death

Exit 246. A memorial service for someone I didn’t know.

Today I attended a memorial service for someone I didn’t know.

Now, before you get creeped out, this isn’t some story about wedding crashing, except for funerals instead.  Do people do that?  It seems wrong.

The deceased was my pastor’s father.  I knew him in the sense that I saw him at church every week.  He wasn’t a stranger.  I said hi to him every week, and we exchanged pleasantries.

But at the service today, looking at pictures of him in childhood, in the Army, at his wedding, and with family, I realized that I never knew who he really was.  I only met him a couple years ago, late in his life, after Alzheimer’s disease had greatly affected his mind and his personality.

Please don’t wait until it’s too late to spend time with your loved ones and tell them how you feel.  Get to know the people around you before it’s too late.  I know there was nothing I could have done differently in this situation; it isn’t like I knew at some point in the past that there would be a man out there somewhere who would become part of my life later on, but he would have Alzheimer’s before I would meet him unless I did something about it.  I don’t have a time machine.

All of this kind of sounds like a cliche.  But it’s true.  And this isn’t the first time that someone passed before I got a chance to really know him, and that other time I could have done something about it.  In that case, it was someone I knew from dancing, who was well known in many of the partner dance communities in the area.  He was an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting in 2012, and no suspect was ever caught, as far as I know.  We were acquaintances and surface-level friends, but I didn’t know him well.  Part of this was because his lifestyle was very different from mine.  Part of this was because another much closer friend of mine had a falling out with this guy before I knew either one of them, so I had heard stories about that guy colored by that perspective.  At his memorial service, I heard a lot of stories from people who had known him better than I had, and I realized that there were many sides to this man that I never knew or would have expected.

Of course, it’s hard to get to know everyone.  There are many people I cross paths with every day.  Some of them are toxic personalities that I’m better off not being in regular contact with.  But maybe there is someone out there whom I need to reach out to before it’s too late.  And maybe there’s someone like that for you too.  Until then, I can know that my pastor’s father is with Jesus, and someday I’ll see him again and get to know who he really is.

Exit 223. I can learn something from the way that they lived their lives.

Death.  Never an easy topic to discuss.

Comic book writer Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and many other superheroes, died a couple weeks ago.  I recently saw the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the true story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen.  Freddie was only 45 when he died, and yesterday was the anniversary of Freddie’s passing in 1991.  My pastor knows another pastor in the same denomination whose toddler granddaughter recently died unexpectedly and suddenly.  And, hitting closer to home, a friend from the church I went to when I first moved here lost his battle with cancer this weekend.  He was only 30; he was in the college group at church when I first started going there, and his older brother was one of my first friends when I moved here.

I feel especially bad because this guy and I had kind of grown apart.  We didn’t argue or have a falling-out or anything like that; we just grew apart from natural causes as life took us in different directions.  The same thing happened with me and his brother, who no longer lives in California.  I’ve grown apart from a lot of people over the course of my life, and I’ve always told myself that no one is in the wrong here, that growing apart is just a natural part of life.  But now I have to accept the fact that it had been well over a year since I had seen him face to face and now I won’t get to see him again.

Death also always makes me wish I had known people better in their lifetimes.  Like I said, my deceased friend and I didn’t really run in the same circles anymore.  Similarly, at the memorial service for another acquaintance who died unexpectedly in 2012, I learned all kinds of things about him that I never would have expected.  And, as I have written before, I didn’t really discover Queen’s music until the months just after Freddie Mercury’s death.  But I can still appreciate everything and everyone in my life now, because I never know what will happen in the future.

And I can learn something from those who pass away and the way that they lived their lives.  In the case of my friend who had cancer, he was one of the nicest people anyone would ever meet, being kind to all of those around him and committed to knowing God and living for him.  And that is something we can all learn from.