I remember when my dad received the phone call. It was Friday night and the family had been watching an episode of “Foyle’s War”. I sat on the couch across from my dad when suddenly his voice faltered and my heart froze as I heard him say the words, “Ben’s been hurt? He’s been shot?” Moments later my parents rushed out the door, telling me to calm down and stay behind as I attempted to pull my boots on and follow them. I’ve never been so terrified. At that point all we knew was that Ben was hurt and the ambulance had arrived to take him to the Emergency Room. Greg, Christa, Calvin and I sat in the family room and cried and prayed but something inside of me already knew that Ben was gone. To this day I wish I could have been there. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for the people that were but in a strange way I envy them. The reality of what had happened might have been easier to swallow if I had seen it, if I had been there with him.
My parents came home an hour later to tell us that Ben was gone. They had arrived at the ER only to be told that their seventeen-year-old son had expired at the scene. It was surreal. It was nightmarish. What had happened to our brother? How had he died? Where was he now? With the following morning came further details of what had taken place, how it had been an accident, a freakish misfire, how Ben’s death had happened instantly. But it didn’t sink in for me until a week later when we were getting ready to go to our brother’s wake. I was dressed and ready to leave when the parents arrived home. They had gone early and seen Ben before us. A sudden knot of panic settled in my stomach.
“I’m not sure I want to go,” I said. What would it be like to see my brother in a coffin? The prospect terrified me, especially when I thought about the fact that other people would be there.
“No, you need to see him,” my father told me. “Because when you see him you’ll know he’s not there anymore.”
He was right.
Looking at my brother’s body lying calmly in the coffin was like staring into an empty tomb. Ben wasn’t there. Whoever—whatever—was in that coffin wasn’t Ben. I imagine Mary experienced a similar pain when she arrived at Jesus’ tomb only to find the stone rolled away and the grave empty. Where was her Lord? What had they done to him?
“He is not here.”
I thought I knew what fear was. I thought I knew what pain was. I thought I knew weakness and sorrow. All that changed in a night, in the words my father spoke. This weekend I thought about my brother, my brother who died a veteran at the age of seventeen— my brother who was the bravest person I knew. I thought about what I’ve gained from his memory and what I have to give from his memory, his death and resurrection. During this last year I’ve spent a lot of time being broken, scared and weak. Days, weeks and months have gone by where I’ve felt constantly weighed down with sorrow. It’s been confusing. It’s been hard. I’ve lost myself and I think I’m just now starting to find myself again.
For anyone else suffering from loss or depression, I can’t really say much except that ultimately it takes time. It’s a healing process. Broken bones don’t heal in a day. But they do heal. And on the other side of sorrow you’ll discover that you’re a braver person for having gone through the fire. The world is a much more terrifying place once you wake up to the harsh reality of pain and death but you are a much stronger, compassionate person for it. The things in this life that break us are what mold us and shape us into the holy image of our Savior and while this truth doesn’t make the pain any less hard, it does give us hope—real, tangible, unshakable hope.
When people think of my brother Ben I want them to remember the empty tomb and remember that his story does not end in death but that his death is “swallowed up in victory”. His death is consumed in hope because of his hope in Jesus Christ. “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
1 Corinthians 15:53-55