Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Life Well Lived

Brothers, we do not want you ... to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 
-- 1 Thessalonians 4:13

A few weeks ago, my family took a trip up north to attend a memorial service for a young man who had been in our youth group when I was a pastor in the small town of Brimley, Michigan. Alan Jastorff Gillies was 27 when he died, and left a wife whom he deeply loved and a beautiful baby son. His death was unexpected, untimely, tragic, sad; one would have expected it to have occasioned bitter wailing and grief that could not be contained. No one would have blamed his immediate family or close friends. And yet ... it wasn't like that.

It wasn't a "celebration," either. When the attempt is made to make a funeral into a "homegoing" party, it leaves me cold. I understand what people are trying to do, but funerals are for the bereaved, not for the one who is now in the presence of God. I don't think people should stuff or hide their feelings of grief­­­, much less feel forced to do so. The passage quoted above doesn't say that we shouldn't grieve. It says we shouldn't grieve as those who have no hope.

There was grief at Alan's memorial service. There were tears. But the moving thing, to me, about the service was that everyone there knew, without doubt, that Alan's life, though short, had been lived well. No one had any doubts about his eternal destiny. There were no wry stories about morally questionable hijinks, no evasions, no concerns that "if only he'd had time" to put something right. This was a young man who had truly been a blessing to everyone who had known him.

When I was pastoring and he was in my youth group, Alan was a solid young man in a solid family, the kind that maybe doesn't get the attention that the not-so-solid end up needing. But he always had a good humor; he was joyful and fun, as well as attentive and serious and a deep thinker when those times came up. He loved life and loved the outdoors and seemed so healthy that it was easy to forget that his family had told me that he had a life-threatening genetic disorder, an immune deficiency that had hospitalized him a number of times before. It seemed like something he'd outgrown, a childhood disease that he'd beaten.

And so I was stunned when I heard that he was struggling for his life, and a few days later, that he had passed away. There was a funeral in South Dakota, where he most recently lived, and a memorial service in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, near where he had grown up and where his parents lived. We went to the memorial service. It was great to see those whom I had pastored years ago. And as I said, there were tears. But there was also hope. There was a firm, strong, unquenchable hope; an unshakable conviction among everyone who had known this young man that he had lived his life to the glory of God, and honored by everyone who had had the privilege of being touched by him.

God bless you, Alan. I'm looking forward to seeing you again one day.


  1. I'm sorry for your loss. There is always a huge difference between funerals/memorial services where the person who died was devoted to God and one where the person was not. It is also marked by the faith in the family. I guess that is because it is easier to say "til next we meet" than a final goodbye.

  2. Greetings--
    Thank you for this tribute--I had the ability to get to know Alan through working with him in South Dakota--and I too was touched by the fact that he was very solid, in complete love with his then fiance (and wife) and truly a follower of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I only got to know him for a short time, but that times was blessed with his ability to laugh through any situation and quiet (but strong) leadership.

    May our Lord continue to bless you has your grieve. Thanks for sharing your heart in this.

  3. Hi Keith,
    Thank you so much for your tribute to our son, Alan. We never knew we could miss someone so much. There is a gigantic void where he once lived. We feel that void in our hearts and souls greatly. We do know where he lives now. He is safely in the arms of our loving Heavenly Father. One day we will be reunited with him. We await that day with great anticipation. Meanwhile we have work to do here for the Lord.
    Our minds cannot comprehend God's plans. God's ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. God knew Alan's outcome before he was born. While Alan grew in my womb He knew when Alan would be coming home to Him.
    I remember asking God to spare Alan's life when he was first diagnosed with chronic granulomatious disease.....Alan was 7. I asked the Lord that if he saw fit for Alan to stay with us for awhile, his life would be lived for His Glory...otherwise take Alan to heaven now and he would suffer no more. God already knew that we would be blessed with Alan for 27 years,that he would be diagnosed at the age of 7, that he would be married 2.7 years to a beautiful girl...soul mates, and that he would give us our first grandson, Andersen Ross.
    In between the lines of his life was his being touching people in such ways that we were not aware of. Alan's life was a testimony to the Glory of the Lord. I am forever grateful that my son was saved, and I know that I know that I know....that Alan lives in heaven.
    Forever in Christ,
    Lynn Gillies

  4. I loved Alan from the first time I met him. He was kind, caring and full of life and fun. He and his sister , Emily were cousins to our sons, Brent and Nick.We had good times together at family gatherings. He and Tiffany were a great match and little Andersen was a perfect "addition".We are grateful for having Alan in our lives. May he rest in peace with Jesus.
    Aunt Susie

  5. Dear Lynn,

    How wonderful of you to stop by! Thank you for such moving words about Alan. One of my great regrets is that I wasn't around to be a part of the lives of the young people in Brimley as they grew up. I miss many people there, and you and Chris and your wonderful family are among the top of that list. I know that this has been a tremendously difficult year for you. Please know that you're in my thoughts and prayers. Cecile and I love you guys very much.

    Jen and Susanne,

    Thank you both for stopping by and sharing your thoughts about Alan. God bless.