In making a funeral plan, we generally consider funeral costs, determining whether burial or cremation services will be used, obituary writer and funeral clergy selection, and whether or not we need funeral insurance or some other funeral fund to help defray the costs which today can be quite high. Finally, we also must review our probate and estate plan to insure that our loved ones can live reasonably well after we are gone.
The one thing we never think of when making plans, however, is the death of a child. We always assume that our children will outlive us and generally that is a correct assumption. But as we all well know, life doesn’t always work out the way we plan and death never takes a holiday.
Sadly, the warm weather which is here now and the activity of young people who naturally think they are immune from harm can combine to create a disastrous situation. With school letting out and summer almost upon us, now is a good time to talk with your children, be they five or eighteen, about their need to act responsibly and safely in the many fun activities which summer brings.
Following is a true story which involves an acquaintance of my son while celebrating graduation from high school. The names and location are changed to protect the privacy of the living relatives of the deceased and to respect his memory and peace. I tell it not to frighten anyone but to make real for others the need to realize just how fleeting the gift of life can. And since God has given us free will and with it the ability to make choices, poor choices can sometimes result in bad things happening to otherwise good people.
Johnny was excited. He was graduating from high school soon and was looking forward to going away to college in September. He had a good summer job with a local hardware store and enjoyed helping the many customers who came by daily for needed supplies. But he really looked forward to his free time in the summer since, living in a coastal town, fun in the sun at the beach or on the water was what he and his buddies would be enjoying.
Swimming, waterskiing and fishing were all in the game plan and, of course, whenever they were near the water there were also plenty of pretty girls. Boys will be boys, but unfortunately they often do stupid things around pretty girls to hopefully impress them or at least gain their attention. This would prove to be a big mistake for Johnny, one we’ll learn about shortly.
The final week of school went by and graduation was held outdoors at the school’s football stadium. It was a great occasion and Johnny and his friends immediately left for the beach home of his best friend, Tom. Tom’s father was well to do and had a beautiful beach home on the ocean about an hour’s drive from the school. It was within walking distance of a marina, several nice restaurants and the shops and teen hangouts that are always found in beach towns. A group of four of them had been invited to spend the weekend and relax and enjoy themselves. Tom’s mom and dad would be in and out, but they trusted these boys they had known since they were children and it was a very close knit group. Besides, they were warned that the party would abruptly end if any intemperate behavior was involved.
A considerable number of their friends were also spending the weekend at the beach and they made arrangements to meet after dinner the next night at the Rec Center, a group of businesses in a small shopping center beside the beach that catered to the weekend and vacationing set. It included a fishing pier, ice skating rink, bowling alley and games center, a dance floor catering to teens and numerous eating establishments and shops.
Linking up in the parking lot, they decided to check out the fishing pier and see if anything was biting. They had brought their tackle with them and were dying to try their luck. Besides, it was a beautiful moonlit night, and from the pier the moon shimmered in the water and looking back to shore the twinkling lights up and down the coast were clearly visible beneath the starry sky.
The girls who joined them really weren’t very keen on the fishing idea, so the boys promised if they didn’t have any luck within two hours they would take them dancing. The girls smiled and were appeased and relented in their complaints. After all, if they wanted to have a girls’ night out they would have been better off back home.
After an hour or so the boys were growing impatient. They had only caught two fish and neither were “keepers”. And this is when things went awry, for the boys started bragging about who could walk the railing from shore to the end and back the fastest. Johnny’s friend, Tom went first and completed the circuit quickly with no problems. One of the other boys was next and then it was Johnny’s turn.
The railing was four feet high and it was eighteen feet above the water and while wide enough to navigate for someone with good balance, an occasional larger wave coming in would cause the pier to sway a small degree, enough to affect concentration. Johnny took a deep breath, climbed up and gained his balance and composure and turned seaward. Heading down the railing he looked strong and confident. No one could tell he was nervous but he wasn’t about to “chicken out”.
As he made the turn at the end to return to complete his walk, one of the girls yelled that a big swell was coming. As Johnny looked back and saw the six footer approach, large for an otherwise calm night, he began to lose balance and the passing wave delivered the finishing touch. Johnny plunged the eighteen feet into the water and didn’t immediately surface.
Tom ran to the point where he fell, looked down, saw nothing and dove in to search for his friend. It was pitch black in the water below the pier and Tom dove under several times, coming up empty handed and gasping for air before he finally found Johnny. His body was limp and his head was at a funny tilt. Using every ounce of strength that he had, he managed to swim with his lifeless friend toward shore, using the incoming waves to push him along.
Finally reaching the beach, he pulled Johnny out of the water and set him down in the damp sand. One of the girls ran to the rec center to get help while Tom, a certified life guard with experience in CPR, worked on Johnny trying to get him to breathe. His valiant attempts were unsuccessful and all he could do was wait helplessly for the rescue squad to arrive.
The arriving medic checked Johnny’s pulse and found none, and he noticed the angle of his head which indicated that his neck was broken. There was nothing anyone could do. Johnny’s unbalanced fall had resulted in his hitting the water at a bad angle, resulting in his immediate death.
Tom was devastated and blamed himself. If only he hadn’t thought up the stupid challenge, everything would have been okay and Johnny would still be alive. It took him the entire summer to return to any semblance of normalcy, despite Johnny’s parents telling him they knew it wasn’t his fault. They knew the boys were subject to free will and, in this instance, they had made a bad decision and Johnny and Tom both paid the price. Johnny was dead and Tom would have to live with the memory of a horrible accident at a time when they both should have been enjoying their graduation celebration and a wonderful summer.
Death is unfortunately a fate that we all must face and we never know when it will come for each of us. And I don’t tell this story to show the necessity of having a funeral plan made for someone in advance as young as Johnny, for even the best prepared of us is not likely to plan in advance for this type of occurrence. But it is important for us to make arrangements much greater than a funeral plan for all of our loved ones, young and old, and it takes their buy in and their acceptance.
The plan I am talking about is one that can only come through individual faith. Having faith in God through His Son, who died for us, is the only way we can truly plan for our future. For our ultimate future is not in this world, but rather an eternal one involving our life everlasting with the Father. Teach your children wisely so that they have a plan in place whenever that fateful ending to life happens. It is the only way to truly live.
God bless you all and have a safe and happy summer, but always put Him first. Your life depends on it.
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