Kleenex alert: Tale of tragedy, irony and Christianity

It's not every day that an obituary of a non-celebrity appears above the fold on a major daily newspaper's front page. Rarer still is the mention, nay prominence, of a faith story unfolding within. Bryan Marquard, veteran obit writer for the Boston Globe, no doubt did a double take when news of a young couple dying within 46 hours of each other crossed his desk. Marquard began making phone calls, and the result is a poignant piece about life, love and mortality — and an admirable incorporation of symbolic details about the couple's Seventh-day Adventist backgrounds.

The lede sets the tone nicely:

When Neil Carruthers married Tina Nedelcu three years ago, he knew her funeral might arrive sooner than either wanted. She had already been treated for brain cancer, and had learned anew to talk and walk and coax her lovely voice to sing again in church.

For some, illness puts love on hold. Not Neil. “He said, ‘Mom, you don’t marry someone for their pedigree and you don’t marry them for their health history,’” his mother, Rosanne, recalled. “He told me, ‘Mom, whatever time we have, I want to spend with her.’”

As it turned out, Neil Carruthers had two days less to spend with his bride than either might have imagined. The husband/caregiver collapsed after leaving her bedside and died hours later; the cause of death is still pending an autopsy report. Tina Carruthers succumbed to cancer. Their families eulogized both at a joint service Sept. 28 at their congregation, the Stoneham Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In this story, readers are taken on a journey through Neil Carruthers' early years at what Marquard labeled a Christian primary school and a Christian university (both of which I discovered online were, more precisely, Seventh-day Adventist institutions), his antics at a Seventh-day Adventist summer camp and how they found each other online at an Adventist dating website. We're given a glimpse of their heartbreak, with Neil Carruthers reading highlighted passages of scripture from Tina Carruthers' Bible out loud to her after she lost the ability to speak. And there's this faith gem, too:

“Tina believed that a miracle had happened, that the tumor was taken away and she was going on with her life,” Neil’s mother said. “She just started living her life, and it amazed me how little she dwelled on that. Both of them they had such a strong faith about heaven and the hereafter, and that was going to be a better place.”

But this quote also is a foreshadowing of another puzzling quote from Neil's mother, Roseanne Carruthers, indirectly referencing Adventists' beliefs about what happens after an individual dies.

Before leaving for the hospital, Rosanne had broken the news to Tina that something happened to Neil, “and I know she understood. When I came home, I went in and I held her hand and I told her, ‘Tina, he didn’t make it, he’s going to have to be there waiting for you,’ and tears ran right down her cheeks.”

Church doctrine teaches that souls are in a state of sleep until the day Christ returns. From the Carruthers' church website:

The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later.

Neil Carruthers' parents, Roseanne and Bob Carruthers, are longtime members of the Adventist church, and Bob Carruthers serves on the board of directors of the Greater Boston Academy, the Adventist primary school his son attended.

While my fellow GetReligionista and Seventh-day Adventist Mark Kellner notes that a grieving, stressed parent might say something that isn't 100 percent doctrinal, the vernacular more commonly used in this circumstance by an Adventist would be much different. Perhaps, "May they rise together" or "May their souls rest in peace until Jesus comes," as were expressed on the Southern New England Conference's Facebook Page.

In this case in particular, the doctrinal details are part of the language of the story. Some research into the nuances of Adventist faith, given the strong connections throughout the story, might have helped Marquard better maneuver his way through the family's comments and understand the context.

Nonetheless, the writer -- and the Globe -- deserves kudos for telling the whole story of Neil and Tina Carruthers, from beginning to untimely end. Be sure to read with a Kleenex in hand.

Photo: Neil and Tina Carruthers (via Facebook.com)

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