Who’s your Ethan?

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Dr. Ethan Schafer pictured above (right) in the Big House.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

James 4:13-14 (ESV)

I lost a friend way, way too soon this weekend.

Ethan Schafer was an exemplary child psychologist and a tireless advocate for the kids and families who crossed his path. He was also a loving and devoted husband and father to his two preschool-age boys (Michigan, Class of ’31 and ’33, respectively). After returning home from an appointment with one of our mutual patients, Ethan went to the emergency room at the urging of his wife, where he went into cardiac arrest following a ruptured aortic valve/aortic aneurysm. He was life-flighted to Cleveland Clinic where emergency surgery was done to repair the aneurysm. Unfortunately, the blood loss was so great that severe neurologic damage was the end result. Ethan was 39 years old when he died this morning.

11823124_10205962912024604_2133670654958184578_oEthan and I were nearly polar opposites. He was a Michigan grad…I saw the 1968 National Championship team at my first Ohio State game as a seven year old. He did however express appropriate horror and concern when my oldest daughter submitted an application to Notre Dame. It’s pretty safe to say that we canceled out one another’s votes in every national election. And Ethan was a self-professed atheist.

Ethan wore lots of different hats. He was the chief psychologist at a fabulous private school in our area for kids with ADHD and/or learning disabilities. He established a teaching clinic offering affordable learning assessments for families unable to access what their children needed through the public schools. He divided his time with an elite college prep school for boys where he used his influence to help teachers and staff to create environments where my patients could be successful. During summers, Ethan was very much in demand as a camp consultant. He was on a very short list of “go-to” referral sources of mine for anxious kids with demanding parents because he was an excellent therapist and demonstrated remarkable dedication to his clients.

One late summer day, Ethan arrived for our annual pre-football season breakfast with a very sunburned head. When kids are treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, an essential component of the treatment is exposure…putting kids in the situations where they most frequently experience anxiety and helping them to work through their fears with the techniques and strategies they’ve learned in therapy. Ethan was treating a boy who was afraid to go outside because of his fear of bees. Their most recent therapy session prior to our breakfast had involved a picnic lunch in a public park in early September…a time of year when bees are everywhere and are attracted to food.

The vast majority of professionals in my field…especially those from elite academic institutions such as Michigan run in social circles where Christians and Christianity aren’t held in high regard. As we got to know one another better and Ethan became aware of work we were doing through Key Ministry, he was clearly curious. The concept of 100 churchgoers giving up a weekend night to care for kids with special emotional, behavioral and medical needs didn’t fit with his previous understanding of evangelicals. He volunteered to help Key Ministry with any training needs that might arise. I’m sorry now that we didn’t take him up on the offer.

Ethan’s professional life brought him into regular contact with a number of very mature Christians. One was the director of admissions at the school serving kids with special educational needs. Another was Sherri McClurg…the managing director of our practice group, Ethan’s clinical supervisor when he was in training and interim Executive Director for a faith-based international hosting program for orphaned children. This past December, Ethan joined the Board of the Building Behaviors Autism Center, a Christian-based organization that provides services to families of children with autism spectrum disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, and other special needs started by Dr. Cara Daily where I’ve also served as a Board member.

Our most recent series of phone calls took place around a tragedy. Ethan provided consultation to summer camps when emergency situations arose. He was called in to help after inner city kids on an outdoor camping experience sponsored by a Christian organization witnessed the death of a peer caused by a severe weather event. He wanted to know the advice he was sharing was culturally sensitive to differences in how Christians might process a traumatic event of that type.

I’m blessed to not have had to deal with death very often. In the past 20-25 years, everyone I’ve known reasonably well who died had come to faith in Jesus. My dad was a man of great faith…it was hard to be sad for more than a few seconds when he died suddenly because his life goal was to be in the presence of Jesus. My wife’s grandmother was involved in a personal ministry through which she cared for an estimated 300 foster kids over 50+ years of service. My senior class president and former teammate (a politician) left his hospice to give one final speech for the ages that represented a remarkable testimony to his faith.

Our faith teaches us that our purpose in life is “to give glory to God and to enjoy Him forever.” Death is a cause for celebration within our Christian bubble. It’s so much harder to accept when we don’t have a testimony or baptism on video or a decades-long history of seeing someone live out their faith.

We want people we care about to have hope and confidence about a future with Jesus that we as Christians share. In Ethan’s case, I’m encouraged because he seemed drawn to Jesus as reflected in the Christ-followers he encountered in his clinical and volunteer work. I have no doubt that Ethan would have openly expressed his love for Jesus given more time to get to know Him better. A mutual friend reminded me God was not ambivalent about Ethan and that we don’t know what God was doing in his heart. I’m encouraged that Jesus will cover his situation with the same grace and mercy He’s extended to me. I’m looking forward to seeing him in Heaven…after Ohio State has won another 15-20 Big Ten championships and 5-7 more national championships!

Who’s your Ethan? Who are the people outside of our Christian bubble who you want to experience the peace and comfort we derive from the knowledge of an amazing future in the presence of our Lord? We can’t “save” anybody. But we can initiate conversations in which we share the reason for the hope we have in Jesus and we can seek to be a reflection of Jesus to the people who cross our paths.

I’m glad my friend had the opportunity to see Jesus through the lives of a number of our mutual friends. Don’t wait to introduce your friends to Jesus. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the champions of the West!

Michigan_Wolverines_Helmet

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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9 Responses to Who’s your Ethan?

  1. This was a beautiful memoir of Ethan and the compassion he had for children and their parents. God put him in your life as well as the ministries he was starting to be a part of for a reason. They know Jesus by our love and His love was demonstrated by all the Christians that surrounded Ethan. I pray that Ethan’s family will find comfort in knowing that his life left a legacy of caring for the broken and hurting. That is something that few accomplish. Thank you for sharing his story. I look forward to meeting him in heaven! 🙂

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  2. Steve says:

    That was a heartwarming article about Ethan. I have seen Ethan for many years and he completely changed my life. It would be great if someone would set up a fund where former patients could make contributions to his children’s education. Ethan would’ve provided his children with college educations, so we should do the same in his memory and to take some of the burden off his wife’s shoulders. It will be hard enough to raise two little boys alone, so shouldn’t have to worry about paying for college etc. I can still see his old office and hear his voice. He was a great guy. It was impossible not to like Ethan.

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    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for commenting. We had a number of patients in common…he had a tremendous impact.

      I did find it encouraging that nearly 400 people have contributed over $80,000 to date to this GoFundMe account so that his boys will be able to follow in his footsteps at the U of M..

      Like

  3. Kira Wynocker says:

    That was beautiful! poignant, true and really quite perfect! Thank you.

    Like

  4. Jennifer bueck says:

    I was one of Ethan’s high school teacher. I am proud to tell you that Ethan was an unbelievable young man and touch the lives of many at a young age. You article about him and thoughts are so warmly and well written. Thank you for loving him as all of those who have known him from a tender age to a an adult. It is truly a “wonderful life” that he lived and I am so warm hearted to have known him when.

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    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for commenting…Ethan had an incredible impact upon many, many kids during a career that was all too short. The Rocky River schools certainly have reason to be proud of him as a graduate!

      Like

  5. Ted W. Raddell, Ph.D. says:

    I trained Ethan during graduate school and as a Fellow and I have often said I learned more from him than he from me. He was a remarkable young man and a superb Psychologist. His warmth and humor set people at ease. Like Dr. Grcevich, I had many thoughtful conversations about faith, sports and politics and even though we were often at oppsoite ends of the spectrum, he was always respectful and willing to explore different ideas and perspectives. My heart goes out to his wife and his two boys. I am sure they are broken hearted. Ethan touched many lives and will be sorely missed by all who knew him. I pray that he is with Christ in heaven today. He is probably trying to talk Him into being a Michigan fan over an ND fan as I write this!

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    • drgrcevich says:

      Hi Ted,

      Thanks for your comments! It hit home for me last week when I realized I couldn’t dog Ethan anymore while Michigan was in the process of losing to Utah. He will be missed.

      Like

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