WYANET — Joan Christian says the lesson she wants children to take from the death of her 7-year-old son Steven is that they don’t need to be afraid to live ... and they don’t have to be afraid to die.
Steven died April 11 after choking on a toy bouncy ball which had gotten lodged in his throat.
On Tuesday evening, more than 200 family and friends, classmates of Steven and their parents — and even people who didn’t know the Christian family — gathered at the Wyanet Memorial Park for a balloon launch in celebration of Steven’s life.
The day her son died was the day his mother decided to do the balloon launch.
“I stood in the hospital, and I knew I wanted to do a balloon launch for the children,” Christian said. “It’s a good way for them to say good-bye, and I wanted them to know they didn’t have to be afraid of dying or living.”
Close family friend Mikki Kruger was at the hospital that day and organized the balloon launch and ceremony, which included the presentation of the U.S. flag to Steven’s parents from his Boy Scout troop. Two poster-size photographs of Steven were placed near the stage of the park shelter where the ceremony was held. Another artwork depicted a tree with the thumbprints of Steven’s classmates as the leaves.
As part of the ceremony, Jan Pistole, a registered nurse at Perry Memorial Hospital, talked about how people should be careful when they eat and careful with what they put into their mouths.
Pistole said children shouldn’t run or laugh when they are eating food. They should make sure pieces of food are small enough, so they don’t get caught in the throat. Food should not be cut into round pieces because they can get lodged more easily. A general recommendation is pieces of food should be no larger than the tip of the pinkie finger, Pistole said. Of course, no toys should ever be put in the mouth, she added.
“I want you to know it’s safe to eat, but just make sure the pieces are small enough,” Pistole said.
Also, if a child sees someone who appears to be choking, the child should run to get help, Pistole said, adding one can usually tell someone is choking if they have put their hands around their throat.
In her comments to the assembled group, Joan Christian said she would love to have her son back, but she would never want to take him from where he is at now, in heaven with God. When it is her time to die, she knows Steven will be there in Heaven, waiting to give her a big hug and to show her around, she said.
Darin Christian also took the microphone to talk about his son’s death and to encourage other families to make the most of their time together.
Darin said he takes comfort in the knowledge that his son had someone with him every step of the way, through his transport to Perry Memorial Hospital and then to St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. But regardless of all that was done to save his son, it did not happen.
“We may not always understand why something happens, or agree with it, but my son is in a better place now,” Darin said. “I loved my son, and I will miss him. I want you parents here to remember to cherish every day you have with your young.”
In his comments before the balloon launch, the Rev. Willy Minnix read from the Bible and encouraged those present to remember that Steven’s light hasn’t gone out but has just gotten brighter from heaven. Steven is now enjoying the beauty of Heaven and his friendship with God. Steven’s life on earth was short, but well-lived, the pastor said.
At the close of the ceremony, parents and their children, family, friends and community members were given red and blue balloons which they released into the evening sky toward heaven ... and Steven.
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