Dealing With Death

Facing death is never easy, but it seems especially potent when you are a teenager or young adult. When my friend Jeremy died at the age of 17, it took away my imagined immortality. At that age we all believed that we would live forever, that life was waiting for us and anything was possible. I hadn’t even reached the pivotal milestones of girlfriends, graduation, university, jobs, marriage or kids. You don’t think about dying when you are just starting to live.

I know this will sound bad, but after the car accident some of us were a little relieved because we believed it couldn’t happen again to any of us. At least not too soon. Jeremy became the sacrificial lamb that appeased the gods for a few more years at least. All of us thought, “Better him than me,” even if we didn’t say it. I lived with that for a long time.

It was interesting and frustrating to me how many “friends” Jeremy actually had after he died. I know he was a great guy and probably a shining example to everyone, but I didn’t think he had such a wide friendship circle. I mean, every single teenager at church and school claimed to be a best friend, a close friend or a friend. Maybe their own guilt or shock forced them to attach themselves to Jeremy’s memory and legacy. Everyone seems to want to be known as the friend of a dead person, but they were not always so willing to be friends with that person while he was alive.

I’m somewhat angry with Jeremy because now I don’t think that I will have a peaceful death when I am 95 or 76 or some ripe old age. You see, facing death as a teenager opened the possibility that any of us could have an accident, that I am not immune to a violent death. Every moment I live, I am conscious that I might not get cancer or heart disease or pneumonia or die of old age, but that I could crash, fall, explode or be involved in some random act of violence or terror. A cataclysmic death is something I see as a reality; I know it’s fatalistic and ridiculous, but it is embedded in my psyche. Sometimes I feel that if Jeremy could only explain what it was like to pass from life to death, that he could atone for they way his experience changed me. I can’t fathom that instant, and I never really thought about it until Jeremy died. Now it is one thing I can’t stop thinking about.

But who was he again? That is the other tragedy of death, that over time we heal but we also forget. For almost two years I thought about Jeremy every day, feeling guilty if I forgot until I went to bed. I even had dreams with him in them, but he was always running around a corner, leaving the room or driving off. I never really caught up with him again. He has faded from my life. He became a mist, a fragrance, a good idea I had before I fell asleep. He was here, and he left some imprint upon me, but I’m afraid I don’t recall exactly what it is anymore.

And that is my own fault and my own despair. For a while we all looked for the “good” that could come out of his death. We were “closer,” we took God more “seriously,” we determined that we would “take up Jeremy’s torch,” we were “challenged,” and we all determined to live a more intentional and passionate life. But it was Jeremy’s dad who made me rethink this after another friend died. He said that there is no sense in trying to convince a grieving person that their loss is worth the good that will come out of it. I know he doesn’t reject that good, in fact, did come out of Jeremy’s death, but rather understanding grief and death is much deeper than believing a cliché or searching for meaning. How do you find meaning in something so destructive and uncreative as death? You can only trust God for a better tomorrow.

So what have I done with my tomorrows? I relied so heavily on God and friends that it deepened my trust and faith in both, but since then I have grown cynical, and I have hurt God and hurt friends and lived even more selfishly than before he left. I know that I lived more passionately for Jesus than before, and I took more chances, and I am living more fully today than if I had continued living as before. But even that I question sometimes. Did it really take Jeremy’s death to bring me to life? I escaped, and he did not. Have I redeemed the time any better than he would have?

And yet in the midst of all of this grief, despair and pain, there is the power of hope. I did not understand hope until that moment. Hope of the resurrection became more than just a spiritual concept; it became something I longed for. I have the hope that indeed he and I and everyone who will die in Christ will rise in Him as well. This is the hope that I live with now, even though I don’t understand it. I am made for eternity, not as a liquid spirit but as a solid, beautiful creation of God.

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There is also the hope that even today Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is resurrecting in me the areas that died that day. He has promised to be life to me as I believe in Him. Though I still don’t understand what death will be like, I can’t say that I fear death as an enemy. It is now toothless and under submission to Christ. It has lost all victory over me. Every moment as I walk toward it, I see it shrinking back in fear. Death does not fear me but fears what Christ shall do in me as I pass from life to death to life again.

[Sheldon Armitage loves Jesus, his wife,hockey and life. He is currently helping to develop emerging leaders in Europe with Next Level International.]

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