(I wrote this in 2009 when my precious nephew died. I’m still learning the lessons I describe…probably will for the rest of my days.)
Recently a pop star/icon/music legend died. Perhaps you may have heard about it. Over and over I heard people expressing their grief and insisting that he “died too soon.” I think I understand what they were thinking. Twenty years ago my father died. He was only fifty-three. I knew then that was young-ish. Now that I am fifty-two I know just how young that really was.
Yesterday my nephew died from injuries sustained from a fifty foot fall. He was fifteen. That, my friends, is too young. There are some things about this I am not able to wrap my brain around, but here’s what I have pulled out of this mess.
Most importantly, life is brief. Live it. Don’t wait for something to come along to begin to do what you love. Growing up I heard this from my mom. She would tell us, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” Her use of this phrase typically referred to some unpleasant job, like cleaning our room, that we didn’t want to do. It’s equally good advice for the things we want to do or feel passionate about. Isn’t that how Jake was? At fifteen, he had crammed a lot of living in.
Laugh often. Jake was an imp. I can’t count the many times Julie told me how he made her laugh. There is enough sorrow and pain in this world, but not near enough laughter. It is natural for us to be sad at times, but we don’t have to trade in our laughter and carry around sorrow for forever. Who would be the first person to try and make us laugh at a time like this? Take his cue.
Love Jesus. Julie shared how Jake was feeling that God was calling him to something. At fifteen he was open to do whatever God asked. He didn’t know what it was, but he was going to be ready when the call came. I was told during this week at camp he even had opportunity to lead someone to a personal relationship with the Savior he loved and served. There’s a Christian cliché that says, “Your life may be the only Bible some may ever read.” For me, the page that has Jake on it says, “You can love Jesus. You can trust Him, even when you don’t have all the answers.”
Jake’s life ended while he was doing something he enjoyed, with people he liked, in a setting that was beautiful, aware of the God who created and loved him. Some will ask where God was and is in all of this. God’s voice was in the voice of the counselor who told Jake to be careful and stay on the path. Perhaps he wasn’t listening as closely as he should have. Perhaps he was traveling too close to the edge. We can all relate to that. We’ve all strayed off the path and paid consequences we didn’t count on. I guess that’s the next point. Listen. We need to make sure that we’re tuned in and listening. There’s so much that God wants to say to us if we’ll just quit talking long enough and listen.
Learn. Jake was learning about this magical world of photography. Someone close to Jake felt bad for “teaching” him what he knew. That needs to stop; because if hadn’t been photography, it would have been something else. I remember when Jake was little and into soccer, he had this thing he put around his waist that had a soccer ball attached so he could practice soccer. He always wanted to be better. Learning opens us up to living. So whether we’re fifty or fifteen, or somewhere in between, we need to keep learning—to keep growing, to keep living.
Lean. Sometimes when tragedy hits we have the tendency to pull away and lick our wounds and ask our questions alone. This is not the time for that. It is the time to lean in on each other. When my dad died, he died at home with hospice. Those of us at the house were remembering things about Dad and amid our tears there were funny stories that brought laughter. I noticed that the hospice worker had written in her notes: “Family remembering appropriately.” That night my brother, sister, and I sang together. It was a good time of leaning. As family and friends we have to get better at leaning on one another. I know life can be hectic and full—but let’s not let it crowd out the opportunities to come tighter and draw strength and encouragement from one another.
Yes, he was gone too soon, but he will never really ever be gone, if we learn the lessons from his life. In that way we will keep him alive and let his life make an even greater impact.