She was only 44. That’s when the brain tumor finally took Heidi’s life. Heidi was an amazing person. I know many people say that when a loved one passes away, but she really was. Heidi was a doctor, an accomplished violinist, and often led the charge in organizing events to help the homeless or other people in need. She had a zest for living life to the fullest, and had several remarkable adventures in her short time here on earth. It was her kindness and compassion that really attracted others to her. Heidi was special, but the demon cancer, unfortunately, is no respecter of age.
It was difficult to watch her decline so rapidly over the last months of her life. I know many of you know exactly what I mean, because you’ve been through it with your own loved ones – parents, spouses, or children. It’s a helpless feeling.
Heidi was a leader in my youth group when I was a young pastor. I’ll never forget the day when she came into my office on a Sunday morning just before the service was to begin and asked me to offer a special prayer asking God to help her make the cheerleading squad at her school. It was such a beautiful example of her faith, and of the innocence which exemplified Heidi’s life even through her years as an adult. I led her memorial service just a few months ago. It was difficult, to say the least.
The question all of us who are serious about faith asks at one time or another is “Why?” How can a God who is all loving and all powerful allow the things that happen in our world or, in this case, to happen to a beautiful, young, energetic person like Heidi? Her parents asked that very question to me. I didn’t have an answer. There are some things we will never understand. It’s called life. As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “Now we look into a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Despite what we don’t know or can’t understand, I’ve always believed that, somehow, every “ending” in life — no matter how tragic or difficult — is simply the pathway to a new beginning. In fact, I see it as a fundamental truth of Scripture. Only through the sacrificial death of God’s Son was forgiveness and life eternal made possible — a tragic ending leading to a new beginning. Only because of the crucifixion was the resurrection able to be a part of the redemption story — again, a tragic ending leading to a new beginning. And only in ‘dying to self’ are we able to experience the abundant life promised to each of us through our faith — yet another tragic ending leading to a new beginning. The list could go on.
Dee Dee Rischer draws a powerful analogy which has always been helpful to me in understanding this truth and, honestly, in addressing my questions when it comes to the death of someone young like Heidi. I hope it’s helpful to you.
“The morning my son Luke was born, I held his tiny body
and considered the journey he had taken in the last 24 hours.
I tried to imagine that change as he experienced it –
the inexorable pressure of muscles pushing him
into some strange and completely unknown passage,
his body at the mercy of larger forces bearing down on him.
Overnight, his body and world were radically altered.
He now must breath air, not water.
He has to use his mouth for nourishment, no longer
relying on a connection to my body.
In his sleep, he flails his through the air,
startled not to hit the solid, comforting wall of my body.
After months of living only in warm darkness,
he experiences light, coolness, and the touch of other skin on his own.
Nothing can prepare him for this new life which must be,
quite simply, unimaginable.
Had there been a companion watching my child’s journey from the womb side,
he would certainly have seen that process as death, not life.
Only when viewed from this side do we recognize and name it as birth.
The transformation my son has experienced
can only be matched by that other great passage in our lives – our death…
We see death from this side, and it is terrifying.
But our faith allows us to claim this promise:
What appears to be death is a portal to a life transformed.”
Blessings on you, Heidi, as your death in not an ending, but rather a portal to a new beginning of a life transformed.
The Rev. Stephen J. King is pastor of Harvey Memorial Community Church, 300 Church Ave., Bradenton Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Services are at 9:30 a.m. Sundays. 941-779-1912.