The Eulogy for Brian Mitchell


The Eulogy for Brian Mitchell

 Brian was born a sensitive soul with an innate capacity for compassion that was nurtured as he grew up in his very loving family.

A striking story that Tom told that expresses this sensitivity took place when Brian was in first grade.  A classmate held a birthday party and left Brian off the invitation list, which hurt Brian deeply.  The remarkable thing was that when it came time for Brian’s birthday, he insisted that every one of his classmates were to be invited.  Having experienced what it was to be left out, he was determined that none of his classmates would have a similar experience.  Even the child who left Brian off his invitation list – Brian insisted he be invited as well.

As a pastor, I know that the hardest part of the teaching of Jesus is the whole business about loving our enemies.  For the most part people choose to ignore that part.  But as a first grader, Brian intuitively got it — that we really are all connected — we need to take care of each other.

It isn’t easy to have such a sensitive nature.  In fact in can be very painful at times.  People who can tune out the pain and struggles of others find it far easier to travel through this world.  To live with so much empathy for others can be a burden, but it was this quality that made Brian’s soul so beautiful.

Brian was deeply connected to you all — his family. His favorite thing was simply to be home with the people he loved. When there was a gathering of the extended family Brian would always make the effort to show up.  He was unusually devoted to his aging grandparents, with whom he was particularly close.

During college Katie spent a semester in London.  (Similarly, Brian had spent time in Australia during college.)   Far from her family, Katie felt especially lonely so Brian took Kevin and went to visit her.  Katie and Kevin have a particularly fond memory of late one evening going out to get comfort food to bring back to their room where together they all snuggled on a single bed.  Though they had each grown up to become capable, young adult world travelers, in that moment they felt as if they had been given the opportunity to return for a brief time to their happy childhood, finding comfort and safety in one another’s presence.

Brian’s empathetic heart made him very protective of his younger siblings.  Katie tells the story of the time she was in high school and had gone over to visit at a boyfriend’s house. Brian became concerned about his sister’s well being and texted her to make sure she was okay. When Katie didn’t respond Brian once more took Kevin and together they drove across town to show up at the boyfriend’s front door just to make sure that their sister was all right.

From then on Katie made sure to promptly respond to texts from her brother.

Brian however didn’t necessarily return texts or phone calls so promptly. But there was one way you could count on getting a response from him and that was to tell him that somebody in his family was hurting, somebody he loved was in need.  One of countless examples of this comes from just this past year when Brian received word that his grandfather had ended up in the hospital.  With no prodding, Brian set aside his own concerns to make time to go by himself to visit this man who had always been a part of the circle of love in which he had grown up.

Brian was ten when 9/11 occurred, and the events of that day disturbed him deeply.

Earlier this week when Tom went to locate some cufflinks for the shirt Brian’s body would be laid out in – who knew he would need cufflinks? – Tom came across a letter Brian had given him and Karen for Christmas just two and a half months after the towers collapsed.  Recognizing how fragile life can be, the letter consisted of a list Brian had composed of all the things he was grateful for in his life, beginning of course with his parents and his family and his beloved dog Taffy.

Again, only a very sensitive child would give such a gift to his parents – a gift to be treasured for the rest of their lives.

Knowing the letter was precious, Tom had made sure to save it — storing it safely away with the infrequently used cufflinks.  In the sixteen years that have passed, as is the way with such things, Tom had forgotten that the letter was there.  The discovery of the letter seemed like a sign from Brian from his life beyond this one – an expression that his gratitude for his family has only deepened as he has entered into eternity.

Although you ache deeply to have more time with Brian, his premature passing doesn’t diminish the gift of the time you were given to share with him.  Finding that sixteen year old letter was a sign of this truth, and you will be given other signs.  Watch for them.

God created each one of us out of love, and our purpose here on earth is to express in our own imperfect way the love that is in the heart of God.  In the course of life it is easy for all of us to lose sight of this truth, but it is at times like this, when we gaze into the mystery that is death that we are brought back to a realization that in the end all that really matters is love.

And, as the Apostle Paul said, “Love never ends.”  It is the only thing that is eternal.  Everything else passes away.  But love is eternal.

I believe you will one day see Brian again in that realm far more beautiful than we can imagine where all the tears are wiped away – that place where Brian is whole and truly at peace. The pain he knew in this life is over.

And this I also believe:  Brian wants you to embrace the gift that is your life.  Though he is no longer physically present in this world, Brian loves you still, and he wants you to live and love and find all the joy that is to found in this life.

Right now there is no way around the fact that your hearts ache because your love is great and sometimes love means enduring pain.  But in this life joy can exist right beside sorrow.

Brian wants you to smile as you remember the good times you shared, and in the days to come he wants you to make new memories of life lived fully with grace, beauty and laughter.  He wants you to cherish the profound gift you have been given in the love of your extraordinary family.

And he wants you to be a friend to those to whom such love is a stranger, who don’t get invited to the birthday party.

When you do these things you will be giving gifts to Brian.

Rev. Jeff Edwards


1Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.