Funeral - Casey McCandless
I didn’t get an opportunity to ever meet Casey. But there are three things that he loved deeply:
The first, he loved his music.
The second, he loved his wife, Jessica.
And third, he loved his kids.
Love of Rock
Love of Rock
When I first heard that Casey loved rock… I don’t think I realized quite how deeply that love went. He didn’t just listen to rock… he played it… he wrote his own music… he lived it. The music was a part of him. And as I heard how he was really a one-man band and how he would do his own percussion, his own guitar… and then throw his vocal on top… I couldn’t help but be reminded of David Grohl who was drummer for Nirvana before moving on to playing guitar and really becoming the frontman for Foo Fighters.
And there’s a song from Foo Fighters that kept coming to mind as I learned about Casey’s life. Maybe you know it:
Too alarming now to talk about Take your pictures down and shake it out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud Use that evidence, race it around There goes my hero Watch him as he goes There goes my hero He's ordinary
And the song name is? My hero.
Yeah, that’s right.
You know, when David Grohl was asked whether or not the song was about his former bandmate, Kurt Cobain, he replied that while there was definitely an element of Kurt in the song, that he wasn’t one for hero worship of celebrities… especially rockstars. Grohl said that the heros he was talking about in the song weren’t rockstars… but it was the ordinary people in his life who did extraordinary things that were his heroes.
In Casey’s life, he did some pretty extraordinary things. Yes, he was gifted when it came to music… but he also had a passion for living life in his own unique way. He wasn’t interested in doing things the same way that everyone else did them. He appreciated a twist on life. Even when it came to prom, right? Jessica, you and Casey went to prom basically in your normal everyday clothes… right? And then after prom, you switched into formal wear and appeared at the reception to prom all dressed up. It's just one example… but it speaks to the out-of-the-box living that Casey loved.
He was full of life… especially before he got sick. He was a passionate person that just loved embracing life in all of its weirdness. And yes, there is something extraordinary about that.
Come As You Are
Come As You Are
Nirvana’s song, “Come as You Are,” speaks to that too.
Come as you are, as you were
As I want you to be
As a friend, as a friend
As an old enemy
Take your time, hurry up
Choice is yours, don’t be late
Take a rest as a friend
As an old memori-a
There’s no pretense. No attempt to impress. No push to be something that you’re not.
In seminary, one of my professors was a deep fan of rock and actually wrote a rock musical version of the Gospel of John.
The theme that he uses throughout the rock musical is for people to “come and see” this Messiah. The message of who Jesus is starts spreading not through the high holy circles of people… but through the ones that others probably thought would be kind of out there… people who are on the fringes... that’s who he calls to be his disciples.
And it’s not that they even buy into it right away either. When Philip ran up to his friend Nathaniel and starts trying to tell Nathaniel about this messiah guy… Nathaniel doesn’t jump up and down and say, “Hey, I’ve been waiting for this all my life!” Instead, he offers some snark back and says, “Jesus of Nazareth? Can anything good actually come out of Nazareth?”
And when he offers snark to Jesus… do you know how Jesus responds? “Come and see.” He doesn’t tell Nathaniel he needs to dress a different way or listen to different music or follow this particular set of rules or someone’s set of traditions. Jesus just tells him to come along for the journey.
Jesus wanted Nathaniel to be a witness to how Christ would break the rules of the day for the sake of loving his neighbors.
He wanted Nathaniel to see Christ speaking words of extreme grace to those that the rest of society thought should be pushed out.
Jesus wanted Nathaniel to be a witness to his path to the cross… to see how Jesus would suffer and die… not so he wouldn’t be forgotten but so people like Nathaniel would know that Jesus came for him… that Jesus died for him… that Jesus did all he could so that when Nathaniel would finally die that death would not have the last word… but that there would be life on the other side.
Jesus wanted Nathaniel to know that people like Casey, who lived into the snark… who forged his own path… who was filled with both love and yet struggled all the same… Jesus wanted Nathaniel that people like Casey were the ones that he was sent for.
The Disease doesn’t win
The Disease doesn’t win
And as we gather here today, it’s important that we are witnesses that depression and suicide do not have the final word over Casey’s life. This disease of depression that eats away at the spirit much like cancer eats away at our body is not what has final claim on Casey.
Because of Nathaniel and the other disciples, we get to hear the stories of how Jesus loved those on the fringe… we get to hear how Jesus sought out those who were sick with diseases and brought them healing… we get to hear how a man who lived 2,000 years ago makes a difference in how we view Casey’s life and death… and that we can have the hope of being reunited with him and can share all of the stories of our lives together.
And why? Because when God looks at Casey or snarky Nathaniel or really any of us… God doesn’t see as contestants on some kind of divine game show where we have to prove ourselves… God sees us as God’s children… children that God loves and cares for… children that God will do anything and everything for just as we might for our own kids.
And because that is who God is… it changes everything for how we can view this day. It means that we can, truly, have a celebration of life. It means we can play Nirvana and The Doors and anything in between or beyond because God loves as for who we are where we are… no pretenses… no faking it… no trying to impress. And because of that, we can be deeply honest about this moment.
And if we’re going to be deeply honest, there’s a couple of things I want to say.
(1) The first is that we now know just how significant the depression was that Casey was dealing with. It’s such a challenging disease to understand because there aren’t any blood tests or x-rays to tell us how far it has spread or how progressed it is in its path.
Even when we talk about cancer, as much as that can sneak up on us, at least there are ways to measure it and gauge the risk. With depression, we don’t have that ability to see it… and sometimes people are really good at surviving enormous amounts of depression as they carry it from day to day. And even when we feel like it’s improving… it can still linger in the depths for us. So let me say this… and I know it’s easier to say than it is to feel… but give yourself permission to not feel guilt from whatever you feel like that guilt might be coming from.
A decision to follow through on suicide is not a decision at all… it’s not something that is done in someone who is in a healthy state of mind. It is, again, part of the disease. And it is vicious.
(2) The second thing I want to lift up is that we can also see the efforts that Casey made to battle back against this disease of depression. Jodi and Jessica, as I talked to you both I heard from each of you how Casey seemed to be doing so much better over the last few months especially.
And while we know now that the disease was still present, we can give thanks for the light and love that he experienced in these last few months as you saw him really living into and loving into that role as father. And Jude and Sofia… your dad loved you both deeply. Whether it was playing in the sandbox or throwing snowballs or even wrestling around on the floor… he loved you.
No disease can take that love away from you. And while the depression took him way too early… some of the happiest moments in his life came from being a dad to you guys. There is nothing that I can say that will bring him back… and I realize your whole world has been turned upside in the last week. But know that your dad loved you.
As you step into the rest of today and into tomorrow… there will be times where you have tears… maybe times that you will be angry… maybe times where you will just try to make sense of it all.
But I want you both to know that you are not alone. You have family that deeply loves you and will walk through this with you to hold you when you hurt, to comfort you when you cry, and to cheer you on as you find your own paths in life.
Try to find what you love in life and hold on to it. Find something to be passionate about in life like your dad was passionate about his music and about you guys.
(3) And finally, I want you all to know that this is “an end,” not the end. In a little bit, as we pass by the casket, we’ll get to hear the epic 1967 song from the Doors titled, “The End.” When Jim Morrison wrote it, he actually was writing about a breakup with his girlfriend at the time.
Perhaps for that relationship… it was indeed the end. But as we pass by the casket and then process on to the cemetery and eventually look into that hole of a grave… I want you to hear very clearly what my faith tells me at least… and that all of this is not the end… only an end. Life from here on out is going to change, absolutely. There will be moments… very real moments… where you feel that loss deeply in your soul and you will ache. There will be much that you will miss of him and there will be experiences that you wished you could share with him and insights that you hoped that you could have gleaned from him. You’ll miss his laugh and his voice… you’ll miss the chip dip while watching UFC or the Sunday afternoons watching the vikings. But know also that there is yet hope… even now. That when we go to the graveside that you don’t have to just see death as the end where the story book is closed… but that you turn the page and begin the next chapter.
I pray that you might hold on to the hope that God offers that we will one day see each other again. And that when we get there that there --will- be tears… but no longer of pain and sorrow… instead they will be tears of joy overflowing as you share together life once more.
May God’s peace be with you this day and all days. May you know the presence of God’s comfort and solace in this time. May you be aware of the support and presence and love of God made known to you through those around you.
And may each of you always remember… this is not the end… only the beginning of the next chapter because of who God even when our lives here come to an end. Peace. Peace be with you. Amen.