“You are from dust and to dust you shall return,” Pastor Ruth says as she dips her thumb in the ashes and makes the sign of the cross on my forehead. Meanwhile, my nephew Lee’s ashes are being shipped from Courtney, B.C. to Ontario.
He was thirty-three years old and died from his seventeenth overdose. This time fentanyl. Like the rich young man who asked Jesus what he should do to earn eternal life, Lee couldn’t give up what he needed to survive. He wanted to. He tried. Four times in rehab. Many times on his own. It was impossible for him.
Scripture says Jesus looked at the rich man and loved him. I know that Jesus looked at Lee and loved him too. Then Jesus did the impossible for him. He gave him what no one can earn anyway: an eternal life of love.
Lee was not alone when he died. Someone in the homeless camp called 911. They tried to revive him but were unsuccessful.
Jesus was there too. Holding him. Looking at him with love. What did Jesus see?
I wonder if, in the moment of Lee’s death, his life flashed before Jesus’ eyes. Jesus would have recalled how Lee always gave to anyone who begged, even if he only had a couple of dollars. Did Jesus laugh when he remembered how Lee and my grandson, Hadrian, would goof around pretending to be apes? It was Lee that first suggested Hadrian might have autism, Lee that asked a question that led to a conversation that led to the marriage of Hadrian’s parents. Lee had a T-shirt with a typewriter on it that said: “text me.” He liked an unencumbered life. As long as he had an apple and a few almonds, he’d be fine.
Jesus had to keep travelling to be with Lee who went backpacking in Thailand before he was twenty, taught English to children in Honduras, and kayaked on Quadra Island and Campbell River.
Jesus was with Lee in his joys and sorrows, his triumphs and bad decisions. He never left his side during their painful outcomes. Jesus felt proud and shed tears as he listened to the songs Lee wrote that told his story.
I went for a walk after my brother Ron called with the news. It was so surreal. Two weeks before his death, Lee called and told me what he always does. “You know I love you, Aunt Esther. Don’t worry about me. I’m tough. I can take care of himself.”
“It’s okay,” I heard Jesus say at the end of my walk. “He’s with me now.”
I imagine Lee in heaven with Jesus. I picture him grinning and telling me he’s got his mojo back. “And Jesus?” he’d add in his characteristically understated way, “He’s all right.” Then I imagine him going off to find Jack Kerouac. “This is a big place. But don’t worry, I’ll find him. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
I would love to live like a river flows,
carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.
* * *
This is Lee after he’s taken a mouthful of wasabi. He loved wasabi, chilli peppers and curry. Lee Frehner (Nov 11, 1985-Feb 24, 2019) is my brother Ron’s oldest child. He is greatly missed by his parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Although, as Ron says, Lee could be a pain in the ass sometimes, we never stopped loving him, nor he us. He and God did some awesome love mischief in the world in Lee’s 33 years of life. And we are so grateful for him.
The only people for me are the mad ones: the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who… burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles. –Jack Kerouac