Death seems to have been a part of my life since I entered this world.
When I was born, my mother went into anaphylactic shock in response to some of the medicine they gave her and ended up in a coma. A few weeks later, as she lay there with no brain activity, my father had to make the gut-wrenching decision to take her off of life support. When I was 14 my mother’s sister died after a long bout with cancer. At around age sixteen, I lost my birth mom’s father to cancer, and just a month later my step-mom’s dad to ALS. And just a few years back I found myself racing against time as my car flew down a North Dakota highway at speeds better left unmentioned so I could say goodbye to my grandpa on my dad’s side. He had a brain-bleed and was unconscious; my dad’s voice cracked on the phone as he said “Come as soon as you can, he doesn’t have much time.”
It seems like death has followed me my entire life, and in reality it has. It follows each of us, a dark shadow over an otherwise pretty decent existence. One could say we are born dying, each day moving closer to our last breath. It’s an inevitability, something we can count on. What’s the old saying? Nothing is certain except death and taxes.
This last week, I and many of my friends - really, the entire Concordia University St. Paul community - have been reeling with the news that we lost one of our own. Devin McCauley, a 21 year old senior, so full of life, so vibrant and passionate and abundantly caring of every person he met, has died. He is gone. I’m still grappling with that fact. I guess the picture of irony is me writing this post when I really don’t have any words for this situation.
I keep thinking about Devin’s smile, his laugh (he had the man-giggle down pat), and how much care and compassion he had for his fellow humans. I keep thinking about how talented of a musician he was, how capable of a leader, and how much he loved Jesus. And I keep thinking about how, just like that, his life was snuffed out like a bright flame blown out by a cold and irreverent wind. My thoughts dwell on the future, next Fall, when students arrive on campus, and the fact that Devin won’t be joining them. I didn’t know him well enough, but I had the pleasure of having him as my roommate when we traveled to Nicaragua for 12 days on a mission trip and I like to think I got to know him pretty well. He was incredibly gifted, and a friend to everyone he met. I can’t really believe he’s dead.
It’s not fair. Not at all. It sucks. Maybe later we can talk about how he is with Jesus, at peace with the Savior. Maybe after we get done being selfish we can see that joy. But not right now. Right now it just sucks. 21 year olds aren’t supposed to die.
New mothers aren’t supposed to die in childbirth either.
My grandpa should never have had to bury two of his children.
When death happens, especially when it’s unexpected like this most recent tragedy, it feels like the entire world should stop. I found myself thinking that very thought when my first grandfather passed away, and I’ve felt it every time a death has happened in my life since then: why hasn’t the world haulted? Someone I care about isn’t here anymore.
Random thoughts like to invade the mind at times like this. What am I packing for lunch tomorrow? What shift do I work? Does the car need gas? What’s happening next week? It all seems so unimportant, and yet the world keeps turning all around us, ignoring the fact that something senseless and tragic has happened. It goes on as though this is just something that happens, so we should all get used to it.
It doesn’t seem fair that I survive rolling my car when I was fifteen, walking away without much more than a bruise and a scratched wrist, and yet one of my friends dies swimming in a pond. Fifteen year old boys who drive 95 miles and hour on icy North Dakota roads are tempting fate; but Minnesota summers are made for swimming. What is fair about that? What is normal? How are we supposed to get used to that?
There is a weightiness to death. It’s heavy, heavier than most anything in this world. It is so final and definite. And the continuously spinning world is right: it happens all the time. But I can’t bring myself to be okay with death. I can accept that people die, and I have accepted that my grandparents, my mother, and yes, even my friend are dead. There is nothing I can do to bring them back. But I refuse to be okay with death. I refuse to think of it as just another part of existence on this earth.
It was never supposed to be this way. I want to say that again: this was never the way it was intended to be. We were not meant for pain. We were not created to experience death and loss. This was never in the plan. God wanted life for us.
He still does. In fact, he wants life for us so much that He was willing to die so we can have it. He knew that we are incapable of living apart from Him, so he took it upon Himself to reconcile us to Him; he bought us back from death. It no longer has a hold on us.
Because of Jesus, death is not final. It’s not definite. Because of him, death is but a door we must all travel through until he comes again to eradicate it forever. Jesus has overcome death, and one day he will destroy it for good. We’ll never experience it again.
Devin knew that. My mom did as well, and my aunt and my grandfathers. They all lived their lives knowing that when death came, it was not the end. They knew that Jesus has freed them from that bond, and they had the hope of the resurrection, the assurance that they will live for eternity in peace.
We have that hope too. We have that assurance. I’ll meet my mom someday. My friends and I will see Devin again. Death is not the end for those who trust in Jesus, and one day we’ll live together again. And life will mean so much more then - it will be forever, and it will be without pain and suffering and loss. This is the truth that I cling to, that Devin clung to, and the truth that sets us free from this world.
I can’t explain why Devin died at such a young age. I’m not going to pretend to understand it, and I’m not going to say it was “part of God’s plan” because God never planned for us to experience this. The only thing I can do now is trust that God works for the good of those whom he loves in all things, even the tragedy of death.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. In this time of mourning, we grieve for the loss of Devin. We try to cope with the hole he left in our world (and what a large hole it is). So many lives were touched by him, and every single one of those lives were changed. It’s hard to come to terms with that loss, and we cannot cheapen the grief and pain we all feel. We cannot overlook how much time and community and how many tears it will take to heal.
But let us also fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1): the one in whom we trust to give us life again.
I’m looking to Jesus for comfort and healing. I am reminded of the old hymn - “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Christ is unchanging, and his love and his promise of life is unchanging. I’m going to fix my eyes on Jesus because he is the only life there is; because Devin did, and that means I’ll see him and that infectious smile again, and there won’t be a trace of pain in it. Praise be to God for that.
In the meantime, in the midst of this pain, may the peace of Christ which passes all human understanding guard our hearts and our minds until he comes again. Amen.