BELOIT — They knew it could happen at any moment, but that didn’t take away pain felt by those who loved him when Eric Lindberg died suddenly on Feb. 13 at the age of 25.
On Feb. 11, he was on his way back from a procedure in Madison. His pain was getting increasingly worse, so his wife, Lizzie Lindberg, encouraged him to go to the hospital.
His health issues quickly escalated. Doctors at Beloit Memorial Hospital learned he was bleeding internally due to a complication from an earlier procedure.
It was decided that he would be med-flighted to Madison. His heart stopped three times during his trip, and doctors performed CPR to get his heart started again each time. Eric was rushed into surgery, after his heart was restarted a third time. During the hours-long procedure, Lizzie and Eric’s loved ones were preparing themselves for an emotional recovery period.
Unfortunately, Eric wouldn’t be able to recover. He was declared brain dead that Saturday afternoon.
Some of Eric’s organs were able to be donated, in line with his wishes. He was then taken off of life support.
Surrounded by loved ones, Lizzie said Eric made his journey home to his God in heaven — something that means everything to Lizzie following the tragedy, she said.
For almost two years, Eric was the youth pastor at Rock Valley Chapel. In that short time, however, he had a deep impact.
“Three youths came to know Jesus as their savior during his ministry, which is huge. That’s a very significant portion because we’re not a large church,” said Rock Valley Chapel Pastor Tim Johnson. “Eric taught The Bible well. He discipled these kids one on one; he would take them to lunch or coffee to make sure they understood the Gospel.”
Jessica Lynes, administrative assistant at Rock Valley Chapel, came to know Eric better over the summer when they were painting inside the church. She said the two became friends and she was able to see the positive impact that he had on her own three teenagers.
“All the kids could sit down and talk about anything,” she said, including parents, relationships, movies, music, school and even tattoos and piercings. As a single mom, she said she often would turn to Eric for advice on her daughters.
Lizzie said Eric loved to help others and told her repeatedly that God had called him to be a youth pastor. She fully realized this when she saw him working with youth at their first youth ministry lock-in together.
“He just thrived with the kids and enjoyed being with him and talking with him,” she said. “He had this passion for the kids and sharing Jesus with them ... That somebody can want to do something in their life that much and with that much vigor just really struck me.”
Volunteer youth worker Jason DeZwarte, who worked with the youth group for many years, recalled Eric as an “awesome, unbelievable” person. He said when Eric came into the room, you knew it.
“He was able to just relate some things ... He had this ability to read a passage of the Bible and make it relevant to today and making it relevant for teenagers,” he said.
Ethan McCully, 16, and a member of the youth group, remembers Eric as one of his best friends — and a total goofball. He was always cracking jokes to make others laugh, but would also take the time to talk with each of the members of the youth group one on one.
“He was my mentor so we’d meet once every three months or so and go out for lunch,” McCully said. “He would ask me how I’m doing and growing and help guide me through it.”
Bri Lynes, 12, also a member of the youth group, recalled how much fun it was when the youth group met on Wednesdays: the games they played, the talks he gave, and his love for crazy socks.
“He had this sock blog and I found that funny,” she said. “He was a really great guy altogether.”
Aaron Andries, worship leader for Rock Valley Chapel, said he recently got to know Eric better because of their mutual interest in music, movies and crazy socks. He said he remembers Eric as “very passionate and exuberant.”
“He was extremely smart and knew about a lot of different topic areas,” Andries said. “I think the things he was passionate about, he poured himself into those things.”
Eric was also a caring father and a loving, devoted husband.
When reflecting back on how she came to fall in love with her husband, Lizzie recalled a time when they were in college and he wanted to treat her to a special night out.
“He was was extremely romantic,” she said with a smile, recalling a night when he wanted to take her out. “I said, ‘We have no money, and there’s no special occasion and I have a lot to do. I’m not dressed very nicely ... And he said, ‘Well I think you look beautiful, and there’s nothing more important than what we have right now ... I want to take you to Red Lobster. So, I’m going. If you don’t come then I will be sad, but I’m going anyway.’ So I decided to go with him.”
As a father, he would insist on taking both his sons at the end of the work day so Lizzie could have time for herself. He always made sure to spend time with his children as often as he could.
Lizzie said her husband would do small things for their children. Bingham, 2 1/2, loved trucks. So Eric would take the pair to McDonald’s and get something to drink (water only for young Bingham, of course) and they would sit in the parking lot of WalMart to look at trucks — much to Bingham’s delight.
Eric also loved to tickle young William, who will be 1 on May 3, mostly in his armpits and on his tummy. She said little William would giggle like crazy and grin with a smile that was his father’s smile. Lizzie recalled how Eric would help with young William in the middle of the night, too, when William needed to be breastfed.
“He would get up and bring him (William) to me. He was so very involved,” Lizzie said. “Babies need that physical touch and Eric really provided that.”
And, Lizzie added, he was never short on stories about his boys.
“He would never say anything that would embarrass them and he wouldn’t tell about gross things,” she said. “It was so obvious about his love for his kids. He was so excited about things he wanted to do with them.”
Eric’s tendency to be spontaneous at times intersected with his need and desire to care for those around him -- even if he didn’t know them. Lizzie admitted it was sometimes hard to handle last-minute date cancellations, but she grew to understand and love his compassion to help others in need, whether it was a roommate or someone on the street.
“Whenever there was somebody that was struggling, that was more important to him than accomplishing whatever he had planned for the day,” she recalled.
She said he often wore a shirt that said ‘Free Prayer’ on it because he wanted to pray with people.
“We’d be walking and somebody would look like they were hurting and he’d stop them and say, ‘I feel like I need to pray with you today,’” she recalled.
Born with a serious but rare heart defect called Transposition of the Great Arteries in which the two major vessels that carry blood away from the heart — the aorta and the pulmonary artery — are switched, Eric was something of a walking miracle, Lizzie said. When Eric was a baby, doctors performed what is called a Fontan procedure on his heart, Lizzie explained, which was a diagnostic procedure in anticipation of further corrective surgery later.
Doctors were hoping he would never have to undergo surgery after the corrective one he had as a baby. Recently, however, it was discovered that they would need to perform another surgery. This was when Eric returned to the doctors to get the catheterization procedure done in Madison.
Lynes said this prevented him from being too active or join any sports, but it didn’t stop him from treasuring each and every day.
“He didn’t let his heart condition hold him back,” she said. “His body would tell him when to stop, and not to give up on any of the life he wanted to have.”
Andries said the churchgoers are handling Eric’s death as well as they are able, given the abruptness.
“I’ve been really blessed to see our Church as a body has clung onto what we believe and kept our faith in Jesus,” Andries said. “There’s definitely a heaviness and some mourning, but there was a quiet resolve through the whole congregation to rally together to help Lizzie and her boys. We’ve come together and asked the hard questions that need to be asked, to process things together as a church. It’s cool to see in the midst of great tragedy how we all came together and support each other.”
Lizzie is working to adjust to life without her partner, she said. She decided to move back home to Minnesota to get help from her family with her two young sons.
In the process, what she found was most certainly a blessing: Notes, or drafts of them, that Eric wrote to her over the years.
“Sometimes I would criticize him that I felt like he didn’t write to me enough because that’s how I feel loved,” she said with a broad smile. “He gave some of (the notes) to me or he would practice, so I found the rough drafts.”
She continues to read The Bible in storybook version with her sons, to carry on what her husband also loved to do each night. She said she struggles with the loss often at night.
“We prayed every night before we fell asleep,” she said tearing up. “I still miss that.”
Still, she knows he is in a good place. She said it is his greatest reward to be in heaven with God, praising him.
“Generally when I’m reading The Scripture I can hear him saying it to me,” she said. “My solace comes from while he was living, encouraging me and telling me about the truth (Scripture), and I can hold onto that.”
Lizzie is moving back in with her family until she can get back on her feet. For those who want to help financially, follow the link http://www.plumfund.com/fundraising/support-the-lindbergs.
In this undated photo, Eric Lindberg speaks to the congregation at Rock Valley Chapel. Lindberg, the youth pastor for the church, suddenly passed away Feb. 13 at the age of 25, leaving behind a legacy in the youth ministry.
Members of the Rock Valley Chapel youth group pose for a photo with Jason DeZwarte, a volunteer youth worker, who has taken over the duties of the youth pastor after the previous Pastor, Eric Lindberg, suddenly passed away on Feb. 13 at the age of 25. Lindberg painted the room over the summer to help revamp and brighten up the room for the students.
In this October 2015 photo, Eric Lindberg and his wife Lizzie read with their two sons Bingham (left) and William.
In this photo, Lizzie and Eric Lindberg pose for a photo on their wedding day.