On November 6th , Logan opened his text book and froze when he saw her name written in her handwriting. She went to his school a few years before, took that class and wrote her name in that textbook. Just one week prior, we bade her farewell. The young woman who passed was Logan’s friend’s sister and she died way too soon and approximately 10 years after her older sister died of the same disease. In his life, my 15 year old has been to three funerals and two visitations and this year death stunned him twice when two young people he knew, both of whom attended his school, passed away. At the start of the summer a young girl who went to his school passed away on a popular high school graduate trip. She was quite unwell with flu-like symptoms and whether due to dehydration or a combination of her symptoms, she stopped breathing, her heart stopped and she died. She died when her adult life was on the eve of being born.
At 15, when someone young like you dies, it pauses life as you know it. To a young person, the death of a peer means a suddenly discontinued Snapchat streak, no more Instagram posts ever and tons of comments and likes the person will never see and though their social media accounts can still be seen by all, they hang there, inactive and heavy. Images live on in social media but the lack of activity is a haunting reminder that they were deleted from life and it is unfair and shocking and hard for young people to understand. Young people are supposed to feel invincible. They are supposed to have big dreams and plans and send snaps and post selfies on Instagram and have hissy fits about unimportant things. They are supposed to try and convince their parents to let them do stuff and go places. They are supposed to argue, slam a door in frustration, eat all the food in the house, always need a ride and when they finally get their license, always need to borrow your car. They are supposed to try and fail and achieve awesome things that make parents and teachers and coaches proud. They are supposed to find everything embarrassing. They are supposed to be awkward, be curious, push their boundaries, test our patience and become socially active. What they aren’t supposed to do is get terrible diseases and die. They aren’t supposed to go on a vacation and return in a casket. Death should only be for the very old – but it isn’t and as a parent it pains me to see another parent lay their baby to rest. I have no idea how one moves on from the death of a child and I hope I never have to deal with that. I have dealt with a lot in my life but I fear losing my children is beyond my strength.
The day after the funeral, I learned my school friend also put her baby to rest. She is a woman of great faith and she has weathered many storms. Her husband passed in their younger years, she found the strength to raise her kids on her own and if that was not enough, the disease took her baby boy as well. What is amazing to me is the strength and acceptance in these people who did the unimaginable. From my friend’s posts, I felt a strong serenity within her. There was a feeling of gratitude for having been blessed with her son and to have been a part of his wonderful yet short life. From her posts I learned of the kind soul he was and that he had a wife and a son and another little angel on the way whom he would never meet. What I would ordinarily view as sadness I saw as blessings, gifts and hope because of my friend’s disposition regarding the situation. So much loss was interpreted by her as an abundance of blessings for which she was extremely grateful. Then I remembered watching the moments of the funeral I attended with Logan. I heard of all the wonderful things this young woman accomplished in 20 years. I remembered all the photos of her having fun, doing gymnastics, singing and she was laughing in ever single photo. I was so in awe of her boyfriend who played the guitar and sang about 4 hymns at her funeral and then he sang the hymn after communion which was in essence a song about how much he loved her. At just 20, this young man showed more character and strength than men twice his age and I was honoured to have the opportunity to witness him in his moment, albeit a moment of grief. The moment that grabbed hold of my heart and squeezed it was watching Logan’s friend’s dad carry his baby girl’s urn in his hands. Eyes red-rimmed, he still had that face – that pleasant, happy face, with that sweet grin. I saw his pain as he walked past the pew I was in, holding the small box that contained his baby’s ashes – holding it almost like he did the day he brought her home for the first time, I would imagine – he held her in his hands and he tried to make the lyrics to the recessional “Lord of the Dance”, escape his lips.
Young people, young parents and young spouses should never die. Dying should be for the very, very old. Eyes should only shut forever when they have seen many, many, many years. Minds should shut down only after they have passed on wisdom to countless others. Hands should cease to create only after we have built sturdy kingdoms and only after we have molded and shaped the lives of many. Feet should cease to carry us and only after we have walked millions and millions of miles that justify our weariness and need for rest. We should all have long, eventful journeys but life isn’t always generous. However, life is truly how we live it and what we do with out time. Life is directed by the choices we make in the situations presented to us. The journey can be eventful, rewarding and happy no matter how long it is. I learned that at the funeral and I learned that by my friend’s disposition over her loss and I learned that in all that was said about the young lady who died just after her graduation. There was such a sense of peace within the families. Such acceptance and gratitude because they saw their children’s lives as a gift, a celebration and a blessing they were fortunate to be a part of. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the loss of these young people and I can’t understand why one family had to go through this twice with both their girls but I did come away with something that helps me accept the harsh truth of death in lives so young. The priest concluded tearfully but with a smile on his face that some lives are just more concentrated than others and it is when the young die, we realize this because the young live like they are invincible. The young approach life with energy and a sense of hope and fun. Young people live like there is no tomorrow and they are busy filling the hours in their days with things that are important to them. As we get older, sometimes that youthful thing that allows us to live like each day is our last, changes somehow and sometimes we waste our hours on the things that bring us no joy – things that dilute our lives. I think the young are on to something golden because there is much positive to be said about a concentrated life.
Logan was glad that he randomly got that textbook and not his friend because as he said, if it was hard for him to see her name, it may have been devastating for her brother. I agreed with him to an extent but I also told him that her name written by her hand in that text book will be there forever and if indeed his brother does see it one day, it may sting a little from the pain of losing her but I also think it will make him smile and bring him peace, knowing that when you leave your mark on this world, no matter how small, you are present forever and you never truly die.
So while fully understanding and respecting the phrase, I choose not to say “rest in peace” to these youngsters but “may your soul live on”. May your names be revealed to other students in the text books you used. May your name appear etched in trophies and banners in display cases in the arenas and gyms in which you competed. May you be visible always to your friends and teachers in the class photos you took in school and may all the smart, quirky, crazy, admirable and goofy things you said and did be vivid memories for those who knew you and loved you, for this is how the essence of who you are lives FOREVER.
The pain and suffering of illness is over. Death is the pause between the physical life you had and the eternal life of your soul. There is no permanent end, therefore there is no death – only life.