It’s Wednesday. Smack in the middle of the week and middle of the morning. A time when business is in full swing, classrooms are filled with learners and the gym is packed with stay at home moms. Retirees are just leaving the local diner after sharing coffee with friends. And no one goes to funerals any more. Yet at 9:30, as we drove along the tree canopied street into the little town of Windermere, the First Baptist church came into view and the parking area already was filling up.
You’ve heard it said: Moms and dads shouldn’t have to bury their children. And yet today, dear friends would share their grief publicly so that others might enter in alongside them. We stepped from the humid sunshine into the cool relief of the sanctuary and took a seat. Light streamed from high stained-glass windows and a constant stream of people filled every seat in that sanctuary. I surveyed the room as the family entered and the service began and realized that this group of people, gathered to remember his life, were a portrait of how JJ lived and why. Among the nearly four hundred were teachers, administrators, classmates, and coaches. Entire families filled pews. There were businessmen, retirees, and soccer moms. There was diversity, not only in age and occupation, but in race. These were JJ’s people and their lives were on hold to honor his.
I was positioned, though unintentionally, such that I could see my friend there on the front row. A woman who loses her husband is a widow. What word in our language is there to apply to a woman who loses her child? I know of none, but in that moment, I saw the grace of God and as this woman comforted her daughter and listened intently to the words of wisdom and love from the Bible, the only hope we have when our world has just crashed in on us. And I realized … she will always be “mother”.
After a courageous grandfather shared his memories, the pastor spoke. Early in his message, he said this (paraphrased): “In times like these, we are tempted to go to ‘What ifs?’ We want to look ahead at all that will be never be, and we miss the obvious opportunity to share and celebrate the life that was lived.”
During the days between the accident that took JJ’s life and the funeral, I wanted to know him better. My knowledge of JJ was mostly second hand. My husband loved and mentored him in high school and beyond. They were buddies, but I didn’t know him well. I was in the audience when he played the role of a woman in a scandalous high school performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest”. I witnessed his team spirit at Foundation Academy football games, where he was known for doing whatever was necessary to get the fans on their feet. I chuckled at his sense of humor – there are some hilarious videos on You Tube. I stalked his Facebook page and got up to speed on recent events, where his growing talents were evident. I even found his voter registration online, and was not at all surprised to see that he listed his race as “multi”. JJ loved people, and he embraced and championed diversity.
JJ has finished his race. He was a world changer and I’m tempted to go to the “what ifs” — we will never understand why JJ lived a short life, just shy of twenty-two years. Short life, long impact — that’s what that preacher man said from the pulpit that hot August morning. And we have assurance that he is more alive than ever in the presence of Jesus. Finally, his questions are answered and his intellect and knowledge are in perfect harmony with his Lord. JJ, I don’t know if you can hear me, but I hope so. You had more impact on my life in dying than most will in long living. I’m going to make a promise to you, young man: I’m gonna keep it classy down here and make sure that I treat people the way you did. I love you, man!