February 6, 2013
“Bethel, did you hear what happened?”
“No. I didn't have a chance to ask yet. What happened?”
“Brandon Stuckey was killed in a car accident.”
I gasped. They also told me a group was going to pray in the lobby in a few minutes and invited me to join. I thanked them for telling me, and then proceeded to finished with my groceries. As soon as I was done, I remember leaning on the back of my desk chair as the reality of what I had just been told to me was hitting me like a ton of bricks. I couldn't believe that my friend Brandon was gone.
Because of this moment and others to follow, that was one of the most unforgettable and tragic days of my college career, and my young adult life. Brandon’s death shocked and devastated the whole OCC family, but for those of us who were close to him, the grief we felt that night was unimaginable. I never would have imagined that the friend that sat next to me in class one day would be gone the next. However, some of the memories of that time, as painful as they were, were also some of the most precious memories I have from my entire college experience. On the second anniversary of the day Brandon went home to be with the Lord, I am compelled to share the lessons that I learned through losing a friend.
1) Believe in the Hope of Heaven
What happened to Brandon was tragic. There was no way around this fact. He was only 22 years old. He had so many God-given dreams that were never fulfilled in this life. I know he wanted to get married and raise a family. I know he wanted to preach the gospel to those than needed to hear it. He even had plans to spend the summer of 2013 in Mongolia. But there is so much more to this tragedy than the fact that he is no longer with us or all the things that Brandon never had the chance to do.
2) Cherish Community
- How many of us gathered outside of Brandon’s dorm that night while we prayed, sang songs about hope and heaven, and comforted each other in our tears.
- How one of my RA’s (resident assistants) stayed by my side for hours that night. Don't know what I would have done without Marley that night.
- How multiple friends on my dorm floor offered to let me stay with them that night because of my roommate’s absence. I declined, but I was touched to know so many of my friends cared.
- How both of my RA’s sandwich-hugged me at 2:30 in the morning when I was so overwhelmed by grief and confusion, I began to bawl. I pretty much collapsed into Dani's arms and Marley held me from the other side while I cried for another 10 minutes or so. I don't think I will ever forget that bittersweet memory.
- How many people offered to let me sit with them in the class the next day where I used to sit next to Brandon. I declined because I wanted to sit where Brandon invited me to sit, but I was grateful to know they were all mindful of how hard that day would be for me.
- How two girls I’d never met (at separate times) saw me crying in the bathroom during all campus devotions the next night, and each one stopped everything to see if I was OK and prayed with me
- How many hugs I got during that time, especially the night he died and at his funeral. Some were from people I was not close to, but knew I need them
- How many people asked me if I was OK during that time, even people I didn't know
I had never before experienced community in such a powerful way. Our campus as whole remained close throughout the rest of that semester in a way I had not seen before or since, because of the tragedy we endured together. As one of the RA’s from Brandon’s dorm posted that night on Facebook:
3) Out of the Ashes, Beauty Will Rise
We will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of darkness, new light will shine
For we know the joy that’s coming in the morning
It will take our breath away to see the beauty that He’s made out of ashes
God did bring beauty out of the grief of losing Brandon. The fact that I am writing about this now proves this to be true. Those of us that knew him looked at Brandon’s short life and were able to see a good man with a heart for the gospel and a heart for people, and we were inspired to be the same. We learned the power of Christian community in the days surrounding his death. We learned to be vulnerable with each other. We learned to grieve with hope.
Gone but Not Forgotten
We were in class together, the class where we sat next to each other. Before class started, we were talking about life, some of our ministry and mission aspirations, and eventually the conversation landed on relationships. I found myself telling him that I had not been in a relationship before. Just as our professor was starting class, he leaned towards me and whispered:
Brandon is still missed by those of us who called him our friend, but his memory and his legacy live on. Thanks to Brandon, I now know what it means to grieve with hope. I hope this post will help others learn how to do the same.