I’ve been thinking about life and death quite a lot lately. Not because I took a chunk out of the end of my finger by grabbing the wrong end of a razor blade. And not because I dropped a chair on my foot an hour later. And not because there’s anything wrong with me at the moment. But because in a moment it can all change.
It did for our friend, Brad.
When we were about 29, a 19 year old Brad showed up at Florida College as a lively, fresh-faced freshman. Early on in his college career, FC sponsored a song writing contest. I’m pretty sure the prizes were things like Dinner for 2 at the Pouch or $25 off your book fees for the semester. But among the prizes was recording your song in a professional studio with a professional dude. Guess who that dude was and where the studio was? Todd. My garage. Next stop, Hollywood.
Todd is forever getting roped into things because he is technical, musical, and both combined. He’s good at everything and before we had children, he had time for all of that. When Brad walked into our house as the winner of that contest, Todd thought he was just fulfilling a promise to Florida College. What he discovered was that he was the real winner. Because through that single exchange, he gained a lifelong friend. A fellow music nerd who liked to write music, sing, play, jam and laugh. (They both liked the Bee Gees and NO ONE likes the Bee Gees. Sheesh. Sing in your real voice, Barry. Come on.) They became fast friends, in spite of the 10 year age difference. And I became chopped liver.
I don’t remember minding.
But I also didn’t hang around much when they were talking shop. It was their thing and it was a good thing. Brad would be over often late into the night. When the music stopped, the talking would start. Sometimes the conversations were deeply spiritual and they would solve the problems of the church and the entire free world. Sometimes the activity would rise out of sheer hunger and the raiding of the pantry would degenerate into the mixing of cereals to try to create the perfect breakfast food. They laughed a lot at the one named “From Kashi.” Who names a cereal “From Kashi?” I mean, Kashi…ok. But FROM Kashi? Take 5-7 extra minutes around that conference table and come up with something just a tad catchier. Something that sounds less like tree bark.
After college, Brad took up life and family and career in Texas. He kept in touch about as much as anyone does who has kids and work and busyness. We didn’t keep in touch as much as we should have. We certainly wish we had talked more now.
Brad died in his home on Saturday, May 21 of flu-like symptoms. He hadn’t felt well in almost a week, but hadn’t been to a doctor. I don’t see a doctor when I get a virus either. I wait it out. We wait to get better. But he didn’t get better. He passed out and that was that. He was 35.
Since that Saturday and since finding out shortly after it happened, Todd and I have grieved over this loss and observed those closest to Brad grieving a sorrow that I can’t even touch. He has left grandparents, parents, sister, wife, 7-yr-old son, 14-month-old baby daughter, good friends, and co-workers behind to wonder what happened. But what they wonder most is how do we go on? How can we make it? How do you fill a gaping Brad-shaped hole with anyone or anything but Brad?
I struggle to wrap my mind around a grief this intense.
What do we do for those who sorrow? What do we say? How do we help?
I’m not always sure. I’m careful about it, because the last thing I want to do is make a person feel worse. And I do think that’s possible. I’ve watched it happen more than once.
When someone dies, I see people post comments on social media like this:
“Heaven must have needed him more than we did…”
“Our loss is Heaven’s gain.”
There are 100 variations on the same sentiment.
But then I saw this one the other day.
What? I am completely stunned by this concept. Are we seriously saying that God kills good young people but leaves the rest of us here to age like the ugliest, “worst” flowers? Where is that taught in the bible? And how is that comforting, exactly? I mean, I can see a kid asking his father why the best people die? But the answer to that question should have been that ALL people die. Why people die young, I don’t know. It’s an imperfect world and we have decaying, temporary bodies. Things happen. Time and chance happen to us all. We die. The good people who die young are grieved more and differently than good people who are elderly because their time was clearly cut short. Their purpose of being a young husband, father, son, or friend has not been fulfilled. Their job isn’t done. But I don’t think the bible teaches God is sitting in Heaven with a grabby hand and angel wings, plucking the good people off the earth so he can put them to work in front of the pearly gates.
But hey…who’m I to say I even know? And that’s the thing. I DON’T know. Nobody does. And if my husband or child dies long before old age takes them (please no, please no), don’t comfort me by telling me it was meant to be or God’s plan that I should lose my loves too soon. I think that would just make me angry. And it wouldn’t help me at all. What that would do for me is cause me to question God’s intent. As if God had chosen to DO that to me. In an hour of grief, I will need to trust God with even my broken heart.
I know people mean well. I know the concept is that we are saying that Brad is so amazing that now he is an angel. We like to think of our loved ones watching over us here. Maybe they are. Or maybe they are actually resting in peace. Whether they can see our every move or not, God can. And God is watching and caring and hearing and helping. He’s got this. He’s got ALL of this. Every grief. Every sick stomach. Every unspoken word. Every uncontrollable sob. Every desperate thought. Every sleepless night. He has GOT it. If we let Him.
So what I would say to Brad’s family is this: I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s a huge loss. He was amazing. He was kind, funny, considerate, thoughtful, hard-working, spiritual, dedicated, and diligent. He was a bright light. He would never have chosen to go home early. But he did. And we’ll go home someday too. Until then, shine your light a little brighter. Shine it for Brad. Shine it for Jesus. Shine.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-12 ESV http://bible.com/59/ecc.3.1-12.esv