to Orchard Hill school. We watched Kaia walk with her 3 cousins (Cale--5th grade, Ayla--3rd grade, Jonah--1st grade) who recently moved into the neighborhood so that she would not be walking alone. Each week they sit in Sunday church services together and are becoming much like brothers and sister to Kaia. They have been swimming, pretending, biking, and reading together.
We know as a family that we have many gifts to be grateful to God for. We have very tight, loving and supporting families-- on the Bartlett and the Whitehill sides. We have a great neighborhood, supportive communities and church families. We have health, joy and laughter and Kaia and Erin have each other (and even Shadow, the dog.). We have a great Orchard Hill School staff who are doing everything possible for all of their students.
With great sadness we walked silently home after dropping the four at school. Charlie and Bailey always loved the first day of school. They loved school period. Their friends played on the playground and lined up for class, but not Charlie and Bailey. They are gone and they are intensely missed. The traditional "first day of school" family picture is missing 2 kids and a dad. It's a great picture but it is kinda empty.
We will be praying this week for all of those who are starting a new year of school especially those at Orchard Hill and Cedar Heights Elementary Schools. We know we aren't the only ones today grieving the loss of Ben. Cedar Heights, where Ben taught music, is such a family and we are so grateful for their support during these tough weeks. We especially pray for their staff and new vocal music instructor.
Each of us is finding a way to remember and to grieve today. For me (Dave) I went from taking pictures and walking the kids to school to the cemetery grave sites. I sometimes feel closer to Ben, Charlie and Bailey here at the sites. While standing here, I received a text from a former high school youth group leader who reminded me that Choosing Joy is one of my themes in life.
So this week, as best we can, we will be choosing joy as we hear the stories about the first day of school and as we celebrate Charlie's birthday on Thursday. We will also choose joy as we prepare for The Gathering church services this Sunday morning at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center at UNI at 9:15 and 10:45. We are hearing from so many people who are walking through their own storms these days.
KWWL interviewed Dave this afternoon at Orchard Hill Church. Watch tonights newscast at 5 & 6 pm.
Update from Dave: August 8, 2015
Many times every day people ask me how our family is doing, especially how are Erin, Kaia and Linda doing and then they tell me they continue to pray for us. This is such an encouragement to the Bartlett and Whitehill families. Linda believes your prayers and God himself are sustaining us through this long and difficult journey.
Kaia is physically improving every day. Last week she had her cast removed and replaced by a removable Velcro brace. This means she can swim in our pool which she enjoys. She has had some play dates with friends and is now able to hang out with cousins many days each week.
Kaia's cousins (along with their parents--Jason and Emily Wellnitz--) successfully moved into our neighborhood last Saturday. They now live on Veralta Drive which is a short walk or bike ride from our homes. On Monday, Kaia, along with the Orchard Hill School principal, gave the cousins a tour of their new school. All four will be able to walk to school together.
Last night Kaia upgraded to a slightly bigger bicycle and now grandpa has trouble keeping up with her. She is reading many books and continues to help all of us as we walk thru this journey. Each evening before going to sleep, Erin and Kaia spend time talking about many things. Both Grandma Whitehill and Grandma Bartlett are each having Cousin Camps in the next 10 days.
Some Kaia quotes and questions....
Erin asks, "How much longer do you think we should live at grandpa and grandmas?" Kaia answers, "Two years!"
Kaia asks after swimming one day, "Grandpa, how do old people die?" (death is now a part of her reality!)
"Grandma is lucky. She will get to see Daddy, Charlie and Bailey sooner than I will."
Erin is on a huge learning curve; learning to lead and manage her family by herself. She plans to return to work at Veridian Credit Union part-time soon and then later full-time. We have been able to attend church services together which is both challenging and encouraging.
Erin's purpose and focus has been to help Kaia (and probably our families.) Erin will spend some time with her sister and family this coming week. All four grandparents are so thankful for the way Erin is loving and supporting Kaia and walking through this tragedy.
Linda and I, along with Barry and Cindy Whitehill , attended the Global Leadership Summiton Thursday and Friday along with 700+ others. It was good for us. I know Linda wept during a segment of the Summit which focused upon the power of song and worship. I had to leave and go to my office during part of that and weep for a time. The whole segment reminded us deeply of Ben's heart for worship and Ben's leading of worship. It was powerful, helpful and very hard.
I think the shock is wearing off after 8 weeks. It feels, to me now, more like a marathon than a sprint. Charlie's birthday is Thursday of the first week of school. That entire week will be an tough uphill climb for all of us.
I stand at the gravesites and think about God's promises. (I also talk to Ben...I know, I know that's crazy.) We get much comfort knowing that Ben, Charlie and Bailey are with God; however, we still hurt deeply that they are no longer with us. We miss them so intensely.
So many of you have been the hands and feet of Jesus to us. One of our law enforcement friends from Florida called with his family and sang happy birthday to Kaia this last Monday. Thank you and keep praying, please.
Update from Dave: July 24, 2015
People continue to ask the question, “How are you and your family doing?”
We continue to be deeply grieving and emotionally broken over the loss of Ben, Charlie and Bailey. I have discovered that no amount of faith in Jesus decreases the deep pain and grief of such a horrific loss. We hurt every day, we cry often as each of us processes the grief in our own inpidual ways. Some of us visit the cemetery, or sit in their bedrooms, or read books, or look at pictures, or share memories in conversations. Some of us journal and sometimes we just sit. Some of us talk more and some talk far less. Some of us cry more and some of us are sad in different ways.
We celebrate that Kaia had her casts taken off yesterday and the pins removed from her wrist. She now has a simple velcro brace which can be taken off when she goes into the water. She (and everyone, especially her grandpa) must be careful with her wrist so as not to reinjure it. It will still be a while before she should do her gymnastics moves.
We celebrate that Ben’s sister Emily and her husband, Jason and three kids are moving into our neighborhood from Cedar Rapids. They have felt called to join with Erin and Kaia (and Linda and I) as we continue to walk through this journey of loss. Their children who are in grades 1, 3, and 5 will attend Orchard Hill School with Kaia and be available before and after school for some playtime. This is a huge encouragement for us.
Our entire core family will gather tomorrow (Saturday) to celebrate the five summer birthdays of our grandchildren: Bailey, Cale, Kaia, Grant and Charlie. We will sing, play, eat cake and enjoy being together. It will be a day that we experience both laughter and joy; sadness and loss.
We can feel out of sync with the world in which we live. As we get up each morning, the primary thought on our mind is Ben, Charlie and Bailey are gone. Our homes, our family, our neighborhood, our future has a huge hole that will never be filled. Thoughts and feelings about this are pervasive. Other people are moving on to the current issues in their lives: vacations, sports, school shopping and many other things. This is very appropriate and necessary and the way it should be. We can just feel out of sync as we walk this journey.
I continue to be grateful for Matthew 7:24-26 and its description of Jesus as the rock we can stand firm upon in the storm.
Update from Dave: July 12, 2015
Update: June 23 at 2:22
On Tuesday morning Kaia Bartlett got two new casts. One cast was set for her left hand and one cast for her right wrist. She chose tie-dye as her cast colors. Ben and Erin’s siblings have done an excellent job of having Kaia’s cousins come to play with her. Today she is playing with Emily and Jason Wellnitz’s three kids.
Erin, Kaia, and the Whitehill and Bartlett families are very grateful to God and the Orchard Hill Church family for their support, care and continuing prayers during these past 14 days. We have received extravagant expressions of love and support. We also give special thanks to the Orchard Hill staff who walked with us through the loss of Ben, Charlie and Bailey.
We, as a family, have been overwhelmed with the prayer, encouragement and financial support of the Orchard Hill Church family and others from the Cedar Valley and beyond.
We are just beginning the very slow task of finding a new normal for our family. It’s going to be filled with pain. We trust God to help us. We will never be the same and we will always have a hole left by the absence of Ben, Charlie and Bailey.
Gary Schwammiein, the President and CEO of Willow Creek Association, attended the funeral last week. He shared with us that the gospel was clear and compelling as was the message and example from our immediate and extended family.
Gary had come from burying one of his grandchildren the previous Sunday. He gave me one important piece of advice I want to pass on. He said people will start to avoid us and be uncomfortable with us because they don't know what to say or do. They don't know whether to bring "it" up or ignore "it." Please know and remember, we all want to talk about Ben, Charlie, Bailey, the visitation and the funeral. You will not offend us in any way by asking questions, telling of memories, or talking about the impact this has had on you.
Our family is determined to trust God and find joy even in these days. We are grateful to God and to all of those who stand with us!
Erin, Kaia, Barry, Cindy, Linda and Dave
Contact information is being gathered by the office for when needs arise. To be included please call the Orchard Hill office at 319-266-9796 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.