standards, it wasn’t much of a life. The average life
expectancy for an American male is 74, Keith William
Watson III died at 58 days.
What parents wouldn’t feel cheated? Yet the parents of
Keith Watson feel blessed.
Two years after his death, they rave about their
relationship with their son – even though it consisted
mainly of gripping one of their fingers with his tiny
hand. They trot out his baby pictures and smile – even
though he spent his entire life on a respirator.
All the pictures taken after Keith turned 5 – days –
show a gigantic seam down the front of his little body
where the surgeons went in to try to repair his
defective heart. The pictures show a fuzzy bunny with a
green bow next to the plastic tubes.
“He had a great life,” said his father, Keith Watson II.
What is going on here? Such is the power of faith.
The faith of this couple from Franklin Township in
southern Summit County didn’t move mountains. But it did
This is a story about a handful of people who came
together by happenstance and soon interacted in a way
that just might make your day. Keith Watson III was born
with a rare condition known as HLHS, in which the left
side of the heart is underdeveloped. About 80 percent of
the time, it can be cured through a series of three
operations. But Keith’s body could only stand one
surgery and it surrendered on Sept. 1, 2000.
money for marker
At the time, money was tight. It was so tight that the
Watsons couldn’t afford to buy a marker for their son’s
grave at Manchester Cemetery , just down the street from
They started saving for one, but money got even tighter
in May when Keith II was laid off by an Akron
electronics company. That didn’t mean Keith III was
forgotten. No even close. His mother, Christina, would
stop by the cemetery several times a week to tend his
unmarked grave. She would do some housekeeping and do
She’d pay for strength. She’d pray for her family.
Sometimes, she’d pray that, someday, she and her husband
would be able to give their child a suitable marker.
One weekday this summer was typical. Chris was pulling
weeds around her son’s plot and watering a little
flower. But on this particular day, a man named Ken
Freeman was nearby, laying a foundation for a monument
at another grave.
Out of the corner of his eye, Freeman watched in
amazement as this unknown woman lavished care on an
unmarked grave. The image was burned into his brain. And
when he went home that night, he told his wife, Barbara,
that he hoped something could be done.
Barbara Freeman knew exactly what to do. She works for
Summit Memorials, an Akron company that makes
gravestones. The next day, she asked the company’s
owner, Ken Noon, whether he would donate a stone. He
But first, they had to find out the woman’s identity. A
fellow at the cemetery didn’t know, but he contacted the
funeral home, and they put things together. Word was
sent to the Watsons that a headstone was theirs for the
Couple used to giving
The Watsons were thrilled, but a bit sheepish. After
all, they weren’t accustomed to taking things from
strangers. They were more accustomed to giving. Chris
spent two years as a missionary in Japan. Armed with an
education from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, she
went abroad to teach English and the Bible. Chris and
Keith serve in the youth ministry at Calvary Bible
Church. But this was literally an answer to their
When they arrived at Summit Memorial, they were
expecting a little marker. Instead they were shown a
large black-granite stone. They provided their son’s
name and dates. When asked if there was anything else,
they brought out a poem. When pushed more, they
mentioned how their son used to grip their finger.
Chris Watson wanted to show them a photo of her son, so
she pulled out a copy of a small program that was handed
out at the memorial service. On the cover was a detailed
drawing of a fuzzy bunny with a green bow, just like the
one Keith had in the hospital. The bunny was sitting up
with one paw raised, waving goodbye. A tear was falling
from his left eye. That, too, was added to the stone.
Barbara Freeman plays down the company’s monetary
sacrifice, saying an identical monument sold to someone
off the street would cost less than $1000. But to the
Watsons, the gesture felt exactly like a gift from
“They gave us the best of everything – their attention,
their materials, their craft,” said Keith II.
The Watsons said their faith never wavered during their
son’s struggle. From the moment they heard about the
potential problem, when she was 20 weeks pregnant, they
knew things were out of their hands.
Right after an ultrasound detected the condition, said
Keith, “we sat alone. We cried. And then we started to
pray. We just realized that God wasn’t worried, and God
wasn’t surprised at what was happening. If we believe
that, and we believe God loves and cares for us, then we
didn’t have to be worried or surprised.”
Mind you, it wasn’t easy. It was horrible. They spent
eight solid weeks by Keith’s bedside at the Cleveland
Clinic, leaving only long enough to grab a few hours of
sleep at the nearby Ronald McDonald House.
Still, said his dad, “we saw a lot of good things happen
because of Keith’s life. A lot of people were touched by
how he lived and how our family and friends took care of
us through that. We think the whole ordeal was a great
witness for Christ.”
There’s another Watson on scene now: Seth William
Watson, born 385 days after the death of his brother.
His parents say his name means “the Lord has replaced”
or “the Lord has appointed.”
Seth bops around the living room of the family’s small
Cape Cod, dancing and jabbering like a bright, healthy
15-month-old. He picks up a toy, and Frosty the Snowman
plays. He picks up another, and Big Bird talks.
The fuzzy bunny with the green bow is Seth’s now. It’s a
very special critter. But Seth is generous enough to
offer it up for a visitor’s inspection.
His brother’s headstone was put in place in October. It
stands toward the rear of the cemetery, facing west, and
is visible from a long way off. Near it are markers for
three Manchester infants who died after only one or two
days of life.
As the centuries pass, the little hand and the crying
bunny that were sandblasted by a caring craftsman will
gradually vanish, sandblasted by the winds of time.
But for now, the world will know that Keith Watson III
was here, and that Keith Watson III was loved. Not that
there was ever any doubt.