Angie, one of my closest friends, and I were in our early twenties. We had both experienced death close-up. By that point I had lost an uncle, a great-grandmother and a grandmother… all of whom I had loved dearly. Angie had suffered familial loss as well. Through her, we had both witnessed the worst of tragedies when her uncle, suffering from mental illness, committed suicide.
And although we had both known the sting and heartbreak of losing people.
Yet, we both still had that sense of invincibility young people often possess. And on that day, Angie and I definitely felt invincible.
In a borrowed car we had taken a road trip to Ohio to be with our significant others, both of whom were in the training process of a trucking company. On the way home, we felt like the world was at our fingertips. The sun was shining, the breeze was cool. We were cruising down interstate with the windows down, the radio cranked, and not a care in the world.
All of a sudden the worst thumping, clanking, grinding noise either of us had ever heard began to shake the whole car. Angie had just enough time to get to the edge of the road before the car died all together.
The engine had locked up and we were stranded.
Just like that the whole mood of the day shifted and things seemed as though they couldn’t get any worse.
We hiked a mile back up the interstate to a rest area we had just passed. Not sure what to do, Angie called home, hoping to find someone who would be able to come and pick us up. Although we were very close to the West Virginia border and only about an hour from home, it felt like we were on the other side of the planet.
I stood by Angie’s side as she made the phone call at a pay phone. She was shocked to get her brother, who did not live with them. But she made her request and he agreed to come and rescue us… and for a moment, it seemed it was all picking up…
All of a sudden, though, Angie’s face contorted into shock and horror.
“What?” she demanded, her voice catching in her throat.
Whatever Kevin repeated to her seemed to affect every cell in her body. She turned and looked at me, as though I somehow knew what had just been said, and then turned away and slammed her hand against the phone.
I stood helpless. Waiting for her to fill me in. Wondering what on earth could be so horrific.
And when the news was finally revealed to me, I couldn’t believe it any easier than she had.
Her younger cousin, Tara, who was the same age as my younger sister–the girl who always tagged along with Angie and I–had been killed in a car accident earlier that day.
Just like that, the world fell out from underneath us both.
But as the healing began to take place, and I watched as all of us who had been connected to Tara began to cope in our own ways, I began to see a profound difference in the way we were understanding Tara’s loss.
To some of us, Tara’s loss had been a tragedy, preventable and sudden and unfair. But her loss was not the end.
To others, it was very final. What was lying in the casket was all that remained of the once vibrant young girl. To them, her burial was the end.
That’s when I finally realized that to a Christian there really is no death at all. Although the flesh and blood body may whither away, life never really ends. No matter how terrible the circumstances of death, life prevails.
I watched as Angie, dangling somewhere between belief and unbelief, tried to come to terms with the loss of someone she had thought of as a sister. And I wished she could share the same peace I had come to find. I wished that she could go Tara’s grave and realize that all that was beneath that stone was a shell and that Tara’s spirit had been set free to exist purely in the presence of Christ.
In the end, I cannot fear death because I know that it’s not really a death. In Christ, there is no more death. There is only life and the hope of life.