“37-year-olds don’t belong in caskets.” One of the pastors at Kevin Witte’s funeral this past Monday, Oct. 3, said. “37-year-old sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, teachers … don’t belong in caskets.”
Kevin Witte was my 8th grade social studies teacher. He was a funny man, and a good one. When one of the pastors mentioned his “trademark smile,” I knew exactly what they were talking about. In fact, when they showed pictures of him when he was younger, long before I knew him, I could tell which small child was him in every picture by virtue of his smile alone. I can picture him vividly. I can recall his voice with such perfect clarity it was as if I spoke with him yesterday.
And yet, despite that, he’s gone.
It’s been not even a full two weeks since the tragic accident that took Mr. Witte from us, which is probably why it’s still so difficult to grasp. One day, he was here on Earth — the next, he was gone. That life can be erased so quickly, that it is so fragile, is so difficult to grasp.
After something like this, it’s hard to move on as if nothing happened. He was my teacher; I can’t imagine what it must be like for the rest of his family. For his children, his wife, his siblings, his parents and colleagues and everyone else, left bereft. “37-year-olds don’t belong in caskets.” No one belongs in a casket, honestly. Not Mr. Witte, not my friend’s grandfather, recently passed, not even my great-grandfather, buried at the age of 100. No one belongs in a casket, and yet every single day, countless people are placed in one.
What do we do with that? How do we move on? Unfortunately, I’m more than used to asking this question. Mr. Witte is the third teacher I’ve lost. He’s the fourth person I’ve lost while attending Calvin College. It’s a struggle.
It’s good to reach out to those around you suffering the same. It’s a vast community that’s hit by Mr. Witte’s death, and the attendance at the funeral more than showcased that, with the entire church almost filled. People were lined up out the door for the visitation. At his funeral, there was a map with pins showing every location where people were praying for the Witte family, and the pins dotted the whole world. You’re not alone.
I’ve shed too many tears this past week already, so it’s a comfort to think of the happier moments. My favorite Mr. Witte moment is a story I recall with vivid clarity. See, Mr. Witte wasn’t always the most “hip” in regards to music. That’s why, when he learned one of the songs that frequently played on the radio, he loved singing along. Unfortunately for Mr. Witte, that song was “Stacy’s Mom.” One day, he took a step back and listened to the lyrics. He was appalled at what he was singing, and I’ll never forget his face as he told the story. He could laugh at himself, that’s for sure.
I love telling that story. I love remembering it. That’s, I think, one of the ways to get through death. You remember the good even in the face of the bad, you mourn with the community grieving with you and you take it day by day.
My heart and my prayers go out to the Witte family. As Lamentations 3:31–33 says, “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” The Lord is with you even in this hardship, and so are your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Mr. Witte was a good man, and he will be missed.