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A lost son’s kind spirit lives on

The thought of moving forward after losing a child is something only those who haven’t lost a child can easily grasp. For Drew and Barbara Stevens, whose 12-year-old son Josh died in an accident 3½ years ago, the concept is still lost on them.

If they can’t move forward or backward, they can certainly move upward. Their faith has the Henderson couple seeing each new day as one day closer to Josh.

“I guess someday, when we believe we’ll all be back together again, the veil will be lifted and we’ll be able to understand why it happened,” says Barbara. “That’s how I get through the days.”

It’s not unusual for Barbara to drive around town, gripping her steering wheel as she recites her favorite Bible verse: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

Josh was killed during what was supposed to be a fun bonding moment with his father. On the night of Sept. 5, 2008, he and Drew took the family’s new golf cart for a spin around their Anthem Country Club neighborhood. Drew turned his head for a split second to wave hello to someone. When he turned back, he spotted an illegally parked boat on the narrow street and swerved to miss it. Josh was thrown from the golf cart.

Like that, the Stevens family changed forever.

Josh left behind an older sister, Shelbie, 18, and a little brother, Sam, 9. They’re separated by an opposite sex and 8½ years, differences that weren’t so noticeable when their brother was still around. “You know the white stuff in an Oreo cookie?” asks Barbara. “That’s what we lost when we lost Josh.”

They say everyone grieves differently. The Stevens family has four members grieving in four different ways. It can make for one room full of laughs and another one full of tears on any given day. It’s not unusual for Drew to provide the tears.

Josh was at that age when the father-son bond thickens. He was old enough to appreciate a full Saturday and Sunday on the couch, watching football with his dad. If they weren’t watching it, they were playing it. Drew threw his arm out passing his son a football from the deep end of their swimming pool “thousands of times.” They had a routine. If Josh made an amazing catch it was a “tripper,” meaning it was worth the trip Drew would make to the other end of the pool to clobber his son with adoration. Josh would push himself to the water’s surface after each catch, hoping to see his dad and the praise that inevitably came with him.

Drew can count on one hand the number of football games he’s seen and the number of times he’s used the pool since Josh died.

His daughter asked him one day if he knew what Josh wanted to be when he grew up. Drew came up short. “He wanted to be you,” she told him.

Josh demonstrated that with everything he did, including the way he treated others. The way Drew explains it, every kid has a gift. His son had the gift of a kind heart. When Barbara had to discipline Josh she’d send him to his room. He’d spend a couple of minutes there before he’d call to his mom from the top of the stairs and run back to his bedroom. Barbara would answer his call and find a piece of paper floating downward. “I’m so sorry,” the note would say. “Can we start over?”

When Josh passed away, the community came forward with a bevy of similar stories. His family knew their son and brother to be kind, but learning that neighbors, teachers, classmates and coaches all recognized it meant something entirely different. He was one month shy of his 13th birthday, not exactly an age when kindness is cool.

His rare attribute pushed the family to start the Josh Stevens Foundation, which recognizes and rewards children’s kind acts. Efforts have spread through schools and youth sports.

As Barbara sits and remembers her son, she has a lapful of envelopes carrying kids’ T-shirt drawings for the foundation. Stacks of letters come in regularly, thanking Drew for sharing Josh’s story. They got an email from a kid recently, saying the foundation inspired him to donate half his liver to a child in need. And, Roberta Cartwright Elementary students can be seen on YouTube performing an adapted version of Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger,” changing it to “Moves like Josh” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7RE9SLJZow).

Stories like this lend comfort, knowing their son’s kindness lives on.

You could say Josh inherited the trait from his parents. According to Drew, “nothing is ever too much work for Barbara.” According to Barbara, if you spend any time with Drew “you’ll know that he’s just a nice, kind person.”

She discovered so on their first date. It wasn’t enough that he opened every door for Barbara. He ran several steps ahead to open the door for an elderly woman, too.

They’re a kind couple who endured the cruelest loss.

“The love I have for Josh is here and the reason it’s so painful is because I don’t have the ability to hold him, and tell him, and kiss him, and breathe him in,” Drew says. “I love Josh more today than I did on September 5, 2008. Just like I love Shelbie more and Sam more.”

He kisses pictures of his son every day. He also refuses to forgive himself for an accident that could’ve happened to anyone.

If and when he does, Drew will demonstrate the ultimate act of kindness and, in doing so, make the Josh Stevens Foundation very proud.

Log onto JoshStevensFoundation.org to learn more about the Josh Stevens Foundation.

Contact columnist Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477.
Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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