Hi Charles,

I can’t remember having a one-on-one conversation with you prior to January 26, 2016 and I am sorry we didn’t get that opportunity. I have seen you and been around you in Young Adult Ministry, watching you play in the praise band, and in choir, but I guess we just never needed to talk to each other. I am sorry for that, but want to talk to you now.

Charles, since 1/27/16, the morning I found out you had passed, you have impacted my life a lot. I have done a lot of reflecting, uncovering, and wrestling with several aspects of life and death. I have realized I have a lot of fear. Prior to your passing, I thought I was invincible. I, thankfully, have not known many people that have died. Those few that did, were either old or sick. So I think, given that I am young and healthy, and that I haven’t had to witness a lot of death, it wasn’t something I had to think about and therefore, I removed myself from that topic. Since your accident, I have come to sadly realize that things like that could happen to anyone, even me. That since you weren’t invincible, I am not either. And that is so frightening. My fear of death is so strong and I have had to wrestle with why it is so and what (if anything) to do about it. You know, I avoided going north on I-95 past Lexington for about three months after your accident. I was just so aware that you had died there that I didn’t want to go past it. Even to this day, I am hyperaware if I have to go that way. I am also hyperaware if I am driving in the left lane. I look at the traffic on the other side. Typing this sounds so weird but I am sure I am not the only one who does this now. For some reason, because you were young and healthy, I can put myself in your position and death becomes real to me. It is hard to put myself in the shoes of someone afflicted with cancer or someone who is 90 years old. But because I can put myself in your shoes, and you died, death is so real now.

And my fear of death has become so real. This past year I have done a lot of thinking of why death is so scary to me. A lot of it has to do with FOMO – fear of missing out. My biggest fear is if Will died now and for our two sons to be missing out on him. Tyler is only two years old. If Will was to die, sure, Tyler might ask for “Dada” for a few weeks, but I think he would soon stop asking for him. And later on, he wouldn’t have any lasting memories of who his dad was. And that is extremely disturbing to me – I am tearing up right now thinking about it. My other fear relates to what you, Charles, are missing out on. You won’t get to experience marriage or your own children. I wrestle with that concept though, because like I just said, how hard it would have to be if your wife or children had to live the rest of their lives without you. So which is better? To miss out on worldly experiences or to have family and friends miss out on you?

More broadly, I have reflected a lot on heaven and earth. Heaven is supposed to be earth renewed. So why do I seem to elevate earth above heaven in desirability? Why do I want to not go there? Why does what heaven offers still not seem good enough to what earth has to offer? Marriage is a great gift to experience, but man, there are times that it sucks. Broken, sinful people trying to be selfless and serving? THAT IS TOUGH. So do I somehow idolize marriage or raising children? Do I hold these experiences to such a high regard that they are now more desirable than being with Christ? I think I do. So why? Why do I do that?

I don’t know the whole answer, I’m still figuring it out, but I think it starts with faith. I haven’t seen heaven or Christ and won’t in this earthly life. So I have to have faith that a) it/He exists and b) it/He is better than earth/humans. A recent sermon by Pastor Dave on heaven reminded me that “…to die is to gain.” Philippians 1:21. I just looked up the verse to get the reference and read the next few verses: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Even Paul was conflicted about being on earth or heaven.

Charles, I frequently think about you on Sundays. Something about being at church with God’s people, singing worship songs about God/joy/yearning to be with God, makes me think about you. I imagine you being in the actual physical presence of God, what you may be doing, or thinking, or seeing. I try to imagine that you are happy, exactly where you were destined to be. A couple of times, imagining that made me have happy tears. But most of the times, I have sad tears. I have seen your friends ache for the loss of you here. Having my own sons, I imagine the immense, indescribable pain and sorrow your parents must feel. I thought about you during the holidays, this being the first holidays where your family did not celebrate with you…how painful and empty that must have been. I guess this just shows how broken the world is – filled with death and sorrow and pain. All things that do not exist in heaven.

The last few months have been difficult yet healing. Being in choir this year was very healing for me. Knowing that I wasn’t in the choir last year, your last year, was sad for me. I watch the videos I took while I was in the audience and I can’t help but just stare at you, feeling that it is so surreal to see you alive, breathing, singing, knowing that in a few weeks after I took that video, you were gone. After the concert last year, I already knew I was going to try to be in it this year because I missed it so much. But at your funeral, we had already known we were pregnant, due in October (which is during rehearsals). I wasn’t sure if I could still do choir, but I just knew that I had to do my best to make it work so that I could be in choir especially because of you. I was hugely pregnant for the first two rehearsals, popped Darren out, missed that Sunday rehearsal, but was back 8 days post-partum. Brought Darren each week, nursed him during warm-ups, passed him around to fellow sops, used my breastpump during each intermission, but it was worth it to be back in choir. What made it so healing was being around a community that was so closely tied to you. Pastor Eugene shared about what an impact choir had on you and your faith. Several times, choir members shared about what choir meant to them in relation to you. We cried together, we shared stories together, we healed a little bit more together. We sang “I Need You to Survive” every Sunday and it got less and less sad to sing it. Not because I missed you any less, but because I felt more supported in my grief by the community around me. Being at Highrock Acton this past year, no one there really knew you, so they weren’t grieving. I felt alone so that’s why being at choir, surrounded by those that cared about you and those that you cared for was a welcome and safe place to be okay in my grief.

In November, I started meeting monthly with one of your closest friends, A. We cried a lot of ugly tears at B.Good over burgers, but we didn’t care who was watching. We have talked during the three meals we have had together about you, what we are learning about God/death/life/grief/joy, how we are learning to cope. I shared with her this past Saturday’s brunch that I wish I could thank you. It is sad to say that I thank you for dying, but it is that in your death that has taught me so much. Taught me about who God is, what I want my life to be about, revealed my fears. A big reason we named our son Darren DeHuan was because of you. He has become a tangible reflection of what you have taught me. After I shared this desire to want to thank you, A mentioned how amazing this statement is. She said that you wrestled a lot about whether your lifestory was significant; that how awesome it would be for you to know that your story is impacting me even though I didn’t really know you when you were here. Of course, we were both crying by now sitting at The Neighborhood Restaurant over pancakes. There was another part in Pastor Dave’s sermon that said how our life on earth is just the beginning of our eternal life – that what we do here is important and significant. Pastor Susan from HR Acton said in her sermon, “You are in a position to further God’s purposes.” And I realized during that brunch conversation that that is true about you, Charles. When you were alive, you had a significant impact on many of your friends, a few that we have mutually in common. And in your death, you have had an impact on me.

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Side-note: I have considered what it might look like to have a “living funeral.” [Copyright January 26, 2017, Katherine Shao’s “Shark Tank” idea.] I first heard of this idea from “The Fault in their Stars,” where the characters hold a funeral for their friend that is alive, but has terminal cancer. Charles, at your funeral, your friends and family shared their memories about you. They said precious words about what you meant to them. But you weren’t physically there to hear it.

I have wondered what it would mean if I had a living funeral, even if I don’t have a terminal illness. To have your friends and family, maybe even acquaintances or people that barely know you, come and tell you, what you have meant to them. And I don’t mean in some cocky, “everything is about me” type manner. It would just seem so special to hear what people notice about me, what I have done or said that people remember, how my story has impacted someone, and hear it all while I can actually physically hear. Silly stories, their favorite memory, a joke I said. I have received thank you notes, but there is something to be said about saying a heart-felt, “what if they are gone” speech to someone. A regular thank you note or quick affirmation (You’re a great friend; thanks for your help; you are so funny) just doesn’t seem to have the same weight. I honestly would love to hear how you have been impacted by me (for better or for worse – not all eulogies are gushing with positivity). I would love to hear not only the good, but the bad – what I could work on. How sad it would be if I was doing something harmful and never heard about it, but if someone had said something, I could use the next 5, 10, 40 years to work on it! When my grandfather passed this past summer, at his funeral with family, it was mentioned many times how hard he was on the grandchildren to get good grades. It was, of course, with good, loving intention, but it was difficult and stressful to feel that pressure. I don’t know how it would have actually looked like, but what if one of us was brave enough, or he had welcomed us, to verbally give this feedback. Maybe he would have paired the pressure to succeed with loving remarks, showing unconditional love no matter who we wanted to become or what we wanted to pursue. I would love the opportunity to welcome feedback on how to live out the rest of my days/years with an informed intentionality to love and care for those around me, whether close family members, fringe friends, or one-time acquaintances. And what if these living funerals happened every 10 years or so. What a gift it would be to see how time has evolved relationships, the different people that enter my life at various times, the growth people have seen in me. I shared with A about this idea and went ahead and gave her an off-the-cuff “eulogy.” I told her that when I contacted her back in November to meet up, that I initially thought I was doing her a favor by hanging out. But in actuality, she has done me a great favor by sharing honestly about her grief and pain. In the same vein of knowing that we “are in a position to further God’s purposes,” even in our current state of grief, God is still using us to reveal His plan and goodness to each other. I thanked her for her vulnerability with me in telling her stories of who Charles was and how he impacted her life. In doing so, I got to know Charles better. I shared with her how I wished it wasn’t so, but her pain helped me be honest about mine.

***

I wish I would have known you better, Charles, because if what you have taught me since you passed is any indication of what could have been, I am sorry I missed out. But I hope you read blogs in heaven because, Charles, I thank you for your life, earthly and eternal.

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