Death of a 22 Year Old
His obituary said that he died of a “brief illness”. I knew that he suffered for over a year with cancer and died just 12 days before his 23rd birthday, and I had to wonder at the use of the word “brief”. The suffering during that year was long and hard on the now deceased and his family. Brief just didn’t seem the right word to describe living with the demon, which is what his family referred to the cancer as.
His name was Rusty, and he was taken from this world on September 5, 2014.
I didn’t know Rusty very well but had met him and his family at different gatherings, and when I heard of his death, I cried for his family, and felt compelled to attend his service, which was called a “Service of Remembrance and Celebration”. I like that it was called a remembrance and celebration instead of funeral service. Remembering and celebrating a life has more meaning than celebrating death.
As I sat through the sermon and listened to the Pastor talk about how short our life was on this earth compared to the age of existence, and hearing about all the things Rusty was able to accomplish in his 22 years, I began to understand the use of the word “brief” when describing the length of his illness.
Rusty attended Tarleton State University in Texas, majoring in music education and minoring in theatre. He was also a member of Mu Phi Epsilon and was an Eagle Scout. Rusty loved music and he shared his music with others, performing in musicals since he was in high school. He touched the lives of many through his love of music. The Tarleton Choir State Singers, as well as his friend Adam performed at his service in celebration of Rusty’s love for music.
I now understand how the illness can be considered brief when compared to the years that he truly lived, but when I think about his age, only 22, I can’t help but wonder why his life had to be so brief, and why he had to suffer.
The Pastor told us about the story of Job, who demanded to talk to God after losing his children, his livestock and house, to find out why. God only told Job that he was a mere mortal, could not begin to understand what was in God’s mind, and that he just needed to trust Him. I saw a lot of heads around me nodding in understanding at this story, and a piece of me understands that yes, there is something much grander and greater than all of us out there, but I don’t think I will ever understand why someone is meant to suffer like Rusty and his family did.
Rusty’s brother Brad got up and played his guitar while the Pastor sang “Bring Him Home” which is a beautiful song and very fitting for this young man’s service. I sat 2 rows behind Rusty’s immediate family, and when Brad began to strum his guitar, and the Pastor began to sing, I saw the shoulders of Rusty’s father tremor under the force of his tears. My heart breaks for his family. Rusty’s father also lost his wife 8 years ago to cancer. Now he lost a son. Thankfully he still has a daughter and 2 son’s alive, so he will be surrounded by family and their love for him, but that doesn’t ease the pain of losing a child.
Rusty’s other brother Andy shared a few words about Rusty’s life as well as answering the question he was asked so often; “How are you doing?” He said that as unbelievable as it may sound, he was feeling more relieved today than he had had felt over the last year knowing that Rusty was no longer suffering in pain. He will miss his brother, but knowing that he is not suffering any longer helps to minimize the pain of losing him.
We all handle grief differently and there is certainly no right or wrong way. I attended the service for Rusty to show my support for his family. At the same time, I was also hoping to hear or feel something that would help me understand the reason for suffering and the death of someone so young. I did not find an answer, but I did feel confirmation that there is something much greater than us out there, and that it’s OK to not understand it all, we just need to find trust and faith.
Because our lives are only a blink, remember to live it kindly and with love. And music, for Rusty.
In memory of Rusty, and in loving memory for my brother Martin, who passed from this earth 29 years ago at the young age of 28.