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Disheveled Theologian: Life after death

It’s a strange dichotomy to be elated and full of sorrow, both at the same time. It’s like your body can’t hold it all, so the emotions just spill out in a pounding heart and shaking hands and all you can do is cry.

On Friday evening last week, as our 16-year-old daughter was seeing a dearly held wish come true, a friend of ours lay dying in a hospital, three hours away. Less than an hour before, I received a text from a friend in Rochester that our friend Karlys had been hit by a car that morning and wasn’t expected to live. We sat watching the marching band concert unfold in the Worthington High School gym, trying to hold back the tears.

Colin and I met Karlys at Covenant Park Bible Camp, the same camp where the two of us met. Colin and she attended camps together in high school. I met her when she was a counselor the first summer I worked there. It did not take long to love her. She was friendly. She was funny. Her smile lit up the room. She loved Jesus.

I know it’s easy to idealize someone when they die. Karlys was not any more perfect than you or I. But Karlys was a genuinely kind and lovely person, and though we didn’t stay in close touch over the years, we did get together from time to time in Rochester or at camp, and I was always glad we did.

It was the shock of her death that made it particularly hard. Karlys was 47 years old. Healthy. Vibrant. Connected with the world and her community and her church. That shock kept the tears falling over the next several days. It was like the spigot was released by the mere thought of her.

Back at the concert, we smiled through our sadness as the Middle School Band played three Star Trek tunes. Our youngest daughter was the shortest sousaphone player, in case anyone noticed the five tall sousaphones and the short sixth one on the end.

Then it was the high school band’s turn to play, and we continued to smile despite our shaken hearts. Ten came what we were most nervous about: the revealing of next season’s commanders (student directors). Our middle child, Katie, was one of 10 students vying for four commander positions. It’s a pretty big deal. So there we sat, shaking from sorrow, shaking from shock, shaking from nerves for Katie.

She was the first one chosen. Hooray! More unstoppable tears. Elation and sorrow, all rolled into one.

Karlys was pronounced brain dead later that night.

Over the next few days, beautiful stories began to emerge from Rochester. Such as the story of forgiveness, given by Karlys’ family. Karlys had never married, so it was her two brothers and her mother who spoke for her, who were interviewed by the press, who offered forgiveness to the driver of the car who hit her. Karlys always parked a couple blocks away from Mayo, where she worked, and as she crossed the street at a busy intersection at 6:45 that morning, a car, going 40 miles per hour, slammed into her and sent her flying 20 feet away.

Reason for anger? Yes, of course. But her family said, “There is no doubt that Friday was the worst day of [the driver’s] life. We pray for God’s comfort for the driver and for their entire family. We can forgive because we are forgiven by Jesus in a truly unconditional way.”

Unconditional. Without reserve. We forgive because we are forgiven.

And this story: Karlys was an organ donor and as a healthy adult, was able to give life and improved health to many. What a gift! She, who never gave birth to children, gave life by her death.

There’s a theological parallel there, begging to be shouted from the mountain tops! Because Karlys died, she saved lives. Lives that will, of course, someday end. In Jesus’ death, he saved lives, too. For eternity.

Karlys would be the first to say that that’s the story which must be told here.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 KJV

Karlys is in the presence of God right now because she believed.

Life is so short and so very fragile. Please believe.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is