My newly post-teen brother on Loss, written for Wheaton College’s newspaper:
Mortality came as a shock to me this summer. I had returned home from the Wheaton in the Holy Land Trip that took me all the way from Israel to Rome. On my trip, I experienced people groups I had never experienced before, new foods I had never tasted before, and new languages I had never heard before. In short, it was a larger and more vibrant world than I knew before. There were many memories of life and goodness, of learning and loving, from dancing in the streets of the new city of Jerusalem to tasting Italian pasta in Rome. That was how my summer began, a beginning characterized by life, largeness and opportunity, of hope and a future.
It was after this trip that I started to experience change. First, my eldest sister got married. It was a source of joy, but also of transition as I saw the sister who I used to fight over the remote control with move off to Seattle with her husband, leaving her life in Naperville behind.
Then the transitions turned into deeper losses: A phone call from a friend a week after my sister’s wedding letting me know a close friend, Alex Heidengren, had just died at Honey Rock. I was outside in the sunlight and in the middle of a summer that was expanding my world when I got the call. I was completely shocked. I think many of us at a fundamental level don’t believe we or anyone close to us are going to die.
Then, three days later, my mom is getting rushed off to the hospital in an ambulance as the defibrillator in her heart meant to keep her alive began splintering, becoming a source of death. The doctors caught the break in time, and there was surgery to protect the heart, but it was yet another glimpse of the fragility of life around me.
At home, as my mom recovered from surgery, I would watch from our kitchen window at my dad outside working on business. It’s been a year since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and I watch him fight to keep income in the house and fight not to give up hope for his body. I simply can’t imagine what it is like to live your days knowing there is an active disease living inside of you slowly causing your nervous system to break down.
All of this leads me back to Alex Heidengren, a friend who was a source of life for me last year. He was dark haired and had a contagious smile and laugh. I honestly can say that he was one of easiest persons to laugh with on campus for me. It was natural and always left me grateful for his creative personality. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ reflection on the results of the loss of his friend Charles Williams. Lewis says that “in each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.”
In the same way, there were parts of me last year that only Alex could call forth out of me. There was a certain humor and joy; there were certain kinds of conversations about God and life that only came out when I was with Alex. I know other friends of mine who will be missing the Alex-part of their personality because it was only in the brilliance of Alex’s personality that they were able to bloom and blossom in front of me.
I look at the world around me: my mom with her arm in the sling, my dad eating more vegetables than usual to fight against the disease working below his skin, my eldest sister’s Facebook pictures with her new life in Seattle. I look at my mom, my dad and my sister in a light that is aware of their beauty and their brilliance in being able to uniquely bring forth life and newness out of me and out of the world all around them, something that Alex without a doubt was doing to his world.
I end with a quote from Mark Twain that captures the loss I feel for Alex and the continual loss that I will continue to realize: “When somebody you love dies, it is like when your house burns down; it isn’t for years that you realize the full extent of your loss.” I know I have only begun to feel the beginning of the loss of Alex in my life.