He was eighteen. He was just eighteen. He was outgoing and generous, an athlete, a scholar and a volunteer. He could have been my child, my student, my neighbor. He was someone’s child, student, neighbor. And he was my daughter’s friend.
When the news flew over social media of the senseless accident that had killed Chris, the anguish I saw in my daughter’s face was profound. “How could he be gone?” she said in disbelief, remembering shared smoothies with their friends, endless card games and hours of volunteering. “He was just here.”
There were no answers I could give for this shocking loss, no comfort other than endless consoling and a presence to listen. At the memorial, some comfort, she said, came from seeing a photo of Chris with a cross around his neck, convincing herself that he must be in Heaven, though the image of a strong, healthy eighteen-year-old in Heaven was almost impossible to comprehend. Even the hope that he was at peace could not ease all the grief. Never before had she faced such a tragedy. At four, she barely remembered her grandfather’s funeral, and when her great aunt passed away last year, her death at eighty-eight seemed somehow easier to accept. But eighteen? He was not ready, everyone said. Or was he?
She was ninety-one. She was a steadfast ninety-one. She savored a good lobster roll and treasured her sunflowers. She was a loving wife, patient grandma, dedicated choir member – and my good friend’s mother. When her body and mind waned irreparably, she surrendered them in her usual quiet manner. The family undeniably grieved, but she was ready, my friend said, having had her fill of all life could offer: the joys of marriage and children, the fulfillment of gratifying work, the abundance of pleasures and sorrows that naturally encompass close to a century of living. The news that Theresa had died came just hours after the news about Chris, but our reactions were as different as the people themselves – and their deaths.
Two lives, well-lived and well-loved. While we accepted one passing with understanding, we struggled to process the other. With Theresa’s came a sense of peace; with Chris’ a sense of devastation. As I sat at Theresa’s funeral, her pastor consoled the family by recounting her great strength throughout the many challenges of her life, reminding them how that strength came from her love of God who now welcomed her home.
And, I realized, Chris had been welcomed home too, though it appeared to us all that he was not “ready” in the sense that Theresa supposedly was. How are we ready? I wondered. When are we ready? Will we be ready when God chooses to welcome each of us home too? Though a teenager tragically taken as his life is just beginning lives a far shorter time than an elderly grandmother submitting to dementia, is one any less ready than the other? And how can anyone make that determination when it’s God’s choice to call us when He alone decides? As Catholics, while we enjoy our own smoothies and card games, lobster rolls and sunflowers, we keep God at the forefront of it all, guiding us to our own readiness and helping us to become worthy of His call, whenever it may come.
As the choir eased the congregation from Theresa’s funeral with the lyrics “Be not afraid, I go before you always, Come, follow me…,” I was reminded of the similar message from Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In that moment, I sensed that both Chris and Theresa had found their rest. Eighteen. Ninety-one. Two lives, well-lived and well-loved who both heard a call from God to come, follow Him.