The 1st Thomas Generation- Ted & Beth Thomas
What can be written about the death of an only son?

Here is the description of King David's grief, as recorded in 2 Samuel 12:16-22:

David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground.  The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, "While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate."

David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. "Is the child dead?" he asked.
    "Yes," they replied, "he is dead."

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"

He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, `Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.'  But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

This page is a brief attempt to review and understand the events surrounding the tragic death of Andrew Lyle Thomas in late September 2005.  It also lays out a few of the questions that we, his family, have struggled with in the months since he left, along with the answers we have, from both God's word and the counsel of others.  If you knew our son, we hope that you will find some comfort and resolution here.  If you did not, we pray that after you get to know a little more about his short life, you will find a reason to give glory to his Creator, and consider further the claim He certainly has on your own life.

Many years ago our family chose to step outside the educational mainstream and homeschool our children.  As Andrew, our 2nd child, began 1st grade, it became clear that he was neither a visual nor auditory learner.  He could read and listen, but he never wanted to sit still-- rather, he was always moving.  As a kinesthetic learner, he remembered and understand by acting out what he was being taught.  This made him a handful in the classroom, but an expert at the extreme sports park.  He was (and still is) by far the best of our family at telling a joke or acting out a funny scene.  As he practiced and learned at the skate park, he also learned to revel in taking risks.  In the mysterious providence of God, all these things came together one sunny September morning when, alone in a farm shop, he took a foolish risk, learned by doing, and died.

Centuries ago a middle eastern king found himself separated from his heart's delight (a certain vineyard) by a nobody named Naboth.  Try as he might, King Ahaz could not convince this lowly man to give up the small plot he had inherited from his father, and which he fully intended to pass on to his sons.  Lots of money, another vineyard that was bigger and better-- Naboth simply refused, and King Ahaz, frustrated and angry, would not eat and pouted on his bed.  Thus would have ended this property dispute, except that Ahaz had married an unusual woman.  She was smart, good-looking, resourceful... and  entirely ruthless.  In a matter of days, Queen Jezebel had arranged a public feast in his home town to which Naboth was brought as a special guest.  There, in front of his ken, two wicked men betrayed him with false accusations of blasphemy, and a few minutes later he was driven out of town and stoned to death.  Voila-- the nobody was gone, and King Ahaz could have his vineyard.

This sordid tale didn't end there, and you can read more about Ahaz and his wicked queen in 1 Kings 21.  Naboth, however, appeared no more.  In the space of a few sentences he had shown that he was an upright man who would not turn from obeying God's command to pass his allotted inheritance on to his heirs.  In a few more lines he was wretchedly dead, with hardly a chance to say goodbye, leaving only a bloody corpse and a shattered family reputation.  Why?  Why would the Lord God, whose law was being obeyed under pressure, have allowed this travesty of justice?  What had Naboth done to deserve this ugly & shameful end?  In truth, no one knows, for the details of Naboth's life and times have been lost, and his blood has long since dried and blown away.  Nevertheless, the Bible makes clear that the Lord had a plan for both Naboth and his death, and hidden in that mysterious and sovereign event lie the answers we long for.

There are two kinds of people.  One kind find death (and the personal details of grief and pain that surround it) to be unpleasant to think about, much less discuss, and would prefer to gently change the subject.  If you are that kind of person, you will want to stop reading here.  We desire to avoid offense, yet the truth is sometimes hard to bear, and Andrew's death involved tragic and sinful choices which seem to be taboo for discussion in many circles.  Nevertheless, we believe, and the Scriptures themselves declare, that truth rightly understood and applied leads to freedom, and we want that so much for all who knew and were touched by our son's life.  If you are the other kind of person then, who is willing to face the truth about God, about His sovereign right to do as He wills with wrong choices, and (perhaps) about your own heart, please read on.

Andrew accidentally hanged himself.  That is, he was found hanging in our farm's shop from a hoist, choked to death by a large rope tied around his neck.  Despite the obvious conclusion, however, the coroner and two police detectives who investigated the scene were confident that he did not commit suicide.  There are several reasons for this.  First, the shop was locked and the key hung on the inside catch on the door.  This would have been done by someone who planned to unlock the door and leave, not someone with no such plans.  Second, Andrew's feet were scraped by frantic attempts to get back up on an anvil which was almost under him, but just a little to one side.  The police believe he was standing on the anvil with the rope around his neck, slipped and then could not get back up on what he had been standing on.  Third, someone tried standing on the anvil (as a test- no rope) and discovered that it tipped suddenly and unexpectedly if weight was put anywhere except right in the middle.  Fourth, Andrew was wearing a climbing harness when he died, which had a loop on the back which, if it had also been tied to the hoist, would have kept him from being hanged if he fell.  Most unfortunately, there was no 2nd rope, implying that Andrew was in the process of trying something new and perhaps didn't do things in the right order.  Fifth, Andrew had worked the night shift the night before and had been up for over 20 hours.  He was probably tired, and probably not thinking straight.  Sixth, Andrew was attempting to do something which would result in a euphoric high induced by lack of oxygen to the brain.  Most unfortunately for all of us, brains without oxygen don't think clearly.  In addition to all these reasons, Andrew had a steady job, a good church family, loved his parents and sisters very much and had everything to live for.  Most importantly, he confessed his trust in the Lord some years before, and lived a life of faith.  In sum, he had no reason to kill himself.

If you are still confused, you should be, since an important piece of the puzzle is still not in place.  When the coroner came to us with the phrase he would need to write in in the “cause of death” section of his report, all we could say was-- “What?”  None of us had ever heard the word or knew such a thing existed.  The authorities believe our son died of Auto-erotic Asphyxiation, which takes the life of as many as 1000+ people (mostly young men) in the US each year.  According to our research, it seems to happen to curious, risk-taking teenage males who have a history of a strong fantasy life.  Typically the goal is a powerful high produced by starving the brain for oxygen in conjunction with sexual release.  This is almost certainly what Andrew was doing, because (other than the harness) he had nothing on.  As we look back on the last few months of his life, Beth and I see a pattern of loss of motivation, intense interest in a fantasy card game (Yu-gi-ho) and several episodes where he was gone for hours without a good explanation.  In all likelihood, Andrew had done this before (in some fashion) and probably didn't see it as particularly risky behavior.  Alternatively, he may have known it was risky, but the risk itself heightened the thrill.  Quite possibly, he had already suffered some brain damage, and that clouded his judgment.  We won't know the details in this life, and when we see him again, the pain and suffering will be behind us.

What shall we say?  Our dear son, who had so many good and even godly qualities, fell into a secret addiction which suddenly and unexpectedly killed him.  He chose to deceive his parents, knowing that we would forbid him if we found out, and he chose a time when he was certain that no one would be around (who might possibly have helped save his life).  If he had not stood on the anvil he would not have slipped, and ... Well, we don't know what the “and” is.  Though our hearts tremble and struggle with the thought, we know that if we could undo the past and have Andrew back for a “2nd chance”, it would do no good.  Who is to say he would not have taken similar or greater risks in the years to come, and how can we know the good (or evil) outcome of a life our Sovereign Lord never meant to be lived past 18 years?  No.  We cannot know.  It is very hard, and the pain of it is intense, but we bow, we worship... and we move on.  Our answer is not the whisper of heaven's secret counsel, but our Counselor and Lord Himself.  Like Job, we must say, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5,6)

Some of you reading this now wonder what your teenagers are doing in secret, and others of you may have addictions which could eventually kill you.  Our dear friends, we beseech you-- don't wait!  Talk to your teenagers, and find someone who can help both or all of you.  Life is short, and it ends unexpectedly.  God is sovereign, and He loves eternally those He has brought into His covenant, but He will not be trifled with.  You need Him, and in your heart you know it.  Today is the day to turn and believe!