I spent last Thursday night occupying a pew in a local church building . . . and wandering about the foyer . . . and visiting with folks I hadn’t seen in a while . . . and watching. I watched as the line of people wrapped around the auditorium and filtered through the door. I watched as stories were shared and hugs offered, as laughter and tears ran together. The young man being honored was only 30, a servant of our county and our country, senselessly killed in the line of duty. According to all I had heard, he was a good person, creative and intelligent and always thinking of others. It was why he chose a career in law enforcement. It was why he actively served in the National Guard. And it’s why on the evening of September 25th he rushed toward the danger instead of running from it. His dedication cost him his life. It cost his little girl her daddy. It cost the love of his life their future together. It cost his parents their son. And it cost our community a good, decent human being.
Across the river from where I sat, a few miles farther down the road, there was another visitation . . . another family saying good-bye to their child. This young man was only 25, and as with the first, our community claimed him as our own. An exceptional athlete, even in his younger days, he made it to the Little League World Series and later excelled on the football field of Hardin County High School . . . until leukemia brought his life to a screeching halt. We watched as he fought the battle and won. We rejoiced as he and his bride to be planned for their future. And we grieved when that horrible monster reared its ugly head once more, as it had throughout the intervening years. He fought again, as valiantly as any warrior could. But this time the enemy was too strong; after eight long years of beating back the disease, the disease finally prevailed. Within hours of the first young man’s passing, Death claimed another good, decent human being. It was September 26th—less than a week away from his wedding.
There is this ongoing dance between Life and Death, and more often than not, Life is allowed to lead. But eventually Life yields to Death and the dance comes to an end. For some, like the first young man, it comes swiftly with no warning, leaving no time to prepare . . . no time to say good-bye. For others, the end comes slowly over days or months or years. And even though that may offer the opportunity to say good-bye, no amount of time is ever enough when a treasured life is drawing to a close. Either way, when Death lays claim to the good, decent human beings of this world . . . especially the young ones . . . I am angry. Angry with Death for indiscriminately taking what should not be his.
These past few days have been steeped in so many emotions for so many of us, from anger and dismay to shock and horror to sorrow and grief—and helplessness in the face of it all. Death is ultimately the end of every life, but there should be rules by which he must abide. And the first two rules should be that parents will never have to bury their children and the good don’t have to die young.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.