A lot of people stop by the booth over the course of Gen Con’s four day run. The expressions on their faces are often somewhere between excitement and the sort of glazed-over look that comes from gaming through the nights instead of sleeping. However, when a gentleman came to us with what looked like the weight of the world on his shoulders, we were all a bit confused.
“Hey, man, are you having a good con?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I don’t know. It’s really hard to be here this year.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
I was honestly curious. This was not the sort of event that a person came to on a whim, and the four day badge around his neck made me think he was in for a long weekend if he didn’t want to be there. Another person was coming up to see us, and I was just about to say hi and leave this conversation to the other folks at the booth when it happened.
“We lost our son on the 12th.”
Apparently the young boy became ill with flu-like symptoms that grew worse. They eventually found that he was suffering from a previously undiagnosed case of diabetes. Shortly after this was discovered, he fell into a coma and did not wake up. I couldn’t stop apologizing. Death is terrible in any of its forms, but hearing a father describe the loss of his first born? Even if I tried to summon up something powerful or meaningful to share, there weren’t any other words my mind could wrap around. When everything else failed, I offered him a hug.
“If you don’t mind me asking, how are you here right now? If it were me, I don’t think I’d be able to leave the house yet.”
“David loved gaming. He would have loved it here. We’re just looking for some good games that we could play as a family.”
As if they knew he was feeling the pain again, his wife and two daughters walked up to the booth and stood next to him. The older of the two girls had a big smile. She was the sort of happy that only kids can have. The look in her eyes said that everything around her was an amazing experience. She pointed out the picture of her brother that her dad shared with us, and her smile grew even larger.
“That’s David! I got his name on my wings. See!?”
She had just come from the family fun area. Her face was painted with a huge butterfly, and her brother’s name was across the top of each of the wings. I asked her if she liked playing games with her brother. She told me stories about all the times they would play together. While the hurt was only a couple weeks old, she never lost her smile.
I prayed over this family there in the booth. I even shared with them some recommendations for great games to play with young kids. And just when I was about to share how the girls could get Rhino Hero super-capes if they hurried over to the Haba booth, this father said something that cut straight through me.
“Our faith in God is what gets us through. They aren’t all good days. There are some that are harder than others. But in the end – the devil can’t have him, and that’s something to be thankful for. Now we get to remember him whenever we play together.”
It’s been a full week since I’ve returned from Indianapolis, and I’ve been wondering how to tell this story. I wondered how I could frame it – how I could put it together in such a way that I communicated exactly what it felt like to be in that moment. In the end, I couldn’t think of a better way than to just share it as I remembered it. I was nearly brought to tears as I saw that mixture of joy and sadness in the faces of the boy’s parents. I saw that childlike hope in those of his sisters. I saw people finding strength in God to do what I don’t think I could. And I saw the games that are often criticized for being empty escapism become a way to remember the life that they shared briefly before it passed on to glory. If you want to hear about the rest of the convention, definitely go see our podcast episodes on it. For now, do me a favor and hug somebody you love today. Maybe play a game with them that you’ll remember for the rest of your days.